Kids at Sea in the 19th Century

by Laura Krenicki
William J. Johnston Middle School, Colchester


Historical Background

Maud Maxon was a little girl in Mystic, Connecticut, who went on a ship voyage with her uncle. Her mother did not go on the trip, so she wrote letters to her mother to tell her about her days at sea.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

How did maritime culture influence the people of Connecticut?


  •  How was life in the 1870s similar or different to life in Connecticut now?
  • How has transportation improved since 1870?
  • What would it have been like for children at sea?


Things you will need to teach this lesson:


Divide students into small groups and have them read the first page of the letter (if it is difficult to read, click on the Mystic Seaport link as there is a “transcription” of the text as well as an audio version at the top of the page). Have students write questions about the letter on sticky notes. Continue with the next page and see if any of the questions on the sticky notes were answered. Remove those notes. Add new notes as additional questions are raised, etc.

Explore the questions and see if some are answerable with the letter itself. If not, have students research what life at sea would have been like, and even more so for children. Also consider the routes one would need to take in the 19th century to go from Mystic, Connecticut, to San Francisco, California.


  • Students may create their own letters as though they were aboard a ship, and use examples/terms from the Artifact Resource Sets found on the Mystic Seaport website. For example: “although it is often very dark in the bunks where we sleep, the DECK LIGHTS set in the upper deck allows for some light to the lower deck.”
  • Create a map of the sea routes one would take to travel from Mystic, Connecticut, to San Francisco, California, in the 19th century. Would there be a faster sea route now?


Place to GO

Things To DO

Students will wonder about the educational system in the 19th century, and this is a source of artifacts related to schools: Mystic Seaport Museum

Investigate an artifact set about life at sea: Mystic Seaport Museum

Websites to VISIT

Source of Maud Maxon letter and all of its pages: Mystic Seaport Museum

Articles to READ

Read about Whaling in the 19th century: