ALEXANDER SPOTSWOOD - KNIGHT OF THE GOLDEN HORSE SHOE
The little known story about this distinguished colonial governor is capably recounted by Secretary General Burk 0. Barker.
Very possibly the best of all colonial governors was Alexander Spotswood of Virginia. Patriot, soldier, statesman, administrator, builder, industrialist, he was all of these and a true Cavalier of the Old Dominion. He came to Virginia in 1710 at the age of 34. Born at Tangier, Africa, in 1676 at the British garrison, he was the son of the surgeon to the royal governor of Tangier, the Earl of Middleton.
A member of the Virginia Society, Associate Barker is descended from John Barker who settled in Virginia in 1649. He retired a few years ago following service with the Federal Government. He is a member of a number of hereditary organizations, including Sons of the American Revolution, Jamestowne Society and the Society of the Descendants of Washington's Army at Valley Forge.
Mention is made in his article of a drink called "shrub." An old plantation receipt book in his possession, handed down for many generations, describes shrub as a brandy liqueur. "Made properly," he states, "it is an interesting liqueur favored in colonial Virginia. No distillation is required. Those gourmets with a penchance for gastronomic adventure may write to me for the receipt."
His address is 8603 Chippenham Road, Richmond, VA 23235.
Legends and myths surround his early childhood, but is is certain that he entered the army at an early age. He served with distinction under the Duke of Malborough at the Battle of Blenheim where he was seriously wounded. Rising rapidly in rank, he became quarter-master general to Malborough with the rank of colonel. There is no doubt that his demonstrated skill as an energetic and able administrator led to his appointment as Deputy Governor of the Virginia colony.
His reassertion of the right of Habeas Corpus granted under the charter to Sir Thomas Gates and others in 1606 assured an enthusiastic welcome by the colonists. Concerned by the condition of public buildings in Williamsburg, he set about what today would be called "public works projects". He restored the main building of William and Mary College. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it had been severely damaged by fire. Bruton Parish Church had fallen in a state of disrepair which he restored. Dissatisfied with the progress of construction of the Governor's Palace, he took over personal supervision of its construction. These and several other public works felt his strong hand. They are there today for the visitor to Williamsburg to enjoy.
Named Postmaster General
His interests did not end with restoring and building or public works. By Act of Parliament in 1710 the Postmaster General of London was made Postmaster General of the Empire. In 1732 Governor Spotswood of Virginia became Postmaster General followed in 1753 by the appointment of Benjamin Franklin and William Hunter as joint postmasters. Governor Spotswood's interest in the commercial development of the colony led him to actively engage in iron mining and the building of the first regular iron furnace in America.
Spotswood developed the colonial milita and brought it to a high state of readiness. It was he that directed the naval expedition against the notorious pirate Black Beard which resulted in Black Beard's death and the capture and subsequent hanging of his crew.
His statesmanlike vision saw a great danger in the spreading French influence in America. This and the pacification of the Indians was in great part the reason for his westward explorations. And so it was that in the year 1716 he assembled a small group of gentlemen with their retinue to do what Governor Berkley, an earlier Virginia Governor, had dreamed about.
It was an illustrious group of gentlemen that he assembled.
One was George Mason of Stafford whose son of the same name was the author of the Virginia Bill of Rights and the State Constitution. Another was James Taylor, believed to be the great grandfather of President Zachary Taylor. But it is to another gentleman adventurer and
Alexander Spotswood, Governor of the Royal Colony of Virginia, 1710-1722, as painted by Charles Bridges. The original is on display at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia.
member of the expedition, John Fontaine, that we owe a debt of gratitude for his account of the journey. His chronicle was published in the History of St. Mark's Parish by Rev. Philip Slaughter. It carries a rich detail of the historic exploration.
Assemble for Trek
On August 26, 1716 the small band assembled at Germanna on the Rappahannock River. This is but a short distance from where the largest cavalry engagement ever fought in the Western Hemisphere took place in 1862 - Brandy Station, Virginia.
The party was well provisioned as became Virginia cavaliers bred to Virginia hospitality. Chronicler Fontaine relates that they carried an "extraordinery variety of liquors" which found frequent use to toast the King, members of the royal family, the governor and members of the expedition. Two varities of rum, both red and white wine, brandy, whiskey, champagne, cider, canary and shrub (see accompanying box).
In addition to providing for their "spiritual" needs, they carried a great store of provisions, guns and ammunition. They
did, of course, replenish their larder with deer, bear, wild fowl and fish which were to be had in great abundance. One of the unusual items for those days in Virginia was the large quantity of horse shoes. In the sandy loam of tidewater Virginia, largely free of rock, horses were seldom found to be in need of shoes.
Our intrepid explorers did not fear danger, hard riding or hard work. Their path led through virgin, primeval forest. Many times they had to hack their way through dense undergrowth, brambles, vines and marsh land. Ten miles made a good days journey. Fontaine wrote, "We had a rugged way. We passed over a great many small runs of water, some of which were very deep and others miry. Several of our company were dismounted, some were down with their horses, and some thrown off . . . We came to a thicket so tightly laced we had a great deal of trouble getting through. Our baggage was injured, our clothes torn to rags and the saddles and holsters also torn."
Having followed the Rapidan to its source, they sought the headwaters of the James and ranged the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains which they crossed at Swift Run Gap. Always ready to ease the hardships of the journey and celebrate both minor and major triumphs after descending the western slopes, they crossed the beautiful Shenandoah where they rested and "drank some healths." Their route then led them to the Massanutten range, the western terminus of their exploration.
By the 6th of September, 1716 they reached the highest peak of the Massanutten. Thinking that they had reached the summit of the Continental Divide, they dedicated their discoveries to his Majesty George the First. They celebrated the eventwith a good dinner, toasted the king's health and fired a volley in salute. This was followed by a toast to the royal Princess' health with Burgundy; another to the royal family in general with claret and a fourth to Governor Spotswood. Bonhomie, never lacking the toasts and volleys, went on until all the gentlemen of the company had been honored.
Upon a rock on the highest elevation Governor Spotswood cut his majesty's name and named the peak Mt. George. The company then named an adjoining peak Mt. Alexander in honor of the Governor. When the adventurers returned, Governor Spotswood presented each with a jewel-encrusted golden horse shoe. On one side
the words "Tramontane Order" and on the reverse "Sic juvat transcendire montes". Later, membership in the Order was widened to encourage the colonists to make further discoveries and settlements, any gentleman being entitled to wear the golden horse shoe upon proving that he had drank his majesty's health on Mt. George.
It is no exaggeration to say that the history of western exploration began with the crossing of the Blue Ridge by Governor Spotswood and his party. Any reader who has ever beheld the glories of the Shenandoah valley of Virginia can imagine the magnificent view of that virgin valley as it lay before the Knights of the Golden Horse Shoe.
There is no doubt that the Order existed and was taken with a reasonable amount of seriousness by Governor Spotswood. In 1722, on September 12 to be exact, Governor Spotswood was in Albany, New York attending a peace conference with Indian deputies of the "Six Nations" and other colonial representatives. The following is recorded in "Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York", Albany 1855, vol. V, p 677. This is the literal language used by the reporter of the proceedings: "The Governor (Spotswood) told them he must take particular notice of their Speaker & gave him a golden Horse shoe, which he wore at his breast, & bid the Interpreter tell him there was an inscription upon (it) which Signified that it would help to pass over the mountains, and that when their people came to Virginia with a pass they should bring it with them."
In the mid-decades of the 18th century the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah was flooded with settlers from Virginia coming over the mountains and Scotch-Irish, Huguenots and Germans moving down from Pennsylvania. Those first western explorations of Governor Spotswood in 1716 set the stage for those intrepid Virginians, Lewis and Clark, who 88 years later at the request of President Jefferson mounted an expedition to explore the West that took them to the Pacific ocean. Thus was the work of exploration begun by Governor Spotswood brought to fruition.