Oscar Wilde.

Lady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest online

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under the direction of thought and judgment. Pedigrees are prac-
tical things and full of winners, and in no sense made more valu-
able by having some supposed "Arabian" cross away back ten
generations, that never ran in his life.



Hardships of the colonists — First importations of horses — Racing prevalent in
the seventeenth century — Exportations and then importations prohibited —
Organized horse racing commenced 1677 and became very general — In 1704
there were many wild horses in Virginia and they were hunted as game —
The Chincoteague ponies accounted for — Jones on life in Virginia, 1720 —
Fast early pacers, Galloways and Irish Hobbies — English race horses im-
ported — Moreton's Traveler probably the first — Quarter racing prevailed on
the Carolina border — Average size and habits of action clearly established —
The native pacer thrown in the shade by the imported runner — An English-
man's prejudices.

The colony of Virginia, settled at Jamestown, May 13, 1607,
was subjected to a succession of dissensions, privations and dis-
asters extending through a number of years. The elements of
which this first plantation was composed were heterogeneous, and
many of them wholly unsuited to battle with the hardships and.
privations of the wilderness. A very large proportion of the ad-
venturers were mere idlers at home, descended from good but
impecunious families, and had never done an honest day's work
in their lives. Too proud to labor even if they had known how,
hunger and rags soon made them the most unhappy and discon-
tented of mortals. The governmental affairs of the colony fell into
confusion, like the people forming it, and we have no official
record of what was done for a number of years. All that is
known to-day of what transpired in the earl)' years of the colony
has been gleaned from the personal correspondence of actors in
the many strifes that came so near destroying them all. These
letters are, generally, so strongly imbued with partisan feeling
that there seems to be no room left to tell us anything about the
industrial growth of the colony, either in planting or breeding.
The excerpts, therefore, relating to the early horses of Virginia
which I have been able to gather from a great many sources, will
fall far short of being complete, but I think they will serve as a
basis upon which to form an intelligent estimate of the Virginia


horses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and as to the
nineteenth, the newspapers will furnish everything what is

It is evident that the fleet of three vessels which took out to
Virginia the first adventurers took also some horses and mares
with them; for the governor and council, who went out the next
year, in reporting the condition of the colonists to the home
company, under date of July 7, 1610, use this language:

" Our people, together with the Indians, bad, tbe last winter, destroyed and
killed up all our bogs, inasmuch as of five or six bundred, as it is supposed, there
was not above one sow that we can bear of left alive, not a ben or a chick in
tbe fort, and our horses and mares they had eaten with tbe first."

From a letter written by M. Gabriel Arclier, who arrived in
Virginia August 31, 1609, we gather the following facts:

" From Woolwich, the fifteenth day of May, 1609, seven sail weighed anchor
and came to Plymouth tbe twentieth day, where George Somers, with two
small vessels, consorted with us. There we took into Tbe Blessing, being the
ship wherein I went, six mares and two horses, and the fleet layed in some
necessaries belonging to tbe action; in which business we spent time till the 2d
of June, and then set sail to sea, but crossed by South West winds, we put into
Falmouth, and there stayed until the 8th of June, then gate out."

Now, as The Blessing was probably about the average size
of the rest of the fleet, I think it is reasonable to conclude that
each of the other vessels took some horses also. In a report of a
voyage to Virginia, dated November 13, 1611, we find the follow-
ing statement: "They have brought to this colony one hundred
cows, two hundred pigs, one hundred goats, and seventeen horses
and mares." In 1614 the Virginians made a raid on Port Royal,
in what was then called New France, and carried off to Virginia,
among other captures, a number of horses, mares and colts. A
second raid in the same quarter seems to have resulted in carry-
ing off Avheat, horses, clothing, working tools, etc.

Mr. Harmor, writing in 1614, in his "True Discourse on the
Present State of Virginia," says: "The colony is already fur-
nished with two hundred neat cattle, infinite hogs in herds all over
the woods, some mares, horses and colts, poultry, great store,

In 1894, in the Public Records Office in London, I found that
the Virginia Company had sent out four mares, February, 1619,
on The Falcon. And further, I found a kind of summary of


what the company had done in the past toward populating and
supplying the colonists with live stock. It is stated that they
had sent twelve ships, taking out one thousand two hundred and
sixty-one persons, making the total number in Virginia at that
date about two thousand four hundred. The exportations
include five hundred cattle, with some horses and goats, and an
infinite number of swine. In 1620 the company ordered twenty
mares to be sent over, at a cost, delivered, of fifteen pounds
each. From the price of horses in England at that day, I would
infer that somebody was making money out of the colonists.

In a little work published in London, 1646, entitled "A Per-
fect Description of Virginia," the author says that "There are in
Virginia, of an excellent raise (race), about two hundred horses
and mares." It is evident that this statement is a mere estimate,
and I am disposed to think it a very wild estimate from what follows,
in a very few years. It is true that horses do not propagate and
increase as fast as any other variety of domestic animals, but
under the circumstances every effort would be made to increase
the stock, and from what follows, I think my criticism will be

In the legislation of the colony we find no mention of horses,
till the year 1657, when the exportation of mares was prohibited.
Eleven years after this (1668) this restriction was removed and
the exportation of both mares and horses permitted. The very
next year, 1669, the importation of more horses was prohibited
by legislative enactment. From this it would seem that there
were already too many horses in the colony, or possibly some
horse breeder had begun to realize that there were better horses
in some of the other colonies that were finding a market in Vir-
ginia, and they thus sought "protection" for their own stock.
This prohibition could not have been aimed at the mother
country, for the prices obtained would not justify the cost and
risk of a sea voyage. We must, therefore, conclude that it was
intended to shut out the New England colonies, which were
already shipping horses to all the settlements on the seaboard, as
well as to some of the West India Islands. In this we see at what
an early date commenced the interchange of commodities among
the colonies. As early as 1647 the Dutch authorities at New
Amsterdam authorized Isaac Allerton to sell twenty or twenty-
five horses to Virginia.

The court records of Henrico County, Virginia, for the year 1677


contain three distinct trials growing out of horse races for that
year. In one case the contest was for three hundred pounds of
tobacco; in another the winner was to take both horses; in the
third the amount at issue does not appear. From the readiness
at sharp practice and from the cunning dodges to get clear of
paying a bet it is very evident that the principals and the wit-
nesses were well up in all the tricks of racing as it was practiced
at that early day. How long before 1677 racing was practiced in
Virginia I have no means of determining, but the next year and
the next, continuing to the end of that century, the records of
the court speak for themselves. In these trials I find the names
of Thomas Jefferson, Jr., grandfather of President Jefferson, and
also the name of Benjamin Harrison, the ancestor of two presi-
dents, although they were not principals in any of the cases.

In Beverley's History of Virginia, published in London, 1705,
at section ninety-four, we have the following:

" There is yet another kilid of- sport, which the young people take
great delight in, and that is the hunting of wild horses; which they
pursue, sometimes with dogs and sometimes without. You must know
they have many horses foaled in the woods of the uplands, that never were in
hand and are as shy as any savage creature. These having no mark upon them
belong to him that first takes him. However, the captor commonly purchases
these horses very dear, by spoiling better in the pursuit, in which case he has
little to make himself amends, besides the pleasure of the chase. And very
often this is all he has for it, for the wild horses are so swift that 'tis difficult to
catch them; and when they are taken 'tis odds but their grease is melted, or
else being old they are so sullen that they can't be tamed."

In the number of Wallace's Montlily for September, 1877, p.
G84, will be found a very interesting article from the pen of the
late Dr. Elwood Harvey, on "The Chincoteague Ponies," that
have from time immemorial occupied, in a wild state, the
islands of Chincoteague and Assoteague off the eastern shore of
Virginia and Maryland. The traditions relating to their origin
are very hazy and improbable, and the most reasonable one, be-
cause it is within the range of possibilities, is that a Spanish ship
was wrecked off this part of the coast and the original ponies
were on board and swam ashore. It is Avell established that they
have occupied the islands for more than a hundred years. They
are about thirteen hands high, uniform in shape and resemble
each other except in color, for all colors prevail. Some of them
pace a little, and they have rather light manes and tails, and no
s;iperabundance of hair on the fetlocks. Now, the horses of


Virginia, at the period of which Mr. Beverley writes, and of
which I will have something further to say as we progress, were
but little if any larger than these semi-wild inhabitants of the
islands; they were of all colors and rftany of them paced. As it
is well known that the action of the ocean, so unaccountable to
all human ken, one year builds up a dike connecting islands with
the mainland, and the next year, perhaps, washes it out again,
we can thus easily understand how a herd of these semi-wild
animals may have been caught and kept there. In this way, it
seems to me, the origin of the Chincoteague ponies may be easily
and rationally accounted for, without any shadow of violence to
the clearest reasoning. Mr. Hugh Jones, who, in many direc-
tions, seems to have been a closer observer of the life of the colo-
nists than any of the other tourists whose writings we have ex-
amined, wrote a little work entitled "The Present State of A^ir-
ginia," which was published in London, 1724, expressing himself
as follows, on page 48:

" The common planters, leading easy lives, don't much admire labor or any
manly exercise except horse-racing, nor diversion except cock-fighting, in which
some greatly delight. This easy way of living, and the heat of the summers,
make some very lazy, who are then said to be climate struck. The saddle
horses, although not very large, are hardy, strong, and fleet; and will pace
naturally and pleasantly at a prodigious rate. They are such lovers of riding
that almost every ordinary person keeps ahorse, and I have known some spend
the morning in ranging several miles in the woods to find and catch their horses
only to ride two or three miles to church, to the courthouse or to a horse race,
where they generally appoint to meet on business, and are more certain of find-
ing those they want to speak or deal with than at their home."

Mr. Jones here places us in close contact with the character
and habits of the people of that day, as well as with the character
and qualifiuations of their horses. It is not to be inferred, I
think, that all their horses were pacers, but that all their saddle
horses were pacers there can be little doubt. This is the first
intimation we have from Virginia that some of their pacers were
very fast, and when Mr. Jones says "they could pace naturally
and pleasantly at a prodigious rate," he means that the speed
was marvelous, wonderful, astonishing. This "prodigious rate,"
in a good measure, balances Dr. McSparran's account of the Narra-
gansett, which he had seen go a mile "in a little over two min-
utes and a good deal less than three," and gives strength to the
statement of Mr. Lewis, that when a boy he had ridden in pac-


ing matches and return matches between the Rhode Islanders
and the Virginians.

In the Virginia Oazette, under date of January 11, 1739, we
find the following advertisement, to which we invite special at-
tention, a^ it brings out some facts which, inferentially, throw a
great deal of light upon horse racing, up to that period:

"This is to give notice tliat there will be run for at Mr. Joseph Seawell's,
in Gloucester County, on the first Tuesday in April next, a Purse of Thirty
IMstoles, by any horse, uiare or gelding; all sized horses to carry 140 lbs. and
Galloways to be allowed weight for inches, to pay one Pistole entrance, if a
subscriber, and two if not, and the entrance money to go to the second horse,
^tc. And on the day following, on the same course, there will be a Saddle,
Bridle and Housing, of five pounds value, to be run for by any horse, mare or
gelding that never won a prize of that value, four miles, before. Each horse
to pay five shillings entrance and that to go to the horse that comes in second.
And on the day following there is to be run for, by horses not exceeding thir-
teen hands, a hunting saddle, bridle and whip. Each horse to pay two
shillings and sixpence at entrance, to be given to the horse that comes in
second. Happy is he that can get the highest rider."

The first point suggested by this advertisement is that there
were no distinctions made except by size, and that, at this date,
1739, there were no English race horses then in Virginia, The
second point is that there was such a thing as "horse size" but
what size this was I have not been able to discover. The third
point is that Galloways were allowed weight for inches. They
were evidently below "horse size." But they were expected to
enter for the big purse of the meeting, and they must, therefore,
have ranked as good race horses; but what did they mean by
"Galloway?" This is the only instance in which I have met the
term in Virginian history, although it is well known in general
horse lore. "Galloway" is an old name of a territorial division
of Scotland, embracing Wigtonshire, part of Ayrshire, etc., in
the southwestern part of that country, and was at one time
famous for the excellence of its pacers, and it is probable they
were to be found there after the influx of eastern blood had
■driven the pacer from all other portions of Great Britain. The
Irish Hobbie, always undersized, was a famous race horse, as* well
:as a pacer, m.any generations before the period now under con-
■sideration. The name "Galloway" is only known in history and
is not to be found on any modern map. I have learned by many
experiences that the name is very generally believed to be Irish
and is confounded with "Galway," an Irish county. It is


known that an Irish gentleman shipped many cattle to the
colony, and it is quite possible that he shipped horses also, and if
this reasoning be right, these "G-alloways" may have been Irish
"Hobbies." It will be observed, also, that the distance to be run
is not definitely stated, but it is fairly to be concluded that the
race of the second day was to be four miles, and none of them less
than one mile, and that in heats. Races of four-mile heats were
very common long before the first English race horse was imported.

We here have a stock of horses that the people of Virginia
have bred and ridden and raced for a hundred years, and we
know comparatively nothing about them. They seem to have
been specially adapted to the saddle, but they could run four
miles, or they could run a quarter of a mile, like an arrow from
a bow. They were not a breed, although selecting and crossing
and interbreeding for a hundred years would make them quite
homogeneous. There is a romantic interest attaching to these
little horses, for we have reached the middle of the eighteenth
century, and all the successive idols of this race-loving people
are about to be dethroned by their own act, and their homage
transferred to a stranger — a larger and finer animal and faster
over a distance of ground. Whatever of glory and honor, to say
nothing of money, that was to be achieved from this time for-
ward was to be ascribed to the newly arrived English race horse.
But the truth should not be concealed that this old stock
furnished half the foundation, in a vast majority of cases, for the
triumphs of future generations of the Virginia race horse, and
the same may be said of the old English stock upon which the
eastern blood was engrafted. About the middle of the eighteenth
century the line was drawn, and there was thereafter developed
the engrafting of the new upon the old. In 1751-52, Moreton's
imported Traveller was there, and he was the only English
race horse advertised that year. There may have been two or
three others, but they had not made themselves known to the
public, and I very much doubt whether there was any other. A
very few years later there were many others, and some of them
of great celebrity.

Mr. J. F. D. Smith made an extended tour of the colonies,
especially of Virginia, before the Eevolutionary war, and he suf-
fered some of the inconveniences growing out 'of the rising
hostility to the mother country. In speaking of quarter racing
he says:


" In the southern part of the colony and in North Carolina, they are much
attached to Quarter Racing, which is always a match between two horses to
run one quarter of a mile, straight out, being merely an exertion of speed; and
they have a breed that perform it with astonishing velocity, beating every other
for that distance with great ease, but they have no bottom. However, I am
confident that there is not a horse in England, nor perhaps in the whole world,
that can excel them in rapid speed; and these likewise make excellent saddle
horses for the road."

It will be observed that Mr. Smith speaks of these heavily
muscled horses as a breed, which expression, I suppose, is intended
to be used in a restricted sense. In the many generations of
horses that would necessarily succeed each other in a century, in
the hands of a people so devotedly fond of racing, it is merely an
exercise of common sense, among barbarous as well as civilized
people all over the world, to "breed to the winner." In this
way, and without any infusion of outside blood, there would be
improvement in the strength and fleetness of all animals bred for
the quarter path. He remarks further that "these likewise
make excellent saddle horses for the road." In that day nothing
was accepted as a "saddle horse" that could not take the pacing
gait and its various modifications. This was true of Virginians
of that day, and it is still true of their descendants who have
built up new States further west.

In the early days, as already intimated, it was the habit of Vir-
ginians to brand their horses and then turn out all not in daily
use to "hustle" for their own living. As a matter of course these
animals would often stray long distances away, and not a few
never were found. In due time, legislation provided for the re-
covery of estrays, embracing all kinds of domestic animals as well
as negro slaves. Fortunately this enables me to reach what may
be considered "original data," in determining the size and habits
of action of the early Virginian horses. As the field of my ex-
amination, I have taken the Virginia Gazette, for the years 1751
and 1752, published at Williamsburgh, and in these volumes I
find a great many advertisements of "Strayed or Stolen" animals
scattered through the pages; and in the second especially a great
many "Taken Up" advertisements ajDpear. In a very large pro-
portion of these notices, perhaps a majority of them, all the de-
scription that is given is the color, sex and brand, with occasion-
ally some natural mark. As a matter of course these are of no
value for the object in view. In some cases the size is given
without the gait, and in others the gait is given without the size,.


in a few both size and gait are given. The range of size is from
one of fifteen hands down to one of twelve hands, with more of
thirteen hands than any other size, either above or below. The
true average of the whole number is a little over thirteen hands
and one inch, and none of them are called ponies. As further
evidence of the small size of the colonial Virginia horses we find
that in 1686 the legislature of Virginia passed an act providing
for the forfeiture of all stallions under thirteen and a half hands
high found running at large. It provided that any person
might take up such stallion and carry him before a justice of the
2)eace, and if he measured less than thirteen and a half hands,
the justice was required to certify to the measurement and the
facts, and the horse passed legally to his new owner.

As to the gaits I find just twice as many pacers as trotters.
Double-gaited animals, of which there were a few, I have here
•classed with the pacers. That many of these little fellows were
very stout and tough is fully demonstrated by the fact that they
•could run heats of four miles with a hundred and forty pounds
on their backs. This closes the first epoch in the history of the
Virginia horse. The fleet and compact little horse of thirteen to
fourteen hands had had his day, and he was now about to be
overshadowed by a greater in speed and a greater in stature.
Much of the blood of the little fellow that could run four miles
and pace ''at a prodigious rate," was commingled with the blood
of the English race horse, but whatever its triumphs, the lately
arrived "foreigner" took the credit. A man would have been
pronounced "clean daft" if at that time he had dreamed that
•one hundred and forty years later the blood of this little pacei
would stand at the head of the great trotting interest of the
world. The tough little fellow has retained his qualities through
all the generations in which he has been neglected, despised and
forgotten, until he was taken up twenty odd years ago, and now
the names and achievements of the great pacers are as familiar
to the whole American people as ever were the name of the great-
est running horses. It is not known how long he continued to be
a factor in the racing affairs of Virginia, but probably not later
than about 1760.

From about 1750 to 1770 seems to have been a period of great
prosperity in Virginia and, notwithstanding the general improvi-
dence of the times, many of the large landholders and planters
were getting rich from their fine crops of tobacco and their


negroes. This prosperity manifested itself strongly in the
direction of the popular sport of horse racing and improving the
size, quality, and fleetness of the running horse, England had
then been selecting, importing Eastern blood, and "breeding to
the winner" for a hundred years, with more or less intelligence
and success, while the colonists had rested content with the de-
scendants of the first importations from the mother country.
Doubtless progress had been made here too, but it was as the
progress of a poor man against another with great wealth and
backed by the encouragements of royalty. The English horse could
then run clear away from the Saracenic horse, his so-called pro-
genitor, and he was very much larger than that "progenitor."
We can understand how the speed might be increased by its de-

Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 13 of 61)