Go Figure

While many of us may be thinking of how this country will survive the next four years, I’ve been thinking about how we developed and survived in the 18th century.

This country was defined by the written word.

From the writings of Benjamin Franklin to the eloquent declarations made at the First Continental Congress, principles set forth in language stated what this country should be, and would be. 

This country survived those early years by building an economy. In order to build an economy crops had to be grown and commodity goods needed to be transported to markets. This was achieved by using horses. Horses plowed the fields, transported supplies to market, and provided power for manufacturing. 

Horses themselves became a thriving business in Colonial America.

American breeds such as the Narragansett Pacer, a comfortable riding horse for travel, and the Pennsylvanian Conestoga, a giant “draft” breed bred to haul heavy farm machinery, were developed and became lucrative businesses in themselves. 

Horses also enabled our founding fathers to disseminate ideas and build a government.

John Adams spent 10 years as a circuit judge riding 20 hours at a stretch to provide governance in small communities that did not have the infrastructure of larger towns and cities. 

Depiction of John Adams as Circuit Judge

One American horse considered important to the building of the colonial states,  now named the state animal of Vermont and the state horse of Massachusetts, is the Morgan. In 1789 John Randolph bought a small bay stallion in Massachusetts and took him to Randolph, Vermont.  He named him “Figure”. 

Figure was a stylish guy of many talents. 

He became widely known for his ability to clear lands by pulling out stumps and transporting logs, tasks that were usually given to much larger equines. He won races and pulling contests and was a popular mount at militia parades. He had enormous strength but was very hardy and easy to keep, qualities that served him well on the Vermont frontier.  He was also exceptionally beautiful with small ears, kind eyes, and a regal bearing. Figure was very prolific in breeding and successfully passed these traits to his offspring.

Figure became known as the Justin Morgan horse. The Morgan horse continued to be widely bred and used on the Colonial frontier. “Morgans” could plow the fields during the day, carry a rider to a neighbor in the evening, and pull the family buggy to the church on Sunday. 

During the Civil War, Morgans proved to be the most dependable calvary horses. Their low maintenance and ability to survive grueling conditions made them outlast all other equine breeds used in the war.

In 1905 an act of Congress set up “The United States Morgan Horse Farm” in Weybridge, Vermont. The farm was transferred to the University of Vermont in 1951 and today serves as a museum and a working breeding farm and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In this age of technology, it is humbling to recognize that this special horse helped foster our success as a country.


Elisabeth Post-Marner, Principal