Intended Grade Level: Elementary School
George Washington’s Trunk
Lesson Purpose: Students will learn about the many roles that George Washington
engaged in throughout his life and create their own “George Washington’s trunk” of
objects that reflect these activities.
• Students will understand George Washington’s role as a surveyor, farmer,
soldier, father, military leader, and president.
• Students will create objects that would have been owned by George Washington,
using the curatorial and archaeological collections of Mount Vernon and 18th
century art as inspiration.
NA-VA.5-8.4 UNDERSTANDING THE VISUAL ARTS IN RELATION TO HISTORY AND
• Students know and compare the characteristics of artworks in various eras and cultures
• Students describe and place a variety of art objects in historical and cultural contexts
• Students analyze, describe, and demonstrate how factors of time and place (such as climate,
resources, ideas, and technology) influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to
a work of art
NL-ENG.K-12.4 COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to
communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
NL‐ENG.K‐12.7 EVALUATING DATA
Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing
problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint
texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
• Crayons, colored pencils, or markers
• Tea bags
• Curatorial Images, http://emuseum.mountvernon.org
Timeframe: Approximately three class sessions
1. Use Mount Vernon’s George Washington Biography or our Discover the Real
George Washington timeline to provide the class with background information
about George Washington. On the blackboard, have students list Washington’s
different roles such as farmer, surveyor, soldier, general, husband, stepfather,
2. The Mount Vernon website makes a large number of images from the curatorial
and archaeological collections available at http://emuseum.mountvernon.org .
Have students look at the objects on the website, or print out images to share
with your students. As students examine the objects, discuss their purpose: toys,
china, documents, books, decorative figurines, jewelry, tools, guns, miniature
portraits, clothing, musical instruments, etc.
3. Print out paintings of George Washington. (Via Google find Edward Savage’s
1789 “The Washington Family,” Rossiter and Mignot’s 1859 “Washington and
Lafayette at Mount Vernon,” and Rembrandt Peale’s 1823 “Porthole Portrait.”)
Have students identify the objects in the paintings. Were any of the objects in the
paintings the same as those in Mount Vernon’s online collection?
4. As students examine the images, have them consider in what capacity
Washington would have used the objects. Using the list of Washington’s roles on
the board, have students either physically move the objects into a category, such
as moving a sword under the category of “Soldier,” or have them call out objects
to list under each category.
5. In equipping himself as the Continental Army's Commander in Chief, George
Washington selected objects that bespoke professionalism and gentility, even
down to his luggage. His black leather-covered trunk, studded with costly brass-
headed tacks, was as attractive as it was durable. The serial number engraved on
its brass tag helped Washington organize his supplies. In 1780, he instructed for
this trunk, "No. 4," to be filled with blankets for the forthcoming winter. When it
entered Mount Vernon's collection over 150 years later, it contained articles of
George and Martha's clothing as well as a pair of George Washington's dentures.
Using this trunk as inspiration, students will use household objects to create their
own trunk of George Washington’s objects using a shoebox as the trunk.
Distribute the assignment, “George Washington’s Trunk” (included below) and
choose a due date for the trunk. They should use the curatorial images and
paintings as possible examples, but they can also create their own objects, as long
as they can justify how George Washington would have used them.
6. Upon completion of the trunks, have students present the contents of their
trunk to the class and turn in the “Look What I Found in Washington’s Trunk”
worksheet. The worksheet should list the items in the trunk, as well as a brief
explanation of why each item was chosen or how Washington would have used
This has been adapted from a lesson by Maureen Festi,
George Washington Teachers Institute 2007.
George Washington’s Trunk
You have found George Washington’s trunk! It contains objects
that will help preserve the memory of Washington and what he
has done for our country. When you open the trunk, what do you
want to discover about George Washington?
You will create a “trunk” filled with objects that may have been
used by George Washington. Build the trunk from a shoebox and
fill the trunk with objects that you make. Soak sheets of paper in
tea and tear the edges to create scrolls of George Washington’s
famous documents. Use household items to make objects for
each of Washington’s many jobs such as farmer, soldier,
president, and father!
Remember, you will be the “expert” of your trunk! Share your
trunk with other students and be prepared to have a conversation
about the items you chose to put in it. How will the information
in your trunk help others to know what kind of person George
Washington was? List the items in your trunk on your worksheet
and explain how Washington would
have used each object.
Look what I found in George Washington’s Trunk!