Study Early American History with Movies from the 1700s to the mid 1800s.

History class sometimes gets a bad rap as being boring.

My family discovered that it’s our favorite subject when we stepped away from textbook style learning. We love combining our literature and history and then adding in other hands-on projects and media to create an immersive learning environment.

Movies can be a wonderful way for teens to learn more about history. Check out this list for early American history.

Also, be sure to read about four ways to incorporate movies into your homeschool (beyond read the book and then watch the movie) in this post:

How to Study American History with Movies for Homeschool Families

Early American History with Movies: A Vetted List

These early American History movies are vetted for appropriateness for high school students (ages 14 and above). Some are rated R, mostly for violence, and they are noted.

There are several movies on this list produced by Disney, which would be appropriate for all members of your family (these are labeled as well).

Parents should preview any movie that they feel is questionable for their children, however, as family preferences may differ. Common Sense Media and Plugged In are helpful sources of movie reviews.

I have not included documentaries or docudramas, only fictionalized accounts of actual events or times.

Some links in this post may be affiliate links. This means that if you click on them, I may make a tiny commission, at no extra cost to you.

colonial american history

American Colonial Times

Felicity: An American Girl Adventure 2005 G Don’t dismiss this one just because it’s American Girl. It’s actually a great family-friendly production starring Shailene Woodley.

Keeping the Promise (The Sign of the Beaver) 1997 G. This Feature Film for Families movie is based upon the book The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare but was originally released under the name Keeping the Promise. You can find it on Amazon Prime and at many libraries.

Disney’s Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale. PG 1994 A live-action story about Squanto’s life and how he escaped capture twice, only to be caught a third time. He played a major part in saving the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Great movie to watch at Thanksgiving, even if not completely historically accurate. Also on Prime.

The Crucible 2011 PG-13. This is a movie version, not a filmed version on the play, so some scenes are split up differently from the stage version. Be sure to discuss how Arthur Miller wrote this play in reaction to the Red Scare and McCarthyism. There are also many literature guides available to help you if you want to examine some of the many themes in this movie.

american history revolutionary war

American Revolutionary War

Early American History Movies for the Whole Family

April Morning 1988 NR (Hallmark Hall of Fame) is the story of the famous “shot heard round the world” which started the American Revolutionary War with Great Britain. It’s also available on Prime.

Johnny Tremain: He Answered Freedom’s Call 1957 PG is a Disney production. It’s a very patriotic look at how colonists stood up and fought for liberty. A good account of the events around Boston leading up to the start of the war. It’s also available on Prime, Vudu, and YouTube.

Early American History Movies Best for Teens

Drums Along the Mohawk NR 1939 This is an older movie, but is in color and stars Henry Fonda. The frontier in the late 1770s was the Mohawk Valley in New York State. The settlers there lived peaceably with the Native Americans until they are stirred up by a British sympathizer.

The Crossing 2000 PG (produced by A & E) stars Jeff Daniels as George Washington. General Washington leads his men across the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776, in their last, desperate attempt to defeat the British. Also available on Netflix.

The Patriot 2000 R stars Mel Gibson. If you don’t mind violence, this is a fantastic look at the Revolutionary War in the southern colonies. Gibson’s character is loosely based upon Frances Marion, a military leader in South Carolina. It’s also available on Prime. (There’s another film from 1999 with the same name starring Steven Segall–that’s not the one you want).

The Broken Chain 1993 NR starring Pierce Brosnan. If you can find a copy of this movie, I highly recommend it. (We have the old VHS version.) If you don’t have a VHS player, try searching online (YouTube) for a streaming version. This movie is about two Iroquois brothers who end up on opposite sides of the conflict. One of the few movies (Dances with Wolves is another) that tells the story from the perspective of the Native Americans, who were trying to hold onto their way of life.


Buffalo

Westward Expansion

Early 1800s Movies

Sacagawea: Heroine of the Lewis and Clark Journey 2003 NR looks at the life of the Native American girl who was such an integral part of the Corps of Discovery. Not much is known about her other than what was in the Corps’ journals, including where and when she died, so there are differing opinions about many of her biographical facts. Still, it’s a worthwhile film! Also, check out this Lewis & Clark unit study for more information about the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. It’s also available on Amazon Prime.

lewis clark unit study

The Buccaneer 1958 PG stars Yul Brynner and Charleston Heston. General Jackson gets help from the “Prince of Pirates” Jean LaFitte in defending New Orleans from the British in the war of 1812. It’s available on Prime.

The Alamo 2004 PG-13 stars Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton. The John Wayne version is pretty famous, but the new version of The Alamo is more historically accurate. Both are on Amazon Prime. Also, be sure to look at this Davy Crockett & the Alamo unit study for more information about the Battle of the Alamo.

davy crockett alamo
Mid 1800s Movies

Seasons of the Heart 1993 G stars Leigh Lombardi and is a Feature Films for Family movie. (There’s another movie by the same name that stars Carol Burnett.) About a family that loses two children along the Oregon Trail and go on to adopt another. I highly recommend it!

Seven Alone G 1974 is another family-friendly production. It’s based upon the true story of the Sager family as they were some of the first pioneers to make their way to a new life on the Oregon Trail. Older kids can look up the true ending of their story and how they ended up with the Whitman family in Oregon. Also, check out this Oregon Trail unit study for information about the pioneers. This movie is also available on Prime and Netflix.

oregon trail unit study

Dances With Wolves 1990 PG-13 stars Kevin Costner in one of his most famous roles at John Dunbar. Although this movie is technically set during the Civil War, I’ve included it here because it fits more with the Western Expansion theme. This is a must-watch movie! It’s also available on YouTube, Vudu, Hulu, GooglePlay, and Prime.

Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin 1967 G is a Walt Disney Production of the book, By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman. This story is about a young boy who stows away on a ship bound for California, headed to find gold. He is chased by the family’s butler, who wants to bring him home. A fun, family comedy. Also available on YouTube, GooglePlay, Vudu, Disney+, and Prime.

More American History Movies

Mid American History: Civil War up to World War I

Modern American History: World War I & World War II

Post War American History: 1945 to 1970

Civil Rights Movement up to September 11 (coming soon)

Be sure to follow my Pinterest boards US History: Westward Expansion and Middle & High School History for more great hands-on activities and ideas for teaching American History to you homeschool teens!

Don’t forget to pin this post so you can refer back to it later!

early american history with movies colonial america
early american

One Reply to “Study Early American History with Movies: Colonial Times to the Civil War”

  1. I’ve got another great way to learn history: Listening to my audio books! I’ve got tons of them. I’ve been in business for 20 years, always do unabridged recordings, and have many, many long time customers. I’d be thrilled if you’d like to do a pin for that! Site address is https://JimHodgesAudioBooks.com. You can become an affiliate on my site and then promote the recordings.

    Here’s the list:
    G.A. Henty Audio Books
    1. The Cat of Bubastes
    2. Young Carthaginian
    3. Beric the Briton
    4. For the Temple
    5. Dragon and the Raven
    6. Wulf the Saxon
    7. Winning His Spurs
    8. In Freedom’s Cause
    9. St. George for England
    10. The Lion of St. Mark
    11. A March on London
    12. Both Sides of the Border
    13. At Agincourt
    14. Knight of White Cross
    15. By Right of Conquest
    16. St. Bartholomew’s Eve
    17. Under Drake’s Flag
    18. By Pike and Dyke
    19. By England’s Aid
    20. Friends Though Divided
    21. When London Burned
    22. With Wolfe in Canada
    23. True to the Old Flag
    24. In the Reign of Terror
    25. Through Russian Snows
    26. Through the Fray
    27. A Final Reckoning
    28. Captain Bayley’s Heir
    29. Heart of the Rockies
    30. Out on the Pampas
    31. With Lee in Virginia
    32. Short Stories
    33. 101 Henty’s

    Childrens Recordings

    34. Uncle Wiggily Little Tails
    35. Uncle Rocky Fireman
    36. Stories of the Pilgrims
    37. Am Hist Stories
    38. Richard of Jamestown
    39. Peter of New Amsterdam
    40. Great Americans
    41. Christmas Treasury
    42. Spy for Night Riders
    43. The Queens Smuggler
    44. Mayflower Secret
    45. Shanghaied to China
    46. Escape fm Slave Traders
    47. Bandit of Ashley Downs
    48. Kidnapped by River Rats
    49. Hidden Jewel
    50. Flight of the Fugitives
    51. Fate of Yellow Woodbee
    52. Badge of Honor
    53. Tunnel of Gold
    62. Munford & the Revolution
    63. Munford and Robert Fulton
    64. Munford and Lewis & Clark
    65. Munford and Klondike
    66. Four Great Americans
    67. Nursery Bible Stories
    68. 10 Great Adventurers
    69. Uncover Ex. History

    Classic Literature

    54. Frederick Douglass
    55. Treasure Island
    56. Robinson Crusoe
    57. Joan of Arc
    58. Harriet Tubman
    59. 10 Girls from History

    Old Time Radio Shows

    60. YAT: U.S. History
    61. YAT: World History
    70. The Lone Ranger
    71. Horizon’s West
    72. Mr. President!
    73. Classic Literature
    74. Frontier Fighters!
    75. Les Miserables
    76. Tarzan
    77. Ozzie and Harriet
    78. Sherlock Holmes
    79. Pearl Harbor Attacked
    80. DDay Broadcast
    81. Josephus

    Overtly Christian Line

    82. Coral Island
    83. Gorilla Hunters
    84. God’s Mighty Hand
    85. Moody’s Great Sermons

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