Bicycling through History

BICYCLING THROUGH HISTORY

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Edition 1

Edition 2

Edition 3

Edition 4

Edition 5

Edition 6

Edition 7

Edition 8

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Librarians

Retailers

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VIDEO on the WEB

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Bladensburg

Bladensburg was a busy port city during the 1700's. The harbor, which was heavily used by the old sailing ships for moving cargo, has now been replaced by a marina for recreational boats. Just around the corner and up the hill are the sites of some old buildings that date back to the mid-1700s. Some of which are still in use today.

The Ross house was built in 1749. It was the home of Dr. David Ross, a soldier and supply surveyor during the French and Indian War. Behind his home was a meadow where the locals raced horses and people from all over the area came to watch. The house was used some years later, during the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814, as a hospital for wounded British and American soldiers. It is rumored that the front yard held the remains of six British soldiers. Dr. Ross eventually was buried in the town's Evergreen Cemetery, and many years later his house was dismantled and shipped, piece by piece, to Baltimore County, where it was painstakingly reconstructed.

The master of the market, which operated alongside the wharves, lived appropriately in the Market Master House, which was erected in 1750. Over two hundred years later the building, restored in 1958, still stands, although it now is hidden behind a fast food establishment. By 1776, Bladensburg was exporting more tobacco than any other Maryland port on the Western Shore and within the next 11 years, all of the 60 one-acre lots which comprised the established town, were developed. It boasted a variety of doctors, artisans and merchants, as well as waterfront wharves, a shipyard and rope walk, tannery, taverns, stores and many stately homes.

There is a historic marker along the beginning of the bike trail in Maryland, just outside the DC line. It identifies and describes the old Bladensburg dueling ground. Dueling was a carryover from European culture. The weapons used might have been either swords or pistols. Most early colonists had enough problems simply with normal living, so dueling was more often left up to men of wealth and prominence.

Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were among several famous Americans to condemn dueling. Franklin called duels a "murderous practice . . they decide nothing." And Washington, who undoubtedly needed all the good soldiers he could get, congratulated one of his officers for refusing a challenge, noting that "there are few military decisions that are not offensive to one party or another."

The most popular dueling ground in all of America was at Bladensburg, Maryland. This was not, however, the site of the most famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. That took place in New York. Bladensburg was more frequently used by men to settle their differences. Dueling was banned in Washington DC, but not so in Maryland. That meant participants needed only a short carriage ride to exchange shots at each other. Irate legislators could simply shuttle out to Bladensburg and fire at will.

Dueling did not necessarily always mean death. There are documented occasions where neither man could fire accurately enough even to hit the other. Sometimes they just called off the match. More often, however, the result was death or serious injury. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the dueling grounds are next to a cemetery. This is not something that is widely acknowledged or cherished in American history, but it did exist.

The bike trail we took generally parallels US Route 1, which dates back to colonial times and now runs all the way from Maine to Florida. Back in the 1700's this was the main route from Virginia, up through Maryland and Philadelphia, then on through New Jersey and New York to Boston. It is likely that George Washington took this route on numerous occasions before and during the Revolutionary War. It is a fact that he stopped in Bladensburg at the Indian Queen Tavern several times during his travels. It was approximately one days ride on horseback from Mount Vernon. This would have been a nice place to stop back in those days. Bladensburg was a thriving port community and was well known for horse racing and imbibing of spirits. Now the same tavern building is used as an office for local government.

The tavern was built in 1732. Some accounts indicate that it was called The Indian Maiden, possibly as a reference to Indians who had roamed its boundaries prior to 1608, when Captain John Smith had sailed up the eastern branch of the Anacostia River. Other accounts say it was called Indian Queen Tavern for the wife of one of the owners. The building is now also known as the George Washington House.

George Washington

George Washington reportedly stayed here on his way to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 and again in 1790. The tavern, which changed hands a number of times, counted as its guests over the years such other notables as John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and Commodore Stephen Decatur. It is also said that men who traveled from Virginia and other areas in the early 1800's sometimes spent the night there in order to arrive at the nearby Bladensburg Dueling Ground (located in what is now Colmar Manor) at the break of dawn to settle affairs of honor. One such duel in 1820 was between Stephen Decatur and James Barron, and resulted in Decatur's death. Dueling was outlawed by Congress in 1839, although duels continued to be fought in the "Bladensburg" Dueling Grounds until after the Civil War.

Cannon balls from the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 are said to be embedded in the walls of the George Washington House. The Palo Alto House/Tavern was erected in 1734 across the street from it and one block north of the Indian Queen Tavern. Cock fights were held at the Palo Alto.

Peter Carnes, an inn-keeper at the George Washington House, performed the first authenticated balloon launch in America in 1784, reportedly from the grounds of the tavern. His Bladensburg launch was unmanned, but a short time later, on June 24,1784, in Baltimore, he sent 13-year old Edward Warren airborne in the first successful manned launch in the United States. Carnes' second attempt at a manned ascension took place on or about July 4 of that same year, in Philadelphia, although the balloon's basket reportedly crashed into a prison wall, sending its occupant, Carnes, to the ground after only going about 10-12 feet into the air. Despite the failure by Carnes to perfect the technique of manned balloon travel, the concept was eventually developed to the point where manned observation balloons were used extensively during the American Civil War.

The Battle of Bladensburg took place here on On Aug. 24, 1814, during the War of 1812. British troops had sailed up the Patuxent River, landing near Benedict and traveling by foot through Nottingham and Upper Marlboro. Their destination at the time was thought to be Baltimore, which had become a more important shipping point than Bladensburg. When the troops veered toward Bladensburg, however, it became apparent that Washington, and not Baltimore, was the intended target of the invasion. American forces in the area had burned two bridges across the Anacostia River below Bladensburg leaving the one in the town as the most likely crossing point for the British. Bladensburg was burned as well and it never quite regained its full stature.

There is one notable exception during the time when Andrew Jackson was president. This town is actually where the term "cocktails" was invented. Andrew Jackson liked to come here to watch cock fights and have a few drinks with friends. After each fight, a round of drinks were served while the feathers were still in the air from the fight and they would fall in the drinks, hence the name, "Cocktails."

Samuel F.B. Morse reportedly received the first telegraph message in Bladensburg, in 1844, before his famous "What Hath God Wrought" message between Baltimore and Washington. His telegraph wire had been temporarily strung along the railroad right of way.

About a mile up the bike trail from Bladensburg is the Riversdale Mansion. This was a large plantation built by descendants of the Calvert Family. It was originally built in 1801. At first it comprised almost 800 acres, but as parcels were sold off it became a neighborhood for families who built victorian homes during the late 1800's.

Another mile or so up this same trail is the College Park airport. The Wright brothers came here in 1910 after test-flying their airplane in North Carolina. They got a government contract to produce airplanes and a whole aviation industry developed. Radios were designed specifically for flying, flight schools were set up and even early helicopters were tested here. This is the oldest, continuously operated airport in the world. There is a nice museum and restaurant right along side the bike trail.

Going just a little farther up the same trail is Greenbelt, Maryland, which is where the Goddard Space Flight Center is located. This is one of several facilities for tracking and control of satellites and shuttle missions through outer space. So in just a matter of few miles, we have found significant historical locations dating back to the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, 1900s and leading right up the 21st century.

This concept of Bicycling through History is the basis for our series. Normally, our rides will not offer so much variety and examples of so many different periods in history. This trail just happens to be in our own back yard and spawned the original idea for these video adventures.

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American History from the perspective of a Casual Cyclist.


Bicycling Through History
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