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  The Voyage of the Flora: Destination Charleston

Voyage of the Flora
Route of the Flora   Follow the Route of the Flora

By David Wilkinson for Thoroughbred Heritage. ©David Wilkinson, 2009. David Wilkinson is author of Early Horse Racing in Yorkshire and the Origins of the Thoroughbred (Old Bald Peg Publications, Old Byland, York; 2003) and a contributor to Thoroughbred Heritage.

Charleston and South Carolina in the Colonial Period

The South Carolina to which Manson brought his horses was regarded in the early 18th century as one of the more remote American colonies. It was nevertheless seen as a "petted child" with an English emigrant population, which moved freely back and forth to the mother country, with few restrictions on trade.

Its early horse racing was ramshackle and only loosely connected to the more advanced sport in Virginia and Maryland. It was organised by local innkeepers and ferrymen running Chickasaws -- small Inidan-bred animals with origins in the horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors -- to make up for the complete lack of animals in the colonies. Prizes were saddles and tankards. An early "Jockey Club" existed, at Goose Creek, on the outskirts of Charleston by 1734, with distance riding by amateur white riders or African-American grooms. This was to change with the immigration of scions of English land-owning and horse-rearing families, who imported quality English stock from the 1730s onward. It was a challenging environment, with the summer heat and infertile soils not favouring thoroughbred breeding.

Fenwick Hall
 Fenwick Hall c. 1934. HABS/HAER survey, Fenwick Hall, St. John's Island. In typical Georgian style, the main mansion (octagonal tower is a later addition) is flanked by brick outbuildings: the coach house is to the left, and the stables, by then in ruins, to the right.

John Fenwick had arrived in Charleston in 1705. His ancestor, Sir John Fenwick (c.1579 - 1658) had been Master of Horse to King Charles I. Fenwick acquired, with the aid of a good marriage, many plantation properties and a large number of slaves. Amongst his holdings was John's Island, then called Headquarters Isle, a large plot of unusually good grazing on the outskirts of town, some 30 miles in circumference. His son, Edward, the "father" of the South Carolina turf, established a stud adjacent to the family mansion, Fenwick Hall, built in 1730. From here he imported bloodstock, mainly of the Godolphin Arabian line, to lay the foundation quality of South Carolina racing that persists into modern American breeding. The Fenwicks in Northumberland owned Matchem (c.1748 - 1781), a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian and of Croft's Partner, bred by Mr. Holmes of Carlisle. He won the Fenwicks over £25,000 in England. From this stock Edward imported nine important stallions into South Carolina. The most successful, brought to Charleston in 1755, was Brutus, a son of Regulus, by the Godolphin Arabian, and sire of the persistent Noble and many -- if not most -- of the early racehorses in South Carolina.

Horses imported by Edward Fenwick into Charleston(5)
Imported Horse Sire Sire Line
1755 Brutus, ro. (1748) Regulus Godolphin Arabian
1759 Tarquin, b. (1754) Tarquin Godolphin Arabian
1759 Oronooko, blk. (n.d.) Oronooko (?) (?)
1763 Pam, b. (1757) Regulus Godolphin Arabian
1765 Centinel, ch. (1758) Blank Godolphin Arabian
1765 Fallower, ch. 1759 Blank Godolphin Arabian
1767 Shadow (Vizier), b. (1759) Babraham Godolphin Arabian
1773 Matchless br. (1754) Godolphin Arabian Godolphin Arabian
1773 Flimnap, b. (1765) (6) South Godolphin Arabian
1773 Matchem (Partner), b. (1772) Bosphorus Godolphin Arabian

Edward Fenwick founded the definitive South Carolina Jockey Club at Charleston in 1758, together with John Drayton, John Mayrant, John Izard, William Moultrie, Samuel Elliott, Daniel Horry and William Williamson. The most important race in this period in South Carolina was the Charleston Subscription Purse, the only pre-Revolutionary race for which there is a complete record of its winners.
"...Its meetings were held over the Newmarket Course, whose proprietor was Thomas Nightingale (from Yorkshire), another of the many men in Fenwick's employ and in whose name Fenwick's horses sometimes raced. Dr. Irving tells us that it was situated 'on the Common on Charleston neck commonly known as Blake's Tract.' Its site is now lost to view in an industrial suburb of Greater Charleston. In those day, however, it was not only well outside the city but was surrounded by groves of pine, cedar and cypress...Nightingale having died in 1769; Thomas Strickland took over the management." (7)

In 1770, Childers, imported by Manson and racing as Mr. Riddles' Childers, took part in the Subscription Race, which was won by Edward Fenwick's imported Shadow, by Babraham.

With the probable exception of Childers, the animals brought to Charleston by Manson were not of the calibre of Fenwick's imports, but their dangerous and uncomfortable journeys would have been similar. From an advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette, we know that Matchless was brought to Charleston from London in the ship Carolina. Other than that, the routes and ships used by Fenwick are unknown and the subject of continuing research. Given the Northumbrian origins of the family and their studs, it is possible that they left via the River Tyne at Newcastle, though the later use of Hull by Thomas Kirby suggests a long-standing trade from the Humber. There are no further records of horse exports from Whitby.

(5)John Hervey, Racing in America I, 1665-1865 (The Jockey Club, New York, 1944), pp. 281-290; Hervey based his information on Fairfax Harrison, EATS.

(6)There is additional information on Flimnap, who was not imported by Fenwick, but who owned him within the year of his import. He was purchased at the 1722 sale of Sir Watkin Wynn by Mr. Mansell and imported by Mansell, Corbett & Co. of "Charles Town" and shipped to South Carolina, where he was sold to Fenwick; it is possible Manswell was acting on behest of Fenwick. John B. Irving, History of the Turf in South Carolina (1789-1856), (Charleston, 1857, pp. iii, 41).

(7)John Hervey, Racing in America I, p. 106

Harrison, Fairfax. The John's Island Stud (South Carolina) 1750-1788 (Richmond, VA: The Dominion Press, 1931).
Harrison, Fairfax. Early American Turf Stock, 1730-1830, Vol. II (Richmond, VA: The Dominion Press, 1935).
Hervey, John. Racing in America, 1665-1865, Vol. I (New York: The Jockey Club, 1944).
Transport of Horses to the East in Hansard, Vol. 137, cc.624-35.
Longrigg, R. The History of Horse Racing (London: Macmillan, 1972).
Pick, William. Authentic Historical Racing Calendar (York, c.1786)
William Manson. Flora Log Book (1766-1769). Whitby Historical and Philosophical Library, Whitby Museum, North Yorkshire.
William Manson. The Voyage Book of the Flora (1764-1771). Whitby Historical and Philosophical Library, Whitby Museum, North Yorkshire. Photocopy.
Fenwick Hall
Thoroughbred Heritage

I am immensely grateful to Eileen Shone, Librarian at the Historical and Philosophical Library in the Whitby Museum, North Yorkshire. She brought the Flora Log Book to my attention. She currently lives in the Grape Lane house in Whitby harbour front, used by William Manson during his apprenticeship to the Flora's owner, Jonas Brown.

The Voyage of the Flora
The Voyage The Horses The Destination

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