One Part of a Whole: Identity in History

Home Education Landmark Lesson One Part of a Whole: Identity in History

One Part of a Whole: Identity in History

This lesson focuses on the attitude of residents in Pequannock, NJ towards independence during the American Revolution as well as the focus that the township of Pequannock gives to its Revolution history as a part of its collective identity. By the end of the lesson, students will have a greater appreciation for the impact national events can have upon small communities such as their own as well as for the choices communities make regarding what parts of history to remember and preserve.

To this end, students will evaluate how past Pequannock residents chose to participate in the national movement of revolution by analyzing a 1776 primary source declaration in support of independence. Students will then examine photographs of five gravestones of Revolutionary war veterans buried in their town’s historic graveyard to draw conclusions about the pride their families took in their participation in the war as well as the recognition and emphasis current generations of Pequannock give to these gravestone. The lesson concludes with students creatively summarizing their research and thesis into a proposed text for a historical marker for this cemetery. Ideally, this lesson would fit best into an US history unit on the Revolutionary War or a US government unit on the founding American documents and the foundational American ideals.


Pompton Plains , NJ

Type of Landmark



18th century
American Revolution

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to evaluate how the Revolutionary War and the ideals of Revolution have influenced the characteristics of Pequannock Township over time by analyzing a primary source text and gravestones of Revolution veterans.
  • Students will be able to synthesize information from the gravestones and written sources into an explanation of the relationship between the Revolution and Pequannock that best accounts for the evidence gathered. Students will present this explanation by creating text for a hypothetical historical marker for the cemetery.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1. Do places have identity and beliefs? – Anticipatory Activity

  •  Divide the class into two groups: Have half of the class write down answers to the question “What do Americans believe?” Have the other half write down answers to the question “What do residents of Pequannock Township believe?”
  •  Have students brainstorm independently for a minute and then have them come up to do a "chalkboard talk" by compiling their list on the class chalkboard.
  • Have students compare the answers to these two different questions. What ideals does Pequannock share with America? What ideals are unique? To what degree has Pequannock been a part of national history?
  • How do you know these ideals are held by the town at large? Do any of these ideals relate to any places in the town that are considered important to the town? (Introduce landmarks)
  • Let’s narrow our discussion of this question onto the Revolution: Using your observations about characteristics of Pequannock, create a hypothesis, wqite a one sentence “thesis” hypothesizing Pequannock’s attitude towards and involvement in the Revolutionary War at the time of the Revolution. Today we’ll be testing that thesis against historical evidence.

2. Pequannock’s Involvement in the Revolution “Then”

            A. Primary source document analysis

Articles of Association of the Freeholders and Inhabitants of Pequannock

In groups of 4-5, have students read and translate the document into modern day English.

While reading, have students identify any language that sounds familiar or connects to ideas we have already discussed in class (note similarities with the Declaration of Independence: natural rights, against slavery to the king, against the King’s taxes, against King’s arbitrary rule.)


  • What is the main idea of this text? What is the purpose of this document?
  • What is the historic context of this document? – Look at the date. What are they referring to when they mention “hostilities in Massachusetts Bay”? How does the context help identify the main idea of the document?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how involved does Pequannock seem in the “national” events of 1776? How committed is Pequannock to independence and freedom according to this document?

Based on the document, find specific textual evidence to support or negate your hypothesis about Pequannock’s view of and involvement in Revolutionary ideas.

B. Primary source photo analysis

Gravestones are small pieces of larger historic sites which show the family and community’s view of and response to the person who has died. What do they mention about them on their gravestones? How does the way they honor them show what their families/community believed was important during/shortly after the Revolution?

Model analysis: Captain John Colfax’s gravestone – with the class, model two part observation of the gravestone:

Student analysis: Divide the class into 4 groups. Provide each group with a different picture of one of the gravestones of the other Revolutionary veterans. (two of the men are buried next to their wives. Distribute pictures of the wives’ gravestones as well for additional information. Pictures are provided in the PowerPoint

  • Have each group answer the two part analysis questions, taking notes on flipchart paper.
  • Have each group present what they discovered about their gravestone to the class. After each group presents, the other groups will pause and identify similarities between the gravestone presented and their own. Also note any connections to the primary source documents (similar names?).

        After all the presentations, discuss and create a list of similarities between each of the                 gravestones. Focus on similarities that show how people viewed the Revolution when                 these men were buried.

C. Back to the thesis: Note evidence for or against your original hypothesis. Using the evidence drawn from both the document and gravestones, revise and perfect your hypothesis into a thesis about the role of Pequannock in the American Revolution during the late 1700s.

3. Pequannock’s Attachment to the Revolution Now (Day 2 of instruction for tradition schedule)

A. Primary source photo analysis

Model: Examine the photo of Captain John Colfax’s gravestone again. How has his grave been recognized recently?

  • Who might still think that this 6’x2’ space of land is significant? Why would they think that?
  • What have people added to the landmark to highlight its significant? (Notice the flag and Revolutionary War medallion at the bottom.)
  • What does this suggest about what people in the community continue to think about these gravestones and burial ground as a whole?

Student analysis: Regroup and examine the pictures of the other gravestones. Look for evidence about how people have recently recognized this part of Pequannock’s history.

Students should note in their similarities that most of these names are street names in the township as well: Why has Pequannock chosen to honor these rather than other family names?

B.          B.  Landmark Discussion/Analysis

Is this burial ground considered a landmark by Pequannock residents? If so, why is it considered a landmark?

  • How do we know it is a landmark? Who gets to define these landmarks in Pequannock?
  • What makes something a landmark?
  • Why is the Revolution something that Pequannock residents focus on and highlight in their historic landmarks?
  • Why are these gravestones, among so many, highlighted by the town historical society?

Tie back to anticipatory chalkboard talk:

  • How might this emphasis on the Revolution contribute to the identity of Pequannock as a whole?
  • Introduce concept of “collective memory:” How does this term connect to this concept?
  • Do any of the shared American/Pequannock ideals we mentioned in the beginning relate to this landmark in particular?
  • What other historic landmarks does the community of Pequannock highlight? (other wars, veterans, etc.) Does the fact that these are emphasized strengthen, complicate, or undermine the identity Pequannock is seeking to establish by focusing on the Revolution?
  • What are we missing or ignoring by focusing on Pequannock’s involvement in the Revolution and other wars? How do these missing pieces contribute to the town’s identity?
  • Does Pequannock still seek to participate in the national story of history? How so?

4. Research Extension: Explore Pequannock websites (Pequannock Township Historic District Commission and the township’s official websites) – What do these websites show about the town’s “official” view of its history and landmarks? Is this view complete? What else does it need?

5. Historical Marker Creation for the Old (Revolution) section of the burial ground

Students should look back at their revised hypothesis and then write a new thesis, summarizing how the burial ground as a landmark contributes to the identity of Pequannock still today.

Have students join with a partner and share your theses, identifying similar themes.

 Model: Explain to students the purpose of historical markers and show them an example of one in the town.

Student application: Students will use their hypothesis, thesis, and evidence to draft a 3-4 sentence text to put on a “historical marker” for the burial ground. (see assessment for more specific information about the assignment)

Have students share their marker descriptions with the class and discuss: Before you could actually propose this text to the town, what else would you want to research or know about the cemetery? How would this marker contribute, change, or revise Pequannock’s view of the Revolution?

6. Closure: Look back at the list of ideals you created at the beginning: Would you say the same things if you did this activity again? What American ideals are most important to Pequannock still today? How can you encourage Pequannock to continue to play an active role in promoting positive American ideals at home and throughout the nation?


From the primary source text:

Avowed design: Publically stated purpose

Freeholder: Property owners

Provincial: Of or concerning a province of a country or empire (in context referencing a local governing body)

Gravestone vocabulary:

Border: Decoration around the edge of the inscription

Cemetery: Any place where more than one body has been buried, especially (but not necessarily) with grave markers

Inscription: Writing on a grave marker.  Parts of the Inscription: Header, Epithet, Name, Formula of death, Date, Eulogies, Age

Lunette: Crescent-shaped top of a grave marker, often containing a motif

Motif:  Any more or less standardized artistic theme or representation, such as a rose, cherub, or urn-and-willow.

General historical vocabulary referenced

Collective memory: The memory of a group of people, typically passed from one generation to the next

Historic Landmark: A building, site, structure, or object that is officially recognized for its outstanding degree of historical significance

Historical marker: An indicator such as a plaque or sign to commemorate an event or person of historic interest

End of Lesson Assessment

Design a “historical marker” for the First Reformed Cemetery with 3-4 sentences explaining its significance. Your text should address:

  1. the role that the residents of Pequannock had in supporting the War for Independence
  2. the impact that the Revolution has had upon Pequannock ideals and identity