Wednesday, September 23, 2015

George Washington's Horses

   A few final words about George Washington, horseman. Washington had two favorite horses he rode during the Revolutionary War. The first was a horse called Blueskin (Blewskin) and the second was a horse called Nelson.

   Blueskin is, allegedly, the gray or white horse seen in paintings of Washington mounted on a horse  As mentioned in a previous post, Washington had a preference for white and gray horses, so it is not surprising that he would choose one to ride during the war. Unfortunately, there are no contemporary paintings or sketches of Blueskin and those paintings of Washington on a white horse were painted well after his death. Also, unfortunately for Washington, Blueskin was skittish under fire and became hard to control. Therefore, he rode another horse when he went into battle.
Rembrandt Peale 1830
   Washington acquired Blueskin sometime early during the war. We don't know how old he was since the only description we have is "mature." He was described as of a "dark iron-gray color, approaching to blue, "; a fiery animal with great endurance in a long run. The horse was a gift to Washington from Benjamin and Elizabeth Dulaney of Maryland. The Dulaneys were close friends with George Washington's wastrel stepson John Parke Custis (Jackie) who loved horse racing. Jackie had been sent to school in Alexandria with an Anglican minister named Johnathan Boucher. When the Rev Boucher moved his school to Annapolis, Maryland, Jackie went with him as his pupil. There Jackie became very close friends with Benjamin Dulaney. Benjamin Dulaney later married  Elizabeth French, the daughter of Daniel French, a wealthy Fairfax planter who lived at Rose Hill, located about five miles west of Alexandria. French, who died in 1771, owned 552 acres in the Mount Vernon area to which Washington was trying to acquire title. However, Daniel French's widow, Penelope, was refusing to relinquish her life right to those acres. The Dulaneys were frequent dinner guests at Mount Vernon.

   We do not know what breed of horse Blueskin was but the belief is that he was half-Arabian, sired by the stallion "Ranger", otherwise known as "Lindsey's Arabian". I was unable to find any evidence to corroborate that belief. "Lindsay's Arabian" is a legendary American sire, pure Arabian, with a fascinating history. Legend has it that the Emperor of Morocco gave a pure Arabian stallion to the Captain of a British Frigate for some unknown service to the Emperor's son. The Frigate Captain planned to take him to England where he expected to sell him for a hefty price. For some reason, the frigate called at one of the ports in the West Indies. The Frigate Captain, wanting to give the horse some exercise, let him run loose in a lumber yard where the horse broke three of his legs. At the same time, there was, in harbor, a ship's captain from New England who was a friend of the Frigate Captain. Faced with a horse with three broken legs, the frigate captain offered the horse to his New England friend if he could cure him. The New Englander accepted the offer and put the horse aboard his vessel. He rigged up sling and carefully set and bound the horse's legs. When the ship reached Connecticut, the horse's legs had been mended and he was put to covering mares.

   It is believed that Lindsey's Arabian reached Connecticut in 1766. He was described as a "white horse of the most perfect form and symmetry, rather above 15 hands high, and gallant temper, which gave him a lofty and commanding carriage and appearance."

Light Horse Harry Lee
In 1777 or 1778, "Light Horse Harry" Lee, Continental Army cavalry commander and father of Robert E. Lee,  and his officers became aware of some exceptionally fine horses that were being used as cavalry mounts by cavalrymen from New England. Lee sent one of his officers, a certain Captain Lindsey, to look into the matter and purchase the sire of these horses, if possible. Lindsey was successful, purchased this horse, named  "Ranger", and shipped him to Virginia where, as a full blooded Arabian, he started covering mares at an exceptionally high price and with outstanding results. Ranger later stood at stud at Piscataway, MD. His blood line is as famous as any in the history of horses in the United States.

   "Nelson"was a chestnut stallion who was given to Washington by Thomas Nelson, the Governor of Virginia in 1778, when Nelson heard that Washington was having trouble finding a replacement foe one of his mounts. Nelson soon became a favorite of Washington and he rode him when battle was nigh, In fact, Washington rode Nelson at Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown in 1781. Nelson was described as being sixteen hands high, chestnut ( or light sorrel) , with a white blaze and white legs.

   After the war, Washington retired Blueskin and Nelson to Mount Vernon where he hardly ever rode them but tried to pay them a visit every day. Nelson died at the age of 27.

   But we know, for certain, that Washington did own a stallion out of "Lindsey's

Arabian" (Ranger). After the surrender at Yorktown, Washington purchased two horses from his stepson Jackie's estate. Magnolia was purchased for £500 and was known as one of the most beautiful horses in the states, "a chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, 16 hands tall, and thought by all who saw him to be perfect," according to the Virginia Journal. Washington tried racing Magnolia without much success, then put him to work as a stud with a lot of success. In 1788, Washington traded Magnolia to Light Horse harry Lee for title to 5,000 acres in Kentucky.

 The horse at right is said by Mount Vernon to resemble Magnolia, except for the fact that he is a little smaller then Magnolia at 15 hands.

  I cannot conclude without mentioning Washington's slave valet William "Billy" Lee.  Billy rode a horse called Chinkling. Other than being described as a great leaper and being built much like his rider, low, but sturdy, and of great bone and muscle,we have no other description of Chinkling. But we do have a description of Billy Lee, a French horn at his back, throwing himself at full length on his horse, with his spur in flank, rushing at full speed through bramble and brush, astonishing even the best and most daring horsemen of his day.

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