Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Horse Needs a Road

The Rev. Hugh Jones wrote in 1699 that "Our soil is generally sandy, free from stone, which makes itt verry convenient for travelling. And we have noe occasion for shoeing our horses except in frosty weather. And what with the goodnesse of our little horses and with the smoothnesse of the roads, we can travell upon occasion fifty miles in a summer afternoon, and sometimes a hundred miles in a day." [1]

Jones's comment alerts us to the fact that more than a horse was required to travel on horseback over distances of more than a few miles. Travelers needed roads, ferries, and bridges in addition to the horse. Maryland's legislature first dealt with roads in 1666, when it passed An act for making high wayes & making the heads of Rivers, Creekes, Branches and Swamps passable for horse and ffoote. [2]

The act ordered the commissioners, or justices of the peace, for each county to assemble on the 20th of October to decide on the most convenient highways and paths for their respective counties. The men had the authority to appoint an overseer for each road and to levy a tax of tobacco or labor to carry out the work of improving the roads, which were not to go through anyone's yard, garden, orchard, or corn field. The commissioners could levy fines on anyone who did not comply with the terms of the law.

Compliance on everyone's part for the next three decades was minimal, but roads gradually improved as overseers supervised workers to remove underbrush, cut trees and grub out their roots, and drain marshy areas. Early roads often followed Indian trails, widened to allow for use by horses, and often traversed the ridges that ran along the necks of land.

From these higher, public routes, secondary paths (some public, some private) led to landing places, ferries, courthouses, churches and meeting houses, and grist mills. Changes in the road network took place as individuals or neighborhoods petitioned to add a new road or turn, improve, or remove an existing one.

Because roads inevitably crossed plantations, a traveler's convenience could be a property owner's inconvenience, if the road cut a field in half or required gates to protect crops that would be endangered if travelers failed to close them. Alternatively, a road that was turned to avoid cutting through a field could send a traveler on a longer or less easily-traveled route.

Management of the road network became a regular, and sometimes contentious, part of a county court's administrative duties.

In 1696 and again in 1704, the General Assembly again attempted to improve the colony's roads by enacting new legislation. These acts required that roads be a minimum of twenty feet wide, clear of underbrush, and well-grubbed to remove tree roots. The legislation directed the justices annually to record a description of the county roads and the overseers appointed to supervise them.

All residents owed a fixed number of days of labor each year under the direction of the overseers; no one could escape road work by paying a tax instead of working, although wealthy planters could send slaves or servants to fulfill their labor obligation.

The 1704 act attempted to provide directions for travelers unfamiliar with the area by establishing a system of notches to mark roads leading to Annapolis (AA) and Williamstadt ([Oxford] W).

County court proceedings generally include the road descriptions and overseers' appointments among the administrative business of the courts. The earliest record books of Anne Arundel's court burned in the State House fire of 1704, but later volumes contain extensive material about the county's road network.

Nevertheless, the only complete description of the county’s colonial roads in the Anne Arundel court records dates to August 1734. The entry listed twenty roads, seven of which passed through All Hallows and five of which began in Annapolis.

“the following roads are deemed and ascertained by the Justices of this Court to be Publick Roads (Viz)
from Annapolis over Severn Bridge to Patapsco Ferry
from Annapolis to Huntington
from Annapolis to Elk Ridge
from Annapolis Round the head of South River
From Annapolis to South River ferry
from Severn Bridge to Bells Mill
From Elk Ridge Road to Indian Landing
From Bells Mill to South River Ferry
from South River Ferry to Queen Anns Ferry
from South River Ferry to the Bay Side Road that Leads to fishing Creek
and from South River Ferry the Road that Leads through the Mannour
from Severn Ferry to Long Bridge by the Chapel to the Mountains
from Severn Ferry round the head thereof
from Patapsco Falls to Rowles’s
from Deep Run to Paptapscoe ferry
from London Town to Pigg Point Ferry
From London Town to Lyons Creek
from the head of Road River Hundred to Queen Anns Ferry
from Henry Ridgleys to the Landing at Patapscoe at the head thereof
from William Ridgleys to the said Landing at the head of patapscoe
from Catlins old fields to Carrolls Mannour
From Catlins Old Fields to the Locust Thicket” [2]

In November, the justices appointed the overseers for the various roads, designating them for geographic areas rather than specific roads (as was often done in other counties):
David Macklefresh for Road River hundred
Thomas Homewood for Lower part of Broad Neck hundred
Thomas Baldwin for Lower part Middle Neck Hundred
Richard Warfield Jr for Lower pt Severn Hundred
William Ander for South River hundred
William Waters for Lyons Creek hundred
Samuel Chambers for Road River Hundred
Abell Hill for West River Hundred
Edward Parish for the Swamp
William Simmons for Herring Creek Hundred
John Gray Sr for Broad Neck Hundred
John Campbell for upper part Town Neck Hundred
Henry Ridgley for upper pt Huntington Hundred
John Ashman for Upper Pt Patapsco Hundred
James Crouch for Lower pt Paptapsco Hundred
Gideon Howard for Lower pt Elk Ridge Hundred
John Hammond son of Charles for Patuxent Hundred
William Ridgley son of Charles for Middle River Hundred
Edward Dorsey Jr for that pt Elk Ridge Hundred lately in the precinct of John Dorsey son of Edward
John Howard for Upton Road

The following March, the court made a change in one assignment. William Waters, the overseer for Patuxent Hundred, being in the custody of the sheriff, was replaced by Richard Davis.

Other road business came before the court in the same session. First, “A Representation being made to the Court here that a new Road from above the Plantation called Units to come to the Main road a little below Mirey Swamp bridge will be necessary and convenient to Several of the Inhabitants of this County, it’s Ordered that the Overseer of the High Ways Clear the same according to the directions of Mr. John Howard,” one of the justices.

Then, “Mr. Henry Ridgley and Capt. John Howard being some time past appointed by this Court to View a Road Prayed for by Richard daviss and Other the Inhabitants of this County from below said Davisses to Queen Caroline Church make Return to this Court that the Same is very Necessary wherefore it is Ordered that the Overseers of the Hundred clear the said Road accordingly.”

Further, “Mr. Henry Ridgley and Capt. John Howard being some time past appointed by this Court to View a Road which was Prayed for by Several of the Inhabitants of this County from the foarding Place of Patuxent river by Nathan Hammond’s Plantation make Report that the Same is very needful, wherefore it is Ordered by the Justices here that the Overseers of the Hundred clear the said Road accordingly.”

County residents, traveling on horseback, needed convenient roads to reach bridges and fords or to attend church services on Sunday. Far from being dependent on boats for transportation, they relied on their horses and the county's road network to go about their daily business.

[1] Earle, Tidewater Settlement System, 143-44.

[2] Anne Arundel County, Judgments, IB 1, 1734-1736, 78.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Modern Horse

Modern horses belong to the species E. caballus within the genus Equus, the only extant genus of the family Equidae. Within the genus Equus, horses, asses, and zebras are the only surviving species.

The genus Equus evolved into its present form on the North American continent, as documented in continent’s fossil record. During a period of major glaciation during the Pliocene epoch (2.6 million years ago), some Equus species crossed from North America to the eastern hemisphere.

In Africa, they diversified into modern zebras; those who spread to Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa developed as desert-adapted asses, both domesticated and wild (onagers). True horses, E. caballus, spread through Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

In the western hemisphere, horses became extinct about 10,000 years ago, at a time in the late Pleistocene when a series of extinctions eradicated most of the large mammals, including not only all of the horses in North and South America, but also mammoths and saber-tooth tigers. A combination of climatic changes and overhunting by H. sapiens, a recent arrival in the hemisphere, is believed to have been responsible.

Extant species within the genus Equus are E. burchelli, the Plains zebra of Africa; E. zebra, the Mountain zebra of South Africa; E. grevyi, Grevy’s zebra; E. caballus, the true horse; E. hemionus, the desert-adapted onagers; and E. asinus, the true asses and donkeys of north Africa.

Horses were reintroduced into the western hemisphere by European explorers, conquerors, and settlers. Juan Ponce de Leon brought horses, as well as cattle and hogs, to the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1521. Nineteen years later, Francisco Coronado carried horses into the southwestern part of what is now the United States.

Native Americans in this area acquired horses from breeding stocks that developed from the horses that had originally been brought by the Spanish. But there were no horses in the eastern part of the continent north of Florida when the first settlers arrived at Roanoke(1584)and at Jamestown(1607).

The wild ponies of Assateague and Chincoteague may be descendants of survivors of a wrecked Spanish ship. Spanish fleets traveled to the new world carrying horses for the armies that conquered Mexico, Peru, and other parts of the Caribbean, Central, and South America; these fleets returned home by a route that took them along the coast of North America. While they would not have carried many horses on this part of their journey, some could have been aboard a ship that was wrecked.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Boat or A Horse?

The common perception is that Chesapeake colonists traveled primarily by boat, a generalization that is probably valid for the earliest days of settlement, when anyone who needed to travel any distance wouldn't have had much of an alternative.

A person who didn't have access to some form of water transportation – whether a canoe, skiff, raft, or small boat like a shallop – would most likely have had to walk to travel anywhere beyond his own plantation.

Nevertheless, there were practical incentives to acquire a horse as soon as possible to carry one to court, to a neighbor's, to church. Horses were expensive, but so were boats. Horses were uncommon, but so were boats. Roads may have been poor, bisected by creeks and rivers, impassable in periods of bad weather, but rivers and the Chesapeake Bay could be dangerous in storms or impassable because of unfavorable winds or tides, and require circuitous routes to move from one neck of land to another.

Although horses were not widely owned until the second half of the seventeenth century, boat ownership was not common either. Moreover, boat ownership remained limited to a small segment of the population, while ownership of horses became more widely dispersed over the seventeenth century, as the following table shows [all estates inventoried in Anne Arundel County, 1660-1699; not corrected for gender, age, wealth, or householder status]:

Thus, in a later-settled county like Anne Arundel, residents had widespread access to horses for transportation and other purposes within just a decade after the first settlers arrived to take up land.

The most thoughtful and evidence-based consideration of the "boats v. horses" question appears in a study of All Hallow's Parish (the settlement of London Town and the surrounding area) by geographer Carville Earle. Earle noted the oft-quoted statement of the Reverend Hugh Jones, that "the number of navigable rivers, creeks, and inletts, render it soe convenient for exporting and importing goods into any part thereof by water carriage."

But Jones also recognized what less clear-eyed observers have not, that what was useful for transporting heavy cargoes was not necessarily equally suited to personal movement. Earle found that the adaptations colonists made to their new-world environment included adopting "the horse and the road as the main means of travel" and a willingness to travel longer distances on horseback, in a region of dispersed settlement, than was the practice in England. [1]

Earle's analysis documented the low incidence of boat ownership compared with access to horses and identified their disadvantages in contrast to horses. As settlement spread away from the estuaries, fewer and fewer plantations had direct access to water; boats required more skill and more work in the absence of favorable winds or tides; and maintenance costs were greater.

Initially boats were cheaper to acquire – £1.5 to £3 for an 8-to-12 foot boat with sails and oars versus £5.5 to £7 for a horse – but by the 1690s purchase prices were comparable, giving the horse a decided advantage overall.

"Horseback riding became the main way of getting about in the parish and in tidewater Maryland." Jones, whose observation about the use of boats applied to imports and exports, not people, had a different assessment when it came to his own movements: "Our soil is generally sandy, free from stone, which makes itt verry convenient for travelling. And we have noe occasion for shoeing our horses except in frosty weather. And what with the goodnesse of our little horses and with the smoothnesse of the roads, we can travell upon occasion fifty miles in a summer afternoon, and sometimes a hundred miles in a day." [2]

[1] Carville V. Earle, The Evolution of a Tidewater Settlement System: All Hallow's Parish, Maryland, 1650-1783, (1975), 23, 142.

[2] Earle, Tidewater Settlement, 143-144.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

The First Modern Horses in the Chesapeake Region

Modern horses arrived in the Chesapeake region with the first Virginia colonists. Although scenes of Indians mounted on horseback attacking a wagon train or battling cavalry troops are a staple of westerns, these were nineteenth-century experiences. Native Americans in this area did not raise or have access to horses.

As was the case with many of the new human arrivals, the horses brought in as part of the earliest expeditions did not survive the "starving time" of 1609-1610.[1] Archaeological evidence indicates that all were consumed as food by the desperate colonists. The ships that arrived in subsequent years to resupply the Jamestown colonists carried more horses; these horses survived, and as they reproduced horses became a permanent part of the Chesapeake landscape.[2]

S. D. Rager

It is interesting to note that the lists of needed supplies, prepared both for the Virginia Company and for Maryland settlers, never mentioned livestock of any kind. Ships making ocean passages carried live animals as a source of food during the voyage, and successful settlement required domesticated animals for food, transportation, and labor. But the few accounts that we have of the early years of colonization make no mention of horses.

Father Andrew White notes in his journal that the first Maryland colonists bought cattle and hogs when they stopped in Virginia before sailing up the Potomac River to their landing at St. Clement's Island, but he doesn't say anything about horses. Nor is there any indication that the Ark and the Dove carried horses, something that was a possibility but very unlikely. Nevertheless, the first settlers must have purchased horses in Virginia within a short time of arriving in Maryland and later-arriving ships may well have carried at least a few horses.

Both artifacts recovered on archaeological digs and a variety of documents provide evidence about the presence of horses in early Virginia. Archaeologists working on the site of Martin's Hundred, first settled in 1618, recovered both horse shoes and a stirrup during their excavations of the site. The "Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall", promulgated in 1612 to bring order and discipline to the Virginia colony, included the following order:

Now know yee therefore, these promises carefully considered, that it is our will and pleasure, that every one, of what quality or condition soever hee bee, in this present Colony, to take due notice of this our Edict, whereby wee do strictly charge and command, that no man shall dare to kill, or destroy any Bull, Cow, Calfe, Mare, Horse, Colt, Goate, Swine, Cocke, Henne, Chicken, Dogge, Turkie, or any tame Cattel, or Poultry, of what condition soever; whether his owne, or appertaining to another man, without leave from the Generall, upon paine of death in the Principall, and in the accessary, burning in the Hand, and losse of his eares, and unto the concealer of the same foure and twenty houres whipping, with addition of further punishment, as shall be thought fitte by the censure, and verdict of a Martiall Court.

Later Virginia records include a report made in 1616 that noted only six horses in the colony; a request that twenty mares be shipped in 1620 (but no evidence either way about their arrival), and the notation of only one horse in the 1625 muster for Martin's Hundred.

On the other hand, the Virginia Council in June 1620 described the colony's horses as "more beautifull, and fuller of courage" than the English horses from which they descended. The massacre that occurred in 1622 may well have wiped out many of those horses, resulting in the low number reported in 1625.

A proclamation issued in 1622 imposing the death penalty for anyone convicted of stealing "beasts & Birds of Domesticall & tame nature," placed horses, mares, and colts at the top of the list of protected animals, indicating both their importance and the fact that there were horses that might be stolen.[3]

While this evidence is mixed as to the presence of horses in Virginia's first decades, it is unambiguous about the value attached to them.[4]

[1] A recent study of colonial diet, based on archaeological investigations of early Virginia sites, notes that fish, wild fowl, turtles, and small mammals represented the "mainstay" of the early Virginia settlers' diet. Faunal remains from the winter of 1609 reveal the extent of the colonists' hunger, as they included vipers, black rats, dogs, cats, and horses. Archaeologists do not normally find horse bones in kitchen middens -- only the very poor ate horse meat, and then only when they had access to it, horses normally being too valuable and too scarce to be butchered for food. Yet the biomass recovered from early deposits at Jamestown included heavily butchered horse bones from heads and feet as well as carcasses. Cary Carson, Joanne Bowen, Willie Graham, Martha McCartney, and Lorena Walsh, "New World, Real World: Improvising English Culture in Seventeenth-Century Virginia," The Journal of Southern History, LXXIV (February 2008), 40.

[2] Nor was their adaptation to the Chesapeake in any way unusual. The Narragansett sachem Miantonomi, speaking to a local tribe on Long Island in 1642, despaired that "these English have gotten our land, they with scythes cut down the grass and with axes fell the trees; their cows and horses eat the grass, and their hogs spoil our clam banks, and we shall all be starved." Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates, (2008), 203.

[3] Ivor Noël Hume, Martin's Hundred, (1982), 147-48.

[4] Equally signficant, perhaps, is the choice of a cover illustration for Hume's book: Gerard Terborch's "Cavalier in the Saddle."


Friday, August 7, 2009

Why Horses? Why Anne Arundel?

Until fairly recently, both of these questions would have been unnecessary. But most 21st-century residents of Anne Arundel County probably don't encounter living horses very often.

Children may enjoy an occasional pony ride; families may attend the annual joust at St. Margaret's Church; or horses may be seen grazing in the fields along Route 2 in south county or up in the Pasadena area.

Photo from St. Margaret's Joust.

Photographs, paintings, and television shows might be the closest contact with horses that most of us have today -- even the westerns that were once a common experience for movie-goers are now a dwindling part of our culture. But for three hundred years after the settlement of Maryland, horses would have been an integral part of everyday life for most county residents.

Horse power provided a major source of energy and one of the primary means of transportation. Racing and riding were more than entertainment, recreation, and exercise; breeding and racing have been economically important since the 18th century. Armies relied on mounted cavalry as an important element of their fighting power and law enforcement used horses for mobility and crowd control.

As we begin to look around us and to look back at our past, we can see that although their role has changed over the last four centuries, horses have always been a vital part of life in Anne Arundel, across the state, and in our region.

Because this blog is appearing on the Four Rivers Heritage Area website, our focus necessarily will be on local history and local activities. But because the subject is so vast, with tentacles stretching in all directions, temporally and spatially, the subjects that we talk about and the evidence that we use will be drawn from Maryland and occasionally from Virginia, our Chesapeake neighbor, with whom we share a common heritage.