The American Running Horse - Part II
Virginia and Maryland Colonies

In this section we will review many of the reports on the horse, the American Running Horse, a breed that developed first in this colony, Virginia, from the imported stock that was outlined in Part I. All livestock in the 17th century was referred to as 'cattell', and so in studying the supply of the colonies we have to assume ships arriving with cattell contained hogs, sheep, cattle and horses. As in Part I, the data presented here is a 'sample' of what is available of the reports and correspondence, hopefully enough to give you a good understanding. [The term cattell or cattle was assigned only to the bovine in the 18th century.]

In Virginia the ruling class would have horses, not the common people. The Virginia colony while ultimately successful had fits and starts, and order and prosperity came under the governorship of Thomas Dale, but when he left, it fell to his successor Argall who usurped the colony's goods and livestock for himself, causing a terrible setback. Argall was eventually removed and sent to England where he stood trial, but the damage was already done. We know Governor Dale brought horses with him, most probably English Running Horses as they were the preferred race-hunt-saddle horse of the day and certainly the value level his station demanded. How many of those horses survived Argall's regime in unknown.

Because it was expensive to ship horses across the Atlantic, they were selected with great care and were the best quality the importer could afford--the horses imported into Virginia starting in 1611 and their offspring were taxed heavily: 15 to 32 pounds of tobacco versus just 8 pounds for a cow:

"we had furnish out Sir Thomas Dale with a good supply of three ships, men, cattell, and many provisions; all which arrived safely at the Colonie the 10 of May 1611." ("The New Life of Virginia" 1612, found in Force's Tracts)

[Pacing family, foal, mare and stallion of the type bred in the early Virginia colony. Alexander Anderson wood engraving.]

1611 - Imports of Running Horses and Hobbies begin with Governor Dale, who brought 3 ships in May 1611, with settlers, cattle which included his own horses. He set in place severe laws concerning the handling of livestock as well as other aspects of colonial life,  that stayed in place until 1619, called "Dale's Code" and this structure brought order and prosperity to the colony. 

1611 - In August "Sir Thomas Gates with his sixe shippes, men and cattell, safelie arrived at James Towne." ("The New Life of Virginia")

1612 - colony population reached 700 persons

1613 - Captain Argall was sent to the French Colony in Nova Scotia and he came back to Virginia with some utility type horses.

1619 - the ship Faulcon arrives with 4 mares 

1620 - the Virginia Company in London engaged Daniel Gookin of Newport News Virginia Colony to handle the assembling and shipping of 20 fine Hobbies from Ireland as breeding stock (ship was named Supply, 7/7/1620). The Navigation Act was put in place, a treaty that insured importation of Irish horses, cattle, sheep, servants and food to the Virginia Colony. The continual flow of Hobbies into the colony with a few interruptions continued until 1666.

1620 - The description of the native horse of Virginia was provided in"Declaration of the State of the Colonie", and Peter Force who collected this information added to the report that the character of the early colonial horse was just as it appeared at a later age "They are said with some exaggeration probably, to have become, at this time [1620] more beautiful in form and more active in sport than the English animal." If we compare with the description of the Irish Hobby of this era from Part I, we can see it was not an exaggeration as Force thought--the Irish Hobby was acknowledged as a finer animal in all ways at that time, and the English rulers had been importing them for their own use and for racing because of their excellence.

1621 - The report of the Privy Council in London mentions the formal trade between Ireland and Virginia which includes horses.

1622 - Indian Massacre wiped out several settlements and their cattle and horses

1624 - The King's Council was established and its members were all owners and/or breeders of racehorses. "Every man listed as a member of the original King's Council of Jamestown owned or bred race horses or did both." (John Hervey "Racing and Breeding in America" which was published in Racing at Home and Abroad 1931--published in England.)

The council members were the Governor and eleven resident plantation owners who were the chief breeders of horses, the general settlers were planters and fishermen and besides some cattle, sheep and pigs kept no livestock in the beginning. Oxen was the draft animal in the colonies, and did the plowing and stump pulling. The ruling class (plantation owners etc) bred horses for their personal pleasure as mounts, hunt horses and race horses, and sprint racing was practiced in quarter mile parallel paths cut from the forest.

1626 - then Governor Frances Wyatt made an appeal to the King for more horses

1633 - Maryland was deeded to Catholic settlers, and a plantation system started afterwards with early crops of tobacco, indigo, rice etc.

1634 - edict where breeders of all livestock were given preferred treatment on shipping space

1639 - Colonel Thomas Stegge put in charge of importing horses to Virginia from Ireland and England.

1642 - a year of great change: shipment of horses temporarily interrupted because of Ulster Uprising in Ireland and the English Civil War, with shipping of some horses from Massachusetts allowed in to fill the gap. These were utility horses, although their may have been horses of Hobby-Running Horse descent, because there was no racehorse breeding, the racing sport traits had been diluted by whatever other stock that colony possessed. Narragansett Pacer could not be assumed a breed until 1680-90 at the earliest. The civil unrest in the British Isles curtailed shipping in many ways, resulting also in the colonies temporarily accepting trade with France and Holland.

The new Governor Berkeley, a loyalist, during the English Civil War (1642-52) advised other loyalists to emigrate to Virginia, and they did, in droves with their entire estates, including their horses--human population at the time was 7,647. Also, as a result of the English Civil War waves of immigrants flooded the colonies, cavaliers escaping England came to Virginia with their whole estates: furniture, servants, livestock, and this brought an influx of English Running Horse in the largely Hobby racehorse base. And it is after this time that some of the common settlers might have a utility or saddle horse now and then. The Ulster Uprising 1642-1658 also resulted in large numbers of Irish immigrants to the colonies.

1649 - a horse census of Virginia reveals only 300 head of which 200 are identified as racehorses ("New Descriptions of Virginia"). the Virginia horse is rated overall as of excellent quality, most were racehorses, descendants of those above, oxen were used for draught and plowing.

1650 - first fox hunting notices appear, and population of the colony has swelled to 17,000

1651 - English Civil War over- London cracks down on foreign trade into the colonies with an updated Navigation Act, but trade is encouraged to continue with Ireland and the colonies.

1660 - human population has reached 33,000--many brought their horses and cattle with them. England passes another updated Navigation Act which limits imports of goods entering colonies from France and Holland but did allow servants, horses and provisions to be shipped directly from both Scotland and Ireland.

1666 - The last shipment of Hobbies arrive for Governor Berkeley for his racehorse stud, gathered by his friend Sir Thomas Southwell; 1 stallion and 4 mares described as 'of fine bone, mostly bay and piebald" (2 die on route or shortly after arrival). A new version of the Navigation Act is issued restricting certain wares from Ireland--however servants, horses and food still allowed.

1668 - Virginia passes law prohibiting import of horses from Massachusetts colony

1669 - Legislation is enacted preventing import of any horses from anywhere, as Virginia is now overrun with horses.

[From this point on Virginia is self-sufficient in horses, and it exports rather than imports. Common wisdom in our industry has presumed that the horse of Virginia and Maryland was of Narragansett Pacer descent. This is a misunderstanding...the Narragansett Pacer did not exist before 1680 or even 1690, which is a decade or more after the stock of Virginia was established and basically closed. Instead there is evidence that the plantations of Rhode Island imported Virginia stallions to jump start their race-hunter breed. We can deduct a few things about the horse of Virginia, the race-hunt stock was mostly Irish Hobby genetics with some English Running Horse inroads. The common stock by this time had some utility mix, but it too would have a high percentage of Hobby base in it. From this point on visitors to the colony report their impressions of the horse found there and we will visit some of those now.]

1671 - the Royal Society in London got a letter from Mr. Clayton who described the Virginia planters as loving speed: "they ride pretty sharply, a Planter's Pace is a Proverb, which is a good sharp hand-gallop."

1672 -  first racing lawsuit filed concerned a dispute about a race at Coan Race Paths...records of lawsuits for horse racing and horse issues found in York, Henrico, Northumberland and Westmoreland county court records 1671-1694

1673 - the great colonial breeder John Randolph says that the craze for short racing was beginning to go out of fashion

1676 - Thomas Glover publishes: An Account of Virginia, in which he says the horses in the colony are as good as any found in England.

1677 - first race course in Virginia was 2-miles, and heat racing then began to become popular, other course type tracks soon followed, and the horses being run on them were Running Horses, the Thoroughbred had not arrived yet. The Running Horse, long assumed to be just a sprint specialist was actually a formidable stamina racer as well.

Historican Edward Eggleston looking back to the colonial era wrote in 1904 of the careful selective breeding being done by the Virginia breeders which resulted in their strain becoming the most valued:

"From the latter part of the seventeenth century attention was given to the improvement of the horses by the Virginians whose country squire tradition and love of racing made them always more careful of the strain of their steeds than the other colonists were. Virginia horses in the Revolutionary times fetched double the price of those bred without care in the northern colonies which later were derided by foreigners."

In 1686 Frenchman Durand of Duphine writes in Voyages d'un Francais on the Virginia horses: "I do not believe there are better horses in the world, or worse treated" [He was referring to the keeping of the them at large in the forest areas] and he later says: "One travels so fast in this country that in two hours we have covered six leagues [18 miles]. The horses are so used to their quick pace that, upon their backs, one has nothing to do but hold on."

1686 - legislation was passed that no stallion under 13.2 hands allowed loose

In 1692 in Maryland, this legislation was passed: "An Act for the Restrayning the unreasonable Encrease of Horses in this Province."

[Pacing Running Horse--wood engraving by Alexander Anderson]

In 1694 there was a failed move to remove the previous act. A new act was introduced concerning "the great Evill occassioned by the Multiplicity of Horses within this Province...from the great Numbers and Abundance of Horses there arises many great Evills and inconvenienyes to the Inhabitants of this Province, as namely, the small Stature of Stallions running wild do the Lessen and Spoyle the whole Breed and Streyne of all Horses." The result of this Act was that horse owners were then required to keep their stock contained. (Culver)

In our day any horse under 14.2 hands is considered a pony. Back then into the early 1800s horses were 13.2 hands and above. The Running Horses and Hobbies were usually 13.1 hands to 14.1 hands, and a riding horse of 14.2 hands was considered large. (John Lawrence 1829)

In July 1698 the following race occurred in Virginia which resulted in a later lawsuit: "at the race-place commonly called ye Ware, to run one quarter of a mile, between Richard Ward and John Steward Jun'r, both of Henrico County. Ward ran a mare named Bonny belonging to Thomas Jefferson, grandfather of the President, and Steward ran a horse called Watt belonging to John Hardimann, a Commissioner and Justice of Charles City County," Bonny beat Watt, and Ward did not pay up what was wagered resulting in a lawsuit, where Steward prevailed and Ward had to pay him 5 pounds. Lawsuits preserved details of the colonial race industry.

By 1700 multiple preserved correspondence (letters) report of the loved sport of fox hunting, and the careful breeding of Hunters, and of the competition between the Maryland and Virginia breeders on who had the best pack of fox hounds or who has the finest Hunter Horses. Fox Hunting was a passion and a grand social event in colonial America.

In 1704 in Maryland an act was introduced to bar the importing of horses from Pennsylvania colony: "horses, mules, colts or fillies from Pennsylvania and the territories thereto belonging."

[Note on breeding practices: From all the legal wrangling we can see why most assume all horse breeding of the era was 'chance breeding'. These examples of legislation however are referring to the common keeping of livestock, a custom that came with the colonists from England, where each town had a 'common' which was pasture land in the center of the settlement, that all used. Those on the frontier areas--with forest wilderness abutting their settlements turned their stock loose in the woods for grazing--where they thrived. It is a mistake to assume all horses were kept in this manner, and it certainly does not cover the practices of the racehorse breeders who went to great trouble to import and breed up racers from selected sires. For instance the racehorse breeders of Narragansett Bay area did not allowed their prized stock to interbreed with the light draught stock of the location, and neither did the racehorse-hunt horse breeders of Virginia and Maryland, who owned vast plantations, fully staffed and contained. Nor were the common livestock keepers allowed to graze on those plantations.]

In 1724 Hugh Jones published The Present State of Virginia in London, in which he describes the Virginia Running Horse and how they were kept at large: "The saddle horses, although not very large, are hardy, strong, and fleet; and will pace naturally and pleasantly at a prodigious rate, They are such lovers of riding that almost every ordinary person keeps a horse, and I have known some spend the morning in ranging several miles in the woods to find and catch their horses..."

Jones' observations were still in the time period where the horses were allowed to range for forage, and were known then as the Native American Woods Horse. Branding of horses was common in all colonies, with the township and owners mark, and most all horses were left at liberty, being hardy animals they thrived even in the rough environment, and soon the vast numbers of them became a problem as they were damaging property, it was then that each colony began legislation to control or pen horses. It is believed that the feral ponies of the outlying islands off Virginia and Maryland are a remnant of the original Woods Horse period that got trapped when the storms changed the access to their range, making them stranded on islands.

1730- the red fox was imported from England to enhance the fox hunting experience

1730- first Thoroughbred, Bulle Rock, is imported to Virginia, he was a moderate sire

1737 - the Thoroughbred Monkey imported, a notable sire, bred to Running Horse mares, the offspring retained their gaits.

Racing was so out of control by the early 1700s that many communities had to ban it partly or in whole to keep the peace. Maryland Gazette  of 7/11/1739 reports on a ban that was put in effect: "...and be it further enacted, that no Person or Persons whatsoever shall hereafter Run or Pace a Race or Races with any Horse, Mare or Gelding for any Wage or Wagers, for Diversion, or any Pretense whatsoever, on the ground commonly called New Markey in Talbot County, or within a Distance of Five Miles from the Meeting-House in the said County, or within Five Miles of the Meeting-house on West-River in Anne-Arundel County, on the days on which said Meeting, or either of them shall be kept and held..."

In 1739 the Virginia Gazette gives us one of the first newspaper accounts of racing (first printing pressed arrived in the colonies around 1700, and so newspapers were just beginning to appear): "There was a Home Race round the Mile Course the First Day, for a Saddle of Forty Shillings Value. Eight Horses started, by the sound of Trumpet; and Colonial Cheswell's Horse Edgecomb came in First, and won the Saddle; Mr. Cooke's Sing'd Cat came in Second, and won the Bridle of Twelve Shillings Value; and Mr. Drummond's Horse---came in Third and won the Whip." These were Running Horses, not Thoroughbreds racing.

[That the first newspapers appearing in Virginia coincided with the first Thoroughbred importations has led many to believe that no real racing was done--no organized racing--before the Thoroughbred came to America.]

Rev. McSparran visited the Virginia colony about 1740 and made this observation: "...they have plenty of a small sort horses, the best in the world, like the little Scottish Galloways; and 'tis no extraordinary journey to ride from sixty to seventy miles or more in a day. I have often, but upon larger pacing horses, rode fifty, nay sixty miles a day, even here in New England where the roads are rough, strong and uneven."

Scottish Galloways were the fast pacing breed found in southern Scotland in the Galloway area, and were the last existing remnant of the once plentiful pacing horses that Polydore Virgil observed in England circa 1500--two hundred years earlier.

Other interesting facts from this statement is that the Narragansett was larger than the Virginia branch of Running Horse, and the condition of the roads was very poor--certainly not ready for the carriage horse yet.

1741 - the important Thoroughbred Jolly Roger was imported and bred to Monkey daughters and other Running Horses; the offspring retained their gaits. 

MacKay-Smith presents us with documentation of the frequent moving of horses between centers for race meets, and that even the "Father of our country" was a participant in this favorite pastime:"...that Robert Sandford was paid 12 shillings for riding one of George Washington's horses in a pacing race at Acotink near Mt. Vernon, Virginia on Sept. 29, 1768, and the Oct. 19, 1724 pacing race of 3/8 mile at Groton, Connecticut." In this period movement by ship was still the most affordable and practical way to go, and it was commonplace to race your horse in one colony and then ship it to another for further racing.

1745 - regular course racing established in Annapolis, Maryland

1747 - racing restricted by legislation in Maryland

1747 - William Stith publishes The History and the First Discovery and Settlement of Virginia

As you can see horses were run at the pace and the gallop in 1747, it was later that trotting became a popular racing form (in the 1800s). Once the English Thoroughbred was beginning to be imported, mid-1700s, the craze for distance racing really took off in Virginia. Luckily there was a group of breeders that were determined to preserve their sprint and gaited racing strains, and they became centralized in the southern Virginia and northern North Carolina are of the Old Dominion (Roanoke Valley). No one of the day knew that those mares were the concentrated carriers of the speed gene, but they sure understood that no horse was faster than theirs at sprints, and fortunately for us, the selective breeding for sprint racers and gaited horses preserved the speed factor and made it dominant in those quarter racers. This is where the great Janus spent most of his stud career. The greatest four-mile heat racers--the ultimate distance horse--such as Boston RH, Lexington RH, American Eclipse RH, all had dam lines that went back to both American RH and English RH which was the source of the speed. A distance racehorse without speed is a plodder---with speed added it becomes the marvel of the racing world (see Legacy of Lexington for more on this).

1755 - the great Thoroughbred Fearnought was imported and made a lasting impression on our breeds, especially those that ran long distance, and he became a valued sire of hunters

1756 - the important Thoroughbreds Janus and Silver Eye imported, and bred to Running Horse mares---most retain their gaitedness

MacKay-Smith (Colonial Quarter Race Horses) also reminds us of the importance of Janus--an imported Thoroughbred, 1756, who ran in heat races, but he was notable as a sire of sprinters and saddle horses, many of which were natural rackers or pacers. Janus was bred almost exclusively to our Running Horse mares who were selectively bred for sprint speed, and most were natural pacers who could also race at the gallop.  "...Janus (imported 1756, died 1780), the leading sire of Quarter Race Horses, many of whose get were pacers or rackers as well as short speed runners.This was the time period of the Native American Woods Horse."

John Anderson in Making the American Thoroughbred reports on Janus crosses : " ...in the third and fourth generations his descendants exhibited the same compactness of form...The Janus stock exceeded all others in the United States for speed, durability and uniformity of shape and were noted as the producers of more good saddle horses than any other stock." As mentioned---saddle horse in this time frame means gaited horse.

1761-1781 Janus stood in the sprint racing area and was almost exclusively bred to our sprint Running Horse mares

The second highest rated sire of the quarter racers was a stallion named Goodes Twigg RH ~1770, he was a inbred Janus 1x2 out of a Running horse dam, he was the greatest racehorse of his day and he also became the most influential sire of the Saddle Horse movement. Janus' best producing son was Meades Celer 1776 by Janus out of Brandon RH.

Reverand Andrew Burnagy writes in Travels Through the Middle Settlements in North America (1759-1760), The descriptions of the Virginia Running Horse differ from the northern branch, the Narragansett, in that they appear smaller and more attractive. "The horses are fleet and beautiful, and the gentlemen of Virginia, who are exceedingly fond of horse racing..have spent no expense or trouble to improve the breed by importing great numbers from England."

Writing in 1759, Burnagy documents the new fad of importing and breeding in Thoroughbred to our domestic race horse, although he is a little enthusiastic about the number because only a few significant sires like Monkey, Jolly Roger, Silver Eye, Janus and Fearnought had been imported by then (along with a few mares), so his use of 'great' is misleading. It is estimated by the time of the Revolution only 165 Thoroughbreds had been imported to the colonies. Also in the Virginia population the increase of height from the cross is not in evidence yet. (Standardbred Sport Horses)

[Note on gaits: historically our racehorse could race at both the pace and the gallop, indeed, in the well documented sprint racing industry of the Roanoke Valley area, many of the horses were gaited, and in the later foundation movement to save the Running Horse traits, it was Goodes Twigg RH, a champion sprint racer, who was chosen as the foundation sire, because he produced such excellent gaited saddle horses. Current 'science' wants us to believe that a mid-gait racer can't gallop well or possibly not be able to gallop at all. Their theory is faulty; most of our horses could race at both the pace and gallop, and many horses became spectacular racers at all gaits and became legendary sires of racehorses, such as Blackburns Whip RH or Planet RH. And may could both pace and trot, it is called being 'dual-gaited' and is quite common, some even making speed records in both gaits, Our historical record, and of course the current evidence of our multi-talented gaited breeds of Standardbred, Tennessee Walker, Saddlebred and Missouri Fox Trotter, prove the error of this new science (see gait-keeper gene for more on this).]

The quarter racing district specialized in fast sprinters and gaited racers and saddle horses. Allen Jones Davies writing in 1831 looks back to the mid-1700s century breeding program: "For some years previous to the war of the revolution quarter mile racing was the fashionable amusement in the state of N. Carolina and the southern part of Virginia. Old Janus stood many years in Roanoke, propagating a beautiful, hardy, and speedy race of horses; and, as the gentlemen of fortune, in those days were breeders of fine horses. They encouraged that kind of racing to which their stock was best adapted."

Davies describes a closely matched race between the Big Filly owned by Colonel Delongs and Paoli, the gelding owned by Willie Jones. Paoli was declared the winner of the very close finish, but Davies concludes his letter by mentioning: " Paoli was sold a gelding, as a saddle horse, for $500; a great price in those days. His reputation precluded all hopes of using him as a racer in that country." Because Paoli was so great a racer, quarter mile matches could no longer be arranged for him--no one would race against him--so he was sold as a saddle horse because he was a gaited horse.

1768 - George Washington has one of his pacing racehorses in a race in Acotink, VA.

Just before the revolution, in 1770,  Davies describes another match race between the well-known local favorite Blue Boar and a saddle horse, apply named Trick 'em. " Gentleman name Henry...he carried with him a small saddle horse, of the Janus stock...This little horse was called Trick 'em, was by Old Janus, and was well bred. He was 13 hands 3 3/4 inches high, and weighed in condition to run 890 lbs." Trick 'em won the race.

1770 - offspring of Fearnought crossed on Running Horse mares began sweeping the distance races, he also became a favorite of hunter breeders because he gave height, and his offspring often had the trot at the mid-gait rather than the pace.

In 1773, Smythe in A Tour of the United States of America: "There are races at Williamsburg twice a year; two, three or four-mile heats...Besides these at Williamsburg, there are races established annually, almost at every town and considerable place in Virginia, and frequent matches, on which large sums of money depend; the inhabitants almost to a man, being quite devoted to the diversion of horse-racing...In the southern part of the Colony, and in North Carolina, they are much attached to quarter racing, which is always a match between two horses, to run a quarter of a mile straight out, being merely an exertion of speed; and they have a breed that perform it with astonishing velocity, beating every other for that distance, with great ease, but they have no bottom..." (Williamsburg, VA was a colonial/pre-revolutionary war racing center, and it had a one mile course. Other colonial tracks in Virginia were Gloucester, Alexander, York, Petersburg Richmond and Port Royal.)

1776-1783 Revolutionary War; naturally trade with Britain was terminated until after the war, the majority of horses ridden during the war were of our race-saddle breed and the best riders were acknowledged as those who had fox-hunted for recreation. Horses of Virginia were rated the best overall. 

1789- Thomas Aubury Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America

[Saddle Horse of Virginia, of the original Running Horse form, engraving from Mason's Pocket Farrier, 1823]

So what we can gather from the accounts listed above is the first horses into the colony were probably English Running Horse, followed by Irish Hobby starting at least by 1620, and the Irish Horse was imported almost exclusively until 1642 when a new influx of English Running Horse arrived with the Loyalists. Irish Horses continued to arrive until 1669.

The upper class of the Colony were breeding racehorses by at least 1624, the horses were also used for the pastime of Hunting and as prime saddle horses. The common settlers did not own horses in the early colony. The horses of Virginia were not used for draught rather it was the oxen that did all that work, they were exclusively saddle horses.

Sprint racing was the performance test for the breed  until the first race track was made in 1673 (2-mile), leading many to think the Running Horse was only a sprinter--this is not accurate, rather the evidence is that this breed possessed extreme sprint and distance characteristics. Little influx of other breeds occurred in Virginia, and it appears that the Virginia horse retained the best qualities of its parent stock: speed, stamina, hardiness, good temperament, a strong jump, along with small size. The quality of the Virginia horse was rated highest of all the colonies well into the 1800s. No Narragansetts entered the gene pool until 1690 at the earliest, rather it was the Virginia Running Horse that was used to jump start the Narragansett branch. The curious pocket of sprint only racing preserved in the Roanoke Valley area inadvertently made the 'speed gene' homozygous and that population proved later to provide extreme speed to all our breeds that followed. 

Part I - Root Stock

Part III - Massachusetts Colony 

References used for Running Horse report

Development of American Breeds

See Standaredbred Sport Horses for a continuation of this history and sport horse development

See Legacy of Lexington for a continuation of this history in the heat racing era and the unique American Thorouthbred bloodlines.