Morgan horse breed’s famous founder memorialised

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The Justin Morgan Historical Marker.
The Justin Morgan Historical Marker. © The Lippitt Club Inc

The unveiling of a historical marker dedicated to Justin Morgan, the founder of the Morgan breed, is taking place in Vermont on Sunday.

The marker is at the site of the home that Justin and Martha Morgan and their family lived in when they moved from West Springfield, Massachusetts, to Vermont in 1788.

“Many historians have claimed to have found the correct location, however no-one has been able to prove the location until now,” said Dennis Tatro, of the Lippitt Club.

A Morgan horse and rider in colonial attire at a Parade of Breeds at the Kentucky Horse Park. The costume is intended to resemble Justin Morgan and Figure. Kentucky Horse Park.
A Morgan horse and rider in colonial attire at a Parade of Breeds at the Kentucky Horse Park. The costume is intended to resemble Justin Morgan and Figure. Kentucky Horse Park. © Montanabw/Wikipedia

“All we have ever known is that he settled on the Brookfield/Randolph town line in the town of Randolph, Vermont. A 1790 census has him listed in Randolph,” he said.

Tatro said after a long search, he and his wife, Laura, found the location of Morgan’s home on Neighbor Road (previously Fish Road) in Randolph. The State of Vermont will be unveiling a historical marker on August 30, at 11am.

A celebration is planned in which the road will be shut down and trotting races will be hosted, “just like they did around 1796”. Log pulls and re-enactments are also planned.

Tatro said races were usually at a forty-rod distance (about 200m) and started at the drop of a hat.

Justin Morgan was a horse breeder, singing teacher, and composer. He was the owner of a stallion named Figure, who became the founding sire of the Morgan horse breed. Morgan received Figure along with two other horses as payment of a debt. As Figure grew older, people began to recognise his skill in a variety of areas. Figure became a prolific breeding stallion; his descendants, still noted for their versatility and friendly personality, became the first American breed of horse to survive to the present. Figure’s grave is marked by a stone in Tunbridge, Vermont.

Morgans have influenced other major American breeds, including the American Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse and the Standardbred.

The Lippitt Club, founded in 1973, celebrates the Lippitt Morgan, the “old and unimproved 1790 model Morgan Horse”. In the early 1970s a small group of horses was identified as being as close as possible to the original Old Vermont Morgan Horse. The horses chosen had a minimum number of known outcrosses to other breeds in the 19th century and no outcrosses to any other breed in the 20th century. Each of them also had a close cross to Peters Ethan Allen 2d 406, who was chosen as the “cornerstone” stallion for this family of Morgan horses.

Justin Morgan’s story has been immortalised in the Marguerite Henry book, Justin Morgan had a Horse, and a Disney movie of the same name.

Morgan died in 1798 and his original gravestone is preserved in the Randolph Historical Society Museum. His burial site in the Randolph Center Cemetery is marked by a more recent stone.

» More on the Lippitt Morgan

A Lippitt Morgan stallion.
A Lippitt Morgan stallion. © J5ff / Wikipedia CC BY-SA

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