The Enchanted Castle

Virginia Historic LandmarkAlexander Spotswood's Enchanted Castle was not, in fact, a castle. This name was applied to his home by William Byrd II, who visited in 1732. The Germanna Foundation suggests that the Spotswoods themselves called it "Porto Bella." Nor was it a rugged wilderness outpost on the edge of civilization on the Virginia frontier. In reality, the Spotswood's home was an early Georgian manor located in what was then the county seat of Spottsylvania County and close by Spotswood's iron works at Tubal Furnace. It was Spotswood's family home supported by a large staff.

The Spotswood family home also served double purpose as a civic building for Spotsylvania County. The county clerk's office was located in the house, and it is suggested that the court itself met in Spotswood's parlor, although most think it was held in a single room building located on the grounds (Mansfield, 44).

Layout to the WestIn late September of 1732 William Byrd II visited Spotswood at his home in order to view the nearby mining endeavors. He kept a diary during this trip, giving us a snapshot of what life was like in the Spotswood household. It is Byrd who gave the house the name it is known by today, calling it "The enchanted Castle" although whether he meant this as a compliment or not is hard to tell, given his rather irreverant style of writing. Byrd's diary does not give us much information about the appearance of the house, it provides a snapshot of the daily life of its occupants and what was in their thoughts at the time. Amusing anecdotes related in this narrative include the dispair that Spotswood's unmarried sister-in-law felt at the prospects of being able to find a suitable husband on the frontier, dogs with faulty housetraining, and deer kept as family pets.

Why did Byrd refer to this building as the Enchanted Castle?

Life at the Enchanted Castle

The enchanted castle was the home of Alexander Spotswood, his wife, children, sister-in-law, and numerous servants. However, we know surprisingly little of any of these people.

Spottswood was married to Anne Butler Brayne, whose unmarried sister, Dorothea Brayne, lived with them at Germanna. Very little is actually known about these two women beyond their names, and even that is much is sometimes cause for confusion. As recorded in his diary, William Byrd enjoyed teasing Dorothea, whom he called "Miss Theky" for unknown reasons. This monnicker caused later confusion as to the identity of Mrs. Spottswood and her sister. One late 19th century historian went so far as to claim they were part of the German settlement.

"The relations between the governor and the German colonists were of the best kind. They called Virginia in his honor: 'Spottsylvania' -- and he was at home with them. He was so much charmed by this laborious and peaceable people that he married a young German lady by the nake of "Theke" and born in Hanover." (Schuricht,68) History of the German Element in Virginia, Vol. 1, 1898)

The error of this 19th century historian shows us how the concentration of history on great men can lead to all sorts of fanciful stories being told about their less well documented wives and families.

The Spotswoods had four children. The two oldest, John and Anna Katherine, were born in England, in 1725 and 1728. Another daughter, named Dorothy after her aunt, was born in Virginia in 1731. The youngest, Robert, was born in 1733, a year after Byrd's visit. That same year "Miss Theky" married a Mr. Elliott Benger and moved from Germanna.

There were many servants needed to keep the large house running smoothly. When William Byrd left Germanna to continue his travels, he gave a pistole to be distributed among the servants. A pistole was a $4 spanish coin worth a singificant ammount in this time.

The End of the Enchanted Castle

carved sandstone blocksAlexander Spotswood died in 1740, a year after he had offered Germanna up for lease. His widow remained at Germanna until remarrying to John Thompson, a minister, who built the house Salubria for her. Shortly after this, although the exact date is not known, Spotswood's "Enchanted Castle" burned. Subsequent families who owned the land burned the ruins and salvaged building materials from the remains for their own construction.

The Memory of the Enchanted Castle

Sketch of Gordon House

During the Civil War soldiers called the house situated on the site The Enchanted Castle. There is much to be uncovered in the absence of reality. For example, in The History of Orange County (1907), W.W. Scott assumes that the Civil War soldiers who talked about organizing a military hospital in the “Enchanted Castle,” were talking about the original structure built by Alexander Spotswood one hundred years earlier. The chances that this structure still stood in 1864 are miniscule, yet Scott does not question their beliefs. Why? Because it is in the myth, he made an assumption based on myth. Obviously they were mistaken but still shows how the myth becomes a part of history.


Sources:

Herrmann Schuricht, History of The German Element in Virginia, Vol. 1. (Baltimore: Theo. Kroh & Sons, Printers, 1898)

James Roger Mansfield, A History of Early Spotsylvania. (Orange, Virginia: Green Publishers, Inc., 1977)