The Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition took place in 1716 in the British Colony of Virginia. The Royal Governor and a number of prominent citizens traveled westward, across the Blue Ridge Mountains on an exploratory expedition. It is a frequently recounted event of the History of Virginia.
Alexander Spotswood became acting royal governor of Virginia in 1710, by which time pressure on the colony to expand had become more acute than ever. In 1716, Governor Spotswood, with 62 other men and 74 horses, led a real estate speculation expedition up the Rappahannock River valley during westward exploration of the interior of Virginia. They reached the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains west of today's Stanardsville on the eighth day. The men were impressed with the fact that they were surrounded on all sides by steep mountain terrain as their axemen cleared a way along the path of a creek named Swift Run along the eastern slope.
The party reached a rock-covered place between several peaks along the top ridge of the Blue Ridge mountains at Swift Run Gap (elevation 2,365 feet) on September 5, 1716. There, they drank special toasts to the King and to Governor Spotswood, and named a peak for each man. The taller summit was named "Mount George" in honour of King George II; this was probably today's High Top Mountain.
Upon descending into a portion of the Shenandoah Valley on the east side of Massanutten Mountain, they reached a point near the current town of Elkton, where they celebrated their arrival on the banks of the Shenandoah River with multiple toasts of wine, brandy, and claret. On the banks of the river they buried a bottle, inside which they had put a paper declaring that the whole valley belonged to "George I, King by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, Ireland and Virginia."
After the journey, Spotswood was believed to have given each officer of the expedition a stickpin made of gold and shaped like a horseshoe on which he had inscribed the words in Latin "Sic jurat transcendere montes", which translates into English as "Thus he swears to cross the mountains." The horseshoes were encrusted with small stones and were small enough to be worn from a watch chain. The members of Governor Spotswood's expedition soon became popularly known as the "Knights of the Golden Horseshoe." The journalist of this expedition was an officer, Lieutenant John Fontaine, of the British Army.
At a practical level, word of the expedition, and descriptions of the fertile valley land beyond the mountain range, apparently didn't do much in the short-term to open the Shenandoah Valley for development from the east. The mountain range was a formidable barrier. Instead, most of the early settlers came down the Valley from the north, many of German and Scottish decent. Groups of Mennonites migrated from Pennsylvania, and settled in the general area of present-day Rockingham County and Harrisonburg, where their descendants may still be found today.
Spotswood's expedition, which from all reports, traveled at a leisurely pace, encountered little or no loss of life or conflict with Native Americans, and included frequent stops for celebrations and libations, earned a somewhat legendary status. The expedition's fame can also be attributed to providing further evidence supporting Virginians' self-image as being hospitable and loving of drink and conviviality. The fame was further enhanced when it was romanticized in The Knights of the Golden Horse-Shoe, an early chivalric romance, authored by William Alexander Caruthers, and first published in 1845.