Oscar Wilde.

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

. (page 15 of 61)
Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 15 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

peruse the history of one such horse, spoken of in the letter of Rip Van Dam
of New York, in the year of 1711, which I have seen. He states the fact of the
trouble he had taken to procure him such a horse. He was shipped from Rhode
Island in a sloop, from which he jumped overboard when under sail, and swaui
ashore to his former home. Having been brought back he arrived in New York,
in thirteen days' passage, much reduced in flesh and spirit. He cost thirty-two
pounds and his freight fifty shillings. This writer. Rip Van Dam, was a great
personage, he having been president of the Council in 1731, and on the death of
Governor Montgomery that year, he was governor, ex-officio, of New York. His
mural monument is now to be seen in St. Paul's Church."

As New England saddle horses were only worth forty dollars
in 1650, and this horse cost more than four times as much, when
horses were more plentiful, we must conclude that he was a fine
specimen of the breed, and was, probably, bought for stock pur-
poses. The date of this transaction is a significant fact that
should not be forgotten, as 1711 is the same year in which the
first of the two great founders of the English race horse, Darley
Arabian, was brought to England.



First importations to Boston and to Salem — Importations from Holland
brought liigli prices — They were not pacers and not over fourteen hands —
In 1640 horses were exported to the West Indies — First American news-
paper and first horse advertisement — Average sizes — The different gaits
— Connecticut, first plantation, 1636 — Post horses provided for by law —
All horses branded — Sizes and Gaits — An Englishman's experience with
pacers — Lindsay's Arabian — Rhode Island, Founded by Roger Williams,
1636 — No direct importations ever made — Horses largely exported to-
other colonies 1690 — Possibly some to Canada — Pacing races a common
amusement — Prohibited 1749 — Size of the Narragansetts compared with
the Virginians.

In 1629 the London founders of the plantation of Massachu-
setts Bay sent out six vessels laden with emigrants, horses, cattle,
goats, etc. These vessels brought some twenty-five head of
mares and stallions, that were valued at six pounds each and all
owned by the company in London, except three mares from
Leicester, that were owned by private parties. At that time
there seems to have been some rivalry between Boston and Salem
as a shipping point, but this fleet came to Boston harbor. This,
same year (1629) Salem seems to have had six or seven mares and
one stallion, besides forty cows, and forty goats. From this it
might be safely inferred that a part of this fleet put into Salem
harbor, or that there may have been another and somewhat earlier
shipment of which we have no details. Salem was really
founded in 1626, and the settlement at Charlestown, Boston,
dates from the same year. The next year about sixty head were
shipped to the plantation, but many were lost during the voyage,
of both horses and cattle. Several other shipments followed, but.
nothing worthy of special note, till 1635, when two Dutch ships
arrived at Salem with twenty-seven mares, valued at thirty-four
pounds each, and three stallions. Some writers have spoken of
these mares as "Flanders mares," but I have not been able to
find any evidence or even indication that this might have been


the fact. The records show they were Dutch ships, and that on
a given day they sailed out of the Texel, a Dutch port, far away
from Flanders. 1 think, therefore, we are safe in concluding
they were ''Dutch mares," and they should be so designated.
Just about this period they were bringing Dutch horses from
LTtrecht, in Holland, to the Dutch colony at New Amsterdam,
and it was well known in Holland as well as in New England that
the Dutch horses brought much better prices in New England
than the English importations. It is probable, further, that
these Dutch traders were looking out for a choice of markets, as
between New England and New Netherlands. These mares were
valued at thirty-five pounds each, the record says, but we are not
informed as to the price that was really paid for them. There is
a very wide discrepancy between the figure at which these mares
were "valued" and the cost of the mares that were brought from
England. The English company charged the colony six pounds
each for the horses sent from there, and ten pounds freight.

I have labored assiduously to get at such data as would afford
a safe basis upon which to determine the size and other qualities
of these Dutch horses. They were larger than the English horses
of that period and they were more muscular, with greater weight
of bone. They were, doubtless, better adapted to the various
offices of the "general purpose" horse than their English con-
tem23oraries, in every respect, except the saddle. There is no
distinctive evidence that they were pacers or could go any of the
.saddle gaits, in their own right. It is probably safe to conclude
that the original importations would not average more than four-
teen and a half hands high, and very likely the exact truth, if it
could be reached, would place them below that figure rather than
above it. The process of reducing the size commenced as soon as
they arrived: for the English horses had saddle qualities Avhich
the Dutch did not possess, and everybody wanted a saddle horse.
Still the Dutch blood was highly prized, and a hundred and fifty
years afterward it was no uncommon thing, esi^ecially in the
valley of the Connecticut, to meet with the advertisements of
stallions seeking patronage on the strength of "Dutch blood."
This, for a time, was a puzzle to me, but as we consider the horse
interests of the region of the Hudson and the Mohawk Valley
extending eastward and that of eastern Massachusetts extending
westward along with the current of emigration, it is not difficult
to understand how the blood of the Dutch horse should have be-


come so generally diffused. On the one hand we had the much-
desired saddle qualities, and on the other we had the much-de-
sired increase of size without deterioration in appearance. Thus
owners were accommodated and the horse stock of the country
was improved by the interbreeding of the two nationalities. It
is not necessary to further particularize different importations.
It is sufficient to say that they were very numerous, and the mul-
tiplying of the stock was carried forward with vigor and success.
Five years later — 1640 — the colonists not only had all the horses
they needed, but they shipped a cargo of eighty head to Barba-
does. From the colony of Massachussetts Bay all the plantations
of New England secured their foundation stock of horses, hence
they are here considered collectively.

The people of the Plymouth plantation were very slow in pro-
viding themselves with horses, and it was not till after 1632 that
they had any. It is hard to conceive of a colony like that of
Massachusetts Bay living and flourishing for a period of, say,
eighty years without a newspaper, and yet such is the fact. The
Boston JS^ews- Letter, the first newspaper, so called, in this coun-
try, was established May 29, 1704, and it lived many years. The
early colonial newspapers, from one end of the land to the other,
were anything and everything but newspapers, as we understand
the meaning of the title in our day. If a boy fell off a building
in London and broke his leg, six weeks before, it was liable to
appear as an item of "news" in the local American newspaper,
but if the same accident happened the week before, in a neigh-
boring town, it Avas never mentioned. The name ''newspaper"
attached to such publications was a fraud.

The following is a copy of the first horse advertisement ever
published in this country, and for that reason it is worthy of pres-
ervation. It was taken from the Boston News-Letter of Novem-
ber 19, 1705:

" Strayed from Mr. John Wilson of Braintree, at Mr. Havens' in Kingston,
in Narragansett, about a fortnight ago, a sorrel mare, low stature, four white
feet, a white face, shod all round, her near ear tore, has a long white tail and
mane. Whoever will give any intelligence of her . . . will besuflQciently

As this was in the period when the Narragansett pacers had
reached their greatest fame, we might argue that this mare liad been
sent down to Kingston from Braintree, Massachusetts, to be win-


tered and to be bred in the spring to some famous horse in
Kingston, the very center of the horse-breeding interests of that

Under the date of June 17, 1706, I find a bay horse advertised
as "strayed or stolen: fourteen hands high, hardly possible to
make him gallop," and October 28, ITOG, a black gelding "four-
teen hands high, paces, trots, and gallops." Then in tlie years
1731 and 1732 I find a "black mai-e fourteen and three-quarter
hands, trots and paces;" a "black horse twelve hands," no gait
given: "black gelding, fourteen hands, races, trots, and gallops:"
"bay horse large, good pacer;" "roan mare, fourteen hands,
paces and trots." But the field which I specially gleaned was
for the years 1756-59, where I found the average height was
fourteen hands one inch, the data including eight pacers and two
trotters. This, I think, may be taken as fairly representative of
the size and habit of action of Massachusetts horses in the first
half of the eighteenth century.

In 1636 the first plantation was made in Connecticut at Hart-
ford by the Eev. Thomas Hooker and over a hundred of his con-
gregation with him. They left nothing behind, but brought all
xheir domestic animals to their new home. I have not been able
to discover just how many horses they brought with them, but in
a few decades they had a great abundance and to spare. In 1653
the General Court at New Haven made provision for keeping
public saddle horses for hire and fixed the rate of charges for
their use. It also prohibited the sale of horses outside of the
colony. In 1658 all horses, young and old, had to be branded by
an officer appointed for that purpose, and it required several
years of legislation before the system of branding, selling and re-
cording could be so perfected as to prevent dishonesty and frauds.
In 1674 an act was passed providing and enjoining that all colts
entire and stallions running at large, under thirteen hands high,
should be gelded. This law also required a good deal of amend-
ing before it could be made to work smoothly. The size of the
Connecticut horses about the time of the Revolution was an
average of thirteen hands three inches, thus ranging below the
other New England colonies. In 1778 horse racing was pro-
hibited under the penalty of forfeiture of the horse and a fine of
forty shillings. In 1776 a careful compilation of the gaits of the
Tiorses of that period, embracing nineteen individuals, taken as
they came, showed that fifteen were pacers, or pacers and trotters,


and four were trotters only. As an evidence of the quality of the
Connecticut pacers, take the following passage from a little
volume published 1769, in England, entitled "A Voyage to North
America," by G. Taylor, Sheffield, England, 1768-69:

" After dinner at New London, Conn., Mr. Williams and I took post horses,
with a guide to New Haven. Their horses are, in general of less size tljan
ours, but extremely stout and hardy. A man will ride the same horse a hun-
dred miles a day, for several days together, in a journey of five or eight hun-
dred miles, perhaps, and the horse is never cleaned. TL.ey naturally pace,
though in no graceful or easy manner, but with such swiftness and for so long
a continuance as must seem incredible to those who have not proved it by

This is a very different view of the pacer from that expressed
by another Englishman who visited Virginia in 1796. He had
never seen a pacer before and he was wholly unwilling to believe
his host when he assured him it was a natural gait and that many
colts paced from the day they were foaled. This, to the mind of
the Englishman could not be true, he says, "for none of our
horses ever move in that manner." (See Virginia, pp. 117-118).

The most noted horse ever owned in Connecticut, at least in
colonial days, was the horse named and known in later times as
Lindsay's Arabian. When I was younger I accepted the marvel-
ous story of the origin and early history of this horse, of which a
brief account is given in the chapter on the "American Race
Horse," to which reference is here made. This acceptance on
my part of the romantic story was largely superinduced by a,
statement made by a justice of the Supreme Court of the United
States, that he had examined the animal when he was old and
found on three of his legs undoubted physical evidence that they
had at one time been broken. This appeared in a reputable
publication, but when compared with some other facts in the
history of the horse that are known, there can hardly be a doubt
that the examination by the justice was a fiction. When I began
to realize that the marvelous story was a mere fiction my "wrath
waxed hot" against the people of "the land of steady habits," to
say nothing of "wooden nutmegs," until Mr. 0. W. Cook made
it very plain that the people of Connecticut never had heard of
the remarkable story. (See Wallace's Monthly, Vol. VI., p. 251).
Thus it became evident that the whole story had been fabricated
in Maryland and was a kind of "green goods" method for catch-
ing the unwary. These are my apologies to the general public


and especially to the Connecticut public for supposing them
guilty of any such fraud. The naked truth of the matter is,
that while this horse may have been imported from England, his
public advertisements clearly indicate that his owners knew noth-
ing of his blood or early history.

The colony of Rhode Island was planted by Eoger Williams
and his followers in 1636, and the first patent giving it a legal
existence was obtained 1647. It was a7i offshoot from Massachu-
setts and a protest against the intolerance of that colony in re-
ligious affairs. For several years I made renewed and persistent
efforts to discover whether in the early colonial period Rhode
Island had ever imported any horses from foreign countries, and
after exhausting every source of recorded information, I have
not been able to find a single intimation of such importation.
It is evident, therefore, that the famous Narragansett pacer is
simply the result of carefully selecting and breeding from the
best and the fastest of the descendants of the English pacers, to
be found everywhere in the colony of Massachusetts. The
superiority of the Narragansett pacer over all others of his kind
seemed to suggest the probability that he must have possessed
blood that was superior to all others, and to supply this "want,"
a Rhode Islander advanced the claim that his grandfather had
imported the original stock from Spain. Unfortunately for this
"claim" there were two difficulties in the way of accepting it.
Eirst, there were no pacers in Spain, and second, the Narragan-
sett pacers were famous for their speed and value before the
grandfather was born, or at least before he was out of his swad-
dling clothes.

The horse interests of Rhode Island seem to have been active
and successful from the very founding of the colony, and the
fame of her pacers extended to all the American colonies at a
very early day. When the authorities made their report to the
Board of Trade at London, in 1690, showing what they had pro-
duced and where and how they had disposed of their surplus,
they place horses at the head of their products and state that
they are shipped to all the English colonies on the American
coast. This statement is sustained by corresponding facts that
are known in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Trading
with the French colonies in Canada was rigorously prohibited,
but it is quite probable that many a good pacing horse found his
■way to the St. Lawrence in exchange for pelts and furs. But,


as the Narragansett and the pacer generally will be fully con-
sidered in another part of this volume, the reader is referred to
the chapters wholly devoted to those topics.

That racing was a common amusement of the people of Ehode
Island is fully established by the very best of contemporaneous
evidence, and by the silver plate prizes won, that are said *to be still
in existence in some of the old families. Attempts have been
made to laugh this statement out of court, on the grounds that
Rhode Island was a Puritan colony, and such a thing as a horse
race would not be tolerated for a single day. This attempt shows
a great deal more smartness than knowledge, for Rhode Island
was not a Puritan colony, as that term is generally understood,
but had for its very foundation opposition to the spirit of intoler-
ance that prevailed in all the other New England colonies. But,
what is still more conclusive, the legislature of the colony in
1749 enacted a law prohibiting all racing, under a penalty of
forfeiture of the horse and a fine of one hundred dollars. As in
other colonies not in New England racing and betting had be-
come so common that the moral sense of the people rose up and
abolished it. If there had been no racing there would have been
no law to wipe it out.

When the Rev. Dr. McSparran, of Rhode Island, made a trip in
Virginia and rode the Virginia pacers some hundreds of miles,
early in the last century, he seems to have observed them closely
and spoke very highly of them, but he said they were not so
large and strong as the Narragansetts, nor so easy and gliding in
their action. It might be suggested that this opinion was the
natural result of esteeming one's own as better than those of a
neighbor, but he was certainly right in the matter of size. In
1768 tlie Rhode Island horses averaged fourteen hands one
inch, while the Virginia horses averaged (1750-52) thirteen hands
one and three-quarter inches, making a difference of three and
one-quarter inches in height. In the matter of gait they were
not all natural pacers, for out of thirty-five there were eight that-
did not pace, and some of the others both paced and trotted.
From this it may be inferred that breeders, in order to increase
the size, had incorporated more or less of the blood of the early
Dutch importations.



Penn's arrival in 1683 — Horse racing prohibited — Franklin's newspaper —
Conestoga horses — Sizes and gaits — Sweedish origin — Acrelius' statement.
New Jersey — Branding — Increase of size — Racing, Pacing, and Trotting
restricted — Maryland — Racing and pacing restricted 1747 — Stallions of
under size to be shot. North Carolina — First settlers refugees — South
Carolina — Size and gait in 1744 — Challenges — No running blood in the
colony 1744 — General view.

When William Penn arrived on this side of the water (1682)
and took possession of his princely gift from Charles II., he
found the eastern border of his new province already occupied,
though sparsely, by an industrious and enterprising people.
The old Swedish colonists as well as a sprinkling of Englishmen
and other nationalities had been there for a good many years, and
were beginning to get the necessaries as well as the comforts of
life about them. For their numbers, they had a fair supply of
horses, cattle,, sheep, and swine; and the growing of cereals and
fruits of all kinds showed encouraging progress, with the
promise of plenty. The new proprietor was gladly welcomed
and his rule proved kindly and beneficent. In a letter to Lord
Ormonde, after his arrival, Mr. Penn, in describing the condition
of things in his new colony, says: "The horses are not very hand-
some, but good." The public affairs of Penn's grant, before his
arrival, had been administered in the name of the Duke of York,
from about the time New Amsterdam had surrendered to the
English, and hence we find sundry regulations with regard to
the horse in force before that event.

The first of these, having the efficacy of law, was in the year
1676, requiring all horses to be branded, and officers appointed
to do the branding and keep a record of the fact. Besides the
individual brands, each town had its own brand that had to be
applied ,and by this double marking it was supposed that strays


could be identified with certainty. Another provision was that
no mares should be exported to Virginia or Barbadoes or other
foreign plantations. Again, every owner was supjiosed to keep
a certain number of horses at home, for daily use, and he was
allowed to keep twice that number running at large. In 1682 no
stone horse under thirteen and one-half hands high was allowed
to run at large. This was afterward changed to thirteen hands.
In 1724 this law was revised and re-enacted so that colts "of
comely proportions" and not more than one year and a half old,
if thirteen hands high, might run at large; but if older than
eighteen months they must be fourteen hands high or suffer the
penalty, which was castration. In 1750 horse racing of all kinds
was prohibited, under a severe penalty.

In that grand old repository of ancient, curious, and valuable
things relating to colonial affairs, the New York Historical
Society, to which I am greatly indebted, I found a file of the
Pennsylvania Gazette, commencing with the year 1729, published
by "B. Franklin, printer." In that day the term "editor" or
"reporter" was not known in the vocabulary of any well-regu-
lated newspaper office, and for anything of a local character you
had to look in the advertising columns. To these I resorted, as
usual, and they presented results that were a great surprise to
me. Pennsylvania has long been famous for the production of
great massive draft horses, and before the days of railroads just
suited, with six or eight of them in a team, for the transporta-
tion of freights from the seaboard to the Ohio Eiver. This was
a great business at the beginning of this century and for forty or
fifty years afterward. The fame of those great teams, the great
wagons and the great loads they hauled over the mountains,
spread far and wide, and as a special designation that went with
them they were called Conestoga horses, and the wagons were
called Conestoga wagons, named after a creek in Lancaster County,
Pennsylvania, where many large horses were bred. There was no
particular line of blood to be followed, for a large horse bred west
of the mountains was just as certainly a Conestoga as though he
had been bred in Lancaster County. The Conestoga was simply
the horse that was best suited for a big team with an enormous
load, and he varied in size from sixteen and one-half to eighteen
hands in height and from one thousand six hundred to one
thousand nine hundred pounds in weight. These measurements
he reached by breeding for the one purpose of strength and


weight. It is safe to conclude that in the latter part of the last
century breeding animals of large size were brought over the
water, for we can hardly conceive of their being descended from
the little pacers preceding them only fifty or sixty years.

The Pennsylvania horses of the first half of the last century
were remarkably uniform in size, and from a large number of
cases in which the size is given I find the exact average was
thirteen hands one and one-quarter inches. Of tlie twenty-eight
animals in which the habit of action is given, twenty-four were
pacers, three both paced and trotted, and just one is given as a
natural trotter. Here we have two very striking facts — the low
stature and the uniformity of the pacing gait. These horses
average a quarter of an inch below the Virginians, the next low-
est, and a higher ratio of pacers than in any other colony. There
must have been some reason or reasons for this, and I will sug-
gest two which strike me as probably effective in producing these
results. The earliest settlers in Southeastern Pennsylvania were
the Swedes. They brought their horses with them from the Old
World, and they were undoubtedly pacers, but I have no means
of determining anything about their size. This may be an im-

Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 15 of 61)