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HomeClassroom ResourcesCalendar Activities

January 06

Two famous Smiths share this birthday.

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Two famous Smiths share this birthday.

Grades 3 – 12
Calendar Activity Type Historical Figure & Event





Both these famous men were known for their exploration of different parts of North America. John Smith, famous for his presidency of Jamestown and interactions with the Algonquin, explored and mapped the Chesapeake Bay. Jedediah Smith, an explorer in the west, used the "South Pass" through the Rocky Mountains to lead some of the first white settlers to new lands. Born over 200 years apart, both shared a love of exploration, experience with Native American relations, and a common last name.




Have students learn more about these two famous Smiths by visiting these brief biography pages: Jedediah Smith and Captain John Smith. Have students look for comparisons between the two men, and ask what their experiences have in common related to U.S. history. Then draw their attention to the shared last name. Explain to students that each man has something in common with nearly three million people in the United States-the last name. Smith, which means "a worker at the smith-a metal-worker, blacksmith or farrier,"Ě is the most common English surname. According to census data, 1% of the U.S. population-nearly 3 million people-have the last name Smith.

Have your students investigate the meaning of their last names using this Dictionary of Surname Origins. Students can also determine their last names' rank among the most common names and surnames, by searching data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

As an extension, have students survey other classrooms to see how the top 10 surnames in your school compare with the national statistics.



  • Dictionary of Surname Origins

    This resource offers a searchable database of the meanings and origins of last names. General information about surname derivations is also included. Note that there are links to a fee site, so students should use this database with supervision.

  • Captain John Smith

    The Colonial Williamsburg site offers this brief biography of Captain John Smith, including excerpts from his personal journal.

  • Jedediah Strong Smith

    This biography, from the Jedediah Smith Society, includes information on Smith's travels and their significance in American history.


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