Previously, I explored the stallion advertisements that Justin Morgan placed for his stallion Figure.
Today, I’ll talk a little bit more about some other stallion advertisements that may or may not be connected to Figure.
I’ll start by going back in time from the last post a bit. In one of his advertisements, Morgan claimed that Figure was famously at stud in Harford. (“Famous” being I think a bit of marketing.)
Generally, people agree that a series of stallion advertisements placed in May 1792 by a Samuel Whitman are for the same stallion Figure.
Why do we think this stallion is “our” figure?
It’s not entirely clear, honestly. Here’s how the evidence lines up.
In 1788, Justin Morgan moved from Springfield, MA to Randolph, VT. He sold his farm in Springfield in March 1788 and brought his young family up to Vermont with him, but we know that he traveled back and forth to Springfield from time to time.
We also know that he had business dealings with Hartford and with people in Hartford, and that some of them were related to horses – the stallion most commonly named to be Figure’s sire, True Briton/Britain (about whom much, much more later) came from Hartford. Morgan leased him for a few seasons of stallioneering from a man named Selah Norton.
We also know that Figure was roughly 15 hands and bay, but that doesn’t tell us much. Loads of the stallions in advertisements at the time were 15hh bays. There were also plenty named Figure, a name which is supposed to evoke the good looks of the horse. (Like saying “a fine figure of a horse.”)
There is one piece of compelling coincidental evidence: Whitman’s stallion ad ran for just two issues of the Courant, terminated on May 21. On June 20, Justin Morgan’s Grand List valuation (basically a list saying how much property he had) jumped to 23 pounds from his 1791 listing of 10 pounds. He added 10 pounds to his net worth in a year. In 1791, the Vermont legislature passed a law saying that any stallion of two years or older was valued at twenty pounds. The argument there is that Morgan’s valuation jumps because he adds Figure to his property.
So, if we follow that through-line, Figure either outright belonged to or was leased to Samuel Whitman of Hartford sometime in the spring of 1792 (or earlier). It’s commonly accepted that Morgan himself bred Figure; let’s say he was bred in that last month before the family left for Vermont, March 1788, and foaled in February or March of 1789. That puts him at just barely three years old when Whitman was using him at stud in Hartford.
Was he started under saddle? If so, who trained him? Why did he then move from Whitman to Morgan – was it, as many stories have it, that he was payment for a debt? Had Morgan simply leased the stallion out and now that he was settled in Vermont, he was returning for him? Had Morgan himself made the arrangements with Whitman or had his brother John? (The two frequently worked together in the horse breeding business.) Why return then?
One of the focuses of my research is to try and untangle those questions if they can be, starting with trying to establish a clear link between Justin Morgan and Samuel Whitman.