Hello everyone and welcome to my first blog post as the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator here at NSLM. I started in late June and it has been a (pleasant) whirlwind. I have many goals as the educator, one of them being to build a strong relationship between the education department (i.e. me) and the library department (Erica Libhart, Mars Technical Services Librarian and Michelle Guzman, George L. Ohstrom, Jr. Head Librarian). Both departments have much to offer, so using our collective brain power to cultivate engaging programming, displays, tours, and pop-up exhibitions will reap great rewards here at NSLM.

The first of these ventures is the upcoming traveling exhibition, A Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing, on loan from James Madison’s Montpelier and accompanying program, Roundtable Discussion: African American Horsemen, on October 8, 2019. In conjunction with the traveling exhibition and the roundtable discussion, the Library staff and I wanted to locate related items from the library collection for display in the lobby cases. We found several items in the F. Ambrose Rare Book Room as well as the Main Reading Room, that serve to chronicle the evolving representation of African American horsemen from the period of enslavement, through the Jim Crow era, and up to present day.

The earliest item that we found is a series of three lithographs dated 1840, depicting a race at the Washington Race Course in Charleston, South Carolina. The images of three nameless, enslaved jockeys are accompanied by rhyming verse that refers to the riders as less than humans, and includes caricature of one of the jockey’s speech. These were authored by British conservative political Charles Newdigate Newdegate and seem intended to mock the American horse racing community. This item also exemplifies that some of America’s earliest and prolific jockeys were enslaved men.

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witnefs, c. 1841, Charles Newdegate Newdiagte (British 1816-1887). Plate 1.
Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 1

Thoroughbred racing was popular in America, especially the South, beginning in the 1700s, and since its impetus has been defined by black horsemen. Prior to 1865 these skilled men were enslaved. After 1865, jockeys and horsemen gained popularity, but in the 1880s-1890s measures to marginalize and ban African Americans from competing in races or holding employment as horsemen systematically erased the large-scale presence of African American horsemen from the racing world.

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 2

Sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, c. 1841, Charles Newdigate Newdegate (British 1816-1887). Plate 3

The second item is from a souvenir program for Keeneland Racecourse dated 1936, nearly 100 years after the lithographs.  An article titled “America’s Colored Archer: the Story of Isaac Murphy” describes the achievements of the African American jockey Isaac Murphy in glowing terms.  He is repeatedly described as one of the “greatest race riders” and was considered by the author as a model for all future riders.  Despite this, the overall tone of the article is that of an owner praising an especially good horse, hunting dog, or pet.  The author uses terms like, “little ebony boy,” “little Kentucky Negro,” “little Negro boy,” and “little jockey” with what appears to be no malice; making the prejudice all the more insidious.  He infantilizes and demeans Murphy in the same sentence in which he sings his praises.  The article, in 1936, would have been considered high praise for Murphy, but today we can see that the article has a white-centric viewpoint that frames the accomplishments achieved by Murphy in racial terms. 

For example, the title of the article “America’s Colored Archer: The Story of Isaac Murphy”, is a derogatory name given to Murphy in reference to his white, British, contemporary Fred Archer. For people of that time, the British had Fred Archer and America had the “Colored Archer”, Isaac Murphy. 

“America’s “Colored Archer”: The Story of Isaac Murphy”, in Keeneland Lexington, Kentucky Opening 1936, National Sporting Library & Museum OVR B 402. L333 1936; Gift of Alexander Mackay-Smith

Isaac B. Murphy
Isaac Murphy, head-and-shoulders portrait, 
in jockey uniform, facing left., ca. 1895. Photograph.
 https://www.loc.gov/item/2005690025/
Frederick Archer
Unknown artist, 1881
chalk, NPG 3961




This stands in stark contrast to the today’s representation of Isaac Murphy, including his 1955 induction into the Racing Hall of Fame and his depiction in The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy by Dr. Pellom McDaniels III.

Fast forward to today and the contributions of African Americans to the horse racing industry whether as jockeys, trainers, groomers, or hot walkers, are being explored and celebrated in books such as The Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend by Joe Drape, Race Horsemen: How Slavery and Freedom were made at the racetrack, by Katherine C. Mooney, The Great Black Jockeys: The Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America’s First National Sport, by Edward Hotaling, The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy by Pellom McDaniels III, and Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield, by Ed Hotaling.

The history of black horsemen, from stable hands, groomsmen, hot walkers, jockeys, and owners has been largely overlooked in mainstream racing history, due in large part to the efforts of white owners, jockeys, and other figures within racing to discredit black horsemen of achievements, knowledge, and skill. As an organization dedicated to preserving, promoting, and sharing the literature, art, and culture of equestrian, angling, and field sports we are acutely aware that a large portion of America’s Thoroughbred racing history has been marginalized. Through hosting the traveling exhibition A Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing, and the Roundtable Discussion: African American Horsemen  NSLM hopes to illuminate this fascinating sporting history for everyone.

To see  sketches from the Washington Races in October 1840 by An Eye Witness, the 1936 article on Isaac Murphy, and several contemporary books on African American Horsemen, please come by the Library starting October 8, 2019. 

Join us October 8, 2019  for a Roundtable Discussion as scholars and museum professionals examine the content of Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing. Speakers include Dr. Pellom McDaniels III, Curator of African American Collections in the Stuart A Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University, Leon Nichols, Founder of Project to Preserve African American Turf History (PPAATH), and Elizabeth Chew VP of Museum Programs at James Madison’s Montpelier. For more information please visit us here

Valerie joined NSLM in June 2019 as the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator. She is responsible for developing K-12 programs, public programs, tours, and cultivating engaging in-gallery and Library experiences.  Valerie completed a MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester in England and earned her BA in History with a Minor in Professional Education from the University of West Florida. She previously worked as the Programs Assistant at the Gaston County Museum of Art and History where she helped facilitate onsite and outreach programs to over 8,000 participants and as the Curator of Education at the Pensacola Museum of Art where she successfully attained Autism Friendly Business Accreditation. When not working, Valerie enjoys spending her free time reading, hiking, or exploring new places and museums.

For more than 250 years the name Tattersalls has been synonymous with the buying and selling of bloodstock. Over 13,000 horses are auctioned off annually in 32 sales held at Newmarket, Ascot, and Cheltenham in Britain, and at Fairyhouse in Ireland. Total sales have topped 300 million guineas in each of the last two years.

Entrance to Tattersalls. Photo by Claudia Pfeiffer

The young man that would found this famous firm was Richard Tattersall. Born in 1724 at Hurstwood, Richard showed an affinity for horses at an early age and spent most of his time in the family stables. At about ten he was sent to Burnley Grammar School where he studied Latin, Greek, math, and rhetoric under the guidance of Ellis Nutter. Here he also worked with a writing master and learned basic accounting.

Hurstwood. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

At 14, Richard secretly bought his first horse. In actuality an old cart horse, to him it was a treasure. He hid the horse in a vacant byre and sneaked out to care for it and ride it. It wasn’t long before his father spotted him and the secret was out. As a result of this shenanigan Richard was given a choice by his parents. He could either stay in school and seriously pursue a scholarship to Cambridge or he could become an apprentice wool stapler working with a friend of his father’s. In the end it was decided that he would stay in school until he was 16 at which point he would begin his apprenticeship.

Richard Tattersall. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

The apprenticeship did not last long as the wool trade, although lucrative, did not interest Richard. By 1745 he had gone south to London to make his fortune. There is some speculation that Richard was a Jacobite supporter and was sent to London by his father to keep him out of the fighting but biographers differ on whether he was actually a supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie or not. In either case Richard went to London and embarked on a career in the horse industry. His first position was with Beevor’s Horse Repository in St. Martin’s Lane, where he would rise to the position of head ostler. He was also always on the lookout for opportunities and wrote to his father about a lucrative trip to Scotland. He had heard of a Scottish nobleman that was selling his stud and Richard convinced a friend to go in with him to purchase it. He bought cheap and sold the stock for a healthy profit in York and London.

In 1753 Richard entered the service of Evelyn Pierrepoint, the 2nd Duke of Kingston, eventually rising to the position of Stud Manager. In this role he not only entered the world of bloodstock breeding but also that of the important and affluent individuals that were organizing and developing the horse racing industry of England. Three years later he married Catherine Somerville, a grand daughter of the 12th Earl of Somerville, and two years after that their only child was born, a son named Edmund. Over the next several years Richard continued to extend his network of friends and acquaintances in the world of horse racing. He developed a reputation for integrity, honesty, and business ability, and is quoted as saying “better to lose commission than a friend.”

Richard Tattersall (1724-95) with ‘Highflyer’ in the background by Beach, Thomas (1738-1806) Private Collection English, out of copyright

In 1766 he had amassed enough capital to enact his dream of building his own bloodstock auction. He entered into a 99 year lease with Lord Grosvenor for a parcel of land at Hyde Park Corner. It was on this tract of land that he would found the Tattersall’s firm. He began conservatively and adapted existing buildings into an office and horse boxes. Eventually he developed the site to include a house, an office, coach houses, kennels, stables, and exercise yards, covering 10 to 15 acres. In 1779 he outfitted two rooms for the use of members of the Jockey Club. These rooms quickly became an important gathering spot for the elite racing group.

Highflyer. From The story of Tattersalls by Peter Willett (1987). NSLM collection.

In addition to his success as a horse dealer, Richard Tattersall was also a successful owner and breeder of horses. In 1779 he bought Highflyer from Lord Bolingbroke for 2,500 pounds. In his three racing seasons, Highflyer was never defeated and pulled in a total of 9,336 pounds in stakes money. Richard retired the horse to the stud barn. At the time everyone was after stock bred by the great Eclipse. Tattersall’s solution was to get as many daughters of Eclipse as he could and breed them with Highflyer thus combining the bloodlines of the two great racers. In addition to Highflyer’s the stud fees, Richard also made money buying Eclipse mares and selling them in foal to Highflyer for top dollar amounts. He also added the best of Highflyer’s daughters to his stud and sold their produce for large profits. Highflyer was champion sire of winners 12 times and his progeny included Derby winners Noble, Sir Peter and Skyscraper, the Oaks winner Volante, and the St. Leger winners Omphale, Cowslip, Spadille and Young Flora. This great success allowed Richard to build a country house he called Highflyer Hall.

Highflyer Hall in the 1950s. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

By all accounts Richard Tattersall was excellent company and truly enjoyed hosting his friends. He began a tradition of Monday Dinners at the lavish dining room at his Hyde Park establishment. These dinners were long affairs and often didn’t wrap up until late in the evening. He frequently entertained at Highflyer Hall as well where his friends, including no less than the Prince of Wales, could count on his well stocked wine cellar and excellent conversation. His popularity was so widespread that he was said to be “free of the road, as no highwayman would molest him, and even a pickpocket returned his handkerchief, with compliments.”

On February 21, 1795 Richard Tattersall died after a short illness. He was 71. He left behind a reputation for kindness, honesty, integrity, and geniality. He also left the well established Tattersall’s firm which his son, Edmund, took over. Direct descendants of Richard would continue to guide the development and growth of Tattersall’s until the death of Sommerville Tattersall in 1942. The firm has continued to prosper and is now known as Tattersalls, no apostrophe.

I’ve only touched on the main points of Richard Tattersall’s life. He’s an interesting character particularly because he operated during a time when Thoroughbred racing was getting well organized in Britain. The history of his family and his company are very much tied up with the history of British horse racing. The Library holds several biographies on Tattersall’s the family and the firm if you’d like to get the full story. Or for a more concise version I can point you to chapters in a variety of books on the history of the British turf.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail.