[Author's note: this post is an excerpt from The Gentlemen of Gloucester, a book available here on Amazon.]
In 1975, a number of Troopers rode horses from Philadelphia to Boston, to tracing the path of the unit's first mission in 1775 to escort General Washington on his way to assume command of the Continental Army.
National Geographic photographer Ted Spiegel originated this concept, presenting it to a number of Troopers as a challenge. Predictably, the Troopers took the bait and launched into a three-week planning session to map out Washington's 1775 route to Cambridge and commission replicas of their original 18th century uniforms.
As Dan Mannix recalls, “The britches were linen, which has no stretch, with stitches on the inside seam guaranteed to rub and then split. We also had wool jackets, perfect for the July weather.” Seventeen men departed on June 20th from Independence Mall, aiming to arrive on Cambridge Commons by July 4 at exactly the spot where General Washington took command of the Continental Army.
Executing the entire journey on borrowed horses lent by friends and acquaintances made along the way, as news of their journey spread ahead of them, the Troopers never knew from day to day where they would stay for the night or whose horses they would ride. They simply rolled northward on a wave of patriotic fervor sweeping the East Coast as enthusiasm grew for the upcoming American Bicentennial.
Each day, the Troopers advanced along the same roads that Washington followed, visiting the same country inns that existed in his time. Many of these were still in business, and, most conveniently, had all been built within a day's ride or walk of each other.
Costume malfunctions were unavoidable, but easily remedied. Upon reaching the Lambertville Inn in New Jersey, David Stokes's britches were so ripped that he had to scrounge some of the restaurant’s white linen table napkins to use as patches.
Although each subsequent town welcomed the incoming Troopers with open arms, they tended to offer them lodging in local firehouses as opposed to their homes because their 18th-century appearance was increasingly accompanied by an 18th-century smell.
In Piermont, New York, they hitched a ride to New York City on folk singer Pete Seeger’s sloop, Clearwater. Troopers in colonial dress (looking not unlike a 1960s rock band) shared the boat with hippies in t-shirts and cutoff jeans. Mannix joked that Seeger (a socialist) would have flipped had he realized that he was giving passage to a bunch of young Republicans.
Arriving in Manhattan to great fanfare, the Troopers secured a new batch of horses and clippety-clopped down Wall Street to Fraunces Tavern, reaching it on the same day that Washington and his officers had 200 years earlier, do dine on the same period meal.
Leaving New York, they proceeded north to the Massachusetts Turnpike—still following Washington’s exact route—which by 1975 was a six-lane freeway. Mannix described that leg of the trip in motoring terms: “We rode along the turnpike until we reached Exit 20, then we left the freeway and took a right.”
On July 2, 1975, twenty miles outside Boston, they hit a marker commemorating George Washington’s original trip. It said, "On this day, July 2, 1775, at 2 p.m. General George Washington passed by here on his way to Boston to take command of the Continental Army." Eerily, Mannix glanced at his wristwatch and noticed that it was exactly 2 p. m.
When they reached Cambridge Commons, a cacophony of reenactors’ musket and cannon fire drove the Trooper’s rented horses crazy. To his surprise, David Stokes found that “after so many days on horseback, I had such a firm seat in the saddle that it seemed impossible to get thrown.”
The journey finally ended that night with an 18th-century-styled ball attended by a mixed throng of Massachusetts politicians and historic reenactors. The married Troopers escorted their wives to this event. Their wives had driven up for the occasion and naturally arrived in their own period clothes. Troop bachelors brought dates from among the camp followers who had attached themselves to the procession along the way.