On September 5, 1716, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood and about 50 men reached the crest of the Allegheny Mountains, likely in present Pendleton County, and claimed the land for King George the First of Great Britain.
Spotswood and his men—described as “gentlemen, servants, Indians, and rangers”—journeyed up the Rappahannock River and crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Shenandoah Valley. Robert Brooke, a member of the expedition and the king’s surveyor general, made the first scientific observations west of the Alleghenies.
Within a year of the expedition, some of the first English settlements were established in the Shenandoah Valley, with possibly one at present Shepherdstown. Spotswood hoped these settlements would prevent the French and Indians from expanding into the region.
After reaching the crest of the Alleghenies, Spotswood gave each of his fellow adventurers a small golden horseshoe—some set with valuable stones—to commemorate the event. They are remembered as the “Knights of the Golden Horseshoe.”
In honor of the expedition, West Virginia schools, beginning in the 1930s, began presenting golden horseshoes annually to students who excel in West Virginia studies.