Shandelle Battersby walks in the footsteps of the USA's Founding Fathers

One of the most famous events of the American Revolution would never get past the fact checkers keeping an eye on US politics in today's times.

Thanks to a poem, Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow written some 80 years after the fact, Sons of Liberty member Paul Revere's part in the ignition of the revolution in April 1775 was forever etched in American folklore — even though it didn't happen quite as the poet described it.

Revere was instrumental in developing the lantern-warning system at the Old North Church (1723), the oldest in Boston, put in place to signal when the English troops were on their way north of the river towards where the colonial militia were hiding out. If one lantern appeared, it was by land; if two were shone, it was by water.

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Paul Revere Statue in Boston.
Paul Revere Statue in Boston.

There's a dashing statue of Revere on horseback out the front and inside you'll find original box pews — separate compartments, organised by social hierachy and built with high walls to keep in warmth, which owners would pimp out with velvet, furniture and knick-knacks, and make comfortable with blankets and pillows. On bitter winter days, patrons would bring along hot rocks and coals as foot warmers.

Visitors to Boston and Philadelphia spend a lot of time tracing the footsteps of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and you can eat and drink in their footsteps too.

At Philly's City Tavern, est. 1773, you can order an ale brewed from the recipe used by Thomas Jefferson, third president of the US, or a rich, dark porter called General Washington's Tavern Porter, made from a recipe on file in the Rare Manuscripts Room at the New York Public Library. Both are fine drops.

The pub played an important part during the American Revolution as a key meeting place for some of the major players, and was also the site of the first Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations in 1777. We dined there during Insight Vacations' Best of Eastern Canada and USA tour from Toronto to New York City.

The pub is a 1970s replica of the three-storey original — which was destroyed by fire and demolished in 1854. These days the tavern has seven period dining rooms, dimly lit by candlelight, and furnished in the style of the day. Staff dressed in colonial garb serve food from authentic 18th-century recipes. Vegetarians, note: you can even order fried tofu — in a letter dated 1770, Benjamin Franklin included instructions on how to make it.

Other food from the era: corn chowder (corn was a staple of the colonial diet), chicken pot pies (only for special occasions as hens were mostly kept alive for their eggs), and sweet potato "biscuits" — kind of like a scone — reportedly one of Jefferson's favourites.

Dinner was an apt way to top off two days of total immersion in the past as we visited first Boston, Massachussets, then Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, learning about the parts each played in the revolution. Even for the non-history nerds among us, visiting key sites and landmarks was fascinating, especially when brought to life by tour director Todd Geist, and local experts.

This is not just for tourists, Geist tells us, visiting the sites is a pilgrimage for Americans.

Boston makes it especially easy with a distinctive 4km red line of bricks in the pavement leading to 16 significant sites, including the Boston Massacre site, churches, museums, burial grounds, meeting houses, and even a ship — the still-commissioned USS Constitution, nicknamed "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812 after cannonballs fired at her appeared to bounce off her hull.

Rocky steps monument in Philadelphia, the monument commemorates acclaimed movie Rocky from 1976. Photo / 123RF
Rocky steps monument in Philadelphia, the monument commemorates acclaimed movie Rocky from 1976. Photo / 123RF

We'd made our way down to Philadelphia ticking off five states in about five hours (Massachusetts, Conneticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania), then conquering the Rocky steps in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, before heading off for dinner at the City Tavern. First came a walking tour of the old town with local expert Jen Hensell, taking in the house once lived in by the seamstress of the original US flag, Betsy Ross; charming Elfreth's Alley, the oldest residential street in US established in 1702; the city's first church (built in 1695); and the site of Benjamin Franklin's house.

The next day we joined 12,000 other tourists for a peek at the city's famous Liberty Bell, before jumping back on the coach and heading south for Washington DC, to see how the fruits of all that tumultuous history would be realised.

Statue of limitations

One of the most photographed statues in the US is a big fat liar.

The figure of John Harvard in the famous Boston university's Harvard Yard is known as the Statue of Three Lies because of the mistruths it portrays. The tribute to Harvard has the wrong date engraved on it (it was founded in 1636, not 1638), it claims incorrectly he was the university's founder (he was a generous donor, but not a founder), and it wasn't actually modelled on him: Harvard died at age 30 from tuberculosis and there was no existing record of his likeness, so a model, Sherman Hoar, was used instead when the statue was made in 1884.

The John Harvard Statue at Harvard University. Photo / 123RF
The John Harvard Statue at Harvard University. Photo / 123RF

One of the statue's feet has been rubbed for luck by students so many times it gleams gold, though if you want to give it a try, warns our guide, 19-year-old sophomore Elizabeth Quinonez, you might want to wash your hands afterwards. Most of us decided to give it a miss.

We were visiting Harvard as part of an Insight Vacations' optional extra. Quinonez showed us around a tiny part of the university as she talked about its culture and history and some famous Harvardians such as John F. Kennedy, John Adams, Mark Zuckerberg, Matt Damon and Bill Gates. We had a crack at student life, letting rip with a primal scream in front of old John.

Ours was the censored version: the annual event takes place in winter at midnight during finals week as a stress release, and involves 1000 students streaking naked while 5000 look on.

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16-day 'Best of Eastern Canada and USA' holiday from Toronto to New York takes in cosmopolitan cities and natural wonders. Priced from $7695 pp, twin share with early payment savings of 10 per cent. Departure dates available from May to October 2018.