Marker Text: Near here Governor Alexander Spotswood and his troop of gentlemen, Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, on their way to explore the land beyond the mountains, camped on August 31, 1716.
Location: On U.S. Route 15 (James Madison Highway) near the intersection with Madison Mills Lane, 3.3 miles north of Orange, near Rapidan River crossing, near Madison/Orange County line. Erected by the Conservation & Development Commission in 1961.
Today's marker located near the Madison and Orange County line on Route 15 marks one of the locations where Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood's expedition camped during their trip through the wilderness to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Shenandoah Valley. Only a couple of his camp locations are indicated by a historical marker. Looking around the location of the marker, the area is much changed from what Spotswood and his men would have seen and experienced. If you can imagine this area without roads, bridges or clear fields, but a wilderness thick with trees and brush and all types of wild animals, bears, rattlesnakes, etc. To read more go to posts, “Knights of the Golden Horse Shoe – 1934” and “Knights of the Golden Horse Shoe – 2004”
Photo taken looking north on Route 15.
John Fontaine who was one of the men who traveled with Lt. Gov. Spotswood maintained a journal of this expedition and provides simple descriptions of the daily challenges these men faced.
Spotswood and his men left Williamsburg, Virginia on August 20, 1716 by horse back and with packhorses and by the 22rd they reached the Rappahannock River at the home of Mr. Robert Beverley's house ten miles below the falls. By the evening of the 24th they arrived at German-town. During these early days of their journey, they were able to travel fairly quickly, because there were some early established roads and trails that could be traveled though these were crude roads. Past Germanna the journey began to slow down, but they still did well considering what they must have faced. They travelled between 25 miles to only 4 or 5 miles each day.
John Fontaine mentions many of their challenges. He describes steep descents and ascents while finding a place to cross the Rappahannock River and other rivers. He describes moments when they got lost in the thick woods and sometimes in the dark. They often struggled to find the safest path following the river.
Fontaine describes how on the evening of the 27th, he was taken with a violent headache and pains in all his bones. He describes a hornet stung one of the gentlemen in the face, which swelled tremendously. They had to deal with bears while hunting for deer. Frequently, their journey was delayed because of the need to find strayed and frightened horses. He writes about going through thickets so tightly laced together, that their baggage was damaged, our clothes torn to rags, and the saddles and holsters damaged and torn.
Of course, not all was difficult or a struggle, Fontaine describes fine views of pastures and plains at the top of some of the smaller mountains. Pleasant valleys and open plains where they hunted and camped. He frequently describes that at their camps, they “had a good dinner” and apparently they eat well during their journey. They also seemed to drink well, since he mentions drinking often from a wide selection of beverages, such as, champagne, which they often drank to the health of the King, Burgundy, Virginia red wine and white wine, brandy, two sorts of rum, cherry punch, water, cider, etc.
On August 31, John Fontaine describes the events of the day leading to their coming to the camp site near this marker. He writes, “One of the gentlemen and I, we kept out on one side of the company about a mile, to have the better hunting. I saw a deer, and shot him from my horse, but the horse threw me a terrible fall and ran away; we ran after, and with a great deal of difficulty got him again; but we could not find the deer I had shot, and we lost ourselves, and it was two hours before we could come upon the track of our company. About five miles further we crossed the same river again, and two miles further we met with a large bear, which one of our company shot, and I got the skin. We killed several deer, and about two miles from the place where we killed the bear, we encamped upon Rappahannoc River. From our encampment we could see the Appalachian Hills very plain. We made large fires, pitched our tents, and cut boughs to lie upon, had good liquor, and at ten we went to sleep. We always kept a sentry at the Governor's door. We called this Smith's Camp. Made this day 14 miles.”
After this camp the travel to the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains got more difficult. Fontaine describes, that two men were sick with the measles and one of the horses poisoned with a rattlesnake. He describes their need to kill many rattlesnakes that crossed their path. They encountered vines and briers so thick they needed to cut a path through the woods and had to deal with abundance of loose stones on the side of hills.
After traveling over the Blue Ridge mountains into the Shenandoah Valley they traveled about 14 miles into the valley near present-day Elkton, VA though the exact location of their travel is unknown. Fontaine estimated that their journey round trip had been 438 miles.