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A VISIT TO COLONEL SPOTSWOOD

by William Byrd

 

SEPT.1732. This famous town consists of Colonel Spotswood's enchantedcastle on one side of the streetand a baker's dozen of ruinous tenements onthe otherwhere so many German families had dwelt some years ago; but are nowremoved ten miles higherin the Fork of Rappahannockto land of their own.There had also been a chapel about a bow-shot from the colonel's houseat theend of an avenue of cherry- treesbut some pious people had lately burnt itdownwith intent to get another built nearer to their own homes. Here I arrivedabout three o'clockand found only Mrs. Spotswood at homewho received her oldacquaintance with many a gracious smile. I was carried into a room elegantly setoff with pier glassesthe largest of which came soon after to an odd misfortune.Amongst other favorite animals that cheered this lady's solitudea brace oftame deer ran familiarly about the houseand one of them came to stare at me asa stranger. But unluckily spying his own figure in the glasshe made a springover the tea-table that stood under itand shattered the glass to piecesandfalling back upon the tea-table made a terrible fracas among the china. Thisexploit was so suddenand accompanied with such a noisethat it surprised meand perfectly frightened Mrs. Spotswood. But 'twas worth all the damage to showthe moderation and good humor with which she bore this disaster. In the eveningthe noble colonel came home from his mineswho saluted me very civillyandMrs. Spotswood's sisterMiss Thekywho had been to meet him en cavalierwasso kind too as to bid me welcome. We talked over a legend of old storiessuppedabout 9and then prattled with the ladiestill it was time for a traveler toretire. In the mean time I observed my old friend to be very uxoriousandexceedingly fond of his children. This was so opposite to the maxims he used topreach up before he was marriedthat I could not forbear rubbing up the memoryof them. But he gave a very good-natured turn to his change of sentimentsbyalleging that whoever brings a poor gentlewoman into so solitary a placefromall her friends and acquaintancewould be ungrateful not to use her and allthat belongs to her with all possible tenderness.

We all kept snug in our several apartments till nineexcept Miss Thekywhowas the housewife of the family. At that hour we met over a pot of coffeewhichwas not quite strong enough to give us the palsy. After breakfast the coloneland I left the ladies to their domestic affairsand took a turn in the gardenwhich has nothing beautiful but three terrace walks that fall in slopes onebelow another. I let him understandthat besides the pleasure of paying him avisitI came to be instructed by so great a master in the mystery of making ofironwherein he had led the wayand was the Tubal Cain of Virginia. Hecorrected me a little thereby assuring me he was not only the first in thiscountrybut the first in North Americawho had erected a regular furnace. Thatthey ran altogether upon bloomeries in New England and Penn- sylvaniatill hisexample had made them attempt greater works. But in this last colonythey haveso few ships to carry their iron to Great Britainthat they must be content tomake it only for their own useand must be obliged to manufacture it when theyhave done. That he hoped he had done the country very great service by settingso good an example.

Our conversation on this subject continued till dinnerwhich was bothelegant and plentiful. The afternoon was devoted to the ladieswho showed meone of their most beautiful walks. They conducted me through a shady lane to thelandingand by the way made me drink some very fine water that issued from amarble fountainand ran incessantly. Just behind it was a covered benchwhereMiss Theky often sat and bewailed her virginity. Then we proceeded to the riverwhich is the south branch of Rappahannockabout fifty yards wideand so rapidthat the ferry boat is drawn over by a chainand therefore called the Rapidan.At night we drank prosperity to all the colonel's projects in a bowl of rackpunchand then retired to our devotions.

Having employed about two hours in retirementI sallied out at the firstsummons to breakfastwhere our conversation with the ladieslike whip syllabubwas very prettybut had nothing in it. This; it seemswas Miss Theky'sbirthdayupon which I made her my complimentsand wished she might live twiceas long a married woman as she had lived a maid. I did not presume to pry intothe secret of her agenor was she forward to disclose itfor this humblereasonlest I should think her wisdom fell short of her years....

We had a Michaelmas goose for dinnerof Miss Theky's own raisingwho wasnow good-natured enough to forget the jeopardy of her dog. In the afternoon wewalked in a meadow by the river sidewhich winds in the form of a horseshoeabout Germannamaking it a peninsulacontaining about four hundred acres.Rappahannock forks about fourteen miles below this placethe northern branchbeing the largerand consequently must be the river that bounds my LordFairfax's grant of the northern neck.

The sun rose clear this morningand so did Iand finished all my littleaffairs by breakfast. It was then resolved to wait on the ladies on horsebacksince the bright sunthe fine airand the wholesome exerciseall invited usto it. We forded the river a little above the ferryand rode six miles up theneck to a fine level piece of rich landwhere we found about twenty plants ofginsengwith the scarlet berries growing on the top of the middle stalk. Theroot of this is of wonderful virtue in manycasesparticularlyto raise thespirits and promote perspirationwhich makes it a specific in colds and coughs.The colonel complimented me with all we foundin return for my telling him thevirtues of it. We were all pleased to find so much of this king of plants sonear the colonel's habitationand growing too upon his own land; but werehoweversurprised to find it upon level groundafter we had been told it grewonlyupon the north side of Stony Mountains. I carried home this treasure withas much joy as if every root had been a graft of the Tree of Lifeand washedand dried it carefully. This airing made us as hungry as so many hawksso thatbetween appetite and a very good dinner'twas difficult to eat like aphilosopher. In the afternoon the ladies walked me about amongst all theirlittle animalswith which they amuse themselvesand furnish the table; theworst of it isthey are so tender- hearted they shed a silent tear every timeany of them are killed. At night the colonel and I quitted the threadbaresubject of ironand changed the scene to politics. He told me the ministry hadreceded from their demand upon New Englandto raise a standing salary for allsucceeding governorsfor fear some curious members of the House of Commonsshould inquire how the money was disposed of that had been raised in the otherAmerican colonies for the support of their governors....

Our conversation was interrupted by a summons to supperfor the ladiestoshow their powerhad by this time brought us tamely to go to bed with ourbellies fullthough we both at first declared positively against it. So verypliable a thing is frail manwhen women have the bending of him.

Oct. 11732. Our ladies overslept themselves this morningso that we didnot break our fast till ten. We drank tea made of the leaves of ginsengwhichhas the virtues of the root in a weaker degreeand is not disagreeable. So soonas we could force our inclinations to quit the ladieswe took a turn on theterrace walkand discoursed upon quite a new subject. The colonel explained tome the difference between the galleons and the flotawhich very few people know.The galleonsit seemsare the ships which bring the treasure and other richmerchandise to Cartagena from Portobelloto which place it is brought overlandfrom Panama and Peru. And the flota is the squadron that brings the treasureetc.from Mexico and New Spainwhich make up at La Vera Cruz. Both thesesquadrons rendezvous at the Havannafrom hence they shoot the Gulf of Floridain their return to Old Spain. That this important port of the Havanna is verypoorly fortifiedand worse garrisoned and providedfor which reason it may beeasilytaken. Besidesboth the galleons and flotabeing confined to sailthrough the gulfmight be intercepted byour stationing a squadron ofmen-of-war at the most convenient of the Bahama Islands. And that those islandsare of vast consequence for that purpose. He told me also that the assogue shipsare they that carry quicksilver to Portobello and La Vera Cruz to refine thesilverand thatin Spanishassogue signifies quicksilver. Then my friendunriddled to me the great mysterywhy we have endured all the late insolencesof the Spaniards so tamely. The Assiento contractand the liberty of sending aship every year to the Spanish West Indiesmake it very necessary for the SouthSea Company to have effects of great value in that part of the world. Now thesebeing always in the power of the Spaniardsmake the directors of that companyvery fearful of a breachand consequently very generous in their offers to theministry to prevent it. For fear these worthy gentlemen should suffertheEnglish squadronunder Admiral Hosierlay idle at the Bastimentostill theships' bottoms were eaten out by the wormand the officers and mento thenumber of 5000died like rotten sheepwithout being sufferedby thestrictest ordersto strike one strokethough they might have taken both theflota and galleonsand made themselves master of the Havanna into the bargainif they had not been chained up from doing it. All this moderation our peaceableministry showed even at a time when the Spaniards were furiously attackingGibraltarand taking all the English ships they couldboth in Europe andAmericato the great and everlasting reproach of the British nation. That someof the ministrybeing tired out with the clamors of the merchantsdeclaredtheir opinion for warand while they entertained those sentiments they pitchedupon himColonel Spotswoodto be Governor of Jamaicathat byhis skill andexperience in the art militarythey might be the better able to execute theirdesign of taking the Havanna. But the courage of these worthy patriots sooncooledand the arguments used by the South Sea directors persuaded them onceagain into more pacific measures. When the scheme was droppedhis government ofJamaica was dropped at the same timeand then General Hunter was judged fitenough to rule that island in time of peace. After this the colonel endeavoredto convince me that he came fairly by his place of postmaster-generalnotwithstanding the report of some evil- disposed persons to the contrary. Thecase was this. Mr. Hamiltonof New Jerseywho had formerly had that postwrote to Colonel Spotswoodin Englandto favor him with his interest to get itrestored to him. But the colonel considering wisely that charity began at homeinstead of getting the place for Hamiltonsecured it for a better friend:thoughas he tells the storythat gentleman was absolutely refusedbefore hespoke the least good word for himself.

The End