Oscar Wilde.

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

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till years after the horse was dead, and probably the importer too,
did I learn from an advertisement of a son of his that stood in
Jersey that the importer's name was "Thomas Benger." In 1791
and for two years afterward he was advertised to stand at "Mount
Benger, two miles from Bristol, Pennsylvania." When I visited
Bristol for the purpose of identifying "Mount Benger," which I
supposed was the country seat of the owner of Messenger, I was
greatly surprised to find that none of the "oldest inhabitants"
had ever heard of such a place, .and when I was informed that
there was no locality within half a dozen miles of Bristol where
the ground rose to a hundred feet above the level of the DelaAvare
River, the name "Mount Benger" assumed the character of an
absurdity as well as a myth. From a very intelligent man of
middle age, who had learned the blacksmith trade with his grand-
father, I learned that he had often heard his grandfather speak of
Messenger, and as having put the last set of shoes on him when
he was taken away to New York the fall the yelloAV fever was so
bad in Philadelphia. The tradition was still preserved in the
family that Messenger reared up in crossing the river in a boat,
and struck his groom on the head Avith one of those shoes, from
the effects of which he died. As our informant Avas able to name
two other horses. Governor and Babel, brought over by Mr.
Benger, we were ready to accept his tradition that he lived at a
point known in old times as "China Retreat," two miles beloAV
Bristol on the Delaware. This point has been knoAvu later as
"White Hall."

After all traditions were exhausted, without yielding anything
tangible or satisfactory, we turned with great confidence to the
records of the county of Bucks, in which Mr. "Benger" had
lived for a number of years. After a diligent and protracted
search, embracing a number of years before and after his known
residence in the county, we were not able to discover that any
person by the name of "Benger" had ever owned a foot of real
estate in the county or had been in any Avay publicly connected
with its affairs or its administration. We had search made in
Philadelphia with the same fruitless results. There is a faint
tradition that Thomas Benger, if that Avas his name, Avas a fox-
hunting Irish baronet, and if this was so, it is probable he re-
turned to the old country about the time he sold Messenger in
1793. However this may be, the owner is forgotten, but his
horse will live forever.


Among the many eulogies and word-paintings of Messenger,
by writers who knew the horse personally, we select the follow-
ing from the pen of the late David W. Jones, of Long Island, as
the most striking and picturesque. He says:

" Having scanned in u y boyhood the magnificent form and bearing of this
noble old horse, and for more than half a century having drawn reins over his
descendants, I have for a length of time felt it incumbent to furnish such facts
and impressions, as, when considered with those of others, will give the
younger portion of the present generation, as well as posterity, a fair knowledge
of the general characteristics of the noblest Roman of them all. The first time
I ever saw old Messenger my father sent me to the farm of Townsend Cock,
Esq., of the County of Queens, L. I., where the horse was then standing, to
receive his services. On my arrival at his harem, I found the groom, whom 1
knew, and he at once placed me with the mare a short distance from the stable,
by the side of a barrier erected for security. Having at home heard frequent
and long discussions in relation to the wonder I was now to behold, you may
suppose I was all eyes. Presently the stalwart groom, James Lingham, with,
at the extreme end of the bridle rein, all the blood of all the Howards, turned
the angle of the stable and came in full view. The moment the old horse
caught sight of the paragon of beauty I had brought to his embrace, he threw
himself into an attitude, with the grandeur of which no other animal can com-
pare, and at the same moment opened his mouth, and distending his nostrils,
raised his exultant voice to such a pitch as gave unmistakable evidence of the
capacity of his lungs and the size of his windpipe. Indeed, if his nostrils were
as much larger than ordinary as my boyish vision pictured them, I can almost
suppose that Mr. McMann with his little bay mare (Flora Temple), and sulky,
could drive in at one, down the windpipe, turn under his immensely long
arching loin and out at the other. ... At that early day I was only im-
pressed by those extraordinary developments; but in after years as I sit behind
his offspring, they invariably remind me of what was then to my youthful
judgment less apparent — the extraordinary strength of his loin, the length
and beautiful molding of the buttock, the faultless shape of the crupper
bone, giving an elegant set to his fine flowing tail, as well as the remarkable
swell of his stifle, altogether forming a most perfect and powerful hind
quarter." *

A good many years ago I made a special study of all that had
been written about Messenger, and I was fortunate in being able
to supplement this information by interviews with a few old
gentlemen who knew the horse personally. Nearly all that
generation of horsemen had passed away before I commenced this
personal search for them. But a few then remained with excel-
lent memories and with characters above suspicion or reproach.
From these sources I gathered a great many incidents, facts and
descriptions which I succeeded in harmonizing, to my own mind


at least, and thus was able to compile a complete description of
the horse at every point. That descrij)tion was written out more
than twenty years ago, and in presenting it now I will not change
a single word. At the time it was written, as will be seen from
its perusal, I had really no doubt the horse was thoroughbred. It
will not be charged, therefore, that the coarse traits brought out
in the description were influenced in any degree by a theory of
his breeding:

"Messenger was a grey, that became lighter and flea-bitten
with age. He was fifteen hands three inches high, and for a
thoroughbred his appearance was coarse. He did not supply the
mind with an idea of beauty, but he impressed upon it a concep-
tion of solidity and power. His head was large and bony, with
a nose that had a decided Roman tendency, though not to a
marked degree. His nostrils were unusually large and flexible,
and when distended they were enormous. His eye was large,
full, very dark and remarkably brilliant. In this particular he
does not appear to have inherited the weakness of his great-grand-
sire, Sampson. His ear was larger than usual in the blood horse,
but thin and tapering and always active and expressive. The
windpipe was so unusually large and stood out so much as a dis-
tinct feature that it marred what otherwise would have been a
gamelike throat-latch and setting on of the head. His neck
was very short for a blood horse, but was not coarse and thick
like a bull's; neither did it rise into such an enormous crest as
ihat of his sire. It was not a bad neck in any sense, but like
Lexington's of our own day, it was too short to be handsome.
His mane and foretop were thin and light. His withers were
low and round, which appears to have been a family characteris-
tic in the male line, back for three generations at least. His
shoulders were heavy and altogether too upright for our ideas of
a race horse. His barrel was perfection itself, both for depth
and rotundity. His loin was well arched, broad and strong.
His hips and quarters were 'incomparably superior to all others. *
The column of the vertebra being of unusual depth and strength,
^ave the setting on of the tail a distinctive, but elegant character.
The tail was carried in fine style; like the mane, it was not in
superabundant quantity, but there was no such scantiness as to
detract from the beauty and grace of the animal. His stifles
were well spread and swelling, but there appears to have been no
unusual development at this point. From the stifle to the hock


and from the elbow to the knee, no writer that we can now recall
has given us any description of either length or strength. We
may, therefore, take it for granted that these points had no un-
usual development of muscle, but were in harmony with the
general contour and make-up of a great strong hors'e. His hocka
and knees were anusually large and bony, with all the members
strong and clearly defined. The cannon bones were short and
flat and the ligaments back of them were very large and braced a
good way off, so that the leg was broad and flat. Mr. Jones says
this part of the limb was of medium size, but other writers all
agree that he had an unusual amount of bone at this j)oint.
Considering the whole style and character of the horse, and
especially the character of his ancestors in the male line, and of
Turf, the [reputed] sire of his dam, all of whom were distin-
guished for their quantity of bone, we are disposed to think Mr.
Jones' memory has not served him with entire accuracy in this
particular. The conviction is reasonable and grows out of evi-
dence that comes from every quarter, and we have no disposition
to surrender it, that the bones of Messenger's limbs were un-
usually large and strong for those of a thoroughbred. His
pasterns and feet were all that could be desired, and as an evi-
dence of the excellence and health of his underpinning several
writers have put it on record that whether in the stable or on
the show ground he never was known to mopingly rest one leg
by standing on the other three, but was always prompt and
upright. This is our conception of the form and appearance of
the horse as we have reached it after a diligent and careful study of
all that has been said by those who saw him while he lived.
From this description it is a very easy matter to pick out the
features which gave him his coarse and badly bred appearance.
His big head, long ears, short neck, low withers, upright shoul-
ders, large bones and, possibly, coarse hair, complete the catalogue.
From these features the purity of his blood has been doubted
and denounced, just as that of his sire, his grandsire and his
great-grandsire had been denounced. The coarseness, the cart-
horse appearance was in the family, but it did not seem to pre-
vent some of them from beating some of the best that England pro-
duced in successive generations. There are many traditions that
have been handed down to us concerning his temper, some of
which, no doubt, have accumulated and gathered strength and
ferocity in the years through which they have rolled. There


have been perhaps half a dozen stories about his killing his
keepers, but we are not able to say whether any one of them is
true. It is known with certainty, however, that he was willful
and vicious and would tolerate no familiarity from strangers."

The ownership of Messenger, after he was transferred from
Philadelphia to New York, like his earlier history, seems to be
very much muddled, Henry Astor, a New York butcher, cer-
tainly bought him in the fall of 1793, and located him at Philip
Piatt's, four miles from Jamaica, on Long Island. In the spring
of 1796 Mr. Cornelius W. Van Ranst bought one-third interest
in him and removed him to Pine Plains in Dutchess County, New
York, and, without specifying the time, he says he afterward
purchased the remaining two-thirds, for which he paid two thou-
sand seven hundred and fifty dollars. There appears to have
been some mistake about this, for in 1802 we find Henry Astor, of
New York, conveying one-third interest in the horse to Benjamin
B. Cooper, of Camden, New Jersey. Some other parties also
claim to have owned an interest in the horse, and I heard that
there was a lawsuit about him between Astor and Van Eanst.
The latter claims to have owned an interest in him till the time
of his death, in 1808. It is not known how much Mr. Astor paid
for him when he bought him, nor have I any data from which to
determine the probable market value of the horse except that
Mr. Van Ranst says he paid two thousand seven hundred and
fifty dollars for two-thirds of him. If we accept this as a basis,
he must have been valued at about four thousand one hundred
and twenty-five dollars. It is true, beyond doubt, that for several
years he brought to his owners a net annual rental of one thousand
dollars. This would indicate a very large patronage at very high
prices for those times. For the twenty years of his stud services
in this country, we find him located as follows:

1788, at Alexander Clay's, Market Street, Philadelphia, at $15
the season and II to the groom, privilege of returning.

1789, at Thomas Clayton's, Lombard Street, Philadelphia, at
$10 the season and $1 to the groom.

1790, at Noah Hunt's, in the Jersies, near Pennington, at 18.

1791, at "Mount Benger," two miles from Bristol, Bucks Co.,
Pa., at $16.

1792, at the same place and the same price.

1793, at the same place and the same price.


1794, at Philip Piatt's, fifteen miles from New York and four
from Jamaica, Long Island, at $25 the season.

1795, at the same place and the same price, when, as Mr. Van
Eanst expressed it, "he took with our horsemen."

1796, at Pine Plains, Dutchess County, N. Y., whe'rehe covered
106 mares at $30 the season.

1797, I have no advertisement for this year, but it is probable
he was at the same place at the same price.

1798, at Pine Plains, as before, and the terms $30 for the season
and $40 to insure.

1799, I have no definite trace of him this year, but there are
some indications he was in "West Jersey.

1800, for the spring season he is not located, but he made a
fall season at John Stevens' in Maidenhead, Hunterdon Co., N. J.

1801, at Goshen, Orange Co., N. Y., and I have seen th&
book account of expenses, etc., while he was there.

1803, At Cooper's Ferry, opposite Philadelphia, Pa., but the
price of services is not mentioned.

Io03, at Townsend Cock's, near Oyster Bay, Long Island, at
$20 the season.

1804, at the same place and the same price.

1805, at Bishop Underhill's, in Westchester Co., N. Y., fif-
teen miles from Harlem Bridge. Price reduced to $15.

1806, back again at Townsend Cock's, and the terms fixed at $15
for the season, and $25 to insure.

1807, again at Bishop Underhill's on the same terms as before,
and this was the last of his twenty years' stud services. It will
be observed that the horse is located every year except two, and
these locations are determined, not by tradition or hearsay, but
by copies of his advertisements for each year. In giving the
prices charged for his services I have given the value of the
guinea or the pound as five dollars.

Messenger died January 28, 1808, in the stable of Townsend
Cock, on Long Island, in his twenty-eighth year. This date has
been as familiar to all intelligent horsemen for the last forty
years as any prominent event in the history of the nation. The
news of the death of the old patriarch spread with great rapidity,
and soon the whole countryside was gathered to see the last of
the king of horses and to assist at his burial. His grave was pre-
pared at the foot of a chestnut-tree some distance in front of
the house, and there he was deposited in his holiday clothing.


In response to the consciousness that a hero was there laid away
forever a military organization was extemporized, and volley
after volley by platoons was fired over his grave. Some of the
young men and boys who witnessed and participated in the cere-
monies of the occasion were still living twenty years ago, and as
they related the incidents of the occasion to me, their recollec-
tions seemed to be as clear and bright as though the occurrence
had been of yesterday.


messenger' s sons .

Hambletonian (Bishop's) pedigree not beyond doubt — Cadwallader R. Colden's
review of it — Ran successfully — Taken to Granville, N. Y. — Some of bis
descendants — Mambrino, large and coarse in appearance — Failure as a
runner — Good natural trotter — His most famous sons were Abdallab,
Almack and Mambrino Paymaster — Wintbrop or Maine Messenger and bis
pedigree and bistory — Engineer and tbe tricks of bis owners — Certainly a
son of Messenger — Commander — Bush Messenger, pedigree and description
— Noted as tbe sire of coach horses and trotters — Potomac — Tippoo Saib —
Sir Solomon — Ogden Messenger, dam thoroughbred — Mambrino (Grey) —
Black Messenger — Whynot, Saratoga, Nestor, Delight — Mount Holly,
Plato, Dover Messenger, Coriander, Fagdown, Bright Pbcebus, Slasher,
Shaftsbury, Hotspur, Hutchinson Messenger and Cooper's Messenger —
Abuse of the name " Messenger."

It is not my purpose to write a history of all the descendants
of Messenger, for that would fill several volumes and would be
simply writing over again the trotting and pacing records of the
past twenty years. I will, therefore, limit the chapters on this
topic to such of his descendants as have demonstrated the value
and prominence of their blood, as a factor, in the make-up of
the American Trotter. Naturally, the immediate progeny of
Messenger will first demand consideration, and then will follow
the succeeding generations that have written their owi\ history
in the official records of trotting and pacing. Completeness of
description and space occupied will be determiitbd, chiefly, by
the prominence and historic value of the animal under review.
In this scope and without following any chronological order, I
will try to embrace all that is known that would be of value to
the student of trotting-horse history.

Hambletonian (Bishop's), originally called Hamiltonian. — •
This was a dark-bay horse about fifteen hands two inches high.
He was bred by General Nathaniel Coles, of Dosoris, Long
Island, and Avas foaled 1804. He was got by Messenger, his dam
Pheasant (the Virginia Mare), said to be thoroughbred, by imp.
Shark and grandam by imp. Medley. I first unearthed the pedigr^'^

messenger's sons. 233

of this "Virginia Mare" in the advertisement of Hambletonian
for 1814 when he was owned by Townsend Cock and standing
that year at Goshen, New York. The "Old Turfman," Cadwal-
lader R. Golden, was thoroughly familiar with all turf subjects in
the early years of this century, and was the best turf writer of his
generation. He had no patience or tolerance with frauds in
pedigrees and always exposed them without mercy. He stoutly
maintains that the pedigree of the "Virginia Mare" was bogus,
and, to use his own language, he says:

" When Hambletonian became a public stallion, his owners were in a dilem-
ma; & pedigree was necessary, so to work they went, and, as many had done
before and as many are doing now, made one; and in his handbills his dam was
given as bred in Virginia, and got by imported Shark, with a train of maternal
ancestors, with as much truth, and affording as much ability to trace it or
discover the breeder of the dam, as though they had said hi, cockalorum jig."

Mr. Golden goes into the pedigree of this mare and the non-racing
character of her family at great length, and it cannot be denied
that he has the whole argument. As a specimen of sharp and
interesting turf writing of that period and from that pen, I must
commend my readers to turn to this article, which will be found
in Wallace's Monthly, Vol. II., p. 67.

With the probabilities all against the truthfulness of the pedi-
gree of the dam, as given, it is certainly true that he was a run-
ning horse and attained distinction in his day. I have no full
list of his performances at hand, but the following may be taken as
a fair summary of his principal achievements. He ran at New-
market in the spring of 1807 (then three years old), one mile,
beating General Goles' colt Bright Phoebus, Mr. Terhune's bay
filly, and distancing two others. He also ran, two days after the
above race, four heats of a mile each, beating Bright Phcebus
again and distancing three others. In the fall of 1808 he ran
five weeks successively, and the three last weeks he won three
four-mile purses, running the distance in shorter time than it
ever had been run in the State of New York. I must say here that
these races were run on the then Harlem course, which was not a
full mile in length.

While Hambletonian was on the turf, Tippoo Sultan, a grand-
son of Messenger, beat Bond's First Gonsul in a famous four-mile
race, and Mr. Bond determined that he would find a horse that
would be able to lower Tippoo Sultan's colors, and it was thought


there was nothing in the North able to do it except Miller's Dam-
sel, so he made a match for four thousand dollars a side on con-
dition that Damsel should prove not to be in foal. But the mare
proving to be in foal the match was oflE. He then took Hamble-
tonian into his stable and offered to- match him for- the same
amount against Tippoo Sultan, but he went amiss and the match
was off. This incident is here introduced to show that whatever
his real merits, Hambletonian had some rei^utation as a running
horse. It was said that the secret of Mr. Colden's hostility to
the "Virginia Mare" and her descendants was because those
descendants were always able to beat the descendants of his
fashionably bred mare Matilda. Whatever the motive in expos-
ing a pedigree that has n«ver been fully established, there is one
particular and that the most important of all particulars, in
which Mr. Golden has done justice to Hambletonian. He says:
^^ Hambletonian got some excellent roadsters, good trotters.'^

There seems to be no description of this horse extant that is
fully satisfactory. For some seasons he was in the hands of Mr.
Daniel T. Cock, who in 1869 furnished me the following: "He
was a dark bay, a little heavy about the head and neck, fifteen
and a half hands high, and rather an upright shoulder. Back,
loin and hind quarters as good as were ever put on a horse. Fore
legs a little light, but hind legs strong and good — pretty straight.
He was a beautiful saddle horse, notwithstanding his head and
ear were a little coarse." Other persons who had seen him have
described him as "a great strong horse, with bone and substance
enough to pull the plow or do any other kind of drudgery." It
has been said that he had a fine open trotting gait and that, in a
cutter with old Isaac Bishop behind him, he was able to show the
boys the road.

In 1807 he became the property of Townsend Cock, of Long
Island, and he remained on the turf till 1810, when he was put in
the stud. That and the following season he was at the stable of
his OAvner; 1812 at Cornwall; 1813 at Fishkill; 1814 at Goshen;
1815-16 at Fishkill; 1817 at White Plains. In the winter of
1819 Mr. Cock sold him to Stephen and Smith Germond of Dutch-
ess County, l^ew York, and Isaac Bishop of Graiiville, New
York. The latter was probably the real owner, and the horse
then became known as "Bishop's Hambletonian." He made
several seasons in the region of Granville and was back in Dutch-
ess County 1823 and 1824. The next year he was at Granville —

messenger's sons. 235

1825. He made one season, at least, at Burlington, Vermont,
and some seasons or parts of seasons at Poultney, Vermont. It
is said be lived till 1834.

At Wallingford, Vermont, he was bred upon the "Munson
Mare," said to be a daughter of imported Messenger, and doubt-
less either by him or one of his earlier sous, and the produce
was Harris' Hambletonian, also known as ''The Remington
Horse" and Bristol Grey, and this son became the progenitor of
a great tribe of trotters, known as the "Vermont Hamble-
tonians," some of which were very fast pacers, among them the
famous Hero, the fastest of his generation. Another son of
Mr. Bishop's horse was the Judson Hambletonian, that was the
sire of the Audrus horse, that got thv3 famous Princess, that was
pitted against Flora Temple. He was also bred on his half-sister,
Silvertail, by Messenger, and produced One Eye, a very fast mare,
the grandam of Rysdyk's Hambletonian, and I have always
thought that this combination was the very cream of the pedi-
gree of that great horse. He was also bred on a daughter of Mr.
Coffin's son of Messenger and produced Whalebone, that was the
phenomenal long-distance trotter of his generation. His son. Sir

Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 25 of 61)