A Visit to Colonel Spotswood

Author: William Byrd  | Date: 1732

A Visit to Colonel Spotswood

SEPT., 1732. This famous town consists of Colonel Spotswood’s enchanted castle on one side of the street, and a baker’s dozen of ruinous tenements on the other, where so many German families had dwelt some years ago; but are now removed ten miles higher, in the Fork of Rappahannock, to land of their own. There had also been a chapel about a bow-shot from the colonel’s house, at the end of an avenue of cherry- trees, but some pious people had lately burnt it down, with intent to get another built nearer to their own homes. Here I arrived about three o’clock, and found only Mrs. Spotswood at home, who received her old acquaintance with many a gracious smile. I was carried into a room elegantly set off with pier glasses, the largest of which came soon after to an odd misfortune. Amongst other favorite animals that cheered this lady’s solitude, a brace of tame deer ran familiarly about the house, and one of them came to stare at me as a stranger. But unluckily spying his own figure in the glass, he made a spring over the tea-table that stood under it, and shattered the glass to pieces, and falling back upon the tea-table made a terrible fracas among the china. This exploit was so sudden, and accompanied with such a noise, that it surprised me, and perfectly frightened Mrs. Spotswood. But ’twas worth all the damage to show the moderation and good humor with which she bore this disaster. In the evening the noble colonel came home from his mines, who saluted me very civilly, and Mrs. Spotswood’s sister, Miss Theky, who had been to meet him en cavalier, was so kind too as to bid me welcome. We talked over a legend of old stories, supped about 9, and then prattled with the ladies, till it was time for a traveler to retire. In the mean time I observed my old friend to be very uxorious, and exceedingly fond of his children. This was so opposite to the maxims he used to preach up before he was married, that I could not forbear rubbing up the memory of them. But he gave a very good-natured turn to his change of sentiments, by alleging that whoever brings a poor gentlewoman into so solitary a place, from all her friends and acquaintance, would be ungrateful not to use her and all that belongs to her with all possible tenderness.

We all kept snug in our several apartments till nine, except Miss Theky, who was the housewife of the family. At that hour we met over a pot of coffee, which was not quite strong enough to give us the palsy. After breakfast the colonel and I left the ladies to their domestic affairs, and took a turn in the garden, which has nothing beautiful but three terrace walks that fall in slopes one below another. I let him understand, that besides the pleasure of paying him a visit, I came to be instructed by so great a master in the mystery of making of iron, wherein he had led the way, and was the Tubal Cain of Virginia. He corrected me a little there, by assuring me he was not only the first in this country, but the first in North America, who had erected a regular furnace. That they ran altogether upon bloomeries in New England and Penn- sylvania, till his example had made them attempt greater works. But in this last colony, they have so few ships to carry their iron to Great Britain, that they must be content to make it only for their own use, and must be obliged to manufacture it when they have done. That he hoped he had done the country very great service by setting so good an example.

Our conversation on this subject continued till dinner, which was both elegant and plentiful. The afternoon was devoted to the ladies, who showed me one of their most beautiful walks. They conducted me through a shady lane to the landing, and by the way made me drink some very fine water that issued from a marble fountain, and ran incessantly. Just behind it was a covered bench, where Miss Theky often sat and bewailed her virginity. Then we proceeded to the river, which is the south branch of Rappahannock, about fifty yards wide, and so rapid that the ferry boat is drawn over by a chain, and therefore called the Rapidan. At night we drank prosperity to all the colonel’s projects in a bowl of rack punch, and then retired to our devotions.

Having employed about two hours in retirement, I sallied out at the first summons to breakfast, where our conversation with the ladies, like whip syllabub, was very pretty, but had nothing in it. This; it seems, was Miss Theky’s birthday, upon which I made her my compliments, and wished she might live twice as long a married woman as she had lived a maid. I did not presume to pry into the secret of her age, nor was she forward to disclose it, for this humble reason, lest I should think her wisdom fell short of her years....

We had a Michaelmas goose for dinner, of Miss Theky’s own raising, who was now good-natured enough to forget the jeopardy of her dog. In the afternoon we walked in a meadow by the river side, which winds in the form of a horseshoe about Germanna, making it a peninsula, containing about four hundred acres. Rappahannock forks about fourteen miles below this place, the northern branch being the larger, and consequently must be the river that bounds my Lord Fairfax’s grant of the northern neck.

The sun rose clear this morning, and so did I, and finished all my little affairs by breakfast. It was then resolved to wait on the ladies on horseback, since the bright sun, the fine air, and the wholesome exercise, all invited us to it. We forded the river a little above the ferry, and rode six miles up the neck to a fine level piece of rich land, where we found about twenty plants of ginseng, with the scarlet berries growing on the top of the middle stalk. The root of this is of wonderful virtue in many, cases, particularly, to raise the spirits and promote perspiration, which makes it a specific in colds and coughs. The colonel complimented me with all we found, in return for my telling him the virtues of it. We were all pleased to find so much of this king of plants so near the colonel’s habitation, and growing too upon his own land; but were, however, surprised to find it upon level ground, after we had been told it grew only, upon the north side of Stony Mountains. I carried home this treasure with as much joy as if every root had been a graft of the Tree of Life, and washed and dried it carefully. This airing made us as hungry as so many hawks, so that between appetite and a very good dinner, ’twas difficult to eat like a philosopher. In the afternoon the ladies walked me about amongst all their little animals, with which they amuse themselves, and furnish the table; the worst of it is, they are so tender- hearted they shed a silent tear every time any of them are killed. At night the colonel and I quitted the threadbare subject of iron, and changed the scene to politics. He told me the ministry had receded from their demand upon New England, to raise a standing salary for all succeeding governors, for fear some curious members of the House of Commons should inquire how the money was disposed of that had been raised in the other American colonies for the support of their governors....

Our conversation was interrupted by a summons to supper, for the ladies, to show their power, had by this time brought us tamely to go to bed with our bellies full, though we both at first declared positively against it. So very pliable a thing is frail man, when women have the bending of him.

Oct. 1, 1732. Our ladies overslept themselves this morning, so that we did not break our fast till ten. We drank tea made of the leaves of ginseng, which has the virtues of the root in a weaker degree, and is not disagreeable. So soon as we could force our inclinations to quit the ladies, we took a turn on the terrace walk, and discoursed upon quite a new subject. The colonel explained to me the difference between the galleons and the flota, which very few people know. The galleons, it seems, are the ships which bring the treasure and other rich merchandise to Cartagena from Portobello, to which place it is brought overland from Panama and Peru. And the flota is the squadron that brings the treasure, etc., from Mexico and New Spain, which make up at La Vera Cruz. Both these squadrons rendezvous at the Havanna, from hence they shoot the Gulf of Florida, in their return to Old Spain. That this important port of the Havanna is very poorly fortified, and worse garrisoned and provided, for which reason it may be easily, taken. Besides, both the galleons and flota, being confined to sail through the gulf, might be intercepted by, our stationing a squadron of men-of-war at the most convenient of the Bahama Islands. And that those islands are of vast consequence for that purpose. He told me also that the assogue ships are they that carry quicksilver to Portobello and La Vera Cruz to refine the silver, and that, in Spanish, assogue signifies quicksilver. Then my friend unriddled to me the great mystery, why we have endured all the late insolences of the Spaniards so tamely. The Assiento contract, and the liberty of sending a ship every year to the Spanish West Indies, make it very necessary for the South Sea Company to have effects of great value in that part of the world. Now these being always in the power of the Spaniards, make the directors of that company very fearful of a breach, and consequently very generous in their offers to the ministry to prevent it. For fear these worthy gentlemen should suffer, the English squadron, under Admiral Hosier, lay idle at the Bastimentos, till the ships’ bottoms were eaten out by the worm, and the officers and men, to the number of 5,000, died like rotten sheep, without being suffered, by the strictest orders, to strike one stroke, though they might have taken both the flota and galleons, and made themselves master of the Havanna into the bargain, if they had not been chained up from doing it. All this moderation our peaceable ministry showed even at a time when the Spaniards were furiously attacking Gibraltar, and taking all the English ships they could, both in Europe and America, to the great and everlasting reproach of the British nation. That some of the ministry, being tired out with the clamors of the merchants, declared their opinion for war, and while they entertained those sentiments they pitched upon him, Colonel Spotswood, to be Governor of Jamaica, that by, his skill and experience in the art military, they might be the better able to execute their design of taking the Havanna. But the courage of these worthy patriots soon cooled, and the arguments used by the South Sea directors persuaded them once again into more pacific measures. When the scheme was dropped, his government of Jamaica was dropped at the same time, and then General Hunter was judged fit enough to rule that island in time of peace. After this the colonel endeavored to convince me that he came fairly by his place of postmaster-general, notwithstanding the report of some evil- disposed persons to the contrary. The case was this. Mr. Hamilton, of New Jersey, who had formerly had that post, wrote to Colonel Spotswood, in England, to favor him with his interest to get it restored to him. But the colonel considering wisely that charity began at home, instead of getting the place for Hamilton, secured it for a better friend: though, as he tells the story, that gentleman was absolutely refused, before he spoke the least good word for himself.

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Chicago: William Byrd, A Visit to Colonel Spotswood Original Sources, accessed May 26, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZJDHJ1MFXAVFISX.

MLA: Byrd, William. A Visit to Colonel Spotswood, Original Sources. 26 May. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZJDHJ1MFXAVFISX.

Harvard: Byrd, W, A Visit to Colonel Spotswood. Original Sources, retrieved 26 May 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZJDHJ1MFXAVFISX.