Story Map Lesson Plan

Follow this link to preview the story map of William Apess

Lesson Plan Overview (Grades 3-6):
The William Apess Story Map combines lessons in geography, social studies, and literature to tell an Indigenous story about the Connecticut River Valley. Following the life of Pequot author, activist, and minister William Apess as a guide, the story map introduces students to a real-life nineteenth-century Indigenous figure whose narrative arc begins in the hills of Colrain, Massachusetts, but stretches out from end to end of the Connecticut River Valley. Along the way, students will not only learn about the life of a little-known but vitally important figure in Native American literature, but they will learn about four major tribal nations of the Connecticut River Valley, the Abenaki, Pocumtuck, Nipmuc, and Pequot.

The idea of the story map is to employ a flexible and visually engaging medium to invite students into the geographical space of the Connecticut River Valley. Apess’s life story serves as a narrative anchor to sustain forward momentum while also learning about Indigenous lives in the region and how those lives intersected with United States history in ways that will prove unfamiliar but fascinating to most students.

Through the story map students will be able to visualize and locate themselves in the region in which they live and understand how communities grow and thrive along waterways such as the Connecticut River. Hyperlinks along the way invite students to engage in more detailed treatments of geographical and historical sites of interest and each section ends with a set of suggested links for further study.

A unique feature of the story map is that students will not only learn about the current place names of cities, towns, and geographical features, but they will learn to visualize the region as Native space, or a space once fully populated by Native American peoples and communities. They will learn something about the lives of tribal people prior to colonization, the engagement of tribal people, like William Apess, with events in US history, and how Native people continue to live and define themselves today, some 400 years after the Plymouth settlers first set foot in New England. They will also be invited into the compelling story of one Pequot man, William Apess, who journeyed throughout this region in the early nineteenth century, speaking out for the rights of Native peoples, writing books, and preaching as an ordained minister. Throughout it all, the story map remains adaptable for different age-groups and objectives—it can be approached simply as a visual recounting of William Apess’s life or it can be used to engage the wider range of educational outcomes expressed below.


  • Students will learn about the region through which The Connecticut River runs, from its source near the US/Canadian border to its mouth in the Long Island Sound.
  • Students will learn to locate and identify four major Indigenous tribes along the Connecticut River Valley.
  • They will learn about Indigenous agriculture in this fertile valley and the three-sisters style of planting that was practiced.
  • Students will follow Apess’s trail to Tyendinaga Mohawk lands at the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, Canada and visit the Mashpee Wampanoags in Eastern Massachusetts.
  • Students will be introduced to Indigenous stories and place names that explain certain geographical features along this major waterway.


  • The story map highlights the timeline described by William Apess’s life, from 1798-1839. Through Apess’s story, students will learn about Native lives in New England at the turn into the Nineteenth century, the hardships and poverty Native communities faced, and the ways that Native peoples were participants, rather than simply passers-by, in US history.
  • Students will learn about the War of 1812 through Apess’ participation in that conflict. The decisive battles at Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain will be given treatment through Apess’ own involvement in those campaigns.
  • Students will learn about four major tribal nations of the Connecticut River Valley, The Abenaki, Pocumtuck, Nipmuc, and Pequot: how they traditionally lived and supported themselves, their agricultural and trade customs, and their engagements with English, Dutch, and French colonists who began moving into the region in the 1630’s and 40s. Links are provided for students to visit the current websites of these Indigenous nations to learn how Native communities are doing today, what interests they speak of, and what challenges they still face.
  • The incident known as the Mashpee Resistance will receive attention as William Apess was a central figure during this important struggle for the rights of the Mashpee Wampanoag at Cape Cod.
  • Students will be made aware that as early as the 1800’s there were Native authors, activists, and preachers who were voices for equality in our new nation and who struggled to gain equal rights for their people. The story map highlights that Native Americans should not be understood solely within the context of a warrior culture, living in tipis, riding horseback, and hunting buffalo in eagle-feather headdresses. They must be understood as varied and complex, adapting to modern influences, and using writing, religion, and political persuasion to maintain their identities as sovereign people and the original caretakers of the land.


  • The Story Map serves as a basic introduction to the life and writings of William Apess. Apess was the first Native American to write and publish book-length memoirs and political treatises that chronicled the lives and struggles of Native people in the Northeast during the first half of the nineteenth century. His works showcase his activist approach that would prove influential in carving out a rhetorical mode of protest for later influential activist voices such as Frederick Douglass and others.
  • Links are provided to Apess’s own writings for students who might wish to make that step to entering into the works of a nineteenth-century Pequot author.


Part 1 – Early Life

  • Where is the source of the Connecticut River located—can you find it on the map? How long is the river and where does it empty out?
  • What is the Indigenous name for the Connecticut River?
  • Where was William Apess born? Who were his parent and how were their identities complicated by the laws of that time? How did Native Americans of the Northeast look and dress at this time? Is it how you expected?
  • What are the names of the tribal peoples whose lands pass through the area of Colrain, Massachusetts?
  • What kind of agriculture did they practice? (see the link to the three-sisters-garden:
  • What is Mount Sugarloaf known as to Indigenous peoples of the region and what is the story they tell about it?
  • What are some facts about the Abenaki people?
  • What are some facts about the Pocumtuck people?

Part II – Childhood and the War of 1812

  • Where did William and his parents move to after Colrain and how would you describe their life once they got there? How did they make a living? Whose lands were these originally?
  • What was one of the major trade goods of the Pequot Tribe? What use did Native people make of this trade item? What use did the colonists make of it?
  • Who did William have to go live with after leaving his grandparents’ house? Why did he have to leave his grandparents and how would you describe his status in his new home?
  • How did William end up joining the US army? What was the name of the major conflict taking pace at that time and who was fighting in it? Where did they send William and what was his role as a soldier?
  • What was the name of the decisive seven-day battle in which William Apess fought?
  • What are some facts about the Pequot people?

Part III – Young Adulthood

Part IV – Career

  • Where did William go after leaving the Tyendinaga Mohawk? How would you describe his journey? What new path was he considering for his life moving forward?
  • Who did William go to live with when he returned home? What did he learn from her?
  • Why does William return to Colrain, Massachusetts, the place of his birth in 1819? Who does he see there? How does his life begin to change when he arrives there?
  • Where did William preach his first sermon?
  • Go to link and read about the Mashpee Resistance? Why were the Mashpee people upset with how they were being treated by the white settlers? What role did William Apess play in winning the Mashpee their civil rights? How did William’s ability to read and write assist in their struggle for their rights?
  • What was the name of William Apess’s first book? Did you ever think of Native people writing books so long ago? How might this change the way you think about Native people?
  • What are some facts about the Nipmuc people?
  • What are some facts about the Pequot people?

Historical Context for Educators:
William Apess’s life and writings can be difficult for students to immediately comprehend. His life does not readily conform to the notions most people have internalized regarding Native Americans in the nineteenth century. It is our hope that the story map will assist students in negotiating this unfamiliar presentation of Indigenous lives in the Northeast. But it may be useful for them to know that most Native people at the time in which Apess lived had been converted to Christianity under pressure from the severe conditions imposed upon them by 200 years of colonization. Apess’s tribe, the Pequots, were vanquished as early as 1636-37 in what is known as The Pequot War. The Pequots were nearly extirminated as a people in this conflict and those who weren’t killed were either sold into slavery in the Bermuda colony or found themselves taken in by neighboring Native tribes. It took decades for the Pequots to reestablish their presence as a tribe in New England. Over this time, and in the face of other devastating conflicts, Native peoples of the Northeast were squeezed out of their landholdings or forced into small parcels of land called reservations. White Overseers were appointed to manage or govern these reservations and often used their positions to swindle their Indigenous charges of lands, money, services, and resources. Such was the case when Apess came to Mashpee in 1833 and led a highly visible public campaign to restore the natural and civil rights of the Mashpee Wampanoag. Students encountering Apess’s own writings may be confused by the way he uses his Christian ministry to call out white hypocrisy and condemn what he calls “those pretended pious,” or, in other words, white people who call themselves Christians but do not practice it themselves.

Educators will also need to be prepared to discuss the institution of slavery in the North at this time. Slavery was not abolished in Connecticut (where Apess came of age) until the 1820’s through what was known as a gradual emancipation act. This act manumitted enslaved persons, born after 1801, when they reached the age of twenty-one. Enslaved persons born before that date were to remain in their condition of bondage. Many of the northern states retained the practice of slavery well into the first two decades of the nineteenth century.

Prejudice against Native people was highly engrained in the Northern states and as Apess wrote, any visitor to one of their reservations would encounter “the most mean, abject, miserable race of beings in the world.” They would be appalled upon seeing “children half-starved and some almost as naked as they came into the world . . . while the females are left without protection, and are seduced by white men, and are finally left to be common prostitutes for them and to be destroyed by that burning, fiery curse, rum” (An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man). Nobody understood these dynamics better than Apess himself, who had experienced all these conditions as a child and hoped to put an end to these cycles of deprivation and abuse. Some of these harsh realities will, of course, need to be smoothed over in classroom discussions, but it is useful to understand that Native people had not vanished from the Northeast (find moments to remind your students that their descendants are still very much with us here today) but that they faced crushing systemic poverty. Part of the impetus of the story map lesson plan is to not only teach about Indigenous history, but to show that Native people were also a part of history and that they remain a presence o these lands and in our communities.

Follow this link to the story map of William Apess

Younger students should follow this link to the condensed version of the story. (Grades K-2nd)

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