How Horses Arrived in New Hampshire

In the past I’ve spent a great deal of time researching how cows came to New Hampshire, but gave little thought to horses.  It might surprise you to know that several ancient species of  horses WERE native to North America–however they went extinct way before New Hampshire was settled by Europeans.   In 1519 the Spanish explorer Cortez imported Iberian horses to Mexico (the first to do so to mainland America). Descendants of these creatures were the origin of the American Mustang breed.

In New Hampshire there were no known native horses until they were imported from Europe. Most likely the first New Hampshire horse was from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. According to the International Museum of the Horse, in an article on colonial horses, “English and Dutch horses . . . arrived in Massachusetts between 1629 and 1635.”

The St. Johnsbury Caledonian newspaper, St. Johnsbury VT; 16 Oct 1838, page 1 printed an article on this topic. “HORSES. The following account of the origin of the New England race of horses is given in a letter to the editor of the Western Messenger: Your article upon horse racing has been going the rounds of the newspapers. I do not agree with you quite in your position that racing is not necessary in the attainment of a good breed of horses, because wherever horses are ‘good,’ there is some ‘blood,’ i.e. some of the Arab strain; the best horses in the world (Arabin and Toorkistan excepted, and these seem to be the eliminates where the horse comes to that perfection naturally, which elsewhere can only be arrived at by ‘judicious crossing’,) are in old and New England. In Old England the horse for quick work is a cross of the racer with the native; for draught the native horse crossed with the Flemish, to give weight, and a dash of ‘blood’ to give courage and wind. Now as we have no native breed in New England, it is worth while to trace the origin of the Vermont and New Hampshire horses, which are confessedly so good.– The first horses were brought from England by the puritans, and were of course the Old English stock, which at that day had been improved by a cross of the Arabians, for both the Charleses patronized the turf, and it is supposed that the Barb was introduced into England by the crusaders. But to return to the Vermont nags. In the beginning of the Revolution, an Arabian horse, on its way to England as a present to George III was captured by a Yankee privateer, and found his way to that region which now produces the best trotters, and his blood runs in all their veins. And the reason why the Southern and Western horses are inferior for work, is in my opinion, that a judicious system of crossing is not practised. They breed too much for blood, and too little for bone and bottom, and the result is a long legged generation which can run well, but are unfit for work. I asked Col. Jacques, of Charleston, (the greatest breeder we have) what was the best breed of pigs that he had, “Why,” said he, “that depends on what kind you want, whether large or small, very fat, or only moderately so, &c., for I can breed them to order for you as certainly as a tailor can make you a coat to order.”

Ink and watercolor on paper. Soldier on horseback. Horizontal rectangle. Titled in ink at top, “A View of a Private in the first / Regt. of N.H. Light-Horse on Duty”. by George Melville, before 1800. New Hampshire Historical Society.

By the late 1600s horses had been imported to Canada (some developing as the Canadian horse breed), to Rhode Island (in 1629), to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and to Virginia. [SEE map of  of horses imported to North America.]  There were also wild horses in the American colonies, i.e. the Corolla Wild Horses that has been determined by DNA studies to be descended from (escaped) colonial Spanish horses.

It should be remembered that transporting horses by ship was not an easy task.  They were often hung in slings, their feet not touching the deck during their voyage.  Many times half or more of the horses died during the trip.  With this in mind, the National Ocean Service web site offers a grim explanation of the “horse latitudes.” That many times travel in this location resulted in a lack of water, whereby the crew threw the horses they transported overboard.

By the early to mid 1700s, it was not difficult at all to find a horse to purchase, and those being imported at this time were mainly breeding stock to improve certain traits based on whether the animals were for work, or for racing. There were enough so that they were even being exported. In the book, “Breeds of live stock in America,” by Henry W. Vaughan, 1947, p. 601 it is stated “The Arabian stallion Ranger was imported to Connecticut in 1765. He sired the gray charger ridden by General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Commodore J.D. Elliott of the U.S. Navy imported a number of Arabian stallions and mares in 1838.”  Interestingly The Arabian Horse Club of America, founded in 1908 originally had headquarters at Berlin, New Hampshire. [Editor’s note: it is now in Aurora Colorado.]

It did not take long for horse racing to become a popular sport in the American colonies.  In 1665 the Newmarket race course was created in Hempstead, Long Island. There is a 1675 record in Henrico County, Virginia of horse race trials.  You can see that very early Thoroughbred English horses were being imported for sport.

Just before the American Revolution New Hampshire newspapers were busy with advertisements with horse sales, lost or stolen horses, and horses wanted.  Some examples follow.

June 16, 1758. New Hampshire Gazette, Portsmouth NH. “WHEREAS A PERSON UNKNOWN to me the Subscriber, came to my House at Newington the 24th of May Last, and left a small black HORSE, Saddle and Bridle, with a small Star on his Forehead, and desired me to keep him till his Return, which, he said, would be in about two Hours–From that Time to the Date hereof, I have heard nothing from the said Person–This is therefore to give Notice, That the Owner of said Horse, may have him again paying the Charles of Keeping, and this Advertisement. June 12, 1758. Hutson Peavey, Innholder at Newington.” [Editor’s note: Hudson Peavey was the son of Abel & Mary (Hudson) Peavey, born 11 Feb 1710 in Newington NH and d. 29 Oct 1785 at Barrington NH. Husband of Madeline Brown. He was a descendant of Abel & Mary (Hudson) Peavey > Edward & Rachel (Adams) Peavy > Thomas & Martha (Eaton) Peavey >Thomas & Jane (Walford) Peavy-Peverly > Thomas & Jane Walford.  He is the author’s distant cousin, our common ancestor being both Jane (Walford) Peavey and her parents.]

June 8, 1759. New-Hampshire Gazette,  Portsmouth NH, page 2; “STRAYED FROM Andrew Aramour of Windham, a large red Roan HORSE, with a STAR in his forehead, paces well, a little Lame in his off Fore Foot. Whoever takes up said Horse, and brings or sends me Word, shall have a handsome Reward, and all necessary Charges paid by me. Andrew Aramour.” [Editor’s note: SEE History of Windham NH: Family of ARMOR, ARMORE, or ARMOUR.]

29 June 1759. New-Hampshire Gazette, Portsmouth NH page 4
A White HORSE about 14
Hands high, trods and paces, about 10 Years old, was taken up by Samuel Stiles of Durham in a Field, having no Fetters on. Whoever can prove their property in said Horse, may have him again, paying Charges.

May 11, 1770. New Hampshire-Gazette,  Portsmouth NH p 4. “TO COVER,
SCRIP, a beautiful thoro’ bred brown bay HORSE, of good Size, and without any Blemishes; imported from England the last Summer, where he was a noted Race Horse, and won many Matches and Places, being particularly remarkable for uncommon Strength and Bottom.– As this Horse was imported with an Intention to improve the Herd in New England, HE will this Season cover Sixty Mares, FREE, except only Six Shillings, Sterling each, for the Groom, that attends the Horse. — No Mares under Fourteen Hands high will be submitted and none after July. Enquire for Thomas Hodgsen, at Mr. Stavers’s Innkeeper in Portsmouth.” [Editor’s note: John Stavers’s inn is now called PITT TAVERN (Strawbery Banke)]

And so, though at the time of European settlement there are no horses native to New Hampshire, and later no unique horse breeds arose here, there were horse breeds developed nearby–namely in Rhode Island (Narragansett Pacer) and Vermont (the Morgan).  It did not take long for the focus to shift from utilitarian horses to those bred for racing.

Starting Home from Mt. Washington NH, undated; photographer: Rhodes. NH Historical Society. Colorized.

New Hampshire (and America’s) horse population grew until the Civil War. During this  conflict it is estimated that between 1,-3 million horses died, including, mules, and donkeys. It is estimated that the horse casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg, (July 1 and July 3, 1863) alone counted between 1,500-3,000. Many Morgan horses were used due to both their endurance and calm disposition.

Following the Civil War, the focus on horse breeding shifted to increasing their speed and a variety of horse organizations and events began to appear.   In Manchester New Hampshire the N.H. Horse Fair began in 1867, being held at the Manchester Riding Park.   In 1868 the event highlighted over one hundred horses, most competing for speed.  Noted local breeders and horses included John Henry with “Bully of the Woods,”  a three-year-old who could run a mile in 3-13-1/4. [from The Philadelphia Enquirer, 19 August 1868].


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