A few months back I shared with readers my intriguing opportunity to research and assist with the curation of an exhibit for the Montpelier Hunt Race Foundation entitled “A Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing.” It was completed in October and unveiled at the 2018 Montpelier Races. If you did not get to see it there, do not fret; there is another opportunity. Two in fact.
On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 13, between 2 and 4 p.m., James Madison’s Montpelier is hosting the official opening and a special reception at the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center. The reception is to recognize and learn from the descendants of those Orange County individuals who are showcased in the exhibit. The names will be familiar to some and soon-to-be-known to others: Stewart, Washington, Johnson, Ellis are just a few. The stories are fascinating and enriching. Please be advised, this reception has limited accommodations and guests must make reservations. Should you wish to attend, call to (540) 308-2085 right away to find out if reservations are still available.
If Sunday does not work, or the reception has reached capacity, do not worry. The exhibit will remain on display in the visitor center from Monday, Jan. 14, through the month of February during normal hours. Montpelier’s hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is no charge for a visit to the grounds or the visitor center, though be warned when you see what else is offered, you may want to stay a bit longer!
Are you still wondering about the value of experiencing this exhibit? Let me entice you with a few excerpts.
The First Kentucky Derby in 1875 sported a field of 15 horses; 13 were ridden by black jockeys. The winner was Aristides, ridden by Oliver Lewis and trained by Ansel Williamson, both African-Americans.
The year was 1919 and the place was Orange County, Va.
Lewis Ellis, Andrew Maples Sr., and Benjamin Bowler pooled their resources and launched The Colored Horse Show and Racing Association Inc.
Far more interested in issues of skill and talent than those of race, she [Marion DuPont Scott] discovered what she needed in an African-American jockey by the name of Charles Smoot (1900-1979), born in Fauquier County.
Today the field of racing has once again opened to all who illustrate skill and talent.
There is a wealth of information in this exhibit that could make you a star on “Jeopardy” or simply the next gathering of friends and family. However, I have held back on a very important piece of the exhibit and hope that the mystery that compelled me to dig into the fascinating depths of local history will compel you to make the journey to view the exhibit and find the answer.
A portrait of the Racing Hall of Fame steeplechase champion Battleship was commissioned by his owner Marion DuPont Scott. The portrait now hangs in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY. Undoubtedly, there were numerous choices as to the content of the picture including whether to have Battleship portrayed alone or with someone holding him. The decision was to have someone at the end of his lead line; the question for all of us was “Who is this man?”
I can tell you this much; he is the patriarch of a vibrant family dynasty in Orange County. For more information than that you will have to come see for yourself!
Until next week, be well.
Zann Nelson is a researcher specializing in historical investigations, public speaker and award-winning freelance writer and columnist. She can be reached through the Orange County Review, at M16439@aol.com or on Facebook.