National Geographic : 1974 Nov
where according to the diary of John Fon taine, one of the travelers, the governor "left his chaise ... and mounted his horse." "Seems like I've heard o' that place," mused the man at the counter. "Nope, can't recall it. But I know somebody who can." And that is how I met Gen. Edwin Cox, AUS (Ret.), who knows Colonial Virginia as few others. "He lives back there," I heard it said later by an acquaintance; the comment was made in admiration. Commander of the First Virginia Regiment in World War II-the same First Virginia that lost 80 percent of its men in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg-General Cox at 72 resides near the store where I inquired. He drives often to Richmond to officiate as presi dent of the Virginia Historical Society. As we plunged into the tale of the knights, the general puffed cigarettes, fetched books, and closed his eyes as if to recall detail glimpsed in person. He doubts that there were any golden horseshoes. "And they didn't really discover anything. Explorers had been in the Shenandoah Valley years before. It was just a wonderful party." But, he added, one practical result was that several planters patented western lands, opening them for settlement. Epic Route Debated by Scholars With General Cox's directions, I went hunt ing Beverley's place. The .house no longer stands. But winding along Highway 721, I could easily conjure up Beverley's century. Houses with dormers and tall chimneys meditated among their oaks and counted the corn rows that edged to the front yard. Plots of tobacco soaked up sun. Scholars have long debated the route Spotswood took across the Blue Ridge. A writer in an 1896 issue of NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC declared they crossed via Swift Run Gap, where Highway 33 now scales the crest. Others argue that they ascended the head waters of the Rapidan River, about 12 miles north of Swift Run Gap, and crossed the mountain spine near what today is the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah Na tional Park. I favor the Rapidan route, not on fact but emotion; I am in love with that hemlock shaded mountain stream. Beyond the mountains the travelers came to a river-the Shenandoah. Beside it, Spots wood buried a bottle with a paper that claimed the land for George I. After dinner, Fontaine wrote, "we got the men together, and loaded all their arms, and we drank the King's Health in Champagne, and fired a volley...." Other toasts to royalty followed, and other volleys. From saddlebags came, as Fontaine recorded, Burgundy, claret, Canary, other wines, Irish whiskey, brandy, shrub (a mix ture of alcohol and fruit juice), two rums, punch, cider. It must have been quite a party. Spotswood's Trip Triggers Settlement Ascending the Blue Ridge's eastern flank, I traced Spotswood's possible route along the Rapidan with Elvin Graves, known to every one as "Mr. Jack," who has lived down mountain from Big Meadows all his 72 years. When I first met him he was in overalls-I've never seen him in other attire-in the dining room of Graves' Mountain Lodge in the com munity of Syria. Not so much a resort as a col lection of farm buildings open to guests, the lodge is rooted in generations of Graveses, having begun as an "ordinary," or inn, on a wagon road that went over the mountains. People were eating family style at long tables and Mr. Jack was urging on the timid. "Y'all sit down and get busy. If you can't reach what you want, ask somebody to pass it." Settlers took up land east and west of the Blue Ridge soon after Spotswood's trip. Germans, Irish, and Scots came down the Shenandoah Valley from the north, and oth ers crossed the Piedmont. Some trickled into the mountains and built rude log cabins, much like the four Mr. Jack built in his younger days. Following old roads, Mr. Jack took me into the mountains one afternoon. We rode where we could, bouncing in his pickup, and where Hometown roots run deep as the lines on his face. The only time John Menke ever left Sandston for long was during World War II, when he slogged up the boot of Italy as a GI. Affable, at ease with life, John muses, "Anybody's my friend." Valley farms awaken to a misty morning in the Shenandoah (following pages).