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Below are a couple of extensive source articles on the Narragansett Pacer, 
sent in by Jennifer, and also a letter that raises the question - - 
Are Narragansett Pacers still in existence on an island, south of Fiji?


The Mysterious Narragansett Pacer

By LaVONNE HOULTON         Parts 1 and 2 of 3 Parts

In the book entitled History of the New World Called America, published in Dublin, Ireland, in 1775, it is said of the Rhode Island colonists that  "they have a breed of small horses, which are particularly hardy. They pace naturally . . . with such swiftness and for so long a continuance as must appear almost incredible to those who have not experienced it." 

The historian was describing the earliest light horse breed developed by the American colonies - - the Narragansett Pacer.   However, after existing for some 200 years, the pure breed quite abruptly became extinct.

Brief references are made to the Narragansett Pacer in contemporary literature about horses, but the full story of this vanished breed is scattered in bits and pieces throughout old histories, out-of-print studbooks, and New England genealogies.  Consequently, the old "Rhode Island horse" has attained an aura of mystery in modern times.

Because of the Narragansett Pacer's valuable contribution to some of our existing breeds, we should solve the mysteries of where he came from, what he did, and why he became extinct.  A thumbnail history of the various breeds of horses brought to the two Americas in earliest times is essential to solving the first question concerning our colonial equine hero.

The first horses to be transported to the New World were Spanish Jennets, brought over by Christopher Columbus on his voyages of discovery.   After his first voyage in 1492, he brought over a number of stallions and broodmares in 1493.   The Spanish Jennet, a small pacing horse of primarily Libyan extraction, was one of the most popular breeds of the Middle Ages.   Nearly every ship from "home" brought horses to the colonies along the Spanish Main for the next few decades.  The Spanish breeds were all related to some degree. The Jennets and their northern cousins, the Galicians and Asturians, were natural pacers. Others of the period were the Andalusian and the wonderfully even-tempered Barb from Tripoli. Spanish Vessel

In the early 1600's, when France, England, Denmark, and Holland all sought to break Spain's monopoly in the Caribbean, Dutch ships also transported horses for sale to the Spanish colonists.   Holland's best breed was the Friesian or so-called "Dutch horses" - fine, black animals  - medium-sized, compact, and strong, with excellent legs, great endurance, and "devilish" dispositions.  Because of their swift, slashing trot,  they were also called Hart-dravers (fast trotters).

The French were next to bring horses across the ocean, beginning in 1604 when M. L'Escarbot, a lawyer, took horses from Normandy and Brittany to Acadia. Colonists took some of these horses to Quebec in 1608.  The Bidets of Brittany had been known for excellence for years.  They traced back to Libyan stock and were rather small horses, usually black, renowned for great hardiness and endurance.  The Norman Horse was one of the large destriers (war-horses) that for several centuries carried northwestern Europe's armored knights.

Percheron Postiers, small post or coach horses from Perche, France, were brought to Canada in 1634 by Robert Giffard and 100 farmer/colonists. These horses were a cross of the old heavy horse of Europe on fine Libyan stock brought up from Spain.

A very fine stallion, sent to Quebec in 1647, and 12 excellent horses from the stables of King Louis XIV, brought over around 1665, were most probably Limousin horses - a breed called "the glory of Old France" and one which filled the royal stables in this period.   Highly esteemed as saddle horses, they had their origin in the 8th century A.D., and distinctly showed Barb characteristics.   Nearly all the ancient, excellent breeds in France derived from oriental stock  which traced to the Libyan horse of antiquity.

Horses from England were introduced into Virginia as early as 1609.   Although the initial group all perished during the "starving time" that year, more soon followed, and by 1620 Virginia's horses were considered to be of fine quality.  

Horses first appeared in the New England regions in 1625 when the Dutch brought a few Flemish draft horses to New Amsterdam.   In 1629 Francis Higginson brought 25 mares and stallions from Leicestershire, England, to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.   That same year marked the arrival of seven more mares and one stallion at Salem.   A few stallions shipped aboard the Mayflower and the Whale landed safely at Charlestown Harbor in 1630, though most of the livestock had died enroute.

In 1635, 27 Flemish mares and 3 stallions were brought to Salem by two Dutch ships. These horses of Flanders were the product of an early cross of the old European heavy horse on Libyan stock from the Mediterranean.   The Flemish stock left but little trace of its existence after a few years in America.  The patroons of New Amsterdam, of course, preferred their fast Dutch Hart-dravers for transportation purposes.  Since the cost of shipping a horse from England to the New World was quite high (10 pounds in 1630), and the voyage was rigorous, only young, healthy stock of good blood was considered worthy of export.  The earliest New England stock, used primarily as saddle horses, represented quite a variety of European breeds, most of which bore significant inheritance from their ancient Libyan ancestors.   From England came a "duke's mixture" which blended the old, black English war-horse with stock from the low countries and with horses of North African blood.

Other horses from the British Isles were the fine Barbary Horse, well known in England since Elizabethan times, and the exceptional black Irish Hobby.   The Hobby dated from the 10th century A.D., and was considered to be the best of the English breeds up into the 17th century.   Its earlier names were Haubini and Astercones - the latter because they came from Asturia with Spanish colonists.   The Asturian was a pacer, and the Irish Hobbies were also greatly prized as saddlers because they had "so gentle a pace."

The Libyan horse, from which so many of Europe's breeds derived, had its origin in the area of North Africa between the Nile and the Atlantic Ocean, where Libyan tribesmen had developed a fine mastery over the horse as early as the 14th century B.C.   The Libyan is considered to be one of the finest breeds ever known.  These horses were uniformly bay in color and marked by a star on the forehead.  They had extreme speed, great endurance, a high degree of beauty, and exceptional docility.  Their breeding was kept pure for hundreds of years under the careful attention of tribal kings.  The mobility of the desert tribes brought about the introduction of Libyan horses to Egypt, Greece, Arabia, Spain, and other lands at a very early time.

Hannibal stationed more than 2,000 Libyan stallions with his cavalry on permanent duty in Spain in 219 B.C.   In the Andalusian region, the pacing Spanish Jennet evolved from Libyan stock crossed on native mares, and was later improved by in fusions of the same blood through Arab and Berber horses brought in by Moorish invaders.   The Jennet retained the beauty, docility, and remarkable endurance of the Libyan horse, as well as its color and relatively small size.

In the north of Spain the Libyan blood was diluted through crosses with the old striped dun of the Sierras and with large German stock brought in by Vandal and Visigoth raiders. 

Here developed the two pacing breeds, Asturian and Galician. The common characteristics of the various European pacers - gentle nature, strength, endurance, great swiftness, and an easy-to-ride amble or pacing gait - were identical to those of the Narragansett Pacer of Colonial America. 

The best European breeds traced to the ancient Libyan, and individuals of those breeds of oriental derivation were brought to the Americas right from the start. The first horses taken to Rhode Island were apparently offspring of the animals that had been imported to the Massachusetts Bay Colony less than a decade before.

Quite logically then, the foundation stock of the Narragansett Pacer was a mixture of the Dutch, Irish, and English breeds mentioned above. The pacing characteristic was set in ancient Libya, replenished in Spain, diffused throughout the European continent, and eventually transported across the Atlantic Ocean to re-establish itself in a new world's new breed.

Colonial New England had a variety of horses, and among them the pacing gait was quite common. Before 1660, English nobles kept two kinds of horses - the huge destrier, or war-horse, that was led until ridden in battle or when engaged in tournaments, and the "ambler" or pacer, used for riding from place to place. 

Then King Charles lI's tremendous interest in flat racing fostered a complete change in the concept of the "ideal" horse in England. Following the king's lead, England's horsemen took up the breeding of running stock. The change was so dramatic that it was said that by 1700 scarcely a pacer could be found in all of England. While some had been brought to New England in the early part of the 17th century, a good many more pacers undoubtedly found their way there when the British fashion changed.

Rhode Island colonization began in 1636. Portsmouth, the second settlement, was founded in 1638 by William Coddington. That year the Portsmouth proprietors voted to distribute land among themselves at the rate of 1 acre of meadow for each cow or sheep and 1'/2 acres for each horse. The Narragansett Bay region was ideally suited to development of a large plantation system, where a temperate climate, warmed by the Gulf Stream, and fertile soil rich in iodine and bromine, promoted growth of unexcelled meadows and hay crops. The lower coastline of the bay, especially at Point Judith Neck, formed a perfect range with natural barriers for containment and development of a specific breed of horses.

Horses soon became a prime product of this area.   Their environment promoted good health and fertility.   Stock increased so rapidly that within a dozen years or less horses were being exported from Rhode Island to Massachusetts, New Amsterdam, and even to far-off Barbados, nearly 1,000 leagues away. Barbados, settled by the British in 1625, had established trade with New England and Virginia by 1634.   In 1640, Barbados obtained cane plantings from Brazil and sugar became her greatest export product.

Columbus had taken sugar cane to Santo Domingo in 1493. By 1515 a wealthy physician there had brought in, at his expense, sugar masters and technicians from the Canary Islands.   A trapiche, or horse mill, was built for extracting juice from the cane.   The trapiche was a very primitive piece of machinery consisting of two or three "cylinders" made from large peeled logs.   These rollers were geared to a long shaft which was turned by horses.  As cane production increased throughout the Caribbean, demand grew for more and 'more horses to turn the trapiches and pull carts to and from the mills.   Horses for these cane mills were among Rhode Island's first exports to the West Indies, and Newport became the principal port from which they were shipped.   A description of the Barbados in 1648 stated, " they want (lack) rivers to turn their sugar mills, so that New England sendeth them Horses and Virginia Oxen, to turn them, at excessive rates." '

The first Rhode Island lawsuit, in May, 1656, concerned horses claimed by William Brenton which William Coddington was about to ship to Barbados.  Coddington was one of Newport's commissioners to the General Assembly and a past-president of the assembly.  Brenton, also active in colony affairs, served as a member of the Court of Commissioners from Providence and later was president of the General Assembly. The town of Providence set taxes in 1664, payable in "wheat, peas, or pork, at 3 pounds 10 shillings per barrel, or horses or cattle equivalent."

Around 1660, Peleg Sanford & Brothers established themselves in Barbados as factors for Boston and Newport merchants. In this capacity they received horses, sheep, and farm produce from Rhode Island to exchange for West Indian sugar, rum, molasses, and cotton.

By 1670 new blood was being added to the old Narragansett stock. Captain John Hull, one of the original purchasers of the Narragansett Tract, raised horses of his own breeding on farms in Boston Neck and Point Judith. He urged his partners to help concentrate choice stock there to produce the best possible horses for West Indian export.

The last decades of the 17th century saw great expansion of New England's merchant fleet. In 1676 Massachusetts alone had 430 ships in trade. Soon after, Bristol, R.I., had 15 ships trading with the West Indies and on the Spanish Main. By 1686 Colonel Nathaniel Byfield shipped Narragansett Pacers to Guiana on the Bristol Merchant - an odorous voyage for the cargo contained red onions as well as horses. Now, comfortable horses were in great demand both in the colonies and the sugar isles, for they made excellent pleasure mounts. So extensive was the market for pacers that other horses were taught to pace. As early as 1690 pace-trainers came into vogue, .especially around Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Their methods were "trammelling" and "cross-spanning." Logs were placed across training roads at certain intervals to induce a pacing gait. An early chronicler reported that "the way in which a horse was learned to pace was by fastening his two right and two left feet together with leather straps, so that the two former might step together, and then the two latter." These methods were in use for about 80 years.

Until the eve of the Revolutionary War, the Atlantic sea-lanes teemed with ships, and horses by the hundreds were transported down the coast to the Caribbean. In 1716, for example, a Captain Hutton shipped 45 horses to Barbados.  A fleet of six ships left New London, Conn., in 1724, bound for the West Indies, carrying horses tethered on deck.  Brigs in those days could carry 49 horses per cargo, and sloops (which normally made two trips per year) held up to 35 hobbled on deck, with other cargo stored below.

Newport, RI, circa 1739.

William Robinson (1693-1751) was a resident of the Narragansett area.  He served as a member of the legislature from South Kingston in 1724, 1726, 1734, and was deputy governor of Rhode Island, 1745-48.  In 1751, the inventory of his estate listed "30 horse kind."  Governor Robinson's horses were the very finest of their day, descendants of a pair of Spanish Jennets he imported from Andalusia around 1735, or possibly before.  Robinson had undisputed claim to bringing about the greatest improvement in the Narragansett breed through use of his exceptional Jennet stallion on Rhode Island mares, and through the outstanding offspring and descendants of his imported Jennet mare and stallion.

A second excellent outcross was provided through the blood of an imported stallion, Old Snip, from Tripoli, which added further endurance and stamina to the breed.  Governor Robinson was related by marriage to Robert Hazard, a successful Newport merchant/farmer who shipped 100 Narragansett Pacers annually to Cuba and the West Indies. Hazard was a partner in two Newport privateers, the 110 ton sloop Success, fitted out at Newport in 1744, and the 170 ton brigantine Prince Frederick which made her maiden voyage on December 2, 1745.  In 1744 Rhode Island fitted out her most famous ship, the 90 ton sloop Prince Charles of Lorraine, which mounted 10 carriage guns and had a crew of 80 men.  She was owned by three Newport men and Simeon Potter of Bristol. 

Potter, just 24 years old, was given command of the new vessel which sailed on September 8, 1744.  The Narragansett Pacers which Captain Potter took to the sugar islands that year were traded for molasses and mahogany planking.   One of his ports of call was Cayenne, capital of French Guiana, which did a busy trade in Rhode Island horses.   The Prince Charles returned to Narragansett Bay on April 27, 1745, after an astounding series of adventures.

Calico Tapestry, circa 1765. Between 1741-56 little Rhode Island, just 48 miles long by 37 miles wide, kept more ships at sea than any other colony.   In the period from 1765-1775, New England alone exported 37,000 horses and other livestock.   An interchange of racing was also common by mid-century between Rhode Island and Virginia.   Races were held twice a year on the hard, sandy beaches of Newport and Narragansett.

Sportsmen gathered from far and near to watch these pacing contests for which the winner always received a silver tankard.   George Washington (whose mother rode a pacer when she was a child) favored the Narragansett Pacer, and is known to have raced at least one of them.   Some of the breed's best individuals went to the southern colonies where racing was very popular.

Narragansett Pacers were the fastest pacing horses in the colonies.  They could pace a mile in just a fraction over two minutes and easily covered three miles of uneven, rocky ground in seven minutes - an average of 2:33 for the mile.   Long trips in short time were of common occurrence.

The Narragansett Pacers were ideal saddlers for more reasons than just speed.   They were noted for ease of motion, which propelled the rider in a straight line without any side-to-side or up-and-down joggling.   Such comfort in the saddle made long trips possible in the sparsely settled colonies.  These pacers were extremely surefooted, an added blessing in an uncleared land.   They were tough, hardy animals, noted for great stamina and endurance. That they were favorite mounts for women attests to their calm, tractable natures.

Narragansett breeders liked colorful names for their pacers, choosing such sobriquets as:  Peacock, Grand Turk, Revival, Jolly Farmer, Whirligig, Rainbow, Smiling Ball, Free And Easy, and Feather.  New Yorker, Rip Van Dam purchased a Narragansett Pacer in Rhode Island in 1711 for $160.   The horse was sent almost immediately to Philadelphia where the consensus was that, while high-priced, he was "no beauty."   Van Dam's pacer had a playful, nervous temperament.   He never stood still, and he had a taste for beer, wine, and hard cider!

Colonel Wadsworth of Hartford, Conn., owned Whirligig, a full-blood Narragansett Pacer of "exceptional carriage, spirit, and movements" that stood at stud in the 1780's.   Whirligig was famous in his day, and news that he had been sold for a "vast sum of money" created quite a stir throughout the country.  Whirligig's offspring included Young Rainbow, said to equal his sire in grace and agility, and Young Kitt, a spirited, dark sorrel stallion that could trot and canter as well as pace rapidly - unusual for a purebred.

Smiling Ball, taken to Connecticut in 1785, was a descendant of Old Snip from Tripoli.   He paced exceedingly fast, and was unbeaten in races.

Free And Easy, a full-blood Narragansett Pacer, was advertised at East Windsor, Conn., 1785-87, at the low price of "$1.00 the single leap, $2.00 the season, to encourage those having likely mares of the same breed to bring them, that the breed so valuable may not be lost."  He was a good looking, well-proportioned stallion, strong and active, the pride of his owner.

Hannah Robinson owned a "splendid Spanish Jennet or Narragansett Pacer, named Selim," whose sire and dam had been imported from Andalusia by her grandfather, William Robinson.

A bright bay stallion with black points was advertised at Kensington, Conn., in 1793 as "the only one in the world of the Narragansett breed unmixed."   This horse, King Philip, was purportedly the sole remnant of his breed by 1800.

During the War of 1812 the captain of a British man-of-war had agents searching throughout the Narragansett area for a Narragansett Pacer to give his wife.   But not a single full-blood pacer was to be found.  There has been much conjecture about why this breed became extinct.   One school of thought held that Narragansett breeders exported so many pacers that they depleted their stock.  However, the canny Yankee traders would hardly have been guilty of such poor judgment.

Others felt that improved roads and the corresponding switch to coach and carriage killed the popularity of the Narragansett Pacers.   Yet it seems there would still have been loyal breeders and at least a limited market for such easy-gaited saddle horses.   It would then have taken longer than 20-odd years for these pacers to die out.

The breed established by the Vermont stallion, Justin Morgan, at the close of the 18th century also faced the problem of obsolescence a few generations later.   Faithful breeders, however, nurtured their small purebred bands of Morgan horses and today Morgans are found in large numbers throughout the United States, and there are many in Canada as well.   This should also have been true of the hardy, popular Narragansett Pacer, had it not been for some drastic happening within a short period of time.  A great and sudden change did, in fact, take place, and the answer to this riddle is clearly spelled out in the pages of Rhode Island history.  

Fortunately, the blood of the Narragansett Pacer was not lost when the breed vanished from Rhode Island.  It was literally banished to the frontiers of Canada, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, where in 1901, the bloodlines were still appreciated and preserved for the luxurious saddle gaits which they alone transmitted. 

 - - Western Horseman, April, 1969 - 
This is the letter that speaks of the little island horses that pace.   
- - Jennifer


This is being written on the high seas, but from very low in the radio room of an inter-island copra boat 300 miles or so east southeast of Fiji.   Sorry I have only one picture, but it was taken by a Tongan while I was riding the Frangi-Pani trail on Tin Can Island in the Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific.

Anyway, this is the way I have been getting in condition to ride the Quilty in Australia; riding the Frangi-Pani over mountain trails strewn with palm fronds, coconuts, and mangos and counting wild pigs with another Papalangi. The pace is steady, but not as fast as the Tevis Cup Ride.

There are hundreds of horses in the Kingdom of Tonga, and these "horses" range between 12 and 13'/2 hands high.   Most are sorrels, with a scattering of grays and bays.   Some of the horses on the main island of Tonga Tapu, and some on Neiutopatapu, Vavau, and Tin Can Island, are of good conformation.   Every pony I saw on Neiutopatapu was a single-footer, and looked like they might carry blood from either the Tennessee Walker or one of the Pasos.    They were smooth walking, with a very fast gait and accented head nodding.

No one seems to know much of the origin of these horses; but they have straight legs, straight pasterns, and straight shoulders but are still good walkers.  They have long and silky tails.  No saddles are used, but occasionally a. gunny-sack is thrown over the withers.  No pack saddles are used for carrying copra; and, while you do see men riding on horseback, I never saw a woman riding.  Saw a few bits made of rough sennit, and most of the headstalls are made of palmetto leaves, usually into a rough hackamore.  Shoes for horses are unheard of, but hoofs consequently are good, hard, and usually black.  Ponies are usually broke as yearlings and two-year-olds, and fillies are bred at two. There are no vets, no horse medicines of any kind, and worming is unheard of.  Horse feed is catch-as-catch-can,  plenty of grass, brush, etc., and just whatever pickin's the horse can find.

Frank Howe riding an island pony on Tonga in the South Pacific.  Is this a descendant of the original Narragansett Pacers?

 Here is a wonderful chance for any of your Junior Horsemen to send old copies of The Western Horseman, or 4H manuals, or any horse literature to young pen pals. These Tongan youngsters are friendly and speak and read English, but have no way of getting any information to help them care for their ponies.  If any youngsters want to have a pen pal from here, they can write or send pamphlets to:

Tu'Ifua Esau 
c/o Mathesian Utulei 
South Pacific 

It will be worth their while to get a thank-you note from these friendly islands, because the stamps are fabulous!  I guess you all know I hope to ride in the Quilty the 19th of April, and now expect to go to New Zealand and into the mountains near Milford Sound. Great trout fishing; and expect to do a little hunting for wapiti, sambur, Himalayan thar, and Japanese sika.

Keep things humming in Colorado, and I hope to see you at the end of the year!

Frank Howe





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