The Crooked Lake Review

Spring 2000

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Retracing the Route of the

Sullivan Expedition

through Pennsylvania


Thomas D. Cornell

Essay I, Essay II, Essay III, Essay IV, Essay V, Essay VI

Essay IV

Blue Highways

We had driven to Easton late the previous afternoon, and we began Day Three by returning there. Our first stop was the traffic circle at the heart of the city. Now dominated by a tall Civil War monument, it had once been the site of the courthouse from whose steps the Declaration of Independence was given its first public reading.

Our next stop was a park overlooking the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. Traditionally, the forks of the Delaware had been the site of an Indian village. Not until 1752 had a European-American town been established there. By the time of the American Revolution, Easton had become an important center of commerce upriver from Philadelphia, and when Sullivan's troops began arriving in May and June of 1779 they found a well-established community that included about 150 houses, some of stone construction.

Rapid growth during the 19th and early 20th centuries had almost completely transformed the city. Yet there remained at least one remnant of its appearance in 1779—namely, the home of George Taylor, an iron master and a signer of the Declaration:

Our route out of Easton took us across Bushkill Creek. We then climbed a hill, which took us near Lafayette College. A few minutes later we passed a stone marker with the heading "SULLIVAN ROAD." Similar in design to the ones we'd seen at Geneva, at Kashong Point, and at Fort Augusta, this one identified the route "over which the army began its advance[,] June 18[,] 1779." As we continued around the bend, the road crested, and in the clearing beyond the trees we saw a billboard with "Sullivan's March" featured in the name of a new housing project:

During the next several days we would find references to the expedition strewn across the landscape. Some—as in the case of the billboard—bore no essential relationship to the events of 1779. But others were more suggestive.

For example, after returning to the stone marker we had just passed, we noticed that the side road bore the name "Sullivan Trail." Thinking that it might actually have been a portion of the original route, we decided to try it. Unlike the modern highway—with its gentle grades and generous curves—Sullivan Trail undulated and twisted in 18th-century fashion:

But it didn't take us far. Within a mile, or so, it rejoined the modern highway. For a few minutes we sat in the car, watching the traffic race by—as we had ourselves done a few minutes before. Like an oxbow lake, the side road had become separated from the mainstream. Now all its traffic was strictly local. But at least this stretch still existed, giving me a sense of the past I was trying to find.

On the highway again, we drove through the open, rolling countryside back to the village of Wind Gap. There we located another stone marker in the series, this one identifying the campsite after the first day's march. Unlike the others we had seen (and would see), its bronze plaque had been polished to a golden sheen. Two young men from a local cable company were filming it for an upcoming program, and while they were working, two boys stopped to watch:

Next we drove through the actual wind gap—a pass through the ridge that once served as the spillway for a glacial lake. Here we again crossed the Appalachian Trail, and as before we stopped for a short walk. Not until Tannersville did we reach the marker for the second night's campsite. As usual, we parked the car and explored. Also as usual, I took a picture:

But this time my photographic efforts led to an unpleasant encounter. In taking a second picture, I positioned myself just far enough from the marker for the slab of granite to fill my camera's field of view. "Stand in the road and you'll get flattened," a young fellow snarled at me from the window of his pickup as he whizzed by.

Although I couldn't be sure, I imagined his anger as resulting less from my actions, in particular, and more from general circumstances. Tannersville lies near Camelback Mountain, in the heart of the Poconos. As with Gatlinberg in the Smokies, tourists throng through Tannersville. But because its population is so low that our AAA guidebook didn't bother listing it, I suspect that local patience does wear thin at times.

Another feature of the Tannersville marker was its proximity to "The 1749 Alpine Inn"—which put me in mind of a book I had read a few months before. In driving his van "Ghost Dancing" around the United States, the author had deliberately followed back roads. Because atlases often mark such roads with the color blue, William Trogdon (whose pen name is William Least Heat-Moon) had entitled his book Blue Highways.

Trogdon tended to stop at places like the tavern in Tannersville, where he would talk with people like the young fellow who had shouted at me. Originally I had considered doing something similar—in which case I planned to follow Trogdon's advice "There is one infallible way," he noted in the book, "to find honest food at just prices in blue-highway America: count the calendars in a cafe."

No calendar: Same as an interstate pit stop.
One calendar: Preprocessed food assembled in New Jersey.
Two calendars: Only if fish trophies present.
Three calendars: Can't miss on the farm-boy breakfasts.
Four calendars: Try the ho-made pie too.
Five calendars: Keep it under your hat, or they'll franchise.15

But Trogdon's mode of travel was different from mine. More than the van—which also served as his kitchen and bedroom—what distinguished his approach was that he traveled alone. Although he occasionally mentioned "The Cherokee," his estranged wife, her presence in the book remained elusive and peripheral.

By contrast, I was traveling with Terry. I was also trying to stick to a tighter overall schedule. The upshot was that we left Tannersville without stopping at the tavern. Nevertheless, its presence was worth noting, because Sullivan’s campsite here had indeed been near a tavern—as had his campsite at Wind Gap.

After Tannersville, however, the terrain changed. In the eyes of Sullivan's men, they entered true wilderness. "This day we march through a barren, mountainous, country, and uninhabited," wrote Captain Daniel Livermore, in his journal entry for 20 June 1779—the day they left the Tannersville site.16 "We now proceed," he wrote the following day:

on our march through the swamp, which is a dark and dismal place, being covered with a growth of large pines and hemlock, and small brush so thick that a man can't be seen a rod from the road.

Upon arriving safely in the Wyoming Valley, Ensign Daniel Gookin penned a single entry for the period from 20 to 23 June: "Marched thro' Long Swamp to Wyoming 36 miles, there is one house 7 miles from this (no inhabitants) [and] that is all for 36 miles back."17

Yet it would not have been accurate to characterize their route as totally devoid of development. In my research prior to the trip, I had come across a remarkable book, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania, by Paul A. W. Wallace, which described the extensive system of trails that once crisscrossed the state. Some were main arteries for Indian travel, but others were much less frequently used, making them the Indian equivalents of "blue highways."

One of the latter was the Pechoquealin Path18, which extended from modern-day Shawnee on Delaware—at the Delaware Water Gap—to modern-day Wilkes-Barre:

Coming up from Easton via Wind Gap, the Sullivan Expedition had joined the Pechoquealin Path at modern-day Bartonsville, a few miles southeast of Tannersville. During the spring of 1779 a small detachment had preceded the main body of Sullivan's troops. Their task was to turn the Indian trail into a road suitable for supply wagons, and along an isolated stretch of modern-day "blue highway" we discovered a monument in their honor. We were driving in a light, misty rain, with thick stands of trees on either side of the road. At first glance, the structure on our right appeared to be an old barn foundation. Instead—as we learned from an inscribed stone at the top—it commemorated "Hungry Hill…so called because of privations suffered by [the] men…who encamped near here while changing a wilderness trail into a military road to pave the way for Sullivan's Expedition against the Iroquois."

Back in the car, we soon crossed the Lehigh River. In a sense, the Lehigh could have served as the unifying theme for our stops—not just here and at the forks of the Delaware earlier, but also at Lehighton, Weissport, and Palmerton the day before. Wallace's book, however, suggested a different theme: what unified our stops more truly than the river was the network of Indian trails. In that sense, our travel by car was turning out to be far more appropriate than I had realized. We were following a layered route: a modern-day "blue highway," atop the old military road, atop an ancient Indian path.

As we drove, I kept an eye out for additional markers—the only sure signs that we were on the right track. I suspect that we located most of them, though we may have missed one or two on the outskirts of Wilkes-Barre. By then we had returned to four-lane highways, along which the historical markers would have been a hazard (and for that reason had probably been removed).

With evening approaching, we used our AAA guidebook to identify a motel on the ridge above Wilkes-Barre, where—if only the clouds would lift—we were likely to have good views of the Wyoming Valley. Low-lying clouds had been limiting our views most of the day, and our logistical arrangments continued to be complex. Yet the trip was working for me: in the stone house at Easton, in the “oxbow” lake on the edge of town, in the tavern at Tannersville, and in the stretch of “blue highway” near Hungry Hill, I had glimpsed the past of the Sullivan Expedition.

© 2000, Thomas D. Cornell
Essay I, Essay II, Essay III, Essay IV, Essay V, Essay VI

Notes to Essay IV

15 William Least Heat-Moon [William Trogdon], Blue Highways: A Journey into America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982), p. 26.

16 Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan, p. 181.

17 Ibid., p. 103.

18 Paul A. W. Wallace, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1965), p. 124.

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