Daring adventures are a staple of Virginia history, but few are as significant as the 1716
expedition to explore the Virginia colony.
Determined to encourage westward settlement and secure the natives’ trade against the
French, Colonial Governor Alexander Spotswood organized a party of 63 men to explore the far
western reaches of the colony. Spotswood, who lived in the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, was
the first colonial governor to appreciate the economic value of the western frontier and was intrigued
by the words of Francis Makemie, written 10 years earlier in “A Plain and Friendly Perswasive:”
“The best, richest, and most healthy part of your Country is yet to be inhabited, above the Falls of
every River, to the Mountains, where are sundry Advantages not yet generally known.”
The journal of John Fontaine, a participant in the 1716 expedition, offers a detailed first-hand
account of the expedition, noting an abundance of wildlife: “We see several bears and deer, and killed some wild turkies.” Fontaine’s best-known journal passage describes the explorers’ celebration upon their arrival at the crest of the Blue Ridge:
“We drunk the King’s health in Champagne, and fired a volley; the Prince’s health in Burgundy,
and fired a volley; and all the rest of the Royal Family in Claret, and fired a volley. We had
several sorts of Liquors, namely Virginia Red Wine and White Wine, Irish Usquebaugh, Brandy,
Shrub, two sort of Rum, Champagne, Canary, Cherry punch, Cider, Water, etc.”
In 1724, Hugh Jones offered his account of the adventure in “The Present State of Virginia,”
published in London, describing the toll taken on the expedition by the rocky soil of the Piedmont, the Blue Ridge, the Shenandoah Valley and the Allegheny Mountains:
“For this expedition they were obliged to provide a great Quantity of Horse-Shoes; (Things seldom
used in the lower Parts of the Country, where there are few Stones) Upon which Account the
Governor upon their Return presented each of his Companions with a Golden Horse-Shoe, (some of which I have seen studded with valuable Stones resembling the Heads of Nails) with this Inscription
on the one Side:
‘Sic Juvat Transcendere Montes’ [How delightful it is to cross mountains!]: And
on the other is written ‘Tramontane Order.’”
Although several people in the 19th century claimed to have seen them, none of the small,
golden horseshoes described by Jones has been found.
The legend of the Golden Horseshoe has undoubtedly suffered some embellishment through
the centuries. In 1845, William Alexander Caruthers penned a novel, “The Knights of the Golden
Horseshoe: A Traditionary Tale of the Cocked Hat Gentry in the Old Dominion.” Based loosely on the journal of John Fontaine, Caruthers’ novel exaggerates the size of the expedition, introduces a love story and invents an Indian fight to bring his tale to a climax.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Golden Horseshoe Golf Courses epitomize the tradition of Governor
Spotswood’s expedition: the challenge of daring adventure, the enjoyment of a peaceful and
spectacular environment, and the reward of completing a test of skill and perseverance.