Alexander Spotswood: The Maker of Myth

Why did Alexander Spotswood choose Germanna? How does he fit into the meaning of the frontier?


Alexander Spotswood On February 18, 1709, Alexander Spotswood became governor by command of Queen Anne. Soon after, Spotswood was known in Williamsburg and throughout the Virginia colony. He was not too demanding as the first governor. In a letter to his cousin in Edinburgh, Scotland Spotswood has a very relaxed tone(1). Since Spotswood became governor, he had control of the colony of Virginia, which symbolized a new land to Spotswood, and to the English. Since it was a new land, the governor wanted to explore the terrain of his domain. The frontier represented adventure and intrigue. As governor, Spotswood encouraged the colonists to venture past the edges of the frontier. In 1710, he proclaimed a new program for the adminstration of land grants. However, he did not wish to allow land to be misappropriated or misused. He felt that "the Industrious Poor of this Colony & others who Shall Come to Dwell here may not want [lack] Land whereon to Imploy their Industry whilst others possess more than they are able to Cultivate"(2). This statement reveals a little about the man behind the myth, Spotswood was not an openhanded governor, he was an elitist and an aristocrat, making sure that the upper class received their share of Virginia. . All grants larger than 400 acres had to have his approval, therefore his stamp of friendship, which he reserved for his elite. From the beginning and under the governorship of Alexander Spotswood Virginia grew rapidly as a colony. The population of the colony increased to seventy five percent in twenty-two years. The most rapid growth was seen in the West where Germanna was located. The Northern Neck of Virginia increased by ninety two percent . This is another reason why Spotswood chose Germanna; the area was growing quickly and more settlers moving out West.



Another letter dating June 12, 1716 Spotswood notified the council that an expedition of men discovered a pass over the great mountains. He planned to send more men. John Fontaine was one of the men with Spotswood and kept a journal of the trip over the Shenandoah Mountains. Starting in August of 1716 Alexander Spotswood led an expedition from Williamsburg over the Blue Ridge(3). One month later on September 5 the party had crossed the Blue Ridge . We must ask ourselves this question, what was Spotswood looking for? He could have been searching for adventure, or wealth, or land. We may never know. Spotswood chose Germanna because it was the frontier. Havighurst also writes about Germanna as a community. In the spring of 1714 Germans arrived in the area that will come to be known as Germanna. Their responsibility was to build a fort and clear a road for the English (4). Geographically the place that the fort was constructed at was called the Falls of the Rappahannock. The fort performed as a barrier against the Indians in the area. The German immigrants did not settle at Germanna. Four years later, they moved to Germantown in Fauquier County. Fontaine’s journal recounts that there are eleven German workmen digging iron ore. In order to make the work more interesting the Germans pretended it was silver mine, as told by Fontaine in his diary. In addition Fontaine mentions Knights of the Golden Horseshoe (5). Spotswood was already familiar with the area because of the German immigrants. Since the German immigrants already built a fort and road to the area it is only logical that Alexander Spotswood build his Enchanted Castle in the same area. In addition, Germanna was away from the politics of Williamsburg. Even though Spotswood took pleasure in the urban setting, clearly from time to time he had to get away.


In 1720, the colonial government of Virginia submitted a land act for approval that extend the Spotsylvania County boundary to the Shenandoah Valley, making it the only county to extend west of the Blue Ridge (6). While the act was under review, the gentry of Virginia amassed large tracts of land that would eventually serve as the basis for the plantation society of the late eighteenth century and nineteenth century (7). Although Alexander Spotswood did not plan to create a plantation, he kept buying land. In 1720, he had possession of more than 20,000 acres. Then, he acquired 40,000 acres in 1722. Finally, in 1724, Spotswood had amassed eighty thousand acres (8).


(1) Walter Havighurst, ''Alexander Spotswood: Portrait of a Governor'' (Colonial Williamsburg, 1967), 13.

(2) Alexander Spotswood, "A Proclaimation declaring her Majties Pleasure Concerning ye Granting of Land," Dec 8, 1710, in McIllwaine et al., ''Executive Journals of the Council'', 3:580-81; see also Manning C. Voorhis, "The Land Grant Policy of Colonial Virginia, 1607-1774" (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1940), 106-28.

(3)Walter Havighurst, Alexander Spotswood Portrait of a Governor (Colonial Williamsburg, 1967), chapter 9.


(5)Leonidas Dodson, ''Alexander Spotswood: Governor of Colonial Virginia 1710-1722'' (New York, 1969), 231.

(6)Warren H. Hofstra, ''The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in Shenandoah Valley''(Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2004), 114.

(7)Walter Havighurst, ''Alexander Spotswood Portrait of a Governor'' (Colonial Williamsburg, 1967), 107. (8) Ibid.