Accession number: 1995.74
This cast iron fireback would have been placed at the back of a fireplace to reflect the heat outward. This one shows only a little exposure to fire. Perhaps because of its elegance, it was mainly for show. Dolphins, fleur-de-lis, Virginia roses, flowering dogwood, and hickory surround a bust portrait of a woman wearing a crown. This motif appeared on the seal of the Virginia Company and later on several versions of the seal of the royal colony of Virginia.
This fireback is a rare touchstone of the career of a remarkable man, Alexander Spotswood (1676–1740), by title lieutenant-governor, but in reality governor of Virginia from 1710 to 1722. He developed the iron industry in Virginia, he made the state more ethnically diverse, and he led exploration and settlement of the Rappahannock and Shenandoah Valleys.
Spotswood found iron ore on his western lands, so in 1714 he brought over 42 German miners and iron workers to a remote site overlooking the Rapidan River, which he appropriately named Fort Germanna, in what now is Orange County. It was then the most westerly settlement in Virginia.
This fireback, made at either Spotswood's Massaponax Furnace or Tubal Furnace, was in a fireplace at Spotswood's Germanna mansion which burned in 1750 and collapsed in ruins. In 1984 the fireback was uncovered intact under piles of stone and rubble.