pedigree of Justin Morgan has been well known for some time,
now has been confirmed by access to old public documents in
Massachusetts area where he was born and bred.
breeding was very regulated in the New England colonies from
the early 1600s when the first horses and settlers arrived,
into the late 1700s. (Justin Morgan was foaled in 1792.) There
was an annual census of horses and their owners, descriptions,
etc., and those documents, stud records, etc., were kept in
the public records. Those documents still exist in public
records and historical files.
story that Justin Morgan was an accidental happening of unknown
parentage is not true. The family of Justin Morgan the man,
and he himself, were known as horse breeders and "stallioneers",
and the family owned and bred some of the close-up ancestors
of Justin Morgan the horse. The small unknown stallion story
came about as the result of a couple of children's fictional
stories written in the 1900s. The most famous was Marguerite
Henry's Justin Morgan Had A Horse. From then on, the unknown
bay pony story has been repeated over and over again by adults,
including later authors, as if it was the truth. For one thing,
he was not small, since the various ads in the late 1700s
newspapers for him at stud gave his height as being 15.2 and
15.3. He was small compared to the "Great Horses"
draft breeds of England and Europe, but not compared to the
other blooded horses around.
He was not a thoroughbred, either. In the colonial times,
in the 1600s and 1700s, there was a breed of horse in England
now referred to by knowledgeable pedigree researchers as the
"proto-thoroughbred". (Proto meaning the original
stock, or the first or the beginning of a series.).
The proto-thoroughbred originated from the "Royal Mares"
of King Charles, that came from imported North African Barb
or Spanish Barb stock. To them was added the blood of imported
Turks, more Barbs, and Arabians. That was the beginning of
the "blooded” horses in England. Those were the
first horses recorded in the British stud books that were
to become the official recordings of the pedigrees of the
"thoroughbred" breed that was to later evolve in
the early 1800s.
When thoroughbred people speak of thoroughbreds, they refer
to all the horses in the official British stud books and their
pure descendants, but they include all those early Turks,
Barbs and Arabians that were not thoroughbreds at all. Those
early "proto-thoroughbreds" that were mixtures of
Turks, Barbs and Arabians became the ancestors of various
breeds, not just the ancestors of the present day thoroughbreds.
The proto-thoroughbreds were a baroque, compact breed, resembling,
of course, the paintings of the Godolphin Arabian and others
in the English castle paintings, that are strikingly very
Morgan looking. In the 1600s and 1700s in England, they had
no race tracks, and races were run across country over rough
roads and could be as long as 30 miles. So, a different kind
of horse, compact with long distance staying power, was therefore
selected. That breed was imported into New England as quickly
as New England was settled, and continued to be imported into
the late 1700s. One version of it was the Narragansett Pacer,
that was an ambling horse that evolved in the 1600s in coastal
Connecticut, then known as Narragansett Territory. (So many
of the Narragansetts were exported to other countries and
South America that they became extinct before the late 1700s.)
There are numerous importation records of sons of the Godolphin
Arabian and others by the most famous horses in the early
British stud books that were imported all along coastal colonial
America in the 1700s. Detailed records of all ships that sailed
from England at that time to the American colonies were kept,
right down to the details of the cargo and what ports they
left from and where they unloaded. Also, newspapers of the
time announced the arrival of people, goods and livestock
with details. Those records still exist in public records
and museum collections and historic archives. (Our local historical
society even has a lot of them.) Thousands of horses were
being bred in New England in the 1600s and 1700s, with a brisk
trade in shipping them to the Caribbean and South America.
It was from those blooded English horses that Justin Morgan
was bred. He was bred to mares of similar English blooded
background, and that is how the breed began, and he was the
most famous stallion of that breed in New England, and so
eventually the horses of that breed that descended from him,
were named after him.
In the meantime, in England, race tracks had been invented
by the early 1800s, and the races drastically shortened, and
a different kind of race horse was being selected. Races of
a mile required a horse with short distance speed and less
stamina, a tall greyhound shaped horse, not the baroque compact
horse of the English castle paintings like the Godolphin Arabian,
(who is believed to not have been an Arabian at all, but a
North African Barb). Very quickly the English Thoroughbred
pedigrees changed, so that the sire lines were concentrated
more and more to the blood of the Darley Arabian, who was
not an Arabian at all, but a Turk or Turcoman (Turcoman, i.e.
Akhal Teke). Thus the modern Thoroughbred, a tall, slender,
running machine evolved by the 1830s or 1840s in England.
That type evolved slightly later in America, just before the
Civil War or just after.
The English imports after 1820 or maybe 1840 to America were
of the "modern" type. So, just when an imported
horse appeared in an extended Morgan pedigree is important,
since the early importations would have been of the same type
and origin as Justin Morgan, and essentially of that same
baroque proto-thoroughbred breed. The later Thoroughbred would
have been of the "modern" type. In the meantime,
as the modern Thoroughbred evolved, the Morgan breed stayed
the same, looking the same as its colonial era imported British
Up until this very day no one has realized that the old line,
baroque type Morgans are the sole survivors of that ancient,
magnificent breed, and are really living legends. This has
likely not been realized due to the various "types”
of Morgans around today, because so many of them are not baroque
and are the result of recent outcrosses to the Saddlebred
and Hackney breeds, though all of them have Morgan "papers".
in the past 30 or 40 years, after having survived various
onslaughts of outcrosses to change the Morgan breed, this
ancient breed is in real danger of becoming extinct. In twenty
years, if more people don't recognize what’s happening,
this very ancient, historic and beautiful breed will be gone
and can never be recreated.