Reference Question: Argyle, the Northern Hero

When somebody asks me a library question and the initial answer is “I don’t know,” I usually end up learning a whole lot about something. That was true a short time back when somebody contacted me about a horse named Argyle, and his connection to a Supreme Court Justice named Gabriel Duvall. All we knew was Argyle was foaled around 1830 at Duvall’s farm, Marietta.

Looking for broad background information on the horse, Google gave a clue in an entry of The American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine of July 1834:


A good start. A useful tool is the All Breed Database, and some simple searching found Argyle’s listing.Argyle’s dam, Thistle, could trace a bloodline through Florizel back to the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian, two founding sires of the Thoroughbred breed. On his sire’s side, Argyle’s ancestry also goes back to the Godolphin Arabian.

cropped to image, frame obscured, recto
Daniel Quigley (Irish, 18th Century) The Godolphin Arabian, late 18th Century, oil on canvas, 38 x 48 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. On view at NSLM until March 26, 2017 in The Chronicle of the Horse in Art.

What made Argyle famous? A more comprehensive check of the Turf Register shows a slew of impressive victories in the American south in 1834 and 1835 (putting Argyle at about four years old). Here is one entry, from April 1835:

Charleston (S.C.) Races. The annual races over the Washington course, commenced on Monday Feb. 9 for the citizen’s purse, of $1000; three mile heats and resulted as follows:

Mr. Walden’s br. c. Argyle, four years old, by Monsieur Tonson, dam Thistle, by Oscar, 102 lbs. 1 1
Mr. Haun’s b. m. Rattlesnake, five years old, by Bertrand, dam Devil, by West Paragon, 109 lbs. 2 2
Mr. Montmollin’s br. m. Alborak, five years old, by Sumter, dam Mary Bedford, by imp. Bedford, 109 lbs. 3 3
Col. Fitzsimmons’ ch. f. Rushlight, four years old, by Sir Archy, dam by Pacolet, 99 lbs.

Time, 5 m. 46 s.–5 m. 51 s.

Fourth day,
four mile heats, purse $1000.

Mr. Walden’s br. c. Argyle, four years old, by Monsieur Tonson, dam Thistle, by Oscar, 102 lbs. 1 1
Col. Spann’s ch. h. Bertrand, Jr. aged, by Bertrand, dam Transport, by Virginius, 126 lbs. 2 2

Time, 8 m. 5 s.–8 m. 8 s.

Two wins, three days apart! Argyle tore through his southern competition (usually in the Carolinas and Georgia), and it appears to have ruffled a few feathers that a “northern” horse should dominate. But more on that presently. For now, the main concern was unraveling the mystery of ownership. In April 1834, P. M. Butler is listed as the owner of Argyle, before rotating to J. McLean, then George Walden. Oddly, in the same issue (April 1835) Walden is listed as the owner for the racing calendar, and P. M. Butler took out an ad responding for Argyle to a challenge by a horse named Shark, sired by American Eclipse.

Fighting words! P. M. Butler’s advertisement, responding to a challenge of Argyle by Shark, referred to as a “water ‘varment’.” This is likely a less-than-tactful boast about defeating a horse named Rattlesnake at the Charleston Races.

Interesting to note that at this point Argyle was both racing and covering mares at stud for a subscription fee.

By November of 1835, Argyle was considered one of the best horses in the United States. An article appeared in the Turf Register praising Argyle, only to be forcefully contested the following month.

Exultant praise for Argyle from a writer named “Observer.” November 1835 issue of the American Turf Register.
A scathing rebuttal the following month. The writer “Truth” points out the perceived weakness in Argyle’s pedigree. Regardless of how well the horse has performed, we shouldn’t consider him a real Thoroughbred.

In the February 1836 issue, the question of ownership is given some shadowy clarity. Apparently both Col. J. H. Hammond and Walden co-owned Argyle, and they retained a one-third stake while bringing on board additional partners for the princely sum of $15,000. There is no further significant mention of him either in race results or articles until August 1836, when an article details an “unsuccessful race with Bascomb” and claims that Argyle has been withdrawn to parts unknown. From 1836 to 1838, Argyle was noted in five races, all in Virginia and Maryland. It appears Argyle retired from racing at eight years old in 1838.

Did Argyle return to Marietta after his racing career ended? We don’t know. But in looking at the history, you can see the contours of rivalry that match with the conflict that eventually tore apart the nation.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail


1 Comment

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  1. An engraving of “Argyle”, acquired here in Charleston, SC from a painting by Edward Troye. This print was published by The New York Spirit of the Times.

    States that he was bred by Duvall and now owed by Butler of S.C.

    Kind regards, Carol Barber

    Liked by 1 person

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