American Running Horse
Part III - Massachusetts Bay Colony and Conclusions

The Massachusetts colony received many Hobbies and English Running Horses, along with considerable utility type horses. The Dutch Cob starting in 1624, and later some of the larger Flanders Horse were supplied by the early Dutch Colonists of New York (New Amsterdam) and the eastern Connecticut Valley; plus the Canadian Horse, a light draught breed from 1665, and other French stock from Canada made inroads in the New England horse population.

So while many sport horses were imported, the society of the colony did not encourage sport (Puritan control), and so those race horses were crossed with other types quite frequently which diluted the sport genetics. Let's set out the Massachusetts story in the colony so we can follow how the true sport breed: the Narragansett Pacer was created, but only when a closed and intentional breeding area with selection and performance goals was established in the Plantations of Rhode Island. The creation of the Narragansett occurred approximately 50 years after Virginia's operation was in full production, and only when plantations were established in Rhode Island and slightly later in Connecticut areas, which were settled by groups that allowed and encouraged sport breeding.

1629- ships with horses arrived at both Salem and Boston ports, one of the those ships the Arabella, arrives with 60 prime horses, property of the new Governor John Winthrop, shipped by Mr. Craddick (Massachusetts Colonial Records, vol. 1 )

1630- report found in "New Englands Plantation" says the settlers are prospering because of the abundance of natural resources: the soil, fishing, hunting and timber are excellent, but also requests that more settlers and horses be sent "Here wants as yet the good company of honest Christians to bring with then Horses, Kine and Sheepe to vse of the fruitful land..."

[The earliest image of the American Running Horse was made by an artist in the Massachusetts colony performing the sport of hunting. The image is cropped from a larger engraving entitled "Gentleman's Entertainments" done by the DeBry family for the publication of their final volume of Historicia Americae 1634]

The Puritan society banned racing and racehorse breeding, so that even though there are some reports of fast horses in the early colony and impromptu races, they were not allowed to breed or performance test a racehorse breed, nor did they encourage the use of the horse in the sport of fox hunting as was first enjoyed by the earlier settlers in Massachusetts before the Puritans gained control. As we saw in part II, racing and hunting on horseback were important parts of the culture in the Virginia colony from its inception. In Massachusetts all such entertainment became strongly discouraged by 1636.

It took the Baptist and Quaker settlers of the Rhode Island in the 1640s and the setting up of the plantation system later on to produce the great race-saddle horse known as the Narragansett Pacer, and that breed truly did not form until 1680-90 at the earliest. The Narragansett was bred up from the Running Horse-Hobbies found in New England and with imports of the valuable racing Running Horse stallions of Virginia. A report that a Spanish stallion named Snip in the 1700s was the beginning of the breed has been shown to be not quite accurate, as the said Snip was actually found running loose on John Hull's original breeding area on Point Judith. Plus the Spanish Horse (different from Celtic Horse) did not pace and was not a racehorse, and Snip was a fast pacing Running Horse.

1640- From the 1640s through the mid-1700s the greatest industry of New England was horses of all kinds which were shipped to the West Indies and Cuba, exchanged for sugar and molasses---all ships were outfitted for moving horses (Deane Phillips).

The Massachusetts settlers were excellent stockmen and by 1640 they signed a treaty with the West Indies to supply utility horses to the sugar plantations, which used them to pack in the sugar cane and power the grinding mills. They also provided much of the horses for the Dutch and French colonies. This equine industry became the cash crop of New England, and at it's height in the early 1700s over 3000 horses a year were shipped out of Rhode Island ports alone (Phillips).

[The Dutch Cob, an excellent small (14.1 hand) light draft horse, extremely useful as a pack animal, it was not fast and was not gaited. Alexander Anderson woodcut.]

 1655 -  the first cattle drive in the America's was carried out (O'Reilly), ridden on imported Irish Hobbies, using whips to drive the cattle from the Springfield, MA area to the feed lots in the port of Boston, MA.

1660- Dr. John Clarke in the Plymouth Colony is recognized as breeder of fine horses.

1663 - John Hull and his business partners purchase Judith and Boston Points, peninsulas reaching into the Narragansett Bay to set aside as pasture.

In 1668 - Virginia colony made legislation to restrict New England shipping horses to their colony, and so the Virginia-Maryland Running Horse never received Narragansett Pacer inroads until after 1700 (Narragansett didn't exist in 1668). Many previous scholars assumed the Narragansett was the first racehorse breed, and that it supplied all other areas with racing stock. This has turned out to be inaccurate, as the Virginia Running Horse had at least a 50 year head start over the Narragansett.

1677- John Hull and partners walled off the peninsulas so that they can perform controlled breeding, and he collected fine stock to use and they succeeded in planting the seeds of the future Narragansett Pacer.

On the origin of the Narragansett Pacer: "For several years I made renewed and persistent efforts to discover whether in the early colonial period Rhode Island had imported any horses from foreign countries, and after exhausting every source of recorded information, I have not been able to find a single intimation of such importation. It is evident, therefore, that the famous Narragansett Pacer, is simply the result of carefully selecting and breeding from the best and the fastest descendants of the English pacers, to be found everywhere in the colony of Massachusetts." (Wallace)

Edward Eggleston wrote "Husbandry in Colony Times", published in Century Magazine 1884, gives some detail on one of the Rhode Island's breeders, and adds to the evidence that Virginia and Rhode Island stock inter-bred: "As early as 1667 Hull, the maker of Massachusetts pine-tree shellings, hit on Pt. Judith as a peninsula suited to the raising of large and fair mares and horses; and in later times Rhode Island and parts of Connecticut became famous for excellent horses, many valuable stallions having been brought from Virginia."

This often overlooked point that Eggleston made, that Hull brought in fine stallions from Virginia to begin his project, makes historical sense because trade with England and Ireland had ceased, and it was Virginia that had the superior horses, so of course Hull who owned many ships purchased his seed stock there and shipped it home to his new stud.

1677- racing was banned in much of Massachusetts colony, but not in Rhode Island.

1677- Lindsay's Arabian imported--a English Running Horse of Barb and Hobby genetics, not Arabian bloodlines, instead he would have Moroccan Barb in his lineage, he interbred with local stock

1680 -  Governor Sanford reports that the first pacing horses are exported from Rhode Island

The Hazard and Robinson families began plantations by 1680-90 and established strong breeding programs. With other neighbors, they opened a race course on South Kingston beach to test their pacing racers against each other--this signals the true beginning of the Narragansett Pacer.

By 1690 the Narragansetts was being shipped to the other colonies on the Atlantic coast.

Later on, approximately in 1740, the Reverand James McSparran, an Scottish cleric, sent from London Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, was sent to the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island 1721-1759. He kept notes throughout his tenure there and it is he that measured and preserved for us the actual speed in the Narragansett: "The produce of this colony is principally butter and cheese, fat cattle, wool, and fine horses, which are exported to all parts of English America. They are remarkable for their fleetness and swift pacing; and I have seen some of them pace a mile in a little more than two minutes, and a good deal less than three." (America Dissected).

It is interesting and valuable to us that Mr. Updike, the editor who republished McSparran's work in 1843, added his own documentation on these horses: "The breed of horses called Narragansett pacers, once so celebrated for fleetness, endurance and speed, has become extinct. These horses were highly valued for the saddle, and transported the rider with great pleasantness and sureness of foot. The pure bloods could not trot at all. Formerly they had pace-races. Little Neck Beach, in South Kingston, of one mile in length, was the race course. A silver tankard was the prize, and high bets were otherwise made on speed. Some of these prize tankards were remaining a few years ago. Traditions respecting the swiftness of these horses are almost incredible."

Updike also added additional documentation regarding the Narragansett out of the family writings, letters and correspondences of the Hazard family of Rhode Island, who were along with the Robinson Family, the largest and most respected breeders of Narragansetts, from which we have more information on the pre-revolutionary culture that was in our land. " of my aged neighbors, Enoch Lewis, since deceased, informed me he had been to Virginia as one of the riding boys, to return a similar visit of the Virginians in that section, in a contest on the turf; and that such visits were common with the racing sportsmen of Narragansett and Virginia, when he was a boy [circa 1730]. Like the old English country gentleman, from whom they were descended, they were a horse-racing, fox-hunting, feasting generation."

1724 - the Virginian George Washington shipped one of his pacing Running horses to compete in a race in Groton, CT

Hazard also wrote that the Narragansetts way of going was different from other pacers in that "...his backbone moved in a straight line, without inclining the rider from side to side, as the common racker or pacer of the present day."

Shipping along the coast was the way all material was moved in colonial times until interior roads were built. That racing meets were commonly shared between the two original racing hubs of Virginia and Rhode Island is natural.

1734-1740 Narragansetts were sold to the breeders in South Carolina colony

1756- numbers of Narragansetts had declined so much that people became alarmed. The decrease in this popular breed was commonly believed because too many had been sold, but also because the plantations where they were principally bred (Hazards, Robinsons etc) had been divided up by the heirs, and so the large scale breeding enterprises had ceased.

It is in this time frame, 1757, that the early American historical novelist James Fenmore Cooper set his famous novel The Last of the Mohicans,  in which he provides a valuable description of the Narragansett, both in the text and in additional notes. 

Cooper: "...the beasts ridden by the gently ones planted the legs of one side on the ground at the same time, which is contrary to the movement of all trotting four-legged animals of my knowledge except the bear! And yet there are horses that always journey in this manner, as my own eyes have seen, and as their travel has shown for twenty long miles! Tis the merit of the animal! They come from the shores of the Narragansett Bay, in the same province of Providence Plantation, and are celebrated for their hardiness, and the ease of this peculiar movement, though other horses are not infrequently trained to the same."

He added additional notes of this breed for the reader: "In the state of Rhode Island, there is a bay called Narragansett, so named after a powerful tribe of Indians, which formerly dwelt on its banks. Accident, or one of those unaccountable freaks which nature sometimes plays in the animal world, gave rise to a breed of horses which were once well-known in America by the name of Narragansetts. They were small, commonly of the colour called sorrel in America, and distinguished by their habit of pacing. Horses of this race were, and are still, in much request as saddle horses on account of their hardiness and the ease of their movements. As they were sure of foot, the Narragansetts were greatly sought by females who were obliged to travel over roots and holes in the 'new countries'. "

1763- The Narragansett had dwindled down in numbers so much, the people realized what they had let slip away and they tried their best to resurrect the breed, by generating interest in them with a race scheduled on Newport Beach...sadly they could find only three Narragansetts to participate, the breed was going extinct.

1764 - the Sugar Act finished off the once lucrative horse trade with the West Indies

Connecticut, which was settled by the same group of colonists from the Massachusetts Bay Colony as Rhode Island, also developed a powerful equine industry, as we see reported in George Taylor's A Voyage to North America 1768-69, published in Shefford, England: "These horses are, in general of less size than ours, but extremely stout and hardy. A man will ride the same horse a hundred miles a day, for several days together, in a journey of five or eight hundred miles, perhaps, and the horse is never cleaned. They naturally pace, though in no graceful or easy manner, but with such swiftness and for so long a continuance as must seem incredible to those who have not proved it by experience."

Another point, not often made in the demise of the Narragansett is that they were the most valued saddle horses, therefore would be first choice for the cavalry, and surely a good many of them were ridden off into oblivion in the Revolution.

Connecticut seems to have held onto the Narragansett a few decades longer than those in Rhode Island. And Yvonne Houlton in her wonderful article: " The Mysterious Narragansett Pacer" uncovered stud notices from there just as the breed was going into extinction: 

1780- in Hartford stood Whirligig, a fine purebred stallion, and she lists two of his stallion sons: Young Rainbow and Young Kitt

1785 - Smiling Ball was advertised as a descendant of Old Snip

1785-87 in East Windsor CT, one of the last purebred stallions: Free and Easy, the ad saying " to encourage those having likely mares of the same breed to bring them, that the breed so valuable may not be lost."

1793 - King Philip was believed to be the last purebred stallion, he stood in Kensington, CT

1800- by this date there were virtually no Narragansetts to be found except those that had migrated to the west and the north, such as those that bred with the Figure RH, the soon to be foundation stallion of the Morgan Horse, and his sons, and his best stallion sons were the product of the Narragansett cross, such as Sherman Morgan 1809, Copperbottom RH 1810 and Voyageur RH. Many of the pacers ended up in Canada around the Montreal area, and were crossed with Morgan to produce the Canadian Pacer. Plus one of the foundation sires of the Canadian Pacer was a full Narragansett named Tippoo Sultan, by the full Narragansett stallion The Scape Goat out of a Narragansett mare (unnamed), and he proved so potent for speed and mid-gait racing ability he was thereafter called "the Messenger of Canada" (Wallace). Others made their way to the frontier area, as did many of the Virginia stock, in the areas of Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee and from those bloodlines came lasting foundations of the later Saddlebred, Tennessee Walker, Missouri Fox Trotter and the Standardbred.

[Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride warning his countrymen that the English were coming. He (and the other 5 riders who made the ride) were most probably on a Narragansett Pacer or a cross, because stamina and speed were needed, and the utility breeds of the colony were not able to perform such a ride that required speed and great stamina, but for the Narragansett it would have been a easy excursion.]

The Other Colonies

In South Carolina there were some native Chickasaw horses, an Indian breed created from the base of the Conquistador horse left in Florida, Alabama, Texas etc. These horses were not gaited and were not fast. When Thoroughbreds and Narragansetts were imported there, some of them were interbred with the Chickasaws, but his phase quickly passed as it produced a slower breed. But South Carolina, especially around the port of Charleston was a racing district early on, and it was there the first Jockey Club was formed on the continent, in 1734. The first newspaper account of a race was at Charlestown Neck, the York Course, with the prize of a saddle. By 1735 silver bowls or tankards were common prizes. (Culver)

In North Carolina the racehorses were almost exclusively Running Horses, especially in the sprint breeding area. Wilmington became a famous race center, and eventually racing became so popular that by 1774 it was being banned. (Culver)

Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia, quickly developed a vibrant racing culture as well. On reporting on the pre-revolution race horse culture of our colonies, John F. Watson in 1830 reported in his Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, he cites the experiences of James Read, an aged horseman who died in 1793. "In olden times the horses most valued were pacers, now so odious the end the breed was propagated with care. The Narragansett racers of Rhode Island were in such repute that they were sent for, at much trouble and expense, by some who were choice in their selections."

In pre-revolutionary times Thomas Matlock of Philadelphia remembered also, that when he was young--that all genteel horses were pacers, and the trotters were considered poor specimens. The racing carried out on aptly named Race Street, was done with pacing horses and breeders, his father included, were careful to breed up from the best performers. "...was passionately fond of races in his youth. He told me of his remembrances about Race Street. In his early days the woods were in commons, having several straggling forest trees still remaining there, and the circular course ranging through those trees. He said all genteel horses were pacers.  A trotting horse was deemed a base-breed. These Race Street races were mostly pace-races. His father and others kept pacing stallions for propagating the breed." (Historical Tales of Olden Times)

Watson also gives the testimony of a Mr. Thomas Bradford, who told him that in Philadelphia the earliest races were scrub and pace-races on the area that became Race Street. And the report of Reverand Israel Acrelius, pastor of the Swedish Church in Philadelphia early in the 1700s, found in History of New Sweden and translated: "The horses are real ponies, and are seldom found over sixteen hands high. He who has a good riding horse never employs him for draught, which is also less necessary as journeys, for the most part, are made on horseback. It must be the result of this, more than to any particular breed in the horses that the country excels in fast horses, so that horse-races are often made for very high stakes."

In New York, the original Dutch colonists shipped in horses by 1625, regular imports of Flanders and Dutch Cob. In 1665 the colony was taken over by the English, and by 1671 horses were coming in from England--running horses. The historian Arnoldus Montanes in Description of the New Netherlands 1671 says: "The horses are brought from England or from the diocese of Utrecht, the latter excelling the English." He made the point that the Dutch Cob was a superior horse to the English Running Horse. By 1650 horses in New York were abundant, a mare selling for 100 to 200 florins, a stallion for 100 florins.

1657 - while still a Dutch colony, street racing banned within city limits

1665 - Now a English colony, the first 2-mile track on Hempstead Plain, and galloping heat racing commences with Running Horses. 

1669- Governor publishes a notice to encourage racing

1750 - races restricted to American horses as the English Thoroughbred beginning to be imported

Watson also wrote the Annals of New York (published in 1832), about these areas in 1750, he recounts how the Narragansett was shipped to New York regularly. "It may amuse the present generation to peruse the history of one such horse, spoken of in the letter of Rip Van Dam of New York, in the year 1711, which I have seen. It states the fact of the trouble he had taken to procure him such a horse. He was shipped from Rhode Island in a sloop, from which he jumped overboard, when under sail, and swam ashore to his former home. Having being brought back he arrived in New York in fourteen's day passage, much reduced in flesh and spirit. He cost thirty-two pounds, and his freight fifteen shillings. This writer, Rip Van Dam , was a great personage, he having been President of the Council in 1731, and on the death of Governor Montgomery that year, he was Governor, ex-officio of New York. His mural monument is now to be seen in St. Paul's Church."

[Racing on New York's 3rd Avenue, a street regularly used for races, reflecting a Thoroughbred crossed product from the type: a larger, rangier Running Horse. From the hats and clothing we can place this race in the 1800s]

We can learn something in the story of the Narragansett, that talented excellent bloodlines that had been diluted can be resurrected, by selective breeding. With a few potent stallions crossed on mares that had sport genetics in their ancestors, the stellar traits of the Hobby-Running Horse were not only improved, but made so dominant that wherever the Narragansett Pacer or the Virginia Running Horse were dispersed as the 1800s dawned, sport breeds and strains sprang forth. The Narragansett and the Running Horse are not gone--we are still today enjoying their talents.

As we can see from all the information gathered in Parts I, II and III, the pacing race-saddle horse was highly valued, carefully bred, and shipped to all who could afford one. First propagated in Virginia and Rhode Island, they were soon shipped and established in the new racing centers as they arose. Wallace makes the point that all this early racing was done by our well established breed of pacing racers before the Darley Arabian was even foaled, and 80 years before the General Stud Book was published. He concluded then that "the pacer has a longer line of speed-inheritance at his gait, than the galloper." This proclamation and other similar statements brought him enemies from the section that was promoting the Thoroughbred as the only source of speed. Here we are 175 years later and DNA has proven that once again Wallace was right, speed, even in the sacred Thoroughbred, came from those little pacing racers (Bower, Hill).

The tracing of the 1800 dispersion of the Running Horse and the many wonderful breeds (Morgan, Canadian Pacer, American Trotter, American Saddle Horse) that sprang from it are covered in Standardbred Sport Horses.

By the time of the Revolution and just as the Thoroughbred was being crossed onto our colonial breed, we have the data Wallace, probably with the help of his able researcher Leslie McLeod (whom John Hervey thought was not given enough credit), gleaned from all the written material of the day, newpapers, stud cards, notices etc., and it provides a snapshot of the size and gaitedness of our breed. It is this level of scholarship that has continued to make The American Horse 1897 one of the most valuable resources for the modern equestrians library. As you will see, crossing of other strains had by this time produced many strains that could trot in our pacing stock.

*New England - Average of 14 hands, and 3/4 paced, 1/4 trotted (had been crossed with Dutch Cob)

*Virginia - 13.1 hands, 2/3 paced and 1/3 trotters (after 1730 crosses with Thoroughbred)

*Connecticut - 13.3 hands, 3/4 paced and 1/4 trot (TB and/or Dutch Cob inroads)

*Rhode Island - by 1780 average of 14.1 hands, with 3/4 gaited and 1/4 trot only

* New York - 14 hands, crossed with Dutch Cob

* Pennsylvania- 13.1 7/8 gaited, breeders very much favored pacers


The quality of the American horse was very high, whether used for racing, hunting or saddle. On the eve of our Revolution, Silas Dean, our Ambassador to France in 1776, was trying to enlist France's help against the English rule, and he thought presenting Maria Antoinette with one of our wonderful, and by that time world renown saddle horses, would do the trick: "I wish I had here one of your best saddle horses, of the American [Virginian} or Rhode Island breed-- a present of that kind would be money well laid out with a certain personage."

What we can learn from all this:

1. America's first breed and the majority of its descendant breeds are sport horses---not draft, not farm, not utility, not cavalry, but sport horses!

2. America's first breed was a racehorse, a gaited saddle horse and a hunter horse, and was continued to be selectively bred for those traits for hundreds of years

3. The origin of the sport ability came from the ancient Celtic Horse via its descendant the Hobby and English Running Horse. This strain of horse became the Irish Draught, the Connemara Pony, the English Thoroughbred and the American Running Horse and its descendant breeds (see American Breed Development)

4. The Irish Hobby and its cousin the English Running Horse were eradicated in the British Isles almost completely by 1700

5. It was the isolated populations, such as in Ireland, and Virginia, that best preserved the original Celtic Horse traits

6. Dilution with other breeds and strains caused loss of sport abilities (see this in evidence in the Soundness and Durability study)

7. Wherever the Hobby genetics went in concentrated form, sport breeds developed and were enjoyed

The proof of the sport power that arose from the Hobby genes is clearly demonstrated in the breeds that followed: The incomparably sound athlete of the 1800s demonstrated in our heat-racing breeds of American RH, American Trotter and Pacing RH, all of which made records that have never been broken since (see Real Stayers). But you may say, yeah, but how do they compare to the sport breeds of other countries? You need only look to the period of the late 1800s, when our American Running Horse and new American Thoroughbred, and the American Trotter and then the new Standardbred traveled across the pond to test their mettle against their cousins. Our galloping racer won all the classics in England, Ireland and France so definitively that the English Jockey Club reacted with banning our horses from the General Stud Book (see the Jersey Act and Legacy of Lexington). Our Trotters conquered Europe and Russia in the same time frame, with the French reacting by severely limiting the amount of our horses into their French stud book for fear of our strains over shadowing theirs, and in our day the European trotter is 80% to 90% American Standardbred (see Standardbred Sport Horses). Our Quarter Horse is the most popular breed in the world. These facts are big clues for you.

You are looking far and wide for good sport horse material and all the while it is right in front of you, wake up, recognize the treasure we have here and learn your bloodlines so that you can finally achieve the sport horse breeding goals you set for yourself. Its all here.

References used in the study

Part I - introduction and root stock

Part II - the Virginia and Maryland colony