Buried Truth: The hunt for horsemen continues

Oliver Lewis: 1856-1924, born in Fayette County, KY he was the winning jockey in the first running of the Kentucky Derby

            “There were a depressing number of ‘the number you have called is no longer in service’ messages. Chalk it up to stubbornness, determination, perseverance or pig-headedness, I kept plodding through all the names and numbers. Stay tuned!”

Finally, after numerous cold calls, I received a call back that opened at least three or four doors. The caller began with the humbling but not unexpected questions, “Who are you and what are you doing?” Out of complete respect, I have learned to be patient, non-aggressive and willing to answer all questions. I get it!

The caller was the glorious answer to my hopes and dreams and was full of information. Not only was she a direct descendant of the gentleman who was portrayed in a well-known portrait of Mrs. Scott’s famous racehorse Battleship, but she knew the daughter and granddaughter of another man who worked at the training barn. He was listed in the 1830 census as a rider of racehorses. She made the connection for me. The daughter is in her 90s and attends the Montpelier races every year. This year will be very, very special!

As a result of her knowledge and assistance and a few more calls, I met on a recent Saturday with at least eight descendants of the man in the portrait and the “rider of racehorses.” They shared photos, personal stories, and nicknames, they then graciously invited me to the upcoming family reunion. I had seen the rainbow and found the pot of gold! To sweeten the somewhat untold accounts, they reminisced about three of their relatives who cooked at the Basset House. They also told stories of another fellow I had been researching who rode in official races for Mrs. Scott: a man named Charles Smoot. It was obviously a tight community.

On a related search, I met last week in Warrenton with the niece of Charles Smoot. I shared the plans and she shared her family’s pictures and anecdotes. Those of you well-versed in the horse industry and the history of skills possessed by people of color will not be surprised when I tell you that more than one of Charles Smoot’s brothers were deeply involved with the world of racing.

The niece grew up in Fauquier County but told of Sundays spent at Montpelier, where her Uncle Charlie and Aunt Marie lived. She laughingly recounted how the two brothers entertained one another throughout the afternoon with horse stories.

It does not get much better than this. The support documentation and data are vital. Yet, without the personal stories and the family photos, it all can seem a bit dry and overly academic.

I have purposefully left out the names of all these folks to build a little anticipation for the upcoming exhibit! I encourage you to come to the Montpelier Hunt Races on Saturday, Nov. 3. If that does not work for you, then watch for the announcement of the opening of this exhibit in the DuPont Room at the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center at James Madison’s Montpelier.

On a closing note, we are still interested in a photograph or two of the Orange Colored Horse Show and Races.

Previously published in the Orange County Review July 19, 2018.

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