As remarkable as it seems, a person could walk from Maine to Florida without ever once having to cross a river or stream.
That situation arises because a long ridge separates the rivers and their tributaries that flow eastward to the Atlantic Ocean from the rivers and their tributaries that flow westward inland to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Around here, that situation neatly divides Montgomery County into an eastern and western half, with both Christiansburg and Blacksburg having parts lying on either side of the dividing line.
On Tuesday morning June 25 the town of Christiansburg installed a sign and a road crossing marker in front the Route 8 donut shop at the east end of town near where Route 8 runs into Interstate-81. See the picture on page 1 of this issue.
A handout that can be picked up at the marker reads: “Main Street near here crosses a barely perceptible ridgeline. This Eastern Continental Divide ridgeline separates water flowing east to the Atlantic Ocean – via the Roanoke River basin – from water flowing west to the Gulf of Mexico – via the New, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. In October 1763, King George III by Royal Proclamation forbade Virginians to settle west of this ridgeline, which in turn gave it is second name – the 1763 Proclamation Line. Virginians considered the taking up of western land as their natural right. Shutting off access to this land was a provocation that accelerated the building momentum in Virginia for the coming American Revolution.” The handout notes that this columnist provided the preceding information.
It was this columnist’s October 2018 column titled “Crossing the Eastern Continental Divide in Christiansburg” that prompted Town Event Manager Casey Jenkins and the town’s Central Business Committee to mark the line and erect the marker.
To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the issuance of the Royal Proclamation On November 7, 2013, I made an invited Powerpoint presentation about it to the Blacksburg. Museum and Cultural Foundation. Last November I updated that presentation and had it posted to Youtube. Interested readers can view it at http://tinyurl.com/GlanvilleDiscussesDivide.
The proclamation of 1763 is a huge event in American history and a particularly significant event in the always underrated history of western Virginia.
Because of their multiple victories over the French, the British called 1759 their “Year of Miracles.” English Prime Minister Horace Walpole said: “Our bells are worn threadbare with ringing for victories.” Among those victories, the British conquered Quebec and seized the Ohio Country; repulsed the French Siege of Madras in India; participated in the allied victory at the Battle of Minden in Germany; and won the naval battles of Lagos (off Portugal) and Quiberon Bay (off Brittany)
It still surprises me that it was only 16 years from that 1759 British “Year of miracles in” to the commencement of the American Revolution in 1775, and that it was those most loyal British-Americans, the Virginians, along with the New Englanders, who led the charge to Revolution.
For Virginians, the drive to Revolution was provoked by the land cut off beyond the 1763 Proclamation Line. In 1930 the historian Archibald Henderson wrote that because of the Line “In Virginia the speculators and land-plungers were balked in their grandiose schemes; the great land companies foresaw the collapse of their colossal projects; and even the officers and soldiers [who had fought in the French and Indian War] felt themselves deprived of the opportunity to exploit the West, through lands to be granted them for military services.”
In his book “Forced Founders” (UNC Press, 1999), Woody Holton told that in 1774 “the Virginia gentry [led] Virginia into the American Revolution.” That happened when Virginians saw that all hope was gone that the 1763 Proclamation might be repealed, and military veterans realized that even their western land grants authorized under the 1763 Proclamation had been revoked.
So the next time you drive past the Route 8 Donut shop, and especially past the innocuous sign across the street from it, spare a thought for the incredible American history you are traveling over. It is easy to forget that, except for a miraculous series of historical events, we could all be speaking French or Spanish in Christiansburg.
Jim Glanville is a retired chemist living in Blacksburg. He has been publishing and lecturing for more than a decade about the history of southwest Virginia. He can be reached at email@example.com.