These forts were garrisoned by a small force of musketeers maintained by the government. The Province was also at the charge of a regiment of cavalry, of which Talbot was the Colonel, and parts of which were assigned to the defence of this frontier.
If we add to these a corps of rangers, who were specially employed in watching and arresting all trespassers upon the territory of the Province, it will complete our sketch of the military organization of the frontier over which Talbot had the chief command. The whole or any portion of this force could be assembled in a few hours to meet the emergencies of the time. Signals were established for the muster of the border. Beacon fires on the hills, the blowing of horns, and the despatch of runners were familiar to the tenants, and often called the ploughman away from the furrow to the appointed gathering-place. Three musket-shots fired in succession from a lonely cabin, at dead of night, awakened the sleeper in the next homestead; the three shots, repeated from house to house, across this silent waste of forest and field, carried the alarm onward; and before break of day a hundred stout yeomen, armed with cutlass and carbine, were on foot to check and punish the stealthy foray of the Sasquesahannock against the barred and bolted dwellings where mothers rocked their children to sleep, confident in the protection of this organized and effective system of defence.
In this region Talbot himself held a manor which was called New Connaught, and here he had his family mansion, and kept hospitality in rude woodland state, as a man of rank and command, with his retainers and friends gathered around him. This establishment was seated on Elk River, and was, doubtless, a fortified position. I picture to my mind a capacious dwelling-house built of logs from the surrounding forest; its ample hall furnished with implements of war, pikes, carbines, and basket-hilled swords, mingled with antlers of the buck, skins of wild animals, plumage of birds, and other trophies of the hunter’s craft; the large fireplace surrounded with hardy woodsmen, and the tables furnished with venison, wild fowl, and fish, the common luxuries of the region, in that prodigal profusion to which our forefathers were accustomed, and which their descendants still regard as the essential condition of hearty and honest housekeeping. This mansion I fancy surrounded by a spacious picketed rampart, presenting its bristling points to the four quarters of the compass, and accessible only through a gateway of ponderous timber studded thick with nails: the whole offering defiance to the grim savage who might chance to prowl within the frown of its midnight shadow.
Here Talbot spent the greater portion of the year with his wife and children. Here he had his yacht or shallop on the river, and often skimmed this beautiful expanse of water in pursuit of its abundant game,—those hawks of which tradition preserves the memory his companions and auxiliaries in this pastime. Here, too, he had his hounds and other hunting-dogs to beat up the game for which the banks of Elk River are yet famous.