Category Archives: Vermont Morgan

Figure, founding stallion of the Morgan Horse breed


Figure was the founding stallion of the Morgan breed of horses and is the horse to which all Morgans are related. He was foaled in 1789 and a few years later became the property of Justin Morgan. Justin Morgan was a teacher, composer, businessman, and horseman who lived in Randolph, Vermont.

As Figure grew, his compact, muscular body and stylish way of moving impressed many of the pioneer farmers and settlers. Soon tales of his strength, speed, endurance, and ability to produce sons and daughters bearing his likeness spread amidst the small New England towns. His stud services were offered throughout the Connecticut River Valley, and in the course of his 32 years, he became known as “the Justin Morgan Horse.”

* 1789 – Figure was born in southern New England; said to be sired by True Briton (a.k.a. Beautiful Bay) out of a mare of Wildair breeding that was bred by Justin Morgan.

* 1792 – advertised at stud in West Hartford, CT by Samuel Whitman until late May, then was taken to Randolph, VT by Justin Morgan.

* 1793 – advertised at stud in Lebanon, NH and Randolph, VT by Justin Morgan.

* 1794 -advertised at stud in Randolph and Royalton, VT by Justin Morgan.

* 1795 – advertised at stud in Williston and Hinesburgh, VT by Justin Morgan; he is believed to have been leased to Robert Evans, Randolph, VT in Fall 1795 to clear land for Mr. Fisk for $15.00 per year; the horse was traded by Justin Morgan for land in Moretown, VT to Samuel Allen, Williston, VT.

* 1795 (?) – traded or sold to William Rice, Woodstock, VT.

* 1796 (?) – raced against New York horses Sweepstakes and Silvertail in Brookfield, VT (the road is still known as ‘Morgan Mile’) defeating both for a $50 stake.

* 1796 – advertised at stud by Jonathan Shepard, Montpelier, VT; Figure became known as the Justin Morgan horse; Shepard often used him in match races with great success.

* 1797 – February – traded with blacksmith shop by Jonathan Shepard to James Hawkins, Montpelier, VT for a farm.

* 1797 – 1801 – whereabouts not known.

* 1801 – 1804 – owned by Robert Evans, Randolph, VT.

* 1804 – Evans sued for debt; Colonel John Goss secured his debt with the Justin Morgan horse; Evans was unable to pay; John Goss sent the horse to his brother David Goss in St. Johnsbury, VT; John Goss traded the horse for a mare to David Goss in 1805.

* 1804 – Justin Morgan won a pulling bee at General Butler’s Tavern, St. Johnsbury, VT.

* 1805 – 1811 – owned by David Goss, St Johnsbury, VT he was worked on the Goss farm except 2 months in spring when he was on a stallion service circuit; he was known as the Goss horse.

* 1807 – advertised at stud by John Goss in Randolph, VT and Claremont, NH.

* 1811 – sold by David Goss to son Philip Goss, Randolph, VT.

* 1811 – Fall – after the breeding season the horse was sold to Jacob Sanderson, then to Jacob Langmade who used the horse to haul freight between Windsor and Chelsea, VT (?); then to Joel Goss and Joseph Rogers, Claremont, NH.

* 1814, 1815, 1817 – at stud with Joel Goss and Joseph Rogers, Claremont, NH (whereabouts in 1816 not known).

* 1817 – sold to Samuel Stone, Randolph, VT; exhibited at Randolph, VT fair.

* 1817 July 22 – parade mount for President James Monroe in Montpelier, VT.

* 1819 – sold to Levi Bean, Chelsea, VT

* 1821 – died of injury from kick of another horse on the Levi Bean Farm.


Figure is said to be sired by True Briton, a horse widely respected for his excellence and known as a sire of quality horses. He was said to have been “of the best English blood.” John Morgan (in 1846) stated that he was sired by the imported horse Traveller. whether it was Thoroughbred blood or another breed (such as the Welsh Cob) or a combination of types remains open to debate.

Figure’s dam was bred by Justin Morgan. She was, as described by John Morgan in 1846,”…of the Wildair breed, of middling size, with a heavy chest, of very light bay color, with a bushy mane and tail – the hair on the legs rather long, and a smooth, handsome traveller..” Her sire was Diamond, a son of Church’s Wild-air by Wild-air (Delancey’s) out of a mare owned by Samuel Burt named Wild-air.

Others theorize that Figure has the Friesian horse as a possible ancestor. The Friesian horse was bred and developed in Holland. This type of horse was taken to North American by the Dutch. Figure and some of his sons were often referred to as ‘Dutch’ horses. That label, however, could have referred to his being of Dutch breeding or the fact that True Briton was from New York.

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Morgan Horses in American History


As the new nation of the United States of America began its 200-year- old history, a new breed of horse also began. The now legendary bay stallion Figure was born in 1789 in southern New England. He was taken to Randolph, Vermont, in 1791 by Justin Morgan, who had recently emigrated there with his family from Springfield, Massachusetts. Little did Justin Morgan know that the young stallion Figure and his descendants would play a major role in American history.

Figure was a stylish bay horse of many talents. He became widely known for his ability to pull stumps and logs while clearing the land of newly arrived settlers. In addition, he won races and pulling contests, was a favored parade mount at militia trainings, and was used as a saddle and driving horse. His strength, endurance, and easy-keeping qualities served him well on the Vermont frontier. Among horsemen he became widely respected for his prepotency (the ability to pass his own looks and qualities on to succeeding generations).

Figure was said to be sired by True Briton, a horse widely respected for his excellence and known for siring quality horses. He was said to have been “of the best English blood.” Whether it was Thoroughbred blood, blood of another breed (such as the Welsh Cob), or a combination of types remains open to debate. Figure’s dam was a mare bred and owned by Justin Morgan (having been sired by a stallion he stood at stud in 1793) and is described as being of the “Wildair breed.”

As was the custom of the day, Figure became known as the Justin Morgan horse. After the death of Justin Morgan, Figure passed into other hands and spent the balance of his life in Vermont and the Connecticut River Valley of western New Hampshire. He died in 1821 at 32 years of age after sustaining a kick injury from another horse. He left a legacy of sons and daughters who were used by farmers to develop a type of horse well suited to the hilly topography of northern New England.

The round and compact bodies of Morgan horses enabled them to “get the best of their feed” and made them suitable to perform a wide variety of tasks. Their large eyes, small ears, and short, broad heads set on gracefully curved necks carried high provided them with a proud countenance. Also blessed with ground-covering gaits, the Morgans were able to cover many miles day after day at steady rate of speed. This ability, combined with a businesslike attitude to get the job done, made them a favorite horse of all work. (In later years, when a taller horse became the vogue, the Morgans would be criticized for their relatively short stature.)

Sherman Morgan, Bulrush Morgan, and Woodbury Morgan were Figure’s most famous and influential sons. These stallions, along with other unrecorded offspring, came to dominate the horse industry of New England and northern New York. In the 1820’s they were favorite teams for the stage lines and for field work on farms and transport to town. Their reputation as “horses of all work” was becoming widespread.

Black Hawk, a son of Sherman Morgan; and Hale’s Green Mountain Morgan, a grandson of Woodbury Morgan, were the dominate Morgan sires of the mid-19th century. Green Mountain Morgan had a host of admirers gained, in part, from his appearance as a parade horse at militia trainings. He was also renowned for his resemblance to Figure. Black Hawk was famed for his speed and elegant style and he, in turn, sired the world champion trotter Ethan Allen. In the 1850’s these two rival stallions were shown at Midwestern state fairs with great success and heightened the continuing demand for Morgan horses.

New England supplied big city markets such as New York with Morgan horses for public transportation and freighting as well as private driving. Morgan horses comprised the preferred teams of stage line owner M.O. Walker of Chicago. They were taken to California to be employed as ranch and harness racing horses. In other areas of the West they were also used as ranch horses.

During the Civil War Morgans were dependable cavalry mounts and artillery horses. Again, their easy-keeping qualities and ability to endure grueling condition allowed them to outlast other types of horses. Several units of cavalry in the Union army and one (known) of the Confederate army were mounted on Morgan horses. United States General Philip Sheridan’s famed charger Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi), who was immortalized after the war, was a descendant of Black Hawk.

Due to a trend in which taller horses were becoming more desirable with great speed at short distances, the popularity of Morgan horses began a decline which would not reverse itself for several years. Morgan mares continued to be widely used by horse breeders, but were bred to taller stallions of non-Morgan breeding. The purpose was to capture the enduring qualities of the Morgan but with increased size in the offspring. The result was a more marketable product for farmers selling to the city markets. As a result of this practice the Morgan, as it had been known earlier in the 19th century, almost disappeared.

From this type of foundation other American horse breeds were developed. Harness racing had become an exceedingly popular sport for which the Standardbred was developed. Other major American breeds that contain the Morgan horse in their initial development include the American Saddle Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, American Quarter Horse, and American Albino.

Continuing modernization and development of new technologies, however, were affecting the horse market nationwide. Electrification of trolleys and continuing expansion of trains reduced the demand for harness horses significantly. Larger farms and a corresponding increase in the size of agricultural machinery to do the work was creating a demand for larger, heavier draft horses.

The 1890’s witnessed efforts on the part of many to locate and “regenerate” the Morgan horse. A business horse or roadster was desired with not only speed but with the classiness which would reflect upon one’s social standing as well. Writers berated the disappearance of the “ancient” type Morgan and called for its regeneration, if it could be found. Pockets of these Morgans had survived, particularly in northeastern Vermont, though much reduced in number.

Many new breeding programs were established. Edwin Hoffman of Lyndon, Vermont, became a Morgan horse dealer and assisted many nationwide with locating and purchasing Morgans for their farms. It was at this time the foundation was laid for the highly influential Brunk bloodlines. The National Morgan Horse Breeders Association was formed during the 1893 Columbian Exposition (although it was not destined to last). Joseph Battell published his 1,000 page Morgan Horse Register in 1894.

The Vermont State Fair of the 1850’s and 1860’s had been a popular venue for the showing of Morgan horses. This fair was discontinued in the 1890’s when as economic downturn forced it to cease operating. It was revived in 1907 and, within a very few short years, became the national showcase of the Morgan horses. In 1909 the Morgan Horse Club was formed during the fair. Morgan horses from as far as Illinois and Pennsylvania came to participate in a highly competitive atmosphere.

It was here that the first endurance rides were held. The Morgan Horse Club created a challenge to prove that the Morgan was the best horse for cavalry purposes. These rides were eventually held at various locations around the United States and were extended to 300 miles in length. These rides were the forerunners of today’s competitive trail and endurance rides.

By an act of Congress in 1905, a farm to perpetuate the Morgan horse was established. The United States Morgan Horse Farm was established in Weybridge, Vermont, on Joseph Battell’s former Bread Loaf Stock Farm. The farm was operated under the auspices of the federal government until 1951, when it was transferred to the University of Vermont, which continues managing the farm today.

Again, modern technology interfered, with the advent of the automobile effectively reducing the need for horses. After this time, the primary focus of the horse market would become recreational. With exceptions, of course — horses used for ranch work and, until the tractor became economically viable, for draft work on farms. In many rural areas horses continued to be a major source of transportation to market, church, and school. Although the need was diminishing, the Army sought remounts for its cavalry with demand peaking during World War I.

Throughout the balance of the 20th century the Morgan horse, like other types and breeds of horses, has been used primarily for recreational purposes. The majority of Morgan horse owners use their Morgans for pleasure. Many also compete with their Morgan horses in a wide variety of sporting events. Morgans are highly competitive in driving competition as well as in horse shows and on trail rides. They are competing in reining, cutting, and dressage with success.

The Morgan Horse Club was maintained for many years by philanthropic Morgan horse breeders and owners. From 1959 it operated in leased office space in various locations. In 1971 the name of the Morgan Horse Club was changed to American Morgan Horse Association. At various times efforts had been made to establish a permanent home for the organization

In the 1980’s this dream became a reality with the construction of the Morgan Horse Complex in Shelburne, Vermont, by the American Morgan Horse Institute. The complex houses the National Museum of the Morgan Horse (NMMH), the American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA), and the American Morgan Horse Institute (AMHI).

The National Museum of the Morgan Horse maintains exhibits on the role of the Morgan horse in history. In addition, the museum conducts on-site programming of Morgan horses and art, maintains a library, and houses a broad collection of artifacts. The AMHA is a service organization of Morgan horse breeders and owners. The American Morgan Horse Institute provides funding for educational projects, scholarships, and conducts the Grand National Morgan Horse Show annually.

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The Morgan Horse H.C. Merwin 1893

lambert morgan horse drawing


H.C. Merwin Road and Track 1893

 In the troubled year 1788, one Colonel De Lancey, a King’s officer, and a patron of horse racing, was in command of a regiment stationed at a point on Long Island connected with the mainland by a long bridge. As his private charger, the Colonel had a very handsome bay stallion, a thoroughbred, called True Briton, and afterward Beautiful Bay. True Briton was by Lloyd’s Traveler, by Imported Traveler.

    Some nameless person, perhaps a patriot ambitious to despoil the enemy, or as is more likely, a miscreant bent upon plunder, stole this True Briton, and ran him across the bridge to Connecticut, and thereupon he became an American possession, and was kept at East Hartford. This horse was the sire of the bay colt afterward known as Justin Morgan. The dam of Justin Morgan is represented to have been of the Wildair breed. Wildair, a horse of the very first quality, was imported from England, and afterward repurchased at a high price and returned to that country. According to other accounts, Justin Morgan’s dam was descended from the Lindsey Arabian, a noted animal kept first in Connecticut and afterward in Maryland.

    At all events, it is probable that she was nearly, if not quite, as well bred as True Briton, for so remarkable an animal as Justin Morgan could hardly have been a mongrel.

    It must be remembered that at the time when Justin Morgan was foaled the typical thoroughbred was very unlike the thoroughbred of the present day. He was close to the Arab foundation, and consequently he was a short-legged, rounder built, more compact animal than the race horse of the nineteenth century.

    Such was the famous and beautiful Gimcrack, foaled in 1760. It is not surprising, therefore, that Justin Morgan, though well-bred, was a chunky little horse, with short legs and round quarters. He had a fine mane and tail, a short, powerful back, a longish body, strong, oblique shoulders, a delicate ear, a noble head, and the most intelligent, expressive, and courageous eyes that the spirit of a Houyhnhnm ever looked out of. He stood fourteen hands only, and weighed about nine hundred pounds. He was foaled in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1793, and as a two year old he was taken in part payment of a debt by a school teacher named Justin Morgan, who brought him to Randolph, Vermont. The horse died in 1821, near Chelsea, Vermont.

justin morgan horse photo 

Justin Morgan was no trotter, and not till the third or fourth generation did a trotter arise in his family, but he was distinguished in three ways, as a draught horse, as a short-distance runner, and as a military charger or parade horse. In his day there were no race courses and no stated races in Vermont; but when the sporting element gathered at a tavern on a spring or summer evening, they were wont to amuse themselves by running their horses on the level road in front of the tavern, the prize being a gallon of rum, and in these races Justin Morgan is said never to have been beaten .

    On the same occasions a contest would often be had in pulling logs; and when the other horses concerned had done their best, it was the custom of Justin Morgan’s owner to hitch him to the heaviest log that had been stirred, them jump on himself, and the little horse never failed to move the load. When ridden at a muster, his proud carriage made him the cynosure of all eyes; and he was so intelligent and tractable that women could ride him. In fine, Justin Morgan was an animal of extraordinary utility and style. To an extraordinary extent, also, he stamped his image and impressed his qualities upon his descendants.

    Justin Morgan’s finest son was Sherman, whose dam was a small but highly bred chestnut mare. Sherman himself, a bright chestnut in color, stood no taller than a pony, for he measured nly 13 3/4 hands. He weighed, however, 925 pounds.

    Sherman was the sire of Vermont Black Hawk, and Vermont Black Hawk founded a trotting family. His dam was a half-bred “English” mare from New Brunswick. She stood sixteen hands high, and weighed about eleven hundred pounds. Vermont Black Hawk was foaled in 1833; he was a little under fifteen hands, and jetblack in color. This horse, besides being a trotter, had every quality of a good roadster; he was strong, speedy, enduring; he had a lively but pleasant disposition, and he was remarkable handsome. His back was short, he carried his head high, and he possessed that elastic “trappy” gait which is the true roadster way of going.

    His most distinguished son was ETHAN ALLEN, a very beautiful little bay horse, whose dam was a highly bred gray mare, said to be of MESSENGER descent.” Ethan Allen’s trotting action was wonderfully smooth and pure. He has a record of 2.15 with a running mate. Ethan Allen’s record in single harness is 2.25 1/4. This discrepancy of 10 1/4 seconds between his record with and his record without a running mate is greater than it should be, and is probably due chiefly to the fact that his hind legs were faulty, his hocks being somewhat weak, and his pastern joints too long and delicate, so that he could not maintain his speed except for a short distance. These defects he inherited from his dam.

    One who knew the horse well wrote of him: “He works with the least possible waste of motion. His stride is as precise as the stroke of a pendulum, and so true does he carry his body, so graceful his head and neck, and so animated his carriage, that he seems to ‘light up’ all over, and JUSTIN MORGAN presents a most perfect, sylph-like form of elegance.”

    The best son of Ethan Allen was Daniel Lambert, who became the most distinguished progenitor of trotters that has appeared in the Morgan family.

    His dam was FANNY COOK, a chestnut, and a daughter of Abdallah, son of Messenger and sire of Rysdyk’s Hambletonian.

    Thus in Daniel Lambert the Messenger and Morgan strains were united, and this combination has since produced many fast trotters.

    In Daniel Lambert disappeared the faulty conformation that Ethan Allen inherited from his dam, and he was not inferior in beauty to his sire or grandsire.

    He was chestnut, with mane and tail some shades lighter, the mane being very silky, and the tail long, wavy, and well carried. This peculiar coloring of two shades of chestnut is still common in the Lambert family, and, seen at its best, nothing could be more striking or picturesque.

    The Lamberts are intelligent, spirited, speedy, and courageous. Perhaps it would be no exaggeration to say that the finest gentlemen’s roadsters bred in this country have been of Lambert stock. Daniel Lambert himself was a horse of commanding style and of magnificent carriage. For many years he was kept in the vicinity of Boston, but late in life he was brought back to Middlebury, Vermont, where he had been raised. On this occasion all the inhabitants turned out with a brass band to welcome him home, and there was a procession through the village streets.

    “The old horse,” relates an eyewitness of the scene, “kept time to the music, and was the proudest creature that ever walked on earth.” The gait of the Morgan horse is highly characteristic. Though sure- footed, he is apt to carry his fore feet close to the ground, taking short elastic steps, which even when quickened to a rapid trot, seem to cost him the least possible effort. There is no swaying of the hips, no shaking of the whole frame, no pounding with the fore feet or high lifting of the hocks, but a smooth, easy, gliding motion. The Morgan both trots and gallops with his limbs well under him.

    A longer, wider gait is commonly associated with the trotting horse. In fact, until within the fast few years it was thought that the ideal trotter carried his hind feet so wide as to plant them outside the track left by his fore feet. Many, perhaps most, fast horses do travel in this way; but, as a rule, the very fastest step no wider behind than in front. A long stride is however nearly, if not quite, essential to extreme speed; and many Morgan horses, when moving at their best pace, lengthen their gait very much, and go perceptibly nearer to the ground. The Morgan action in front is, as a rule, not big enough for superlatively fast trotting, which is best performed by a peculiar and very graceful round motion of the fore legs. Some fast trotters have positively high action in front—so high as to seem like a waste of power. This is especially true of Allerton, a Wilkes- Mambrino Patchen stallion whose record is 2.091/4. This excessive action is also found in some Morgan strains, especially among Sherman Morgan’s descendants.

    Country doctors are great adherents of the Morgan horse. “The Morgan,” writes one of this class, “will trot all day, except when ascending a hill. As he approaches it, he will raise his head higher and higher. First, one pointed ear, then the other, will snap backward, then forward, as if he were asking permission to gallop; and then, if the driver does not object, he will lay both ears flat to his head and skim the rise like a bird, always striking into the same tireless trot when he reaches the summit.”

    It was from a country doctor–and I trust veracious one, for he was my grandfather–that I heard, long years ago, the following story. He was driving late one very dark night in autumn over a strange road. A violent rain had fallen during the preceding twenty-four hours, so that the highway was badly washed.

    Presently his horse, a Vermont Morgan, made a leap, and crashed through what seemed to be the upper branches of a tree, taking the gig after him very neatly.

    This was a little unusual, but still no harm had been done. Half a mile or so further on, the horse made another jump; then came a crash and a shiver as before, and the gig reeled over another tree, as it appeared, poised for a moment on one wheel, and righted itself as the horse resumed his trot.

    By this time the Doctor knew that he must be near a considerable river, with high banks, which flowed through these parts, and very soon he heard the waters roaring the rocks below. But now his horse came to a dead stop, refusing to cross the bridge. The Doctor urged him forward, and he took a few steps, but then moved back in his tracks. This was repeated twice. Finally, vexed as such unusual obstinacy in an animal long accustomed to rough and nocturnal traveling, the Doctor struck him with the whip. The horse squealed with disgust at this treatment, shook his head, advanced as before and then backed again, and cast an inquiring glance behind him at his master. Now at last, the Doctor, dismounting, went forward to reconnoiter. And this is what he saw. The flooring of the bridge had been swept away completely by a flood; nothing was left but the sleeper running from bank to bank, and it was on one of these sleepers that the horse had walked out so far as he could with safety to the gig and it’s occupant. The obstructions half a mile and a mile back, which the roadster had jumped, were brush fences put up to stop travel on the highway until the bridge could be repaired.

    Now that we are in vein, I trust that the reader will pardon me if I relate another anecdote of a Morgan roadster. This was a chestnut mare belonging to an old and highly respected “Vet.” One very dark night the Doctor was driving toward home at a fast trot on a level road, and in his proper place on the right hand side of it. Presently he heard a vehicle approaching, though in the opposite direction; but as his lights were burning brightly, and the highway was a broad one, he thought nothing of it. Suddenly, however, before he could stop her, his steed made a violent jump to the left, crossing the road, and barely had she done so, when the approaching wagon, driven, as it appeared, by a drunken man, dashed by in the track which the Doctor’s buggy had just left.

    The intelligent mare had waited till the last moment, thinking that the vehicle which she heard, would keep to the right, as it should have done; and then, foreseeing that a collision was otherwise inevitable, she had spring out of the path of danger.

    I have sketched the most speedy and highly finished branch of the Morgan stock, which is that of the LAMBERTS, descended, through Ethan Allen, from Vermont Black Hawk. Vermont.

    Black Hawk had also a son called Vermont Hero and Vermont Hero was the sire of GENERAL KNOX (whose name I have mentioned), a famous trotting stallion, and founder of a subsidiary roadster family. This animal had every excellence except that of beauty. He was a stout shortlegged black horse, about fifteen hands high, with a good plain head. The Knox horses bear a wonderful family resemblance, and they are noted for their courage, endurance, docility, and intelligence. No branch of the Morgan family is more serviceable or more amiable that this one, and, with the possible exception of the LAMBERTS, none is more speedy.

The LAMBERTS and the KNOXES are descendants of Sherman, the handsome little chestnut son of Justin Morgan. Knox Morgan Daniel Lambert

knox morgan horse photoDaniel Lambert Morgan Horse photo

Article kindly submitted by Susan Hanley, QuietudeStud

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