Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Alexander Spotswood


Alexander Spotswood (1676–1740), lieutenant governor of Virginia (1710–22), had a keen interest in exploration and land speculation which inspired him to lead an expedition westward in 1716. He hoped that English settlements west of the Blue Ridge would prevent the French and Indians from expanding into the Valley of Virginia.

Spotswood crossed the mountains with a group of about 50 gentlemen and several servants, Indians, and rangers. He journeyed up the Rappahannock River and crossed over the Blue Ridge by way of Swift Run Gap into the Shenandoah Valley. Here, on September 5, he and his men claimed the land for King George I. Robert Brooke, a member of Spotswood’s expedition and the king’s surveyor general, made the first scientific observations west of the Allegheny Mountains, supposedly in present Pendleton County.

Governor Spotswood gave each one of his fellow adventurers a small golden horseshoe, some set with valuable stones, to commemorate the event, and they are remembered as ‘‘Knights of the Golden Horseshoe.’’ Each horseshoe was inscribed ‘‘Sic juvat transcendere montes’’ (Thus, let him swear to cross the mountains). To encourage the study of state history, geology, geography, industry, flora and fauna, and natural resources this tradition is continued today with the presentation of a golden horseshoe to West Virginia students achieving the highest scores in their county on a test prepared by the West Virginia Department of Education.

It is believed that within a year of the Spotswood expedition settlements were established in the Shenandoah Valley. Spotswood, described as one of the ‘‘most notable’’ of Virginia’s colonial governors by historian Virginius Dabney, is buried on his country estate near Yorktown, Virginia.

Written by Cathy Hershberger Miller


  1. Lewis, Virgil A. History of West Virginia in Two Parts. Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, 1889.

  2. Conley, Phil & William Doherty. West Virginia. Charleston: Education Foundation, 1974.

  3. Dodson, Leonidas. Alexander Spotswood: Governor of Colonial Virginia, 1710-1722. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1932.