About Alexander Spotswood

Early Life

"Spotswood was born in the English colony of Tangier, Morocco, in 1676, where his father, Robert Spotswood, was a surgeon for the English garrison. Alexander's mother, Catherine Spotswood, brought the young boy to England in 1683; his father died in 1688. In 1693 Spotswood began his military career as an ensign in the earl of Bath's infantry regiment in Flanders; he rose through the ranks to lieutenant colonel. "

As Lt. Governor of Virginia

"In his first years as acting governor, Spotswood demonstrated his commitment to effective and efficient leadership, immediately tackling the colony's major issues: security, Indian relations, and economic depression. But as Spotswood confronted these challenges to Virginia's security and prosperity, he faced the dilemma of many other eighteenth-century colonial leaders: his responsibility to the colony exceeded his resources and his power to effect real change. Spotswood in particular had little support from the General Assembly. His arrival in Virginia had ended a four-year period during which the governor's Council, a group of twelve men appointed by the Crown, ruled the colony without the assistance of a governor or the House of Burgesses. Spotswood made no effort to conceal his low opinion of Virginia's government—especially the House of Burgesses, which he famously called "a Set of Representatives, whom Heaven has not generally endowed with the Ordinary Qualifications requisite to Legislators.""

"Spotswood also ran afoul of Virginians with the Indian Trade Act, which he established in 1714. The act granted the Virginia Indian Company, a joint-stock company, a twenty-year monopoly over American Indian trade, and charged the company with maintaining Fort Christanna, a settlement in southern Virginia for smaller Indian tribes."

Spotswood also strengthened and expanded the colony's western frontier by leading an expedition in the summer of 1716 across the Blue Ridge Mountains and down into the Shenandoah Valley. He claimed these lands for the king, and in the 1730s the area was settled as a buffer against French and Indian aggression. Similarly, he established a fortified settlement at Germanna on the Rapidan River as a frontier outpost.

Spotswood also left an indelible imprint on Virginia architecture during his tenure as lieutenant governor. Colonial Williamsburg, so familiar to latter-day tourists, features a town principally of his design: he helped to restore the College of William and Mary following a 1705 fire. Between 1710 and 1722 he oversaw the completion of the commanding Governor's Palace. Spotswood was criticized for the project's high cost, but plantation owners began to emulate the building's Georgian architecture in their own homes as early as the 1720s, and by the mid-eighteenth century, the style was an indicator of wealth and power.



 Hugh Drysdale arrived in Virginia on September 25, 1722, to replace Spotswood as lieutenant governor. Historians are uncertain as to exactly why Spotswood was removed, but several factors may have contributed; the cumulative effect of ten years of vocal opposition from members of the House of Burgesses and the governor's Council certainly played a role. Some historians have suggested that in accepting his massive land grant, Spotswood showed a disregard for Crown policy that could not be ignored (according to the Board of Trade, no single person or family was allowed to claim more than a thousand acres of land in Virginia). 

Spotswood's governorship demonstrated that cooperation with the Virginia elite could make or break a political career—a lesson from which future governors would benefit.

Later Years

Spotswood settled in Germanna on the Rapidan River in Spotsylvania County. 

He diverged from the Virginia norm of cultivating wealth through tobacco by building the South's first ironworks—though he, too, relied on slave labor to run his business. Spotswood became a major producer of iron, which he exported primarily to England while also manufacturing iron products for Virginia.

he married Anne Butler Brayne of St. Margaret's Parish, Westminster, with whom he had two sons and two daughters.

In 1730, imperial officials appointed him to a ten-year term as deputy postmaster general for North America. In addition to bringing postal service as far south as Williamsburg (it had previously extended only to Philadelphia), he selected Benjamin Franklin as Philadelphia postmaster in 1737.


When war with Spain broke out in 1739, Spotswood resumed his military career. He was appointed a brigadier general in the British army and second in command to Major General Charles Cathcart. At long last, Spotswood had fulfilled his dream of military advancement. But he never saw battle: after suffering a short illness, he died on June 7, 1740, in Annapolis, Maryland, where he had traveled to organize troops and consult with colonial governors. His burial site is unknown.