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Black Snake Affair Trial

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: War of 1812

Grade Level: 6-12

Common Core Standards
RI.4.1 Refer to details and example in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
RI.5.9 Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
W.4.1 Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
SL.4.4 Report on a topic with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive detais, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
WHS.6-9.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Content Areas: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Social Studies

Recommended Length/Duration: Introduction 45-60 minutes; Research 2-3 days; Trial 45-60 minutes

Learning Goals: Students will become familiar with the reasons smuggling became common in early 19th century America. Students will learn to select facts that support or refute a particular point of view. Students will learn about the roles and procedures of a court of law.


  1. Introduce the activity with a discussion about smuggling in the Champlain Valley during the early 19th century.
  2. Download and copy the article “The Black Snake Affair and the Price of Statehood” from or make copies of “The Black Snake Affair” summary provided by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
  3. Distribute copies of the article to students and have them read it independently or as a group.
  4. Introduce the activity by explaining that you will be holding a mock-trial of the Black Snake’s captain. Point out that even though the captain appeared to break the law, not everyone felt that smuggling was, or should be, illegal. You will be trying the captain for smuggling only, not murder. Your trial does not have to follow the outcome in 1808 and should be based on the evidence that is presented in court.
  5. Assign students a role in the trial. This can be done by teacher choice, student choice, or lottery.
  6. Introduce the research period as a time for each participant to do research on the law and case. Students should be encouraged to learn more about the Black Snake Affair from other sources. Some students may need more time than others to prepare their case.
  7. Hold the trial when everyone has had adequate time to prepare. The teacher can modify the court procedures in any way that fits their situation. The teacher needs to monitor the trial to ensure that students remain in character and follow the court procedures.
  8. After a sentence is pronounced, discuss how the trial went. Guiding questions might include:
    • Was the trial fair?
    • Did it turn out the way you expected it to?
    • How might the trial have been improved?
    • How was our trial different from what you see on TV?

Assessments: Students should do a self evaluation of their effort, participation, and effectiveness.

Materials/Resources: Multiple copies of “The Black Snake Affair”, access to a library, internet, etc.

Special Considerations: Not everyone will have an equally active role in the trial. Be sure roles are assigned with this in mind.

Extensions: Students may want to learn more about other trials. Students may want to visit the local courthouse.