I need to jump off this line of discussion about Sir Walter Scott in order to get to other topics pertaining to life in the early to mid 19th century Shenandoah Valley, but, I need to offer this post, and perhaps one other piece first.
There’s a good deal about Scott’s influence on the 19th century Southern mind, and it can be found rather easily on the Web (including snippets from books, which make Scott a part of the focus). Again, my take on it is that… yes, Scott appealed to many a Southern mind… but, I argue… not all Southern minds. Likewise, whether he appealed or not, I don’t think it was necessarily a good prediction tool for who would go one way or the other when it came time for secession and war.
Still, there were “manifestations” of Scott’s words and reflections on the days of knights… even here in the Shenandoah Valley. Late in the summer of 1851, for example, there was a tournament at Shannondale Springs, in Jefferson County. Given the time to research antebellum tournaments, it isn’t hard to find examples throughout the South and Virginia. Another prime spot for such events in the Valley was Natural Chimneys, in Augusta County.
Nevertheless, the actual challenge in these tournaments focused on the ability of men… knights… riding upon horses at the gallop, to spear a small ring which dangled from a cord eight feet above the ground. It’s still a sport today, but not with as much pageantry as that which could be experienced in the 1840s and 50s.
With all of this in mind… an image of the upper portion of the piece (as it appeared in the September 4, 1851… yes, 164 years ago, today… edition of the Virginia Free Press and Farmer’s Repository) that described the tournament at Shannondale Springs, followed by a transcription of the rest of that article:
At the sound of the Bugle, the Knights having put themselves in battle array, in front of the large assemblage of ladies and gentlemen, who collected to witness their exploits, Mr. BEDINGER thus addressed them:
KNIGHTS AND GENTLEMEN: – By the memory of that chivalry whose departed honors are about to be revived this day by your deeds of gallantry and daring – be that ancient, and honored institution under whose protection honor flourished, valor reaped its due reward, and beauty set secure to receive the worship of those who were worthy of her smiles –
I, your chief selected by your free voices, call to your attention the important duties devolving upon each of you. Remember that the eye of Beauty is upon you and remember that many a palpitating heart beats earnestly for your success in this context; remember that this expectant multitude impatiently wait to be told your achievements, and to greet with their acclamations the successful champion of your number. Ride, then, brave Knights – ride for the chivalry whose devotees ye are – ride for that gallantry which ye have already acquired – ride for the needed praise which awaits you from this expectant throng – ride, especially ride, each and all of you, for the sake of her whose image lies indelibly engraven upon your inmost heart.
After which the Knights commenced the trial of skill. On the first tilt the ring was taken only by the Knight of Scampton, David Humphreys. On the 2d, by Scampton and Bertrand. On the 3rd, by Knights of Bedington, Iskander, and Prince of Wales. Scampton having taken the ring twice in three tilts was declared the successful knight. A tie occurring between the Knights Bertrand, Beddington, Iskander, and Prince of Wales, each having taken the ring once, a context was then had for the privilege of crowing the First Maid of Honor, which resulted in favor of Mr. Lewis. Mr. Moote, being the next successful champion was entitled to chose the 2d Maid of Honor, and Mr. Thomson the 3rd.
The contest being over, the Knights were again drawn up to make selections out of the mass of beauty before them, when the Herald proclaimed Mr. David Humphreys victory. He chose Miss Kate Sappington, of Charlestown, as Queen of Love and Beauty, and requested the provident to place the wreath upon her lovely brow. This beautiful young lady, blushing at the honor about to be conferred upon her, and trembling under the eager gaze of the vast assembly, approached the President, leaning upon the arm of the first Herald, Mr. A.E. Kennedy. Mr. Bedinger, in placing the crown upon her brow thus addressed her:
FAIR AND BEAUTIFUL LADY – It becomes my privilege and honor to crown you Queen of Love, of Beauty and Chivalry, and, in doing so, to present you to this crowd of your devoted subjects as one worthy of their loyalty and love. May I be allowed, as one of your humblest and most loyal subjects, to press the hope, that in these dangerous days of secession, the coronation of our lovely Queen may be the signal of Union to us all, and that the example which your Majesty may be pleased most speedily to set us in this respect, may have its proper influence upon all your devoted subjects.
Miss JOSEPHINE NELSON, of Frederick city, Md., having then been presented as the First Maid of Honor, the President thus said to her:
GENTLE LADY: Accept from my hand this wreath… [illegible]
At this point, I need to interject. Did you catch that, above… the portion I put in bold? Despite the arguments that Sir Walter Scott was an inspiration (some suggest, THE inspiration and/or responsible for secession and the war), consider what you see. A spirit of secession cloaked in cries for Union? It sure doesn’t appear so, but… at the very least, I think it gives a reader more to consider. History is like that. Pay attention below as well… there’s more…
LADY, I greet thee as the representative of the noble West, and as one, who, speaking her voice as well as thine own, I hope, will cry out for Union, now and forever more. Accept this wreath from the humble hand of thine unworthy servant. It will entitle thee to the favor and love of our Sovereign.
The Third Maid of Honor was MISS JANE WASHINGTON, of Jefferson county. The President, in crowing her, said –
I place upon thine unsullied brow a wreath almost as [illegible] as itself. It is the token of our Sovereign’s love and as it falls from my hands to thee, they name – the name of the immortal WASHINGTON – falls upon my ear, and bids me cry to all around me, Union! Union!!! Now and forever!!!
The President delivered his address to the Queen and her Maids of Honor in the happiest and most felicitous manner, as is always capable of doing, amidst the outburst of enthusiastic applause.
The company then repaired to the Hotel to Dinner, which was a most sumptuous one. The entertainment of the day closed with a Ball – everything passing off pleasantly.
Again, just more to consider, regarding Sir Walter Scott’s impact on the Southern mind.
*On a side note, I made a trip out to Shannondale Springs only a few weeks ago. I didn’t have time to take the hike leading to the old resort and restored spring house, but I hope to do so this fall, and will be sure to post pictures after I do.