If you’re in the habit of making travel-related resolutions, why not make 2013 the year of Colonial American spirit? A road trip through the original 13 colonies delivers a hefty dose of history, offering a glimpse of our country’s past, present and future. If you’re wondering where to start, here are a few ideas: 13, to be exact.
A hotbed of Puritan firebrands, the 17th-century Colony of Connecticut was committed to self-government, something that hasn’t changed much in more than 200 years. Connecticut mustered arms in protest against the stamp and tea taxes. Called “the provision state” by Gen. George Washington, Connecticut sent supplies, including gunpowder, salt and beef to the Continental Army.
Scenic Byway: Route 169 runs for 32 miles north/south between the Massachusetts state line and Lisbon, criss-crossing 25 historic towns, rustic farmsteads, forests and green space.
History Stop: Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park is the site where, on Sept. 6, 1781, the infamous turncoat Benedict Arnold captured the fort and massacred 88 of 165 defenders. Tour the restored Ebenezer Avery House, which sheltered the wounded after the battle. www.ctvisit.com
It might be small in area, but Delaware played a big role in Colonial America, thanks to its strategic location along the bay and river of the same name. Delaware is one of two original colonies founded by non-Brits — it was settled by the Swedes, with the Dutch claiming New York.
Scenic Byway: Route 100 from the Pennsylvania state line meanders south for about 15 miles along the rolling Brandywine Valley countryside, with stops including DuPont estates, gardens and museums.
History Stop: Pay a visit to the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, on the site of the gunpowder factory founded in 1802 for a look at how the other half really lived. www.hagley.org; www.visitdelaware.com
Named in 1732 for the King of England, Georgia’s early mission was to shelter the indigent and persecuted in Britain. Although the colony took its time flourishing, it was in the first group of states to ratify the new Constitution after the Revolutionary War ended.
Scenic Byway: The Altamaha Historic Scenic Byway runs for 17 miles following routes 99 and 17, traveling from the Sapelo Island Visitors Center to the historic Needwood Church and School, with sweeping views of live oaks draped with Spanish moss along Georgia’s coast.
History Stop: The entire city of Savannah seems to be steeped in history. Founded in 1733, this atmospheric destination delves into colonial past while still offering plenty of right now — in fact, it was named one of America’s 15 coolest cities by MSN. Tour haunted mansions and journey back more than 275 years in the city’s landmark Historic District, where just about every architectural style from the 18th and 19th centuries can be found. http://savannahvisit.com; www.exploregeorgia.org
Around these parts, history is our middle name. We pass by Independence Hall without even thinking about it, so familiar are the Federal architecture and cobblestoned streets. But it bears remembering that the Revolutionary War played out from Ft. Mifflin on the Delaware to the Chadds Ford countryside. George Washington not only slept here, he commanded the bloody Brandywine Battlefield, where so many of his men fought and died.
Scenic Byway: Head north to U.S. Route 6, a long, rural, scenic drive that heads west from the northern Poconos through the valley of Scranton following the Susquehanna River through the Endless Mountains
History Stop: The Battle of Brandywine was the largest engagement of the Revolutionary War, fought on Sept. 11, 1777, between the Continental Army led by General George Washington and the British forces headed by General William Howe. Set in the heart of 50 acres of rolling park and woodlands, the battlefield includes historical exhibits of uniforms, weapons and artifacts. www.brandywinecvb.org; www.visitphilly.com
Blessed with the riches of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland was first settled in the early 1600s, an early bastion of religious tolerance established by Sir George Calvert, better known as Lord Baltimore.
Scenic Byway: One of the most interesting is the Religious Freedom Tour: 189 miles from Port Tobacco, once a Potapoco Indian village, south to Point Lookout, a rural drive of small-town landscapes that include some of the nation’s oldest churches and lovely state parks.
History Stop: Follow the Star Spangled Banner Trail, commemorating our nation’s anthem, with stops at battlefields and forts from the fishing village of Solomons to Baltimore. Along the way, you’ll discover what inspired our national anthem by paying a visit to Frederick, and the home of Francis Scott Key. http://visitmaryland.org
It all started at Plymouth Rock, where the Mayflower delivered hopeful Pilgrims in 1620. Over time, the relationship with the crown grew more strained, with Massachusetts leading the quest for independence from Great Britain, inspiring its nickname of “Cradle of Liberty.”
Scenic Byway: Battle Road Scenic Byway is a 21-mile drive through Arlington, Lincoln and Concord, following the path of the British at the onset of the American Revolution.
History Stop: Not far outside of Boston, and along the Battle Road Scenic Byway, you can visit Minute Man National Historical Park, a protected 970 acres that mark the opening battle of the Revolutionary War. Historic sites include North Bridge, where “the shot heard ’round the world” was fired, and a monument at the site of Paul Revere’s capture during his famed midnight ride. www.visit-massachusetts.com
This early British settlement sprung up in 1623 on the banks of the Piscataqua River, not far from modern-day Portsmouth. Well known for their spirit of independence and self-reliance, New Hampshire residents have a history of chafing against big government.
Scenic Byway: The Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains stretches 26 miles from Lincoln eastward, a splendid landscape that draws leaf-peepers in droves for fall color. Take the Loon Mountain Gondola Skyride for a spectacular overview.
History Stop: A state that has “Live Free or Die” as its motto takes independence seriously. While no battles were fought here, this was the first state to declare its independence. Visit Fort Constitution in New Castle, the site of the first American seizure of a British fort. www.visitnh.com
The sibling rivalry between New York and New Jersey is nothing new. The two colonies shared a royal governor under British rule for years, until 1738, when Lewis Morris became the colony’s first prefect.
Scenic Byway: Follow the east side of the Delaware River along Route 29, a 35-mile drive that follows the Delaware and Raritan canals. The views are breathtaking, especially in fall, as the route takes you through the historic riverside towns of Titusville, Lambertville, Stockton and Raven Rock, ending at Frenchtown.
History Stop: Washington Crossing State Park marks the spot where George Washington crossed the Delaware River, leading his troops into Trenton to capture the Hessian garrison and turn the tide of the American Revolution. www.visitnj.org
Dutch refugees from religious persecution founded New Netherland on the notion of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Always a melting pot, New York’s population was nearly 80,000 in 1750, and would double by the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
Scenic Drive: Less than an hour outside of Manhattan, Route 9 passes through the village of Sleepy Hollow, a picturesque spot busy with farmers’ markets, street fairs and a sweet commercial downtown. Take a driving tour through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, final stop for Andrew Carnegie, William Avery Rockefeller and Washington Irving, author of the legend that bears the town’s name.
History Stop: Located 80 miles north of the city in New Paltz, Huguenot Street Historic District dates back to 1677 and is the oldest continually inhabited American settlement. Notable for 17th- and 18th-century stone buildings from the colonial period, this area was settled by French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in France and Belgium. www.iloveny.com
As one of the original 13 colonies, North Carolina is steeped in Revolutionary history. The fever for independence spiked in communities across the state, coming to a head in Fayetteville a year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That’s when 55 local patriots signed the Liberty Point Resolves and pledged their “lives and fortunes” to fight for freedom.
Scenic Byway: The Devil’s Stompin’ Ground cuts a 34-mile path through the heart of North Carolina beginning in Pittsboro and heading south toward the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area and the 500-acre North Carolina Zoological Park.
History Stop: On Aug. 23, 1793, the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry (FILI) was organized after President George Washington gave the call to arms and enacted the Militia Act. Visit the museum and armory, with its collection of historical artifacts, weapons, uniforms and memorabilia. www2.visitfayettevillenc.com; www.visitnc.com
The bluffs of Block Island, at the mouth of the Long Island Sound, were first espied by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block in 1614. America’s smallest state was the site of the Battle of Rhode Island, fought in part by the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, the only major action to include a racially segregated unit on the American side of the war.
Scenic Drive: It only takes an hour or so to drive across the state of Rhode Island, but get off I-95 and head from Narragansett Bay to the Atlantic along Routes 1 and 1A for stunning views of the Ocean State’s coastline, capital city and beach-lined southern shore.
Historic Stop: While exploring historic Newport, visit the Touro Synagogue. The oldest standing synagogue in the United States was designed by colonial architect Peter Harrison and dedicated in 1762. The congregation was founded in 1658 by Sephardic Jews who fled Spain and Portugal. www.visitrhodeisland.com
Did you know that more Revolutionary War battles were fought in South Carolina than in any other colony — 214 skirmishes in all? Head off the interstate in the north-central area of the state, and travel through the Olde English district, a collection of seven counties settled by the Brits in the mid 1770s. From Revolutionary War battlefields to historical sites and monuments, this is small-town historic America at its best.
Scenic Byway: Due south of Greenville from Route 221, Hickory Knob State Park in McCormick is defined by the wooded shoreline of the 71,000-acre Strom Thurmond Reservoir, an outdoor paradise that includes a golf course, lodge and campgrounds, hiking and biking trails.
History Stop: Visit the Cowpens National Battlefield, site of the 1781 battle in which the American Patriots overwhelmed the British at the Battle of Cowpens. There’s a hiking path and picnic area along the battlefield where General Daniel Morgan’s troops fought their way to victory, a milestone that ultimately led to the surrender of the British commander Lord Earl Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Home to America’s Historic Triangle, Virginia includes three living-history museums — Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center, as well as the National Park sites of Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield.
Scenic Byway: The 23-mile Colonial Parkway connects major sites within Virginia’s Historic Triangle and offers views of the James and York rivers’ shady passageways through pine and hardwood forests.
History Stop: The Yorktown Victory Center brings history to life, detailing America’s struggle for independence from the beginnings of colonial unrest to the formation of a new nation. Outdoors, historical interpreters recreate everyday life during the Revolutionary era, involving visitors of all ages in activities from mustering troops to working on the land and processing flax. www.historyisfun.org
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Inside Magazine.
Beth D’Addono is the chief travel and interiors correspondent for Inside.