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Mississippi’s Territorial Years: A Momentous and Contentious Affair (1798-1817) lesson plan


Residents of the Mississippi Territory often struggled with issues that are remarkably familiar today: political factionalism, economic and geographic sectionalism, and limited opportunities. In this lesson, students will explore the formative events of the territorial period prior to Mississippi statehood.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 4


Grades 4 (with modification) through 12


Mississippi History Now article, Mississippi’s Territorial Years
• Copy of the steps to statehood in Northwest Ordinance, 1787
• Outline maps of the Mississippi Territory
• Teacher-developed rubric


Students will:

• Map the growth of the Mississippi Territory;
• Describe life in the Territory; and
• Argue for or against statehood.


Engage students in an introductory discussion by asking these questions:

• How many states comprise the United States today?

• How many original states were there?

• Name the last two states added to the union.

• Are there areas today that want statehood? If so, name them.

• What are the benefits of statehood?

• When did Mississippi become a state?

• What was the area called before statehood?

• What was life like in the Mississippi area before 1817?

• How does an area achieve statehood? What would be different in our lives if Mississippi were not a state?


1. Ask students to quickly brainstorm with a partner the steps by which one becomes a doctor. Let volunteers share their information.

2. Relate this example to the lesson by stating that areas that wish to become states in the United States must also go through certain steps. At this point, display the major provisions of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (overhead/board) and ask students to read silently the steps to statehood. Ask students to discuss the rationale behind each step required by the federal government.

3. Tell students that after mapping the original Mississippi Territory, they must prepare for a series of interviews from a Congressional team that will recommend for or against statehood. (At this point, it would be instructive to show students the location and shape of the original Mississippi Territory by drawing it on an overhead or coloring in an old Mississippi road map. Allow time for students to react and to realize what was “missing” from the original territory.)

4. Using a map from textbook or one found at TNGenWeb, reproduce maps of the area for students to show boundaries as the Territory expanded, major towns, and adjacent states and bodies of water. (Teacher may wish to develop a quiz for students to demonstrate their map-reading skills.)

5. Divide the class into the six groups listed below. One group (with five members) will serve as the Congressional delegation; each of the other groups will be responsible for relating information about assigned aspects of life in the Territory. This information can be found in the Mississippi History Now article. Have students read all of it EXCEPT the last segment entitled “Mississippi achieves statehood.” Develop and display a rubric for students to evaluate their participation in the group assignment and presentation.

Congressional Delegation Group: Use the suggestions below to compose a series of questions for each group.

Territorial Government Group: Describe the parts of the government, are the members cooperative; role of political parties.

Population Group: Different population groups; causes for growth; location of new settlers (east or west).

Territorial Life Group: Economy; educational opportunities; religion.

Creek War Group: Causes; events; results.

Division of Territory Group: Who wants it divided and why; pros and cons.

6. Teacher: Once the groups feel comfortable with their information, split each group into a pro and con statehood subgroups. When they are interviewed by the Congressional delegation they will put a positive/negative spin on the information they present.

7. If possible, arrange the classroom with a large table at the front for the Congressional delegation. (Perhaps the library could be used for this role-play.) As each group is interviewed, the remaining students will assume temporary roles of news reporters and will make notes of the information.

8. As the interviews progress from group to group, students will receive enough information for an accurate description of life in the Mississippi Territory.

9. Once the interviews are complete, ask the Congressional delegation to decide, based on what they have learned, if the Territory is ready for statehood or not. If the members choose statehood, they must set boundaries as well.

10. While the delegation is deliberating, have students predict the outcome in their notes and explain their reasoning.

11. Allow time for the Congressional delegation to makes its report and for students to compare their predictions with that of the delegation.


  1. Teacher will relay the actual decision of Congress regarding statehood and boundaries. Help students understand underlying reasons behind the division and where the boundaries were placed. Ask students to write a paragraph indicating how their prediction compared with the actual decision.
  2. Ask students to evaluate their participation by completing the rubric. Teacher may also wish to have students write a brief report indicating what they’ve learned.
  3. Lead students to make connections between issues in territorial Mississippi and current Mississippi.


    • Completion of mapping activity
    • Group participation; group presentation
    • Comparison paragraph
    • Rubric


    • Construct a Hall of Fame for the governor’s of the Territory.

    • Design bumper stickers for and against division of the Territory.

    • Write editorials promoting either Washington or Natchez as capital of the Territory.

    • Available from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s Mississippi History on Loan program: the video “Mississippi: Prologue to Statehood” tells the story of Mississippi before statehood with scenes filmed on location in Washington, Mississippi. Contact the Audiovisual Coordinator at the Manship House Museum, 601-961-4724, for loan details.

    All websites accessed October 2008

    Related Mississippi History Now archived articles:

    Great Migration to the Mississippi Territory, 1798-1819

    Mississippi Under British Rule—British West Florida

    French Colonial Period in Mississippi: A Failed Enterprise

    Manuel Gayoso and Spanish Natchez

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