Author: Catriona Misfeldt
Series Editor: Roland Case
A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14–16
On September 8, 1863, a man whose legs had been cut off at the knees was found on the beach of Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. He had no identity papers, money, or belongings, and didn’t speak. Unable to look after himself, Jerome was cared for by local Acadians. He spent the rest of his life almost in silence. Many rumours developed about this mystery man and his origins. These theories — ranging from the believable to the unbelievable — were transformed into a widely-told Maritime legend.
Although he lived over 100 years ago, the legend of Jerome has endured. His story captured people’s hearts and imaginations during his life and after his death. What was it about this penniless, disabled, mute man that caused people to travel from across the country and world to see him? What was so significant about his life that people were prompted to write books, poems, and songs about him? Why is Jerome remembered?
In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to determine which aspect of Jerome’s life contributed most to his enduring significance as a Maritime legend. From the moment he was discovered to after his death in 1912, Jerome continued to gain fame. Although there was mystery surrounding his circumstances and his identity, his story seems a simple one. What aspects of his life were so worthy that he is still remembered today?
First, you will learn more about Jerome’s life and consider the factors that affect the significance that historical events have. You will then examine documents to learn about four dimensions of Jerome’s life — his discovery, his condition, the way the people responded to him, and the unknown circumstances surrounding his origins. You will identify evidence from these documents that indicates the possible significance of each dimension. Finally, you will rank order them to determine which dimensions of Jerome’s life contributed most to his enduring significance as a Maritime legend.
Learn more about Jerome’s life — how he arrived in Nova Scotia, how he was cared for, and how he lived his everyday life — by reading the following newspaper article:
Many events and people in the past are memorable and have an effect on their communities and on the course of history. But some events are historically more significant than others. They are more worthy of learning, remembering, and researching. For example, millions of people will remember that September 11 was the date that the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by planes crashing into them. In the case of Jerome, many things are notable about him, but there were some aspects of his life that could be said to be more significant than others. In determining which of these contributed most to his lasting fame, three factors should be considered:
As an exercise to test your understanding of how these factors might be used to assess the significance of events, select four prominent events in your own life (e.g., going to elementary school, moving to a new city, meeting a best friend, and taking up a hobby). Use a copy of Finding Evidence of Significance to record information about the prominence at the time, consequences, and subsequent profile of each event. Based on these factors, decide which seems to be the most significant historical event in your life.
Analyze two or three documents for each of the four dimensions of Jerome’s life that are potentially significant. Below, you will find the dimensions and the related documents:
1. his discovery (how he was found – abandoned — on the beach with a jug of water and a tin of biscuits with no identifying clues)
2. his physical condition (how he didn’t speak and was physically disabled)
3. the response by the local Acadians (how he was cared for and looked upon by others)
4. the unknown circumstances surrounding his life (who he was, where he came from, how he arrived in Nova Scotia, and why his legs were amputated)
As you read the documents for each dimension, record information about its possible significance on the chart Finding Evidence of Significance. In addition, briefly explain in the left-hand column each dimension. In the other columns, record information related to each criterion for significance. For example, Jerome’s physical condition includes his inability or unwillingness to speak. You might record the following information about the potential significance of this aspect of his condition:
Use the information you have recorded about the possible significance of each dimension to determine which dimensions of Jerome’s life contributed most to his enduring significance as a Maritime legend. Use Ranking the Significance to rank-order the dimensions on a scale from 1st (most significant) to 4th (least significant). Provide reasons for your rankings, referring specifically to the three criteria for determining significance.
The evaluation rubric Assessing Historical Significance may be used to assess how well you were able to identify relevant accurate evidence from the documents and provide plausible justifications for each ranking.
Examine additional documents
Locate other historical documents in Jerome: The Mystery Man of Baie Sainte-Marie that describe additional events in and aspects of Jerome’s life. To what extent do these aspects complement or add to the enduring significance of this legend?
Write an autobiography
Put yourself in the role of Jerome and write an outline for an autobiography. Imagine how he might have felt or thought about the aspects of his life. What aspects might he have considered to be historically significant? Why?
Compare significance in accounts
Select a number of documents listed in the Remembering Jerome section of the web site. Tally the frequency with which various aspects, events, or details of Jerome’s life are mentioned. Analyze the results to determine what other people identified as historically significant.
Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to a related mystery associated with Jerome’s life:
Activity Sheet: Finding Evidence of Significance
Activity Sheet: Ranking the Significance
Poetry and song
Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, RG 31–109 vol. 15 #64, Overseers of the Poor No 3 and others, “Petition of Overseers of the Poor No 3 and others pray to be reimbursed their expenses for transient pauper,” April 29, 1864
Oral history or interviews