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Category Archives: Historical People

Knights of the Golden Horseshoe

My brother and I grew up listening to the story of Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood and the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. We never tired of hearing our grandmother Lulu tell this exciting tale.

While on the Internet yesterday, I ran across an event that was celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition, which took place in August and September 1716 and ended at Fort Germanna. Oh, how I wish I could have been in Virginia this past weekend.

Governor Spotswood was a visionary, as well as an entrepreneur. He designed the Governor’s Palace, the magazine,  and St. Bruton’s Church in Williamsburg. Looking for ways to expand the colony of Virginia, he recruited a “company of gentlemen,” to prove that the Blue Ridge could be easily crossed.  And he was the first to cross the Appalachian Mountains.

It was an illustrious group who mounted their horses and rode into uncharted forests, over rivers, and up mountains.

Many of these recruits had sons and grandsons who played important roles in the development of the American Republic. Among them was George Mason, whose son worked with George Washington to draft the Fairfax Resolves, and who designed much of the constitution of the new state of Virginia. Then there was James Taylor, the ancestor of two Presidents—James Madison and Zachary Taylor. Robert Brooke’s grandson became governor of Virginia in 1798, and Thomas Todd’s family helped secure Kentucky for the Americans during the Revolution, and produced a future First Lady for Abraham Lincoln.

We know about their adventures because John Fontaine described  and wrote about them; he kept a diary. Then there were others who recounted the narrative.

The reality started on August 20, 1716. Pack horses carried ample provisions. After all, this was a gentleman’s journey.

(See how Spotswood’s party lived on the trail in the picture to the right.)

 

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Before beginning the ascent, the well-mounted, well-armed company had their horses shod, horses being accustomed to traverse the low country, where there were few stones, without shoes, and then camping and eating and drinking by night and pressing sturdily on by day the party finally reached the mountain’s summit, where they cut his Majesty’s name upon the rock of the highest peak, naming it Mount George, in honor of their sovereign, King George I, and the next highest peak Mount Alexander, in honor of Governor Spotswood.

The men, including the Indian chief, who had led their party sat on various rocks to behold the splendor of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Governor Spotswood carried his thoughts into the future, and imagined the fine country which he beheld, peopled and glowing under the hands of the husbandman, and all his bright anticipations were more than realized. He could see farms, crops, dirt roads, and villages. At length he turned the man who sat near him not less entranced, and said, “They call me a visionary, but what imagination ever conjured up a vision like that?”

tomajestyFinally they descended to the Valley of the Shenandoah, loaded their muskets and feasted. They drank the health of the King in champagne and fired a volley; the health of the Princess in burgundy and fired a volley; the health of all other members of the royal family in claret and fired a volley, and wound up by drinking to the health of the energetic Governor who had led them to the promised land — not forgetting the volley.

goldenhorseshoe1And then they rode homeward as cheerily as they had set out reaching Williamsburg on September 17.

To commemorate the event and encourage new enterprises and settlements westward, Governor Spotswood gave to each of the company a miniature golden horseshoe, set with garnets to represent nail heads. Upon each was the inscription “Sic juvat transcendere montes” translated “Thus it is delightful to cross the mountains.” (Lulu’s voice took on a sense of wonder as she said these words.)

Thus the members of the expedition were known as the “Knights of the Horseshoe” and any gentleman entitled to wear this golden horseshoe proved he had drunk his Majesty’s health upon the summit of Mount George.

This is the only portrait of Governor Spotswood. The last time I saw it was hanging at Carter’s Grove Plantation. Don’t you love his wig? But his face is so kind. I believe I am going to be sharing more stories about this adventurer, because he was a Renaissance man that helped change America’s history.

Today in 1714: Virginia Gov. Spotswood takes note of new colony of Germans

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“Little Mistress Chicken”

Little Mistress Chicken
By Mrs. Gordon Rose

Several years ago, I found the 1969 reprint of this book on a shelf in Books on Broad in Camden and was drawn to it because of the illustrations. Though in pen and ink, the details are realistic and give a vivid portrait of the characters and the happenings.

“Little Mistress Chicken” first appeared in serial form in The Youth’s Companion. It was republished in 1913 and 1925, reprinted in 1993.



This is the innocent heroine.

Maybe you are familiar with the now non-existent town of Childsbury, St. John, Berkeley, but I had never heard of it. James Childs built a settlement here in 1707; it was one of the first towns laid out in Carolina by the English settlers. He built a ferry and gave 600 acres away to others for farming. Property was given for a college, a free school, a schoolmaster’s house, a town square, and a place of worship.

Catherine Chicken was the great granddaughter of James Childs. Her story is ghoulish, at best, and abusive at its worst. The cruelty, greed, and pride of the schoolmaster, Monsieur Dutarque astounded me. He tied the young girl to a stone in the local cemetery. He deserved to be run out of town in 1748.

This is the Strawberry Chapel where the young Catherine Chicken was tied to the tombstone by her teacher. It was built around 1725. Various legends and tales surround the chapel of Strawberry that is now on private property and closed to the public.Four services are held there each year, and it is on the National Register.

Strawberry-Chapel-and-Childsbury-Town

A chapel of simple yet dignified architecture,  Strawberry is located on Highway 44 just off SC Highway 402 on the Cooper River approximately 10 miles from Moncks Corner.

In the book, Catherine’s story is told in the vernacular of the day, and the suspense is real. I was delighted that she did “live happily ever after” after she was rescued by a slave and then her Aunt Ann. She married Mr. Benjamin Simons but carried the memories from that nightmarish night in the cemetery to her death.

Looking at this illustration, a reader can understand why.

Many authors choose to dedicate their work to someone. The dedication of this reprint reads,
“To the Colonial Dames of South Carolina, lovers of local tradition, guardians of thrilling memories, this bit of family history is dedicated.”

Catherine’s story is tragic, but she is saved. As Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Happy birthday, Constitution!

Constitution Day
Constitution Day falls on September 17th of each year; this year it is on Wednesday of this week. This day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine men on September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention met for the last time to sign this document they had created. Pierce Butler, C. Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, and John Rutledge were the four signers from South Carolina.
For over two centuries, the United States Constitution has stood as a testament to the tenacity of Americans throughout history to maintain their liberties, freedoms, and inalienable rights. This 4400 word document is the oldest and shortest written constitution of any major government in the world.
The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution is a non-profit, non-political, volunteer women’s service organization. It was founded on October 11, 1890. DAR members are dedicated to promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism in communities across the nation.
This celebration of the Constitution was started by the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1955, the DAR petitioned Congress to set aside September 17-23 annually to be dedicated for the observance of Constitution Week. The resolution was later adopted by the U.S. Congress and signed into public law on August 2, 1956, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1928, the Daughters began work on a building as a memorial to the Constitution. John Russell Pope, architect of the Jefferson Memorial, was commissioned to design the performing arts center, known as DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The cornerstone was laid by Mrs. Calvin Coolidge on October 30, 1928, using the trowel President George Washington used to lay the cornerstone at the Capitol in 1793. Mrs. Herbert Hoover was the guest speaker at the formal dedication. Today, DAR Constitution Hall is the only structure erected in tribute to the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Preamble includes phrases that are familiar.to us. “We the People of the United State, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Daniel Webster said, “We may be tossed upon an ocean where we can see no land – not, perhaps, the sun or stars. But there is a chart and a compass for us to study, to consult, and to obey. The chart is the Constitution.”
Happy birthday to our Constitution!

“Meet Ben’s Sister Jane”

I am in the midst of reading this fascinating biography of Benjamin Franklin’s sister. Here is a review from NPR. Jane’s writings and comments on her life are poignant in their realism, and I want to recommend this book to you. What an inspiring woman!

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. There’s lots of books about Ben Franklin but now, there’s a new book about his sister, Jane, called “Book of Ages.” It’s by New Yorker staff writer and Harvard historian Jill LePore. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan says it’s filled with revelations.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Her days were days of flesh. That’s just one of a multitude of striking observations that Jill Lepore makes about Jane Franklin, the baby sister of Ben. What Lepore means by that line of near-poetry is that Jane Franklin’s life – beginning at age 17, when she gave birth to the first of her 12 children – was one of nursing, lugging pails of night soil, butchering chickens, cooking and scrubbing. “I am in the middle of a grate wash,” she once wrote in a letter. The crumbly, green and white soap Jane would have used for that grate wash was from an old Franklin family recipe.

When Ben was serving as America’s diplomat to France, he liked to present his aristocratic hosts with cakes of that homemade soap that his sister, Jane, sent him from her tiny house in Boston. Canny Ben felt that emphasizing his humble origins would trick his French counterparts into underestimating him. Jane Franklin never had to strategize to be underestimated. After all, she was an 18th century woman.

And yet she had a skill that set her apart: She could write. Lepore says that though girls in Massachusetts at the time were routinely taught to read, only gentlemens’ daughters could do more than scrawl their names, if that. It was big brother Ben who taught Jane to write and thus, enabled their lifelong animated correspondence.

Ben also stoked Jane’s thirst for intellectual and political reading material. “Benny” and “Jenny,” as they were called as children, were each other’s companions of the heart – though as Lepore puns, one ascended to the ranks of “Great Men,” while the other remained behind with the “Little Women.”

“Book of Ages” is the name of Lepore’s extraordinary, new book about Jane Franklin, but to call it simply a biography would be like calling Ben’s experiments with electricity mere kite flying. Lepore says that in addition to telling Jane’s story, she’s also meditating here on the limits of traditional genres like biography and history, which by necessity, still favor the lives of public figures.

Jane Franklin’s life was mostly lived in the shadows so to read its traces, Lepore augments her own training as a historian with literary criticism, archeology, sociology, and even some of the techniques of fiction. The end product is thrilling – an example of how a gifted scholar and writer can lift the obscure out of silence. In so doing, Lepore enriches our sense of everyday life and relationships and conversational styles in Colonial America.

Finally, a happy side-effect of this book about Jane is that it offers a fresh look at Ben Franklin and his writings, particularly those like the Silence Dogood essays, in which he posed as a woman; a pose that may have been prompted by his empathetic relationship with Jane.

In contrast to her brother’s voluminous output, Jane Franklin wrote but one book. It’s called “Book of Ages” – hence Lepore’s title – and it consists of 16 little pages of hand-stitched paper on which Jane recorded the births and deaths of her children. Lepore calls it a litany of grief. For Jane’s lighter voice, much more playful than her brother’s, Lepore turns to her surviving letters. In them, Jane confesses to a taste for gossip or, as it was called, trumpery, and agrees with Ben that their family suffers from a Miffy temper.

It’s something of a minor miracle that she had time to write any letters at all. Jane’s ne’er-do-well husband, Edward Mecom, was chronically broke, and so to generate some income, she eventually turned their overcrowded, four-room home into a boarding house.

By the time the Revolutionary War erupted in Boston, Jane was a 63-year-old widow. She fled before the ransacking British Army, carrying her “Book of Ages” and her brother Ben’s letters in a trunk. While Franklin devoted his intellectual and diplomatic skills to the Revolutionary cause, Jane spent years wandering, staying with friends and scattered family. I am grown such a vagrant, she wrote.

Lepore says that if Franklin – in his poses and writing – meant to be Everyman, Jane is everyone else. The brilliance of Lepore’s book is that plain Jane’s story becomes every bit as gripping – and, in its own way, important – as Big Ben’s public triumphs.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed “Book of Ages,” by Jill Lepore. You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a bluegrass album by country star Alan Jackson, and a country album by bluegrass musician James King. This is FRESH AIR.

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