morgan history · Uncategorized

Morgan Monday: More Stallion Advertisements

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.

hartford courant, 5-5-1792, samuel whitman

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.

gear · Uncategorized · winter

New Barn Winter Coat

Some time ago, I asked for advice on purchasing a new barn winter coat. Thank you to everyone who responded! I had a lot to think about, did a ton of research, and purchased a coat.

I went with L.L. Bean’s Winter Warmer Jacket.

Winter Warmer Jacket

It had a lot of the things I wanted, but was missing some others. The only thing I really wish it had was a two-way zipper. I often zip up the bottom a bit when I’m in the saddle so it doesn’t bump the pommel. Not possible with this jacket. The zipper is well-protected, though, so it’s not scraping.

Ultimately, I’m really happy with it. I paid $74.99 on a 25% off sale around Black Friday. I’ve ridden in it maybe two dozen times since then, and worn it out and about to other places as well.

It’s a terrific winter exercise jacket: by which I mean once I get moving a little bit, it’s perfectly warm down to single digits. It breathes pretty darn well, so even when I’m sweating a bit it doesn’t feel gross, especially if I’ve layered appropriately underneath. It’s roomy enough that I can comfortably wear a base layer and a vest underneath and not feel too snug – but also just wear the jacket and not feel too floppy.

It’s not a good hanging around in winter jacket. It’s only good down to mid-20s for that. It would not be a good ski jacket, which is a lot of waiting punctuated by short exercise. It’s not a good jacket to wear when you’re just hanging out outside. It just doesn’t have any insulation for that, and once you get cold from standing around, you’re going to stay cold.

It’s nicely waterproof and looks sharp. It’s also quite windproof, which was a good benefit.

Here’s a blurry picture of me wearing it on New Year’s Day, which was a VERY cold and windy day. I was comfortable under the coat, it was just my face and hands that were not.

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Uncategorized

Morgan Monday: Stallion Advertisements, Part 1

Let’s start at the very beginning, and possibly with the only concrete evidence that we have of the first Morgan horse actually existing: his stallion advertisements.

Stallion advertisements are exactly what you think they are. They’re very much the same today. They extol a particular sire’s breeding, conformation, temperament, and track record. They announce the price for his services, and where he’s standing. It’s a genre of advertisement that’s been essentially the same for probably hundreds of years.

As best anyone can figure out, Figure lived from 1789-1819. During that time, depending on how you count, he was owned by anywhere from ten to sixteen people. He was leased by still more as a stud. His movement makes sense – there’s no shipped semen in the 19th century, and breeding at his level was highly localized. But it does make things harder.

So far, historians have uncovered just a handful of Figure’s stallion advertisements.

The earliest are all from Spooner’s Vermont, one of the state’s oldest newspapers, based out of Windsor. They are nearly identical, and were all placed by Justin Morgan himself. They date from April 15 & 22, 1793 and April 28, 1794.

spooner's, 4-8-1793, justin morgan

You’ll notice a couple of things in this ad.

First, Morgan is already advertising Figure as “famous,” referring to previous stud service in Hartford. To my knowledge, there’s as yet no evidence of time that Figure spent in Connecticut, but there has been some speculation – about which more in a future post.

Second, there’s no lineage described. I’ve been having some back and forth with an equestrian historian about this. It was typical for stallion advertisements at the time describe bloodlines, so some take this as evidence that Figure did not have the breeding that was later ascribed to him.

Third, the ad is dated April 8 – it actually ran for 3 issues, or about 6 weeks. That gives us some useful chronological information.

Last but not least, some people have claimed this is our only true portrait of either Figure or Justin Morgan. It’s neither. It’s a stock engraving that Spooner’s used in other stallion advertisements as well. The best you could claim is that Morgan chose this particular image.

The next Spooner’s advertisement, one year later, doesn’t have the image, and the text is slightly different.

spooner's, 4-28-1794, justin morgan

The text emphasizes the locations that Figure will stand at stud, with somewhat minimal description of his prowess – only the last sentence, really.

Morgan advertises Figure one more time, in a different paper – the Rutland Herald, which actually still exists today.

rutland herald, 5-25-1795, justin morgan

This ad is where things get really interesting. In order:

First, Figure has moved from the central Vermont area (Lebanon, NH, Randolph, and Royalton are all quite close to each other) to much further north – Williston and Hinesburg. Randolph (where Morgan himself lived) to Williston is over an hour by car today, on the highway – just over 55 miles. It would have been quite a bit longer journey in 1795.

Second, that last paragraph tells us SO much.

“A curious horse, owned by Col. Delancey of New York” – he’s finally getting some lineage. I’ll talk about this horse later, but most historians believe this was a Thoroughbred stallion named True Briton or Beautiful Bay. This parentage is extremely interesting on many levels, and I’ll write about it quite a bit more later. But having Morgan himself claim this in writing is a really big and important piece of evidence.

“he is exceeding sure, and gets curious Colts” – he’s been at stud in Vermont for about two years now, long enough for some of his progeny to be on the ground. I’m not sure how to interpret “exceeding sure.” It could mean that mares stay in foal to him – thus a better investment – or it could mean that he’s stamping his get. The latter is definitely part of the Morgan legend: that every horse Figure sired looked just like him, genetics be damned.

The 1795 advertisement is the last time we see Figure belonging to Justin Morgan, who died in 1798. There are conflicting stories about how and when Figure left his ownership, but I’ll talk about those later.

Next post: who else owned/leased/advertised Figure?

equestrian history · Uncategorized

San Francisco, 1906

I fell down a bit of an internet rabbit hole and got totally sucked into this article on Jane Stanford (co-founder of Stanford University) and her mysterious death.

In the article, SF Gate linked to this astonishing video of a street in San Francisco in 1906. (Presumably before the earthquake & fire.)

I was struck, of course, by the horses. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. How normal they looked on the street. The one boy, early in the video, who runs right in front of the horses – and how neither he nor the team even blink. The nonchalance of all of it.

I also thought a lot about the historical socioeconomic divide between riding horses and driving them. It’s so recent in human history that we think of sitting astride as more common than driving. Sitting on a horse was for the wealthy. The kinds of horses that go well under saddle are usually not the kind that can also plow your fields. How tie up this all is with class – foxhunting, horse showing, military officers, ladies riding in the park.

Video can drive that home in a way that photographs and paintings almost never do. I couldn’t look away from this.

Uncategorized

Blogger Secret Santa Reveal

This, truly, is one of my favorite things in all the land, and a legitimate reason to look forward to the holidays. Hats off to Tracy of The Printable Pony for working so hard to put the whole thing together. It’s such an awesome community service.

This year, my gift came from Nicole at Equinpilot, a blog I’ve followed for a while. If you don’t know it, go check it out! She has gorgeous Welsh cobs and does super cool things with them. And she does a foal pool every year that is a ton of fun to watch.

My gift was easily one of the most amazing gifts I’ve ever received in my life. I’m still kind of speechless and teary from it.

So, I’m going to present to you my gift in the order I unwrapped it, so you can get the full impact of it.

First: there was a packing list that was stinking adorable.

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Then, this intriguing grooming tool that I can’t wait to try out. You sort of hold it together in your hand and use it like a curry tool.

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There was also a treat sampler (SO CUTE!) and a really pretty leather bracelet.

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Then I opened the last gift and I yelled so loudly and so inarticulately that my husband came running to ask me if I was okay. I was NOT okay.

Readers, I am still not okay.

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It’s a cross-stitch portrat of Tristan. THREE portraits.

I am tearing up again writing this. It is SO AMAZING.

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I’ve done a little bit of needlepoint in my life, enough to know how much work and talent went into this and I am just so, so so blown away.

I can’t even really articulate how special this is to me.

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THANK YOU!!!

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Start as you mean to go on

Every year, I take Tristan out on a trail ride on New Year’s Day. Some years it’s long. Some years it’s just around the barn.

This year, it was just up the road and back. I pulled him away from his hay, so he was pretty grumpy, and it was windy and icy, so he was dancing around pretty fierce.

But he was still there, and it’s a new year.

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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!