In 1822, a visitor named Samuel Bumstead had an interesting encounter with Thomas Jefferson, which he recorded for posterity.
Thomas Jefferson was a lifelong lover of horses and owned many horses throughout his own life. He used horseback riding as a way to contemplate, exercise, and explore. Learn more about Jefferson’s "passion" for a good horse and about a few of the horses who lived in Monticello’s stables.
Kyle Chattleton: This is Mountaintop History, a podcast produced by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.
Olivia Brown: Mountaintop History brings forward meaningful stories from this historic home and plantation — from the past and from the present.
Kyle Chattleton: My name is Kyle Chattleton.
Olivia Brown: And I'm Olivia Brown.
Kyle Chattleton: Thank you for joining us. We hope you'll learn something new.
Olivia Brown: If you read names like Gustavus, Caractacus, Remus Romulus, or Castor, you might think you were reading a history book rather than the names of [00:01:00] Thomas Jefferson's horses.
As a man born of the Virginia elite, Jefferson grew up on horseback, riding horses while he was a child and exploring his father's plantation. As he aged, his love of horses hardly waned. Throughout his life, he owned over 100 horses we have records of today, and while many of them were used for farm labor, drawing plows and pulling wagons, others were well-bred and of the best stock.
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, three stallions were imported to England - one Turkish and two Arabian - and they became the three horses from which all modern Thoroughbreds are descended today. Known for their speed and strength, Thoroughbreds are considered to be the best racing breed. Many of Jefferson's favorite riding horses were descendants of one of these three stallions: Godolphin Arabian. While he never had his personal [00:02:00] horses entered into races, Jefferson did watch and enjoy the sport of horseracing, which was becoming increasingly popular in the upper echelon of society. His horses, likely some of the best-bred in the nation, were instead Jefferson's personal riding horses or drawing his carriages.
His "blooded" horses, as he called his Thoroughbreds, were often mentioned not only in Thomas Jefferson's own Memorandum Books, where he recorded their purchase or birth, but were also remembered by visitors to Monticello. One of the most mentioned was Caractacus, a horse Jefferson owned from when he was sired in 1775 until Caractacus died around 1790. Jefferson was keenly interested in the genealogy of his horses, and in the front cover of one of his Farm Books, he drew a family tree for Caractacus, tracing back his lineage [00:03:00] to Young Fearnought, a famed colonial stallion and descendant of Godolphin Arabian. Caracatcus, named for a first century British chieftain who led an armed resistance against the Roman Empire, was among many horses in Jefferson's records whose name stemmed from Jefferson's love of history, as well as the classical and ancient world.
His horses didn't always represent historical figures though. Allycroker, one of Jefferson's earliest recorded riding horses whom he inherited from his father-in-law John Wayles, became one of his primary breeding mares. She was the mother of Caractacus, and was named for a popular Irish folk song. Peggy Waffington, a horse foaled in 1778, was named for an Irish socialite and actress, and Polly Peachum, born the same year, was named for a character from John Gay's 1728 [00:04:00] opera, The Beggar's Opera. In 1815, David Isaacs, a Jewish merchant living in Charlottesville, sold a horse named Tecumseh to Thomas Jefferson, presumably named after the famed Shawnee leader.
These horses and many others resided at Monticello and accompanied Jefferson throughout his life and political career to many places around the country. While they were used as a form of transportation, Jefferson took pride in the quality of horses he owned and considered them to be more than a way to get from one place to another. Edmund Bacon, one of Monticello's overseers, said Jefferson was, "passionately fond of a good horse." Thomas Jefferson was known for using horseback riding as a form of exercise, and in his retirement would often take daily rides around the plantation. He also used this time in other [00:05:00] periods of his life as a time of reflection. Following the death of his wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson in 1782, Thomas Jefferson often would take solitary rides while grieving the loss. He was usually alone, but if he ever allowed anyone to accompany him, it was only his eldest daughter Martha, who was at the time around ten years old. Later in his life, Jefferson enjoyed taking rides in his phaeton carriage, which he would drive himself. Visitors to Monticello, like Margaret Bayard Smith, did not always enjoy sharing the carriage with Jefferson on the reins, however; she recounted enjoying the conversation, but being so afraid on the roads that she expressed her alarm and even wanted to jump out of the carriage.
Many visitors to Monticello would have ridden their horses or carriages up the "steep and savage hill" to Jefferson's mountaintop home, as it was described by George [00:06:00] Ticknor in 1815. Horses owned by Thomas Jefferson and those brought to Monticello by visitors would have likely been cared for in the stables, which were run by enslaved hostlers. We have record of two enslaved men, Jupiter Evans and Wormley Hughes, who worked at times as chief hostlers and coachmen, caring for the horses in the stable, as well as the equipment used to ride them. While there were likely others serving in the role of hostler or younger enslaved men who were grooming and feeding horses, Evans and Hughes seem to have been leaders in this role, and it was one they took pride in themselves.
One story, relayed to a biographer by Jefferson's grandchildren, captures a rare instance when they saw their grandfather angered. Jefferson had sent a young enslaved man to the stables to take one of the carriage horses to the post office in town, and twice the young man was refused the ability [00:07:00] to take the horse by Jupiter Evans. Jefferson summoned Evans to explain himself and, even in the face of his enslaver's anger, Evans "firmly declared that he must not be expected to keep the carriage horses in the desired condition, if they were to be 'ridden around by boys.'" While Jefferson ultimately agreed with Evans, he admonished him and told him never to use "so blunt a method of 'telling his mind.'" Jupiter Evans was trained to care for the horses in the stables, and he knew he was caring for some of the most elite animals in the country. In this moment, he chose to stand his ground against his enslaver, and resist the wants and demands of Thomas Jefferson.
Ultimately, the horses owned by Thomas Jefferson were not just working animals being used to transport people from place to place. Jefferson sought out horses with some of the best pedigree, [00:08:00] and while he wrote about them himself, many others visiting Monticello did as well, cementing their place in the way many remembered the former President's home. In his retirement years, as he was living the life he envisioned for himself surrounded by his farm, his family, and his books, Thomas Jefferson's view would have often been from the back of his horse Eagle, who lived to see the end of Jefferson's life.
This has been another episode of Mountaintop History, a collaboration podcast between WTJU and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
Kyle Chattleton: Join us for new episodes every two weeks on Apple and Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and the Virginia Audio Collective.
Olivia Brown: To learn more about Monticello or to plan your next trip, visit us online at Monticello.org. [00:09:00]
Join Leslie Greene Bowman, President Emerita of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, on horseback as she retraces Jefferson's daily ride around his Monticello plantation.