Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Green(wich) tea: tasting a litte burnt

One of the best things about visiting Down Jersey is also one of the most challenging. Unlike the Atlantic shore that most state residents are familiar with, the Delaware bayshore has no highway or main road that approximates the curve of the land near the water. The broad network of marshes, creeks and streams, combined with the lack of aggressive real estate development, create a situation where the only state thoroughfares in the region are well inland. Thus, if you want to get from one waterside community to another, you have two choices: either go north to Route 47 or 49, travel a little and then head south on a county or local road, or patch together a route using 'name' roads that may or may not have county designations.

The first option sounds safer, but you end up seeing a lot of the same stuff as you retrace your steps, which is dull from an exploring perspective. The second option can be a bit disorienting, but you see more interesting things, and you likely save time in the long run.

I chose the second option when we left Hancocks Bridge for Greenwich. I'd been to the small, well preserved town via the Route 49 route in the past, so taking the back roads would be as much an adventure for me as it would be for Ivan on his first visit. We were in my car, so I grabbed my laminated flip-fold Southern New Jersey map, discerned an almost-straight shot route and then handed off to Ivan for navigation duties. Directional markers are really very good on these roads, too, so I was confident we'd make our way just fine.

Our route took us through territory that was bucolic even by Down Jersey standards. Lots of cultivated acreage rolled past us, interspersed occasionally by a few buildings marking the center of towns like Othello which don't even make it onto Google Maps. I was taking it on faith that our path would lead us directly to Ye Greate Street, the historic main thoroughfare of Greenwich and the place I knew from earlier visits.

Eventually we started seeing the distinctive well-tended and old-looking buildings as well as things marked "Greenwich." Okay, we've made it to the town limits, but where's Ye Greate Street? Ivan didn't see it on the map, but the Tea Burning Memorial was clearly marked. The big problem was that the map didn't list county road numbers, just street names, and I was all turned around because we hadn't come from 49. No worries: we had plenty of gas in the tank, lots of daylight left and no deadline to get there.

Finally Ye Greate Street made itself known and things started looking familiar. Though the streets are paved and cars are parked here and there, Greenwich always gets me thinking about Colonial Williamsburg. The houses, both brick and wood-sided, big and small, are narrow and tall for the most part, but there are also a couple that are a bit more squat and wider. There's also a building that doubles as a general store/cafe with a separate post office. Despite our hopes for someplace to eat, the store was closed for the summer.

A little farther down, we came upon the Greenwich Tea Burners memorial, ringed by a decorative metal fence. Erected in 1908, it commemorates the December 1774 uprising that echoed the Boston party a year earlier.

Interestingly, the tea was in this busy port on the Cohansey River distinctly for safekeeping. Philadelphia was deemed too dangerous for the cargo because patriots were both boycotting British tea and destroying what they could find of it. The captain of the tea ship Greyhound was told that Dan Bowen, a friendly loyalist in Greenwich, would hide the controversial shipment in his basement until it could safely be brought to market.

It didn't take long for news of the newly-arrived tea to get around Greenwich, and a small committee formed to determine what was to become of the tea. A more spirited group had a different idea. Before the committee came to consensus, a group of 23 patriots costumed themselves as Indians and broke into Bowen's cellar to steal the tea. They brought it to the market square and ignited it in a huge and rather fragrant bonfire.

Spurred by frustrated local Tories, the loyalist government twice attempted to prosecute the tea burners but failed to gain a conviction. According to some accounts, the tea burner who suffered the most was a man named Stacks, whose love of a good brew apparently compelled him to stuff his pockets with purloined tea before joining his compatriots in setting the rest ablaze. It's not clear whether he took it to sell or for his own consumption, but he was known as "Tea" Stacks until his dying day.

Our tea fix gotten, our next stop was for lunch. A number of options awaited us in Bridgeton, not far away as long as we could find our way back to Route 49.  No GPS, no compass, and a map that Ivan described as "a bunch of lines, laminated." This was going to be fun. Any wonder why I stocked up on snack bars and water before we left home?

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