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Cruising Up The Mid-Atlantic

I spent the next three days driving north from Maryland to Connecticut.  The first part of my trip was along Maryland's so-called "Eastern Shore," which I was visiting for the first time.  For some reason, I'd always managed to miss this beautiful part of the country during my previous road trips around America.  The eastern shore of Maryland, as I discovered, is more rural and laid-back than the rest of the state, and is very pretty, with lots of rolling farmlands and marshes.  Visiting this area is almost like stepping back in time a hundred years.

 

Above:  The Tilghman Island marina on Maryland's eastern shore.

When I reached southeastern Pennsylvania, I made a slight detour to drive through the Amish country near Lancaster.  Like thousands of other folks who visit this bucolic area each year, I gawked at all the horse-drawn carriages and laughed at the funny names of the Amish towns there, like Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball, and of course, Intercourse.

 

I had never been to northeastern Pennsylvania, so I decided to drive north through the industrial cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Reading, stopping briefly in each.  Monopoly fans know that Reading (as in "Reading Railroad") is pronounced "redding" and not "reeding."  Although I didn't see any railroads there and didn't collect my $200 for passing Go, these cities were much interesting and vibrant than I'd imagined.  That includes Allentown, which wasn't nearly as run-down as I had envisioned from listening to Billy Joel songs.

 

People had told me wonderful things about the Pocono Mountains and the Delaware Water Gap in far northeastern Pennsylvania, so I headed up there that evening to camp.  Overall, though, I wasn't very impressed with the Water Gap and didn't think it was anything special, perhaps because I'm spoiled by the beautiful landscapes out west.  Of course, it didn't help that it was overrun with people -- and I understood why after looking at a map that night and realizing that I was less than an hour's drive from New York City.  Since I'm not a real "city person," an hour away was about as close to New York City as I wanted to get on this trip.

 

Here's Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York.  Well, OK, I didn't actually visit New York City, but I did drive across New York state.  Close enough.

 
   

The next morning was bright and sunny, and as I pulled out of the Water Gap campground, I looked forward to a pleasant and relaxing drive to Connecticut on the Interstate.  As I got onto I-84 in rural southern New York, though, I noticed the level of driving intensity rise several notches.  This definitely wasn't like driving on the country backroads of Virginia. 

 

As I was cruising along at 65 miles an hour, I saw something on the freeway up ahead that didn't register in my brain until after I passed it.  As I zoomed by, I realized that it was a huge wooden crate about five feet high sitting smack dab in the middle of the left lane of the Interstate.  I couldn't believe what I'd just seen until after I had passed it (and jeez, talk about an accident waiting to happen).  Welcome to the Northeast.

 

       

Above left:  Literally the end of the road, on Tilghman (pronounced "Till-man") Island, on the eastern shore of Maryland.

Above center:  Boats on Tilghman Island.

Above right:  Darn, how come I never meet women like this?

 

   

Above left:  The beautiful town of St. Michaels, Maryland, is known as "The town that fooled the British."  During the War of 1812, British ships sailed to this area during the night to bombard the city.  Residents of St. Michaels hung lanterns up high in the trees and the British cannon fired into the trees and over the houses, thus sparing the town.  Locals here still laugh about that one.

Above right:  The buggy rush hour in Intercourse, Pennsylvania (yes, that's really its name), in the heart of Amish country.  They removed the city limits sign, probably because goofballs like me would suddenly slam on their brakes and take pictures of it.

 

   

Above left:  Speaking of which... 

Above right:  Allentown wasn't nearly as bad as Billy Joel made it sound.  It seemed like a pleasant town.

 

   

Above left:  Camping in a dingy campground at the Delaware Water Gap in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Above right:  Crossing to the east side of the Hudson River in New York.  According to easterners, I was now in "civilization."

A "Generally" Good Time in Connecticut and Rhode Island

I had an "interesting" time, let's say, later that day driving through downtown Hartford, Connecticut.  I was on my way to visit Mark Twain's house, which is on the west side of town.  In most places around the world, as you probably know, a red stop light means "Stop."  Apparently in Hartford, Connecticut, though, and based on how some of the locals there drive, a red stop light means "Pause (but only if you want)."  And it's O.K to double- and triple-park on a busy street in Hartford -- no problem.  Oh, and blasting your horn at merging traffic on the freeway, which happened to me here, is also acceptable.  Yep, I was definitely in the Northeast.

 

From these and other unnerving experiences, I found it ironic that Hartford is known as the "Insurance Capital of America."  Or maybe drivers like this is why Hartford is the Insurance Capital?  Either way, and Mark Twain's house notwithstanding, I was glad to leave Hartford.  And some people wonder why I like the west so much.

 

Above:  Major General Israel Putnam during the Revolutionary War.

After Hartford, things mellowed out as I headed to eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, where I enjoyed visiting the homes of two of my ancestors, Israel Putnam and Nathanael Greene, both of whom were generals during America's Revolutionary War against the British (1775 - 1781).  Come to think of it, they were both very charismatic and able leaders, so maybe we're not related after all.

 

Israel Putnam (1718 - 1790) was a Major General during the Revolutionary War and fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill near Boston early in the war, among other places.  According to my research, Israel is my first cousin seven times removed.  The "first cousin" part of that means that Israel and I are both directly descended from his grandfather.  And the "seven times removed" part means that I'm seven generations down the line from Israel on a family tree.  In other words, there's a large age difference between us,  Israel being born about 250 years before me.

 

Israel's cousin, a fellow named Seth Putnam (1756 - 1827), who's my fifth great-grandfather, was at the Boston Tea Party in 1773, two years before the war started.  During the night of the tea party, my grandpa Seth and his American compatriots dumped 342 chests of British tea into the Boston Harbor to protest a tax the British had imposed on the American colonists.  I'm not much of a tea drinker and neither are most Americans today, largely because of that incident.

 

Along with Israel and his cousin Rufus Putnam, who were both generals during the Revolutionary War, several other ancestors of mine, mostly from Massachusetts, fought in the Continental Army against the British during the war, including a Massachusetts fellow named Bradstreet who was a captain in the Army, serving under George Washington. 

 

Above:  An old ribbon factory in Rhode Island.  I love these old brick buildings that are so common in the Northeast.  Brick buildings are a rarity out west.  Too many earthquakes, I guess.

Contrary to what many flag-waving Americans today think, there was, in fact, a lot of pro-British sentiment among the American colonists during the Revolutionary War.  In fact, many historians estimate that about one-third of American colonists during the Revolutionary War supported the British during the American revolution, another third was neutral, and a third (the so-called "patriots") supported the rebellion.  I had sometimes wondered which side my colonial ancestors supported.  Then I learned that one Bradstreet relative of mine named his son, who was born in 1778 during the middle of the war, "George Washington Bradstreet," so I guess you can tell where his allegiance lay.

 

I can definitively trace my relationship back to the Putnams and Bradstreets, but my connection with Nathanael Greene, who I've always thought was the finest general in the Continental Army, is hazier.  From what I understand, my great-great-grandmother proudly claimed that we were descended from him, though I haven't figured out the connection yet in my family tree, if there is one.

 

I had a good time driving around Connecticut and Rhode Island while visiting my ancestor/generals -- though I did have to get used to the scale of the road maps here.  On the AAA maps that I use, each state is printed to fill up the same sized sheet no matter how large or small the state.  Having spent time in Texas, where an inch on the map takes an hour to drive, I had to adjust to Rhode Island where an inch on the map is -- oops, I just passed it.

 

   

Above left:  Hartford, Connecticut is known for more than just insurance.  In fact, it was a literary haven during the 1800s.  This is Mark Twain's unique 19-room house where he wrote "Tom Sawyer," "Huck Finn," and several other books.  Twain's house is next to the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Above right:  Mark Twain slept here -- from 1874 to 1891, in fact.

 

       

Above left:  I'm related to that guy on the horse.  This is the tomb of my cousin, Israel Putnam, in Brooklyn, Connecticut.  

Above center:  A close-up of "Old Put."  He was a General during the American Revolution and led the patriots during the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston. 

Above right:  In 1742, Israel killed what was supposedly the last wolf in Connecticut in this small cave.  The wolf was a nuisance because it had been marauding sheep herds.  Local farmers cornered the wolf here in its den, but no one had the nerve to crawl in and shoot it -- except for 24-year old Israel.  Obviously, this was before the S.P.C.A.

 

       

Above left:  Here's the home of another (supposed) ancestor of mine, Nathanael Greene, a general during the Revolutionary War.  I'd always admired Greene because of his intelligence, modesty and competence, but learned only recently that I might be related to him.  This was his house, in Coventry, Rhode Island, which is now a museum.

Above center:  Here's my man, Nathan.  Before the Revolutionary War, Greene operated a forge near his house and was a self-taught man.  Greene was appointed the Continental Army's Quartermaster General during the early part of the war, in charge of feeding and supplying the American troops.  Then he became a Major General and led the American troops in the South during the last few years of the war. 

Above right:  I got a personal, hour-long tour of the house from a nice woman named Mary, the caretaker of the Greene Museum.  She didn't want to have her picture taken -- so she took mine, instead.

 


 

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