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Letter of Marque

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: War of 1812

Grade Level: 6-12

Common Core Standards
R.6-12.1. Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
R.6-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

Content Areas: Reading, Social Studies

Recommended Length/Duration: 45-60 minutes

Learning Goals: Students will examine a document typical of the early 19th Century.


  1. Discuss or have this lesson follow the lesson on Privateers. Introduce the Letter of Marque as the official document authorizing private ship owners to act in a war.
  2. Have students examine the image of the original document. Guiding questions could include.
    • Why are some words printed and others written in?
    • Why are some words larger than others?
    • Were there few or many letters produced? Why do you think so?
  3. Have students read the text of the letter independently, as a small group, or together as a class.
  4. Have students answer the questions independently or as a small group.
  5. When students have had a chance to answer the questions, have them share their responses. The teacher should correct any errors and resolve any disagreements.

Assessments: Collect and assess the accuracy of responses.

Letter of Marque worksheet (pdf)

Special Considerations: Younger students may benefit from a discussion of legal language. Identifying the meaning of legal or archaic terms before or during the reading will support fluency and comprehension.

Extensions: Students may want to find other examples of Letters of Marque in digital records on-line.
Students might be interested to research how private soldiers, “contractors,” “mercenaries,” are used in warfare today.

Notes: This Letter of Marque is a reproduction of one housed at the Navy Department library. See an image online: