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A short story by Etta Belle Walker

Knights Of The Golden Horseshoe

Title:     Knights Of The Golden Horseshoe
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

Alexander Spotswood was the first Virginia Governor to become interested in the glowing accounts which the hunters and trappers brought back from the hill sections of the colony. He determined to see for himself those distant blue ridges.

And while historians have not told us who guided him to the upper or western boundary of what was then Essex County, we are told that he became enthusiastic over the rich iron ore which he found in the peninsula formed by the Rapidan River. He decided to build iron furnaces at a point near the river. Later he had his agent, Baron de Graffenreid, go to Germany and bring master mechanics and their families to Virginia.

The first German colony came in 1714 to Virginia and journeyed to Germanna, as they called their new home on the bank of the Rapidan River. They were made up of twelve families and numbered forty-two people in all, men, women and children.

The Virginia Council passed an act which provided protection for the Germans. A fort was built for them, ammunition and two cannon were sent and an order was given for a road to be made to the settlement.

These men and women were brave, loyal and deeply religious. They belonged to the German Reformed Church, which was a branch of the Presbyterian family of churches. Here they organized the first congregation of that faith in America and here they built their church. They had come from Westphalia, in Germany, and of course had brought their own customs and manners, which are not entirely gone even in our modern Virginia. Later, as we shall see, many of this first colony left Germanna and settled on Licking Run near Warrenton.

In 1717 came a second German colony to Germanna. They too were brave, loyal, and devout; but were different from the first, being Lutherans and representing twenty families from Pennsylvania.

Two years later, the third colony of Germans came to Germanna and from there they settled in Orange and Madison counties.

If Governor Spotswood earned the title of "Tubal Cain of America", it was because these Germans were industrious, thrifty and honest.

The Governor liked the neighborhood so well that he had a palace built for his family. There was a terraced garden, which one may trace in the ruins found there today. A courthouse was built there, for a new county had been cut from Essex and was called Spotsylvania, in the Governor's honor. Nearby was a bubbling fountain spring at which tourists stop today to quench their thirst. This has been marked by the Colonial Dames and over it there is a hand-wrought iron standard, giving the legend of the spring.

In 1732, Colonel William Byrd of Westover visited Governor Spotswood at Germanna. He was one of the Commissioners who ran the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina. He held many positions of honor and trust in the colony. His writings give an intimate picture of Governor Spotswood's settlement:

Progress to the Mines.

"Here I arrived about three o'clock, and found only Mrs. Spotswood at home, who received her old acquaintance with many gracious smiles. I was carried into a room elegantly set off with pier glasses, the largest of which came soon to an odd misfortune. Amongst other favorite animals to cheer this lady's solitude, a brace of deer ran familiarly about the house, and one of them came to stare at me as a stranger. But unluckily spying his own figure in the glass, he made a spring over the tea-table that stood under it, and shattered the glass to pieces, and falling back upon the tea-table made a terrible fracas among the china. This exploit was so sudden and accompanied with such a noise, that it surprised me and perfectly frightened Mrs. Spotswood. But it was worth all the damage to show the moderation and good humor with which she bore the disaster. In the evening the noble Colonel came home from his mines, who saluted me very civilly, and Mrs. Spotswood's sister, Miss Theky, who had been to meet him en cavalier, was kind too, as to bid me welcome.

"We talked over a legion of old stories, supped about nine, and then prattled with the ladies till it was time to retire. In the meantime, I observed my old friend to be very uxorious and exceedingly fond of his children. This was opposite to the maxims he used to preach before he was married, that I could not forbear rubbing up the memory of them. But he gave a very good natural turn to his change of sentiments, by alleging that whoever brings a poor gentlewoman to so solitary a place, from all her friends and acquaintances, would be very ungrateful not to use her and all that belongs to her with all possible tenderness.

"We all kept snug in our apartments till nine, except Miss Theky, who was the housewife of the family. At that hour we met over a pot of coffee, which was not quite strong enough to give us the palsy. After breakfast the Colonel and I left the ladies to their domestic affairs, and took a turn in the garden which has nothing but three terraced walks that fall in slopes one below the other.... I let him know that I had come to be instructed by so great a master in the mystery of making iron and that he led the way and was the Tubal Cain of America.... He assured me he was not only the first in this country, but the first in North America who had erected a regular furnace, that they ran altogether upon bloomeries in New England and Pennsylvania, till his example had made them attempt greater works.... At night we drank prosperity to all the Colonel's projects in a bowl of rack punch, and then retired to our devotions....

"I sallied out at the first summons to breakfast, where our conversation with the ladies, like whipped sillibub, was very pretty, but had nothing in it. This it seems was Miss Theky's birthday, upon which I made her my compliments, and wished she might live twice as long a married woman as she had lived a maid. I did not presume to pry into the secret of her age, nor was she forward to disclose it.... She contrived to make this a day of mourning for having nothing better at present to set her affections upon."

It was really from Germanna that the Great Expedition to the Mountains began. Of course we know that Williamsburg was the scene of great excitement when the Governor and some of his staff gathered for the first start. The party consisted of the Governor, Fontaine, whose diary gives us accounts of the journey, Beverley, the historian of Virginia in 1703, Colonel Robertson, Austin Smith, Dr. Robinson, Messrs. Talor, Brooke and Mason and Captains Smith and Clouder. Others were gentlemen, servants and guides. All were delayed when an old trapper told them that their horses' feet would be ruined if not shod. In the sandy soil of eastern Virginia it was not necessary to shoe one's horse, but the rocks, as one travelled inland, would ruin the horse's feet. The party made the best of the long wait by drinking the health of the King, toasts to the maids left behind and in other farewells.

The party, after five days, reached Germanna and it is from Fontaine's journal that we are told of the details of the trip. He relates the hardships; some, including the writer, had fevers and chills and drank Jesuits' bark tea. Their beds, made of boughs, were not soft enough and the men slept badly and were sore the next day after camping out in the wilderness. They made about six miles a day. Their food was bear's meat, venison, and wild game, which they roasted on long wooden forks over glowing coals. And each time they ate, they also drank the King's health, not forgetting any of his children in their toasts. Fontaine writes--

"We saw when we were over the mountain the footing of elks and buffaloes, and their beds. We saw a vine which bore a sort of wild cucumber and a shrub with fruit like unto a currant. We ate very good wild grapes.... We crossed a river which we called the Euphrates. It is very deep, the main course of the water is north, it is four score yards wide in the narrowest part.... I got some grasshoppers and fished ... we catched a dish of fish, some perch and a fish called Chub. The others went ahunting and killed deer and turkeys.... I engraved my name on a tree by the river's side and the Governor buried a bottle with a paper inside, on which he writ that he took possession of this place in the name of King George the First of England....

"We had a good dinner, and after it we got the men together and loaded all their arms and we drank the King's health in champagne and fired a volley, and the Princess's health in Burgundy and fired a volley, and all the rest of the Royal family in claret and a volley. We drank the Governor's health and fired a volley.

"We had several sorts of liquors, viz Virginian red wine and white Irish usquebaugh, brandy, shrub, two sorts of rum, champagne, canary, cherry punch water and cider."

It was thirty-six days after leaving Williamsburg that the party finally reached the mountain and scaled Swift Run Gap and for the first time a group of Englishmen looked down into the fertile valley beyond.

The Governor was a romantic person, as well as practical, so he wanted to have something tangible by which all of his party might remember their thrilling trip. He asked some of his men what they thought of the idea and someone suggested, no doubt in fun, that they call themselves the "Knights of the Golden Horseshoe".

Anyway, historians relate that when he returned to Williamsburg, he promptly wrote a letter to His Majesty and told him of the wonderful country "beyond the mountains". He also asked for a grant for the Order of the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. In due time a proclamation arrived from England creating The Order of the Golden Horseshoe and also fifty tiny golden horseshoes inscribed in Latin "Sic jurat transcerde mantes". There was a seal and a signature and the title of Knight was conferred upon the Governor.

The King also had his own sense of humor and included with all the rest, the bill for the golden horseshoes! And we are told the sporting Governor paid for them out of his own pocket without any regrets.

Let us start our journey from this historic spot and drive along the recently built Skyline Drive. As we go we may look down upon the first settlers' homes, around which are built the thrifty towns of today.

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Knights Of The Golden Horseshoe