Associate Professor of History, Roger Williams University
Ph.D. History, University of Cambridge
M.A. History, University of Warwick
B.A. History, University of Leicester
What got you into history, and into equine history?
It’s a cliché, but I’ve always loved horses and I’ve always loved history; so combining the two is a dream come true. As an undergraduate and graduate student in the U.K., I had superb mentors who inspired my love of early American history and the history of the early modern Atlantic world. Notably, Professor John Coffey at the University of Leicester, Professor Bernard Capp at the University of Warwick, and Dr. Betty Wood at University of Cambridge. I moved to the U.S. in 2012 to take a job as an Assistant Professor of early American history at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. Taking the job at Roger Williams University completely shaped the course of my career, not least because I’d written my undergraduate dissertation on Roger Williams (the man, not the university.)
Up until to this point, I’d never heard of equine history, let alone thought about writing it. I considered myself a social and cultural historian. My Ph.D. centered on crime and dissent in early New England, and from this I published a biography of Thomas Morton. At this point, a few things happened simultaneously that led me to equine history. I discovered that my new home had a deep connection to equine history. Rhode Island was home to the first truly “American” breed of horse: the Narragansett Pacer. I instantly wanted to know more, especially how and when the breed emerged and why it became extinct. At this point in my career, I was looking for a new research topic and exploring the rise and fall of the Narraganset Pacer was the perfect fit.
I’d always owned horses, and I’d competed in working hunter and side saddle classes growing up in the U.K. Thus, I started my first piece of equine history investigated Rhode Island’s own Narragansett Pacer. At the same time, I flew my own pony, Machno Cara, (a Welsh section C mare) from England to Rhode Island. When Cara crossed the Atlantic, my interest in Atlantic history and equine history came together in a way I could have never imagined. I started exploring how and why horses crossed the Atlantic in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, specifically New England’s equine export trade to the sugar colonies in the Caribbean and South America. I’m now hooked on equine history!
Who is your favourite historical horse?
When working on my article, “The Rise and Fall of the Narragansett Pacer,” I came across a Narragansett Pacer that Rip Van Dam of New York (later Governor of the State) owned who was quite a character! When Van Dam’s agent tried to ship the horse from Rhode Island in 1711, the horse jumped overboard and swam back to shore. When Van Dam finally got the horse home, he wryly noted that he “always plays and acts and never will stand still, he will take a glass of wine, beer or cyder, and probably would drink a dram on a cold morning.” This was my kind of horse!
What are you working on now?
I just published an article entitled: “The Rise and Fall of the Narragansett Pacer,” in Rhode Island History, Winter/Spring 2018, Volume 76, Number 1, pp. 1-38. The article was accompanied by an exhibition of my research on the Narragansett Pacer, which was installed in the Providence Arcade from May to July 2018 by the Rhode Island Historical Society. I also just published a chapter entitled: “Trading Horses in the Eighteenth Century: Rhode Island and the Atlantic World,” in: Kristen Guest and Monica Mattfeld, eds., Equine Cultures: Horses, Human Society, and the Discourse of Modernity, 1700-Present (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.) At the moment, I working on a book project exploring New England’s exportation of horses to the sugar colonies in the Caribbean and South America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I have a sabbatical coming up next spring, and I’m looking forward to doing some more archival work in the Caribbean. I’m excited about integrating my research into my teaching, and I plan to develop a class on horses in the early modern Atlantic world at Roger Williams University.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Merging my love of horses and Atlantic history is something I never knew (or dreamed) was possible. However, doing equine history is not always pleasant, especially when looking at shipping horses across the Atlantic. I found this out when working on shipping log books at the archives at Mystic Seaport. Captain Henry Bowers recorded the horrendous conditions for the horses on a voyage to St. Kitts on the Brig Gleaner. When the main deck filled with water, “the Horses began to give out.” Within an hour, most of the horses were “unable to stand,” despite of the crew trying everything to keep them upright. The crew tossed part of the awning and fifteen bundles of hay overboard to try to ease the vessel, but to no avail. When a hurricane struck the brig, nearly all of the horses fell and were in a “drowning condition.” The crew then “cut…the dead ones up and threw them overboard.” Disaster continued when the starboard quarter was struck and the crew desperately tossed more hay overboard. The assault continued and the ocean made “fair breach” on all sides of the vessel, at which point the Gleaner lost all her fowls and pigs. A few days later, on 23rd January they lost another horse, which left only eighteen alive out of the forty-three they started with. The horses that were still alive were “very much chaffed” when they finally arrived in St. Kitts on 2nd February. When the horses arrived the sugar colonies they often had a very hard (and short) life; especially if they were draught horses crushing the sugar cane. Gruesomeness aside, I hope to add to the rich historiography on both Atlantic history and equine history by centering equines in the story of trans-Atlantic trade and sugar production.