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Colonial Officials > Alexander Spotswood

Alexander Spotswood


Alexander Spotswood Portrait

Alexander Spotswood Portrait - Charles Bridges (1736)

Alexander Spotswood (c. 1676 - 6 June 1740) was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army and the Lieutenant Governor of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia. He is famous for being strict on piracy and dispatching pirate hunters under the command of Robert Maynard to hunt down and kill Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach. Despite overreaching his authority as the colonial governor of Virginia he accomplished other things such as exploring beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains and establishing the first colonial iron works. He also negotiated the Treaty of Albany with the Iroquois Nations of New York.

Early Life

Alexander Spotswood was born around 1676 in the Tangier Garrison in the Colony of Tangier on the island of Morocco. His father was Dr. Robert Spottiswoode (17 September 1637 - 1680) and his mother was the doctors second wife named Catharine Maxwell (c. 1638 - December 1709). Through his fathers side he was well connected back in England as his grandfather named Robert Spottiswoode (1596–1646) was a judge and his great-grandfather was the John Spottiswoode (1565–1639) who was an archbishop. His great-grandfather was a descendent of King Robert II of Scotland through the 2nd Earls of Crawford.

The older half brother of Spotswood through his mothers first marriage to George Elliot was named Roger Elliot (c. 1655 - 15 May 1714) who eventually was one of the first governors of Gibraltar. After the death of his father his mother would remarry the Reverend Dr. George Mercer who was the schoolmaster of the garrison. On 20 May 1693, Alexander Spotwood joined the military and became an Ensign in the Earl of Bath's Regiment of Foot. He was given a commission in 1698 and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in 1703.

Following this he would be appointed to the position of Quartermaster-General in the Duke of Marlborough's army in 1703 and became wounded while fighting during the Battle of Blenheim the following year in 1704.

Colony & Dominion of Virginia

In 1710 during the War of the Spanish Succession Alexander Spotswood would be appointed to the position of Lieutenant Governor of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia. The nominal Governor at the time was George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney. The following year he would intervene in Cary's Rebellion in the Province of North Carolina and send the Royal Marines from Chesapeake Bay down to quash the conflict.

A Tobacco Act requiring the inspection of all tobacco intended for export or for use as legal tender was passed in 1713. The next year, he founded the First Germanna Colony, and regulated trade with Native Americans at another of his pet projects, Fort Christanna. In 1715, he bought 3229 acres (13 km²) at Germanna.In 1716 he led the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition up the Rappahannock River valley and across the Blue Ridge Mountains at Swift Run Gap into the Shenandoah Valley to expedite settlement. The following year saw the foundation of the Second Germanna Colony and the Repeal of regulation of trade with Native Americans. A Third Germanna Colony followed in 1719, and Germanna was made the seat of Spotsylvania County the following year.

Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach

See Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach

In the fall of 1718 Alexander Spotswood began to plan a secret operation to use pirate hunters to track down and capture the infamous Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach. He would send two sloops under the command of Robert Maynard who eventually found Blackbeard in November. The ensuing engagement became known as the Battle of Ocracoke Inlet and saw the death of Blackbeard and the arrest of the rest of Blackbeard's crew.

Edward Teach - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

Edward Teach - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

Two days after the defeat of Blackbeard on 24 November of 1718 Spotswood would issue a proclamation at the Assembly of Williamsburg that offered a reward for anyone who helped catch Teach and any other pirates like him. Following his he would accuse Charles Eden and Tobias Knight of knowingly aiding Blackbeard's piracy; charges which would not stick. Overall the slaying of Blackbeard did not bring the political victory that Spotswood had hoped for.

Later Life

Tubal Works

Between 1716 and 1720, Spotswood built the Tubal Works. It had a cold blast-charcoal blast furnace which produced pig iron, and probably a finery forge. (It is the site of the 19th-century Scotts Ironworks). It operated for about 40 years. Pig iron from Tubal is in the collections of the Fredericksburg Area Museum and the NPS (Spotsylvania Courthouse). Tubal Works iron was exported to England by 1723.[2] In May of the same year, Gov. Drysdale reported to the Lords of Trade that Spotswood was selling "backs and frames for Chumnies, Potts, doggs, frying, stewing, and backing panns" at auction in Williamsburg.Around 1732 at Massaponax, Spotswood built what may have been the first purpose-built foundry in the British North American Colonies. This was a double-air furnace (usually used to make cannon) and was used to recast pig iron produced at Tubal into final shapes (kettles, andirons, firebacks, etc. and possibly cannon). Neither of Spotswood's iron operations were at Germanna. Spotswood was not, as is commonly believed, involved in the Fredericksville Furnace.[3]Spotswood worked to make a Treaty with the Iroquois through their meeting in Albany, New York during 1721. It was an attempt to end the raids between the Iroquois and Catawba that endangered settlers in the Shenandoah Valley. The Iroquois agreed to stay north of the Potomac and west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The agreement was renewed the next year.Spotswood completed the Governor's palace in 1722, when he was recalled from the lieutenant governorship and replaced by Hugh Drysdale. Throughout his career, Spotswood had maintained an adversarial relationship with the Virginia Council, especially its most prominent member, James Blair. As the Bishop of London's representative in the colony, the President of the College of William and Mary, and a councilman in Virginia's highest legislative body, Blair was arguably the most powerful man in the colony. He successfully orchestrated the recall of three royally appointed governors, including Alexander Spotswood.

Spotswood retired with 80,000 acres (324 km²) Spotsylvania and three iron furnaces. Eventually he would return to London where he married Butler Brayne during March of either 1724 or 1725. He was next seen at the Encanted Castle in Germanna in 1729. He later served as the Deputy Postmaster General between 1730 and 1739 before dying on 7 June 1740 in Annapolis in the Province of Maryland.


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