Teaching History While Walking in My Ancestors’ Footsteps
October 14, 2009 by Ben Edwards
For the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach Colonial American history to grade school students while walking in the footsteps of my early Boston ancestors. During my field trips of Historic Boston, students walk the same streets my Edwards ancestors once strode with well known Bostonians like John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. As a tour guide and a teacher, I find this personal connection to history — and the stories I’m able to convey about it — to be a wonderful way to engage students. What makes it even more interesting for them is that these stories continue well after the tour is over. They come to life in my children’s book One April in Boston, and every student participating in a Boston field trip or any of my school programs receives the downloadable MP3 audio version for free.
Through the tour and the book, students learn that my Edwards ancestors arrived in Boston around 1700. My sixth great grandfather Captain Benjamin Edwards (pictured in this post) was 19 years old and living in the North End of Boston in 1706 – the same year Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street! That year he was married by Cotton Mather according to an entry in the 1708 Edwards Family Bible which still exists today. Benjamin Edwards was a sea captain and I discovered records of his many voyages including a battle with pirates in the Caribbean in 1722. His son Dolling Edwards, my fifth great grandfather, was a mastmaker at a shipyard in the North End and his son Benjamin was a cooper.
My fourth great grandfather, cooper Benjamin Edwards was an orphan by the time he was eight. Ben lived with his Aunt Sarah and his Uncle Alexander Edwards, a cabinetmaker and member of the Sons of Liberty. The family lived a few blocks down the street from the Old North Church and Ben was 10 when the signal lanterns were shown from its steeple and Paul Revere made his Midnight Ride. Toward the end of the Revolution, Ben’s older sister Sally Edwards married silversmith Paul Revere Jr., firstborn son of the famous patriot.
Ben’s son Joseph Edwards, my third great grandfather, was born in 1799. He was my last Edwards ancestor to live in Boston his entire life. Joseph was a paver who set granite paving stones in the city streets. He was also an innkeeper. Joseph lived in the West End not far from Boston Common, where most days you can spot me surrounded by enthusiastic schoolchildren and teachers heading off on my one-of-a-kind walking tour of Historic Boston.
Teachers: If you are interested in integrating family stories or genealogy into your history curriculum, the following genealogy resources will prove very helpful.
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy these similar posts:
- The Edwards Family Home Site in Boston’s North End
- Who Lies in the Edwards Family Tomb at Copp’s Hill?
- Unique Private Tours of Historic Boston for Groups
- Behind the Scenes Tours at Old North Church
- New Product: Paul Revere in Primary Sources