Free History Studies: Washington Irving

Washington Irving was largely self-taught and his love of books made him one of America’s best-loved authors.

Read the current chapter online: “Washington Irving as a Boy”

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
  • Washington Irving’s nurse was from Scotland.  Bairn is Scottish slang for a little child.  What are some American slang words we hear or use every day?  (Spud/potato, boo-boo/mistake, buck/dollar, for example.)
  • Read an easy-to-read version of Robinson Crusoe (see below).
  • The World Displayed tells the stories of people and countries through voyages and conquests.  Thumb through one of the volumes.  Why do you think Washington Irving thought he might like to be a sailor?
  • Learn more about salt pork, and if you are brave, make your own!
  • Copywork for younger students (edited selection from Rip Van Winkle):

    Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill mountains. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.

  • Copywork for older students (from Knickerbocker’s History of New York):

    The writer of a history may, in some respects, be likened unto an adventurous knight, who having undertaken a perilous enterprise by way of establishing his fame, feels bound, in honor and chivalry to turn back for no difficulty nor hardship, and never to shrink or quail, whatever enemy he may encounter. Under this impression, I resolutely draw my pen, and fall to with might and main at those doughty questions and subtle paradoxes which, like fiery dragons and bloody giants, beset the entrance to my history, and would fain repulse me from the very threshold.

  • Think of a place you know very well.  Write a humorous, but accurate description.
  • More about Washington Irving from the Book of Knowledge:

    …[T]he first really important book produced in the new nation was a humorous history of New York as a Dutch colony.  The supposed author of the book, Diedrich Knickerbocker, was invented by Washington Irving, who is called the founder of American literature.  He was born in 1783, in New York, where his father was a merchant.  His mother was the daughter of an English clergyman.  His own life makes a story as interesting as many of those he wrote.

    The greater part of his education was obtained at home, for ill health in his boyhood kept him from school and college.  In 1806 he became a lawyer, but soon went into partnership with his brothers, who were merchants.  Just at that time the beautiful young girl to whom he was engaged died, and her death had a great influence upon his whole life.

    Still, his sense of humor was not destroyed, and two years later, in 1809, he wrote The Kinckerbocker History of New York.  The book is written in a perfectly serious way, and the historical facts are true, but for the most part it is pure fun.  It marked Irving as a really original writer, and was the first American book that was looked upon in Europe as literature.

    When it was written, Irving had no idea of making literature his profession, but nine years later, when his firm failed, he took to his pen as a means of making a livelihood….

    In 1819 he published The Sketch Book, which included Rip Van Winkle, The Spectre Bridegroom and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow — three legends of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains, that were acclaimed by Americans and awoke them to the beauty of their own country.

    [After a term of office in Spain as minister to Madrid], he settled down at Sunnyside, his house at Tarrytown, New York, on the Hudson, where he wrote a delightful biography of George Washington, which is also valuable as a picture of the time in which Washington lived.  This book, the last of Irving’s works, was completed before his death, which took place in November 1859.

    “American Literature,” The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

Washington Irving
Biography from Irving Texas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

A timeline of Washington Irving’s life from Irving’s Sketch-Book.

Washington Irving’s Sunnyside
Photos give you a glimpse of Irving’s Hudson Valley estate.


New York Map/Quiz Printout
From Enchanted Learning.

Interactive Map Maker {Free}
Make your own maps.

Activity: Words That Describe
Using the works of Washington Irving.


Robinson Crusoe: Written Anew for Children by James Baldwin
An easy-to-read version.

Irving’s Sketchbook for Home and School Use
Condensed version with biography and excellent narration/discussion prompts.

The Student’s Life of Washington
A condensed version of Washington Irving’s five-volume biography of George Washington.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Core Knowledge lesson plan covering predicting, character analysis, writing, and culminates in creating a poster.

Teacher’s Guide to The Core Classics Edition of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Other Tales
Extensive 114-page Core Knowledge download for older students covering literary analysis of Irving’s works.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

United States Map map for locating New York.

United Kingdom
PAT map for locating Scotland.

New York Map
Map for locating Terrytown, the Hudson River, and the Catskill Mountains.

Washington Irving Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the complete series:
Free History Studies: Stories of Great Americans
Free History Studies: Stories of Great Americans

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