Captain James Cook: Extraordinary Explorer

Captain James Cook: Extraordinary Explorer
Martha Washington: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One or two class periods


During Martha Washington's lifetime, a number of voyages of discovery were undertaken, including the three major voyages of Captain James Cook, a British explorer.  These voyages took place from 1768 to 1779, twelve years during which the French and Indian War took place, the meetings of the Continental Congress were held, and the war of American independence was fought and won. Despite the momentous events at home, it is likely that both Martha and George Washington followed the discoveries of Captain Cook, perhaps in the same way that we follow the discoveries of astronauts today.


Students who participate in this lesson will gain experience in researching and creating a timeline, and in following a narrative of exploration on a map or globe, thus increasing their knowledge of world geography.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet;  a world globe or map;  books about James Cook.


1.  Using the materials found on the web site about Captain James Cook (access below), follow the path he sailed on each of his three voyages, and trace them on a world map or a globe.
2.  Using the Cook web site and the First Ladies Library Timeline on this web site, make two timelines for the years 1768 to 1769. 
3.  On one timeline, put the events of the three voyages of Captain Cook; on the other, put the events in the lives of Abigail and John Adams.  Think about the contrast in their lives.  What was Abigail doing while Captain Cook was off having adventures?
4.  From your research, be able to answer the following questions:
  • What is “a transit of Venus”?
  • What misfortunes occurred to the men on Cook’s ships?
  • What are the Sandwich Islands called now?
  • What is the origin of the word “sandwich”?
  • What is scurvy, and how did Captain Cook fight it?

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by a more detailed research project on the three voyages of Captain Cook, including illustrations of important events, reports on the diseases of sailors in the 18th century, comparisons with other famous voyages, e.g., those of George Anson, etc.

Sources & Resources:


      James Cook: British Explorer

     The Sandwich and the Sandwich Islands

     The HMS Resolution


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.