Orange Uncovered
The Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition

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Who received golden horseshoes?

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Blue Ridge Mountains

In Orange County, the adventures from our past communicate a sense of place and keep us coming back for more. Part of our regional mythology, the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition is a tale that continues to delight.

In 1716, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood was a man with a plan. With his sights set on expanding the colonies for further development, his regional adventure became the stuff of legend. Spotswood’s band of merry men and horses set out from Germanna, trekked along the Rappahannock and over the Blue Ridge Mountains. While the goal was serious, the mood was lighthearted along the way. When they reached the Shenandoah River near what’s now known as the town of Elkton, they celebrated their explorations, drank heartily and claimed the place in the name of George I, King of Great Britain.

Upon their return to Germanna, Spotswood presented each expedition member with a gold pin that was encrusted with gems and shaped like a horseshoe. Having led the quest for expansion with bravery and mirth, the adventurers were nicknamed the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. Within a year of the expedition, the first English settlements were established in the Shenandoah Valley.

The explorers weren’t actually knights, but their commitment to the quest was a nod to British mythology, with an American twist. Over 300 years later, their colorful personalities and alcohol-laced adventures have been immortalized in art and literature many times over. While the retellings of the story are often different, hospitality and a love of adventure are the commonalities shared by the knights–and the people of Orange County.

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