Seward’s Arabians By Ben Hur (Western Horseman Sept/Oct ’45)
Abraham Lincoln, as a youth, may have been too poor to own a horse. Historians invariably picture him as walking long distances through southern Indiana and central Illinois. Lincoln has been sculptured more often possibly than any other American, but never astride a horse as so many of the other immortals. Do you recall a single statue of Lincoln where he is astride or beside a horse?
Lincoln, as president of the United States, aided, although indirectly, in the importation of purebred Arabian horses. He selected as a member of his cabinet a very able and well known New York lawyer, William H. Seward, whom he sent shortly after to Syria to adjust some difficulties between the two countries. The matter was finally settled amicably, and os satisfactorily adjusted that the Syrian government, to show its appreciation of Mr. Seward’s diplomacy, asked him to express some wish. Mr. Seward, always interested in the agricultural needs of his country, especially his own New York state, replied that if the Syrian government would help him procure some pureblooded Arabian horses to send home, they could not only confer upon him a personal favor, but would benefit the United States immeasurably.
Ayoub Bey Trabulsky, assistant of the Criminal Court of the Ayalet of Sayda was delegated to act on behalf of the Syrian government. He selected a blood-bay stallion, eight years old, of the Maneghi strain or family, and a chestnut colt, two years old, of the Seglawi-Jedran strain; also a grey mare, which unfortunately died on the way. Shipped from Beryout, the two stallions arrived in New York in 1860, expenses of their journey amounting to ten thousand dollars.
Mr. Seward offered them as a gift to the New York State Agricultural Society, if the society would pay the expenses of their importation. It was a poor return for Mr. Seward’s generosity — even when excused by the great excitement attendant upon the breaking out of civil war — that the society refused to comply with his proposal. In this emergency, Mr. Seward presented the two-year-old colt to Mr. Ezra Cornell of Ithaca, New York and the older stallion to the Hon. John E. Van Etten, of Kingston, New York. Standing 15 hands high the latter was noted for depth of chest and shoulders and “withers as strong as that of a bull,” quoting from a description shortly after his arrival in this country. He was known to be the sire of only two foals. One was a grey filly, bred by Judge Westbrook of Kingston, and the other a colt, bred by a nephew of Judge Sackett of Auburn, New York.
The younger stallion stood 15 hands high when two years 10 months old. He was described as “a noble specimen of the Arabian horse. Beautiful as a statue, fiery as the sun that tints his native sands, he awakens in the mind of the beholder a sense of admiration and wonder; while a glance at his graceful head and neck is sufficient to confirm all that we have heard or read of the superior beauty of the Arabian horse.” He was shown as a three-year-old at the state fair held at Rochester, and won a special gold medal for being the handsomest horse on the grounds. Subsequently he was sold to a breeder at Canton, Ohio, where he died, leaving only two fillies. The chestnut stallion died from neglect. The war was causing such absorption of all men’s thoughts that all else seemed of little importance.
At that time many of our best and most noted trotters were always spoken of with pride as coming from Arabian ancestry. No doubt the blood of the two half-blood Arabian fillies bred from the chestnut stallion and the grey filly and horse colt sired by the bay stallion flows in the veins of many well known American harness and saddle horses today.
Justin Morgan was undoubtedly an Anglo-Arabian. The dam of Dolly Spanker was an inbred Morgan mare. Sherman Morgan and Buckshot were doubly inbred to Morgan. Gano was by American Eclipse, also of Arabian strain. Thus it was that the Arabian blood was spread throughout the United States from many different sources before the civil war. Arabian blood was not only known and most highly valued by intelligent breeders, but was considered absolutely essential to the making of a perfect horse. It should be noted that the early importations were invariably stallions, and the pure blood of the Arabian was in each instance lost upon the death of the imported stallions. Had the grey mare lived which Mr. Seward attempted to import she, rather than Naomi, might have had the distinction of being the first Arabian mare in this country as progenitor of pureblood Arabians bred in the United States.
The portraits of the Seward Arabians were drawings made by the well known artist of his day, mr. T.C.Carpendale, and are pen sketches highly embellished in Oriental fashion as if the horses were being shown upon a stage and the curtain drawn to one side. The drawings were then engraved in wood, which also required the services of a skilled artist, as those wood blocks were used by Harper’s Weekly in full page illustrations in their issue of January 12, 1861, before photography made it possible to record more lifelike pictures and reproduce them by the modern halftone method. Artist Carpendale may have been a noted artist of his day, but his drawings fell short of his word descriptions of these two horses quoted above, for his drawings are rather stilted and fail to portray the beauty he saw in the horses before him. Worthy of interest is the euphonious spelling of the strain or family names of the horses appearing below the pictures. The young stallion is a “Siklauy-Gidran,” more properly and correctly spelled today Seglawi-Jedran, while the older stallion is called a “Maanake-Hedroge,” which to the modern student of Arabic is known as a Maneghi-Hedruj.