On a cool spring morning in May of 1836 Isaac Michael Dyckman possibly took leave from his family home in Inwood, on the Northern tip of Manhattan, mounted his steed, and rode the muddy trail to the Union Race Course in far off Long Island for what would prove to be one of the most celebrated horse races of the 19th Century.
The race was one in a long series of equestrian contests pitting the North against South in an ongoing competition that was as much about cultural heritage as horses.
During an eleven year stretch the South won seventeen of twenty-nine races and this time the Northern trainers were ready. In 1834 a three-year-old dark chestnut horse named Post Boy proved unbeatable on the Northern race tracks. His jockey was a well known, no-nonsense champion named Gilbert W. Patrick.
But the South had a secret weapon of its own. On a dirt track in Augusta, Georgia, a chestnut colt trained by one of Andrew Jackson’s former handlers, won a $17,000 purse in a four mile, four heat race. In one of the heats the Southern unknown named John Bascomb (right) clocked seven minutes and forty-four seconds. The time shattered Post Boy’s previous records.
While Post Boy awaited his rival, and gamblers placed their bets, John Bascomb was walked some 850 miles from Augusta, Georgia to Long Island stopping for admiring crowds at all points in between. In addition to the exhausting journey, the Southern Colt was jockeyed by a nobody known simply as Willis.
So how did the race play out? Luckily, in addition to being a sports fan, our friend Isaac Dyckman was also somewhat of a poet. Below is his 1836 description of the race currently housed in the archives of the New York Historical Society.
The people, they collected around
The Union Course of Jamaca town
The wind did blow, the dust did fly
And there collected in every one’s eye
Tis true it rained the day before
No matter for that the rain was oer
Across the water people did glide
To see the speedy horses tried.
About One O’Clock of that day
The horses appeared in splendid array
Walking proudly across the turf
Both steeds of equal birth
The two great steeds were led up and down
No doubt, saw the people standing round
Their heads well up, eyes wide open
No doubt saw the people’s motion
The keepers then threw off the dress
Well they knew the race to test
The drum was sounded by the judge
Pompously went up both the studs
The riders then mounted the word go
Away went like an arrow from a bow
They, appeared as, they went around
As if they never touched the ground
Bascomb won the first and second heat
Enough to prove Post-Boy’s defeat
Taking in the knowing Northerners
By the witty minded Southerners
Seven forty-nine the first heat won
Bascomb won the second also in fifty-one
The two greatest horses ever run
Excepting Old Eclipse and Henry Young
Authors note: History cannot tell us for certain whether Isaac Michael Dyckman attended the race or was simply describing a highly publicized event of the day. Still, its fun imagining him there; pumping his fist in the air as the horses rounded the racetrack.
For visiting hours and more information on Inwood’s Dyckman House Museum, click here to visit their website.