Morgan Mondays in 2019

Some longer time readers may remember that for some years now I’ve had a project on the back burner: researching the origins of the first Morgan horse.

I’ve picked away at it for two years or more now. 2019 is the year I push it forward.

To that end, I’ve decided that in 2019 I will write “Morgan Monday” posts, at least once a month – sometimes more frequently – exploring some piece of my research. By the end of the year, I hope to have 20,000 words written and have a plan for finishing a manuscript by the end of 2020.

What exactly am I writing about?

I don’t know how much people know about the Morgan horse breed, so buckle in; I’ll start with the basics.

The story that’s usually told is that about two hundred years ago, a singing teacher named Justin Morgan acquired a horse. He brought that horse to Vermont, where it became known as an extraordinary worker and soon a prepotent stallion. By the time that stallion died, he had taken on his owner’s name as “the” Justin Morgan, and become the founding sire of a new breed: the Morgan horse.

I want to do two things: first, to look at closely and as intelligently as possible about what actual historical evidence we can find for that first horse. That involves comparing known sources, like newspapers, family papers, court records, town histories, personal letters, and other sources. In some cases I have realistic expectations of finding new information; in others, I’ll be trying to contextualize and analyze information that’s already been found.

Second, I want to take that historical evidence and set it against the backdrop of the myth that’s grown up about the Morgan horse and use that juxtaposition to examine how we think about American history, Vermont history, and humankind’s relationships with horses.

There are a lot more specific questions to dig into with those huge themes, and I’ll hopefully address them in future posts. I have a lot of thinking out loud to do as I parse this, and a lot of nitty gritty combing through things to do as well.

Hopefully some of you will find it as interesting as I do!

8 thoughts on “Morgan Mondays in 2019

  1. There is a Canadian breed, called (a bit flatfootedly) the Canadian horse, that has many (many many) characteristics in common with Morgans—ride, drive, and pleasure horses, similar conformation (neck set on high, notable muscling in the chest and topline, broad forehead, kind eye, high tail set), and exceptional temperaments.

    It might be worth looking at the genetic relationships between Morgans and Canadians. One notable difference is the Canadians tend to have a consistent coat color (dark, almost black, although there are some chestnuts and even a cremello line, I think ), and they have the reputation for being good jumpers.

    Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of the breed. The similarities are striking and could open up a general discussion of form, function, soundness, and the physical markers of equine versatility. The Canadian horse has almost certainly incorporated some Morgan genetics through outbreeding, but it interests me that the Canadian may also have been around much earlier than Figure, since the claim is that the breed was established in the 1600s. It’s possible or at least plausible that Fugure was actually a Canadian, since both lines are noted for breeding unusually true to type. Plus New England and Canada, especially eastern Canada, have done a lot of cultural mingling. Maybe Figure was not a nick after all.

    Just a thought.



  2. Born and raised riding Morgan horses and hope to have another one again sometime!! So I eagerly await your blogs on Morgans. They have more try than my (ahem) fat QH Remus 🙂

    Can’t wait!


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