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Colonial America

Compiled By: mshunny

Here are some activities and ideas for teaching about Colonial America in your classroom.

Colonial Unit
Posted by: 3grteacher

We do a huge colonial unit in our school. The kids really love it.

We start with a book from Evan Moore called History Pockets: Colonial America. This book is AWESOME! The kids make a book with a pocket for topics like: Intro to Colonial America; Homes; School; Foods; Native Americas; Famous People...
We have 5 teachers, so we move from classroom to classroom and teach one topic each to each group of students. The book is grades 3-6 so we pick and choose the activites we want to do. There are PLENTY to pick from.
When we are done switching the kids have created this great book that they can keep of all the things they learned about Colonial America.

After that, we divide our classrooms into 4 topics: School, Jobs, Games and Home Life. Each student researches and creates projects focused on this one theme.
The art teacher works with us and she has the students create a colonial weaving and the Music teacher puts together a music program focused on a colonial theme.
All our study is presented to the parents on our Colonial Night. We start with a half hour in our classrooms that we turn into a Colonial Village. Kids are presenting what the learned in a "colonial village where they have store fronts to talk about their jobs, colonial school where they are students and a teacher...(dunce chair included!) , an outside scene where they play games (nine mens morrice, nine pins, jack straws...), and a colonial home where they share colonial food (johnny cakes, flap jacks, indian pudding...).

After that, the parents head down to our gym where they wait for the students to come in and perform their music program.

This has been a highlight of third grade at our school since the school opened 5 years ago. It's always a huge hit.

....okay, so anyway, the book is really good and FULL of activites to teach about Colonial America....Sorry if I took off on beaming about our unit. We love it very much! :D

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Colonial America
Posted by: Mr.L

We have a colonial america day at the end of our unit. We have a candle making center, quill pen writing (we got feathers from a local turkey farmer and sanatized them) and the we made soap. We also had some traditional games that we purchased with budget money. There was a great website I found lots of information on years ago...may have been Colonial Williamsburg. Anyhow, I hope that this helps you out a bit.

Famous Person Wax Museum
Posted by: Tiffany Regan

My daughter was in 5th grade last year, and they did a Wax Museum for one of their units. Each student researched and took notes on a famous person from that era. The day of the museum, they dressed as that person and made a display for their desk, including a "button" to push to listen to the speech. Visiting classes would walk through the museum and each time they pressed a button, the person would give their speech. It was a lot of fun and the kids really got into it. They do it every year.

Colonial Cooking
Posted by: mshunny

In my 5th grade gifted class, we studied Colonial Cooking.

We discussed what they ate for meals, how they acted at meals, etc. My students learned that children were not allowed to talk at meals. We followed up our lesson by having a colonial meal.

The meal included: saltine crackers, butter (which the students can make), beef jerky, cheese, corn cakes, jelly, and apple cider.

The principal attend the meal, and the adults were the only ones allowed to talk. It was quite interesting.

Colonial Studies?
Posted by: 3grteacher

In third we do colonial studies. We do an extensive unit that covers early Colonial America. The kids change classrooms and learn different topics from each teacher. They also have to pick a colonial job and research it, write outlines, write index cards for presenting, and they also create projects for display at Colonial Night. (homemade ink, horn book, store front, job advertisment, games, colonial recipe...etc)

The kids learn a lot about research, outline writing, writing for many purposes, cooperative learning, presentations....(but not too much math although it could be added it!)

Our music teacher had a colonial music program that night too , and our art teacher has the kids do a weaving project. We are going to talk to P.E. this year about them teaching the kids some colonial games.

The kids and parents LOVE it and we do too!

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We just had Colonial Day
Posted by: Alicia G

And here are the things we did:

1. Simple meal (deli chicken, boiled potatoes, a big pot of beans, an apple dessert, authentic cornbread -- no wheat).
2. Stenciled onto plaques.
3. Stamped (big rubber stamps) onto canvas rectangles (these were "rugs" that we made from "worn out sails").
4. Hornbooks (cut out paddle-shaped pieces of cardboard, glue on a small alphabet, and then cover in contact paper).
5. Had "recitations" of old poems, etc.
6. Had outdoor games: relay races, hide and seek, sack races, hopscotch, leapfrog.
7. And, indoor games: jacks, marbles (indoors or out), pick up sticks (use straw from an old broom to be authentic), hide the thimble.
8. A dad made "stocks" out of an appliance box. We took turns in it.
9. We had a spelling bee and recited our times tables.


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Colonial America Books
Posted by: Dedi

I'm not sure if you are looking for novels or picture books, I have a few thoughts on both--

"Sarah Morton's Day" and "Samuel Eaton's Day" are EXCELLENT photoessays, but they focus on the lives of early Pilgrims. Also, they're picturebooks, but would still be a good reading task for your 5th graders. My third graders loved them.

Right now, my highest group is reading "elizabeth's Diary." It is the story of a young girl in Jamestown, told in 1st person through her journal entries. They are enjoying it. This is a Dear America book. There are also many other colonial and revolution books in the series. I think there are also different levels of difficulty. Also, if you have HBO, check the listings for their televised versions. I just recorded a great one set in 1777, complete with George Washington and all.

You might also try "if you live in colonial times" and "if you lived at the time of the american revolution." My kids always enjoy this series, and they do contain a lot of good info.

Johnny Cakes (corn cakes)
Posted by: mshunny

I was lucky to hold my gifted class in the home ec room. It made cooking so much easier.

Here is a recipe for Johnny cakes. You can have your students assist with the making of this recipe.

1 cup cornmeal (white or yellow)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
½ cup milk


1. Grease a non-stick skillet or griddle or frying pan with a little butter, margarine, oil, or non-stick spray. Do this even if you are using a “non-stick” surface to make the cakes easier to flip.

2. Put the frying surface on a medium heat setting or burner.

3. Mix the cornmeal and salt together.

4. Add water, a little at a time, stirring constantly until cornmeal is smooth. (It will remind you of the southern USA dish called grits except thicker.)

5. Add milk and stir again.

6. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto the hot frying surface just like you would for pancakes.

7. Cook like you would pancakes, flipping when the side against the griddle has browned.

8. When both sides have cooked, remove from the pan and keep warm until meal time.

You can eat these “cakes” with butter, jam, molasses, etc. They also are very useful when cleaning that last bit of food/gravy from your plate! Yum yum!

Colonial Recipes
Posted by: mshunny

4 cups bottled, unsweetened apple juice or cider*
4 pounds golden delicious apples, peeled, cored, & sliced
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspooons ground cinnamon

In a heavy bottomed, 8 quart pan, bring apple juice to a boil over high heat. Add apples; reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft enough to mash easily (about 30 minutes). Stir in sugar and cinnamon until well blended. Cook, uncovered, mashing apples and stirring often, until mixture is thickened and reduced to five cups (about 1 hour). Ladle into prepared half pint jars, leaving ¼” headspace. Process for five minutes.

Yield: about five half-pints.

*Cider gives the apple butter a deeper, richer (and some say stronger) flavor. My recommendation is to stick with the apple juice unless you really love the flavor of cider.

14 apples, stewed & pureed
1 t. cloves
2 medium onions
2 t. cinnamon
1 c. sugar
1 T. salt
1 c. vinegar
1 t. dry mustard
1 t. pepper

Put all ingredients into a saucepan and boil for one hour. Put into prepared sterilezed jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath 15 minutes.


1 T. margarine
2 ½ cups milk
¾ cup cornmeal
2 eggs
½ cup molasses
¼ t. salt


1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Use the margarine to lightly grease a baking dish.
3. In a saucepan, mix the milk and cornmeal together over medium heat, stirring often.
4. Cook about 15 minutes or until thickened.
5. In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs.
6. Gradually add the eggs to the cornmeal mixture, stirring constantly.
7. Add the molasses and salt. Stir.
8. Remove cornmeal mixture from heat and pour into the baking dish.
9. Bake, uncovered, for about 45 minutes and then serve warm.

This will have the consistency of a bread pudding if lightly cooked and of a moist spice bread if cooked longer. You may have to try this more than once to get it the way you prefer.

(Indian pudding is not like the pudding we eat. It was mainly used as a dessert.)

Homemade Butter
Posted by: mshunny

This is the easiest way to make butter.

You need baby food jars and heavy cream.

Fill a baby food jar half way with heavy cream.

Have students shake the jar without stopping about 4-5 minutes.

Keep shaking until the cream yields together and there is hardly any liquid left in the jar.

Let the children eat the butter on crackers or bread.

You can add salt for a little taste.

colonial times
Posted by: Cathy

Can you divide the states up and have students in partners or in groups. Have students research 5 mini topics, such as the life of a child in colonial times, family life, transportation, jobs and government. Give them a time line of events that made our country independent. Do schools still have mini chalk boards? You could try to recreate life as a child in colonial times. You could compare prices of today with cost of living in colonial times. You could have students write a formal letter to someone in the revolutionary war.

Posted by: M.

A Colonial newspaper would be nice. They could write articles on big events that took place during the colonial times. They could have a page devoted to houses where they would advertise houses from the colonial days (descriptions would fit colonial houses) and point out the land description in the colony that the house is located. They could do a page advertising clothing. The clothing would be from colonial times. A colonial toy store ad, advertising toys from colonial days. Lastly, a colonial restaraunt page, making up a restaraunt from colonial times and a menu serving food served during the colonial time.

some ideas
Posted by: Rebecca

I have a few ideas lined up for my centers this week...
*Make a hornbook (write our lessons on them)
*Make a quill pen to use with hornbook
*Planting corn (an edible treat)
*Making a cornucopia
*Fun T'giving stationery in the writing center
*Making silverware (focus on the silversmith in colonial times)
*Make a Jamestown Home
*Visit aboard the Mayflower(computer)
*Compare and Contrast (Venn Diagram) colonial times to today...Use books, Sarah Morton's Day and Samuel Eaton's Day ( a day in the life of a pilgrim girl and boy)
*Use words from the books for vocabulary ( coney, gammy, hasty pudding, pottage, snare, etc.)

Cat's Cradle
Posted by: Pam

We do a unit on Colonial times and play two games. We teach the kids cat's cradle- they LOVE it! It's very addictive!

We also make a "whirly-gig". Remember these? You can string a large button through the string- knot it, then pull the string in and out so the button spins and thens WHIRRRRRS!

We don't use a button- but have the children cut out a tagboard disk, color it, then string it. It's more challenging to make the disk WHIRRRR- but again- they love it! Hope these help! Pam

Colonial Tea Party
Posted by: timpea2

I also teach 2nd grade and we do a big colonial unit. I also use the Colonial Williamsburg website. The big activity that we do is a Colonial Tea Party. We invite the students to dress as if it were colonial times. The kids do a great job! We also read from one of the American girl books that discusses manners and conversation at a tea party. (Even the boys get into this.) We have the students bring in a tea cup and saucer. I also talk with our music teacher and we integrate music and we teach the kids the minute dance. I do a little program. . .

*Send home invitations for parents to come to tea party
*2 kids stand at door and welcome parents to the tea party and pass out a little program(they love to see their child's name on the program)
**I do a comparison writing on today vs. colonial. Several students read colonial times. Then several others read today's times.
*Students serve tea and cookies (I serve cold tea--no ice and shortbread cookies.) I also put my students desks together to make little tables.
*I pair up students to dance the minute and I have a classical CD that has a minute.
*Students then ask a parent or another student to dance with them.

While the students are talking, serving and dancing I'm taking pictures. The students are in charge of the tea party. They do a great job!!!
2nd graders start asking about our tea party on the first day of school.

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A Colonial Christmas
Posted by: Pirate_Andi

You might could use some of what I have here for 2nd graders.

I tought 4th grade last year and we did " A Colonial Christmas". A boy and a girl in colonial dress would go to a classroom and tell them about their outfits and why they live where they do. They passed out numbers to each students. They would then escort the class of students to our room where they would go to the numbered station that matched their number. Every 3 to 4 min. they would rotate to the next station.

I brought my sewing machine to school and the girls made their own long skirts out of sheets. We made bonnets out of paper doillies. The boys wore vests and hats.

We brought somewhere around 200 students through. My students felt so proud of themselves.


1. Welcome Center: Home decorations made during Colonial times.
2. Pomander ball: information and demonstration on how and why.
3. School: How to make a hornbook and what it was used for.
4. Writing: Quill pens and ink...everyone was allowed to make a line
with a quil pen.
5. Toys: Handmade stuffed doll, playing cards, marbles
6. Money: Pieces of eight
7. Quilts: How to make a quilt
8. Candles: How to make a candle (students dipped a wick in wax)
9. Butter Making: Had a churn for display. Shook whipping cream to
make butter served it on crackers for visiting
10. Refreshments: Apple juice, Johnny Cakes, and Gingerbread.

Let me know anyone if you would like to see some pictures!!

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Colonial Picnic
Posted by: LLK

When I taught Gr 5, my coworkers ( 4 0f us) and I did a whole day rotation in each other's rooms where each room did a particular art that went along with colonial times. One was quill writing...using Ben Franklin's proverbs, one did marble bags and wampum beads for the Native American side of things, one did a construction paper art where you curl the paper to form things, one did candle dipping, and I can't remember what else. We had students bring in food items like corn bread and beef jerkey and pumpkin pie and everyone ate at the end of the day. The students dressed up like in colonial times. It was a hectic but fun day. Go to your library and have your librarian find some books on colonial projects. There are a lot of them out there.
Not much on specifics but hope this gives you some ideas to work from.

Colonial Times
Posted by: Anneliese

I do an extensive Colonial times project with my 4th graders. I tell them that it is high time they get a job -a colonial job. I use a form I got from a book on Williiamsburg and sign them up as apprentices. Then I assign each student a job such as a baker, miller, blacksmith, wool carder, spinner, basketmaker, etc. I have a Dover coloring book on Colonial Occupations and I copy a sheet for each student to use to research the job as there is good information in the paragraph at the bottom of each sheet. Then I have students complete a worksheet that I designed with information about the job including what they do, the tools and materials they need, what they like about and dislike about their job as well as a piece on interdependence of the trades. This last piece is done as a whole group activity. I write the names of all the trades on the board in a circle and students come to the board and draw a circle from their job to the name of a job they depend on (The spinner depends on the wool carder.). This could be done on poster board using yarn instead if you wished to display it. Students complete the three paragraphs, create a sign from wood or card board and then do an oral presentation with any available props. The kids always love it and it is amazing what they learn from it.

Reading and Social Studies
Posted by: Jenn

I have found two great authors that seem to cover 5th grade social studies in their literature. The books are easy reading so it can be used for all levels of kids in 5th grade. Robert Clyde Bulla and Betsy Maestro. Bulla has "A Lion to Guard Us" (Jamestown), "Squanto, A Friend of the Pilgrims" (Pilgrims) and "Pocahontas". Maestro has everything from The Discovery of the Americas, Conquiring America, Colonial America, Immigration, Union of the People (writing the constitution). They are both great authors. Check them out on Amazon for more books.

Colonial books
Posted by: Lori

Joan Lowery Nixon has several books in a series called Young Americans Colonial Williamsburg. The titles are

Ann's Story: 1747
Ceasar's Story: 1759
Nancy's Story: 1765
Will's Story: 1773
Maria's Story: 1773
John's Story: 1775

I have not read all of them, but Nixon does a good job of her research and they have extensive notes in them. They also cover different socio-economic classes of the period so you get to see life from many different perspectives.

Kate Waters also has a photo book called Mary Geddy's Day: A Colonial Girl in Williamsburg. Her book uses photos from the re-enactment Williamsburg to tell the story of a "typical" colonial girl. She also has titles that focus upon Pymouth Plantation -- Sarah Morton's Day, Samuel Eaton's Day, Tappenum's Day, On the Mayflower, and Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast.

Other books I had a school for the Colonial Period are Calico Bush by Rachel Field -- pretty much a classic, but only for good readers, about an indentured servant in Maine in 1743.

Night Journeys and its sequel Encounter at Easton by Avi are simpler stories about indentured servants in 1768 near the Pennsylvannia-New Jersey border. I am an Avi fan, but I sometimes have trouble getting students to read him.

For Jamestown settlement in addition to A Lion To Guard Us, there are two short diary type books published by Scholastic and by Patricia Hermes called Our Strange New Land and The Starving Time. These are simpler books that the Dear America books and are in the My America series.

I had these at school and could not think of them this week end. It seemed everything I could think of this week end was the Revolutionary period!!


Colonial Activities
Posted by: Margaret

We make minibooks based on Colonial Education, Colonial Food, Colonial Recreation, A Girl's Life, A Boy's Life, and Colonial Occupations. Everyone must do the occupations book and 3 others of the list. The main resource we use is the fantastic and colorful Chronicle of America: American Revolution 1700-1800 by Joy Masoff. It's available from Scholastic. We also make posters of famous colonists. I've collected a bunch (about 18) of simple line likenesses of everyone from Abigail Adams to Martha Washington which I've pasted to 2 sheets of paper. I give each student a copy of these pages. Students fold a large sheet of drawing paper (or white construction paper) to create 16 rectangles. The top left rectangle contains the title (Famous Folks of the Am. Rev. or whatever) and the rest of the rectangles contain the pictures of the famous folks, in alphabetical order, with 3 sentences of information written about each. I got these ideas at a Barbara Inman workshop.

Colonial Museum
Posted by: Cherrie28

I worked in a school that created a live Colonial Museum. They worked hard researching for a couple months. Then they made each room into different rooms from the Colonial period...such as kitchen, school, tool house. Each student was assigned a role and had to dress and act the part. Parents were invited to come tour and one other grade level came through. It was fantastic. Also, they had a day where each class chose a colonial activity such as a game or craft and the students chose the activities they wanted to do and they ended it with a food celebration.

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colonial trades
Posted by: Ramie

As part of my colonial unit each student researches a different colonial trade. Not all regions of the colonies had the same trades. For example, you wouldn't have tobacco farmers in the New England Colonies. They then create a two dimensional store front that is folded and place their reports inside. We then make three different bulletin boards into the colonies with all of their store fronts. They create roads, streams, etc. If I can find my pictures from last year I would be happy to send them to you so that you can get the gist of what I mean.

The students also write skits to portray life in the colonies, Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, etc.

Colonial Day
Posted by: A fellow 5th grade teacher

Out 5th grade also participates in a colonial day. Students have to perform 3 performance assessment before they are allowed to participate in colonial day. Students create a map of the 13 colonies, 3 informational guides on 3 colonies where they depict information about how the colony was settled, the products and industries that were founded on those colonies. Lastly students create a travel brochure on two colonies where they talk about family life, goverment and community activities. Students really look forward to completed these tasks so that they can participate in similar activities as Mr. L.

Colonial project
Posted by: Holly

Each year during our unit on colonization, we have a colonial day. Each teacher on our team has a specific activity that they teach to the classes and the kids rotate every 40 minutes. Activities could be things like how to make a horn book, calligraphy, cornhusk dolls, face silhouettes on black and then mount on white (these look great for open house) candle making, or pomanders out of oranges with whole cloves covering them. At break, the parents provide trays of cornbread and apple juice. You could also have them make butter for the cornbread our of heavy cream in baby food jars. During lunch they bring their lunches that they have packed in a pail or basket and we have a picnic on the back field. You could make dress up part of the day, but don't have to. Good luck, hope it helps.

Pioneer Christmas Crafts
Posted by: Alison

Log Ornaments - Collect twigs to bring to class. The students break the twigs into 2-3 inch pieces. Bundle into a pile and tie in the middle with raffia or twine. Tie the extra string into a loop to hang the ornament.

Dipped Candles - On top of a hot plate,melt beeswax into medium size coffee can which is sitting inside a larger coffee can partly filled with water to create a double-boiler style pot.
The students suspend a 12 inch length of wick over a narrow strip of cardboard. The card board length is wider than the mouth of the coffee can.
Create a "drying rack" by laying 2 yardsticks across two tables. Hang the cardboard with candles over the two yardsticks between dippings. It will take several dippings to create 2 small candles. When finished, they may cut the wick to create 2 candles, or leave the wicks together to hang on a peg shelf at home.

Tin Punch Ornaments - Have the students save the metal lids from frozen juice cans. Create a punch template the same circumference as the lid. Designs are made of dots which become guides for the nails. I choose pioneer quilt designs. The student will need a hammer, and a long thin nail with a broad head, and a block of wood to hammer upon. Tape the template to the lid. Next, hammer a nail through the lid into the wooden block to stablize the lid. Using a hammer and long nail, the student will pierce each dot, thereby reproducing the design onto the lid. When finished, remove the paper, and add ribbon to hang the ornament.

I had several stations and parent volunteers to made this more managable!

Spicing up NYS history
Posted by: Anneliese Bopp

I give my class jobs - colonial jobs. We used the Dover coloring book of Colonial Jobs for the beginning of our research, added internet research, created trade signs out of cardboard and paint and then worked on a giant web on the bulletin board to study the interdependence of the occupations. We also made candles, tapped maple trees, made maple syrup and dyed wool, all then used to create group written explanations. We ordered a box of artifacts on loan from a local museum and studied the artifacts as well.

Another thing we did that the kids loved was assigning each a character from the Revolutionary war to do a biography on. This really peaked their interest in the Revolutionary War and personalized it. We also did some simulations with the aspect of trust and loyalties after reading Charlotte's Trunk. We read a great book called Toliver's Secret and I have a whole unit on that. It deals with spies and there are some great internet sites on spies.

5th grade centers
Posted by: Kelly

I take my themes and then build in the multiple intelligences. I'm a big constructivist type of teacher, so I don't have a traditional room.

For example:
1.) Write five journal entries from your novel character's point of view that show the difficulties they had in settling into their colony.
2.) Draw a map of the 13 colonies (include geographic details). Attach index cards with information regarding who founded the colony, what they discovered, crops/food sources, and
natural resources.
3.)Dress as a person from your colony and present a colonial charter written for colonists. Present to the class.
4.) Create a book of native plants, animals, and resources found in your colony. Explain their uses to the class. Bring in examples if possible.


These are up for the duration of the theme, with a minimum amount required to be completed.

Colonial book titles
Posted by: Debbie

Jean Fritz has written many books on people and events of that time. If you go to Barnes and Noble and type in the subject, you'll get lots more ideas. Check the editorial reviews as well as pages to see if your kids will benefit from these. Also, Bobbi Kalman has done several nonfiction books as well.

Johnny Tremain
Posted by: Lori

Hint: I read Johnny Tremain with my 5th grade class when I first began teaching and it was too much. I had a classroom set of books and it goes so well with Colonial times! Yikes! The kids did not like it at all. They complained about it being too long and too involved. I don't try to read it like that anymore. Instead I read excerpts from it with my Colonial unit. The kids enjoy this and I think they understand it better! If I had time I would read it together as a class, or use it as a read-aloud. It is a super book but I think a little tough for 5th grade.

good book
Posted by: AnneB

I have a story book I like a lot. It's called The New Americans, Colonial Times * 1620 - 1689. It's written by Betsy Maestro and illustrated by Giulio Maestro. It's published by Scholastic Inc. and copyrighted in 1998. It has pictures of tools they used, archetecture, clothing, maps, and in the back it has additional information. It does cover about 60 - 70 years of colonization but it's a neat book to share with a group to get them interested in this time period.

Posted by: Tammy

This year I split my class into 6 groups. 2 groups studies each region of the colonies- New England, Southern, and Middle. They had to research certain things and then create a colony brochure, complete with map and illustrations, and then present them to encourage the rest of the class to visit their region. They did a really great job! They were all surprised when the two groups doing the same section came up with information that the other group didn't find.

Plimouth Plantation
Posted by: mlg

Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts has a terrific website on lives of the earliest settlers in Plymouth Bay Colony. One reason that I particularly like it is that it gives a balanced view of the perspectives of both the Puritans and the Wampanoags who were the Native People that inhabited the region. It sure sets the stereotypical view of the earliest days of settlement on its ear. Be sure to use the spelling of Plimouth as that is the "old-world" form of the word.