Home > 001552. Richard Ligon > Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century

Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century

Source: Philip Alexander Bruce, Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1964).

[page 190]

[…] The subject of the wager was sometimes even more abstruse.  For example, about 1690, Thomas EAST and Richard LIGON, of Henrico county, made a bet as to how much “one thousand square solid” contained.  If the two should differ as to what was the correct amount, it was agreed that the matter should be referred to Colonel William BYRD and Mr. John PLEASANTS, the latter the most prominent Quaker in the Colony, whose decision was to be accepted as final.8


8 Henrico County Records, Vol. 1688-79, p. 261, Va. St. Libr.

[page 204]

Henrico county was hardly second to Westmoreland in the lively favor in which its inhabitants held the pastime of horse racing.  One of the most popular racetracks in this county was situated at Bermuda Hundred, among the oldest settlements in the valley of the lower James River.  Here in July, 1678, a race was run between horses belonging to Mr. Abram WOMACK and Mr. Richard LIGON.  In this instance the owners did not ride their horses.  One was ridden by Thomas COCKE, the other by Joseph TANNER, a servant of Mr. Thomas CHAMBERLAINE, both of whom were still mere boys.  CHAMBERLAINE was selected to call out when the horses were ready to run, whilst Mr. Abram CHILDERS was to act as starter.  As no judges appear to have been named, it is probable that the horses were to career over a circular course with the goal situated at the point from which the race began.  The persons there would thus be easily able to decide as to which horse won.  The horses made a rush, but the one ridden by COCKE, after running four or five lengths, shied from the track.  COCKE quickly reining him in, cried out: “This is not a fair start.”  CHAMBERLAINE shouted to his servant, who was riding the other horse, to stop, but the young man, when he returned, boldly declared that the race was fairly begun, and in this contention was sustained by Mr. CHILDERS.16

Both LIGON and WOMACK seem to have been deeply interested in horse racing.  In 1683 a number of persons who had assembled at WOMACK’s house on some


16 Henrico County Minute Book, 1682-1701, p. 38, Va. St. Libr.

[page 205]

convivial occasion17 got into an animated discourse on the subject, and soon there was a challenge from one of the company, Edward HATCHER, to run his horse against the horse of Edward MARTIN, who was also present.  All exclaimed loudly: “Done, done,” with the exception of Richard LIGON, who started up eagerly.  “Mr. Edward HATCHER,” called out LIGON, “my horse shall not run any more to-day or to-night.”  HATCHER, uttering a great oath, shouted back that it was his horse, not LIGON’s, and at once led the animal off to a pasture near by, where the races took place, followed by Andrew MARTIN.  LIGON now came up, and seizing HATCHER as he was about to mount, said again: “Edward HATCHER, this is my horse, and he shall not run.”  HATCHER, seeing LIGON’s determination, turned to the persons who were to act as judges, and exclaimed: “I can’t help it,” meaning that he was prevented from carrying out his agreement, and, therefore, should not be held as liable for the wager as if his horse had lost the race.  But the judges refused to listen to him, and directed MARTIN to run over the track alone.  When he reached the end of the course, he stopped, dismounted, and fixed his knife in the ground; then, returning to the starting point, claimed the horse which LIGON had asserted to be his own.  This was probably the stake.  LIGON, however, still refused to give it up, and the dispute finally found its way into the county court.18 The account of this race which appears in the records is of interest as showing how rigid the judges in a horse race at this period were in upholding the terms of an


17 The company, it would appear from LIGON’s words regarding his horse, had been engaged in running races.

18 Henrico County Records, Vol. 1677-92, orig., p. 254.

[page 206]

agreement even under circumstances when, it would seem, the agreement should properly have been considered no longer in force.  HATCHER was held strictly to his verbal contract, though the action of LIGON had made it impossible for him to perform his part of it.


There are numerous proofs that many […] important races occurred on the course at Varina towards the close of the seventeenth century.  Here, about 1687, a great race took place between the horses of Hugh LIGON and Stephen COCKE, in which Christo-

[page 207]

pher BRANCH was the stakeholder;20 […]


20 See Henrico County Minute Book, 1682-1701, pp. 170, 174, Va. St. Libr.; Vol. 1677-92, orig., p. 466.  The records take notice only of the races in which there were disputes requiring settlement in court.

[page 209]

[Thomas] CHAMBERLAINE, about the same date [1698], was a party to a race which was run on the course at Conecock.  His opponent was Richard LIGON, and the wager agreed upon amounted to forty shillings.  A gallon of rum was on this occasion provided for the enjoyment of the spectators.26

There was a fifth race track in Henrico county situated at Malvern Hill.


26 Va. Maga. of Hist. and Biog., Vol. II., p. 297.

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