The Maryland Jockey Club and the Introduction of Organized Thoroughbred Racing in North America

Iron stirrup recovered from the stable (1711-1730 context) at the Smith St. Leonard site (18CV91).

Iron stirrup recovered from the stable (1711-1730 context) at the Smith St. Leonard site (18CV91).

May and June bring the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing—the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes—and Maryland is proud to claim the Preakness as its own.

Horse racing has a long and storied history in Maryland and this stirrup from the Smith St. Leonard Site (18CV91), a 1711-1754 tobacco plantation in Calvert County, is representative of the state’s long history with horses. This site contains remains of the only known eighteenth-century stable (c. 1711-1730) in Maryland, from which this stirrup was recovered. Estate details from the inventory, taken at the time of plantation owner Richard Smith Jr.’s death in 1715, reveal that he was breeding horses for sale.  The value of the individual horses however indicates they were work, rather than racing, animals (Cohen, personal communication 2010).

This conclusion is perhaps not surprising, since Thoroughbred breeding and racing did not really get underway in Maryland until the mid-eighteenth century; indeed the first Thoroughbred horse in the American Colonies was imported to Virginia in 1730 (Robertson 1964:16). Continue reading

African-American Education in Postbellum Maryland

Fragments of the alphabet plate found at Sukeek’s Cabin.

This blog post has its origins right here at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. In the summer of 2000, excavations got underway at the site of a small stone foundation that had been built on a small ridge of land behind the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab. A combination of oral history and documentary research revealed that the site, which came to be known as Sukeek’s Cabin (18CV426), had been occupied in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by several generations of an African American family who were tenants on the Peterson farm. The family can be traced back to an enslaved woman named Sukeek, who arrived on the property in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Some of the volunteers who worked on the excavation under the direction of Kirsti Uunila were Sukeek’s descendants. This blog post was very much influenced by conclusions Kirsti reached during this project (Uunila 2002).

Among the most interesting artifacts recovered during the excavation were fragments of a child’s alphabet plate. Alphabet wares, also called ABC wares, are tableware characterized by the inclusion of the alphabet as a component of their decoration. The full alphabet was molded or printed clockwise around the rim and child-friendly scenes decorated plate centers. First manufactured in the Staffordshire district of England in the late eighteenth century (Kovels 2011), these wares appear to have been created as educational tools, primarily for children. Continue reading