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Friday, October 4, 2013
King George III’s Royal Proclamation of Oct. 7, 1763, was issued to establish administrative regions in North America by which Britain could organize and control its newly acquired half a billion acres of territory to the north, west and south of its 13 American colonies. Essentially, the proclamation outlined a management plan for the newly acquired British North American empire.
This enormous new land empire came at the expense of France and Spain under the terms of the Treaty of Paris signed on Feb. 10, 1763. With Britain finally triumphant after almost a decade of hostilities in North America, the treaty settled the outcome of the French and Indian War.
To the west of Britain’s American colonies, the proclamation established an “Indian Reserve” and forbade the colonial governors to grant title to “any Lands beyond the Heads or Sources of any of the Rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West.” This provision established the eastern continental divide as a barrier to westward expansion by Virginians. The barrier was called the Proclamation Line.
At its full extent, the Proclamation Line of 1763 extended on the map from Nova Scotia in the north to the Florida panhandle in the south.
After the creation of Augusta County (which held its first court in 1745 and, as originally created, stretched westward all the way to the Mississippi River), the Virginia colonists engaged in an orgy of western land speculation. Running along the crests of Virginia’s western mountain chains, the Proclamation Line stopped cold the colonists’ land speculation.
Most leading Virginians were land speculators: George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson and William Byrd III, for instance. They and many others were angered by the action of the king in shutting off their commercial activities in the west. Historians consider the drawing of the Proclamation Line to have been a significant provocation in Virginia for the Revolution that began 13 years later. For example, Woody Holton has written that as late as 1774, the Virginia speculators held out hope that the proclamation might be repealed in London. However, in 1774 the British authorities abolished all western land grants and even banned grants to American military veterans that had been specifically authorized under the 1763 proclamation. All hope of western expansion was quashed. In consequence, says Holton, “the Virginia gentry [led] Virginia into the American Revolution.”
Modern travelers in Southwest Virginia unwittingly cross the Proclamation Line at many places. On Interstate 64, the crossing is near White Sulphur Springs. On Interstate 77, the crossing is at the top of Fancy Gap Mountain. Travelers on Interstate 81 heading southwest first cross the Proclamation Line at the top of Christiansburg Mountain, twice again a few miles later near the Christiansburg exit, and for a fourth time just before reaching the Wythe-Smyth county line near the Mountain Empire Airport.
Montgomery County is divided east-west by the Proclamation Line, which snakes irregularly across the county from Brush Mountain in the north to Pilot Mountain in the south.
In the town of Blacksburg, the Proclamation Line runs along its eastern edge and crosses South Main Street between Country Club Road and Airport Road. The town’s History and Preservation Committee has approved a sign to be placed there marking the crossing point as both the eastern Continental Divide and the Proclamation Line.
In the town of Christiansburg, the Proclamation Line roughly follows U.S. 460 from Merrimac Road along the town bypass to the exit complex on I-81 at mile marker 118.
Travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway follow the route of the Proclamation Line from the vicinity of the town of Floyd, over I-77 near Fancy Gap and on to the North Carolina border.
So, if you are driving by any of these crossings on Monday, remember to give a nod to George the Third, and, much more importantly, a nod to Virginia’s patriot speculators who were willing to fight him in the War of American Independence.
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