Bluebeard's Castle is the name given to a historic Danish period watchtower that was built around 1689, on St. Thomas. It is located on a small hill, overlooking Charlotte Amalie harbor. Originally the watchtower was part of a fortification system used to watch over and protect the harbor. The system included the tower now known as Bluebeard’s Castle, plus Fort Christian and another watchtower, now called Blackbeard’s Castle. Bluebeard's and Blackbeard's Castles have become popular tourist attractions and the subject of pirate legends and stories.
In this activity, students will use questions to examine a map of Charlotte Amalie from 1826, focusing on the location identified on the map as Blue Beard’s Taarne. They will consider how the tower got that nickname and learn about possible errors in maps and how to address them.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
If the classroom is equipped with an interactive smart board the teacher can load the map on the smart board. The class can make observations about the map by zooming into the details. If there is not a smart board, students can work in small groups at computers to zoom into the map.
Present students with the Analyze a Map worksheet either by loading the worksheet on the smart board or printing the worksheet and distributing it to students individually.
Analyze the Primary Source
The teacher can ask students if they are familiar with Bluebeard’s Castle on St. Thomas. Do they know where it is? Have they been to it? Do they know why it is called Bluebeard’s? Do they know who Bluebeard was? Have students by a show of hands answer the question: Who thinks Bluebeard was a real person? Who thinks Bluebeard is not real? (He is not real.)
The map is from approximately 1826 and the tower is already referred to by the nickname “Tower of Blue Beards”. Have students generate theories of why the tower was given that name. How might they research their theories?
Errors in Original Sources – When the Map Maker gets it Wrong!
This map is an original source, and it offers valuable information, but there is a mistake. The map maker got something wrong. Can you figure it out?
The teacher can present a current map of Charlotte Amalie to help students compare. On the current map locate Blackbeard’s Castle and Bluebeard’s Castle. Now have students look at the 1826 map again, do they see the mistake?
Bluebeard’s Castle is written in where Blackbeard’s Castle is located!
The teacher can translate the page with the 1826 map to English if they haven’t already. Look at the Original Inscriptions section of the Metadata on the left side. Scroll all the way to end, and have students read “As this Draft has been made here in Copenhagen without further guidance than from the Author’s Memory, it cannot be expected that it is entirely accurate.”
Sometimes map makers and artists would visit the islands, then return to Denmark and create their maps or artwork from memory. Mistakes can happen that way. It’s always a good idea when working with primary sources, to compare a few of them to make sure the information matches and there are no differences. If you find differences, then more primary sources must be looked at to help determine what is correct, and what might be an error. This is part of the work of a researcher.
Research these questions and write out your answers. You may use any resource to find the answer but must identify what the source is, and whether it is a primary, secondary, or maybe even a tertiary source. Explain why it is that type of source.
What was Bluebeard’s Castle’s original name?
What was Blackbeard’s Castle’s original name?
Were both sites’ castles? If they weren’t castles, what were they? What was their function?
Include the sources you used to find the answers. Is the source you used a primary source? Or a secondary source? Explain.