Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Greatest Doswell ... updated

This is a short account of the greatest Doswell. It begins with a branch of my family that moved to and became established in Virginia during pre-revolutionary days. [I'm not a direct descendant of that line. My great-grandfather, John Indiana -- perhaps I'll have more on that story later.] The Virginia Doswells became landed gentry (no doubt with slaves) and moved in the same social circles with the truly famous Lees of Virginia. Many of these aristocrats had racing stables, and the Doswells were no exception. A Civil War skirmish was fought between Grant and Lee on Doswell land (near the North Anna River), during the interlude between major battles at Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor -- a book I have about the skirmish (J.M. Miller, 1989: Even to Hell Itself, ISBN-0-919930-71-8) mentions "the celebrated horse breeder Major Doswell" on whose property part of the skirmish took place.

My friend David Hoadley sent me a story years ago that had appeared in a Virginia newspaper's Sunday supplement. The gist of the story is that the Virginia Doswells had a long history with horse racing, but fell on hard times and were forced to sell their stables at some point, presumably after the Civil War sometime. I can no longer find the article, and I can't remember the details regarding the date of the sale or to whom the stables were sold. Part of the arrangements associated with that sale, according to the story, was that any new owners would continue to race under the colors of the Doswell racing stables.

There recently was a movie about the great horse Secretariat and the horse breeding and racing operation under Penny Chenery Tweedy. The movie opens with a scene in Doswell, Virginia (a small town north of Richmond named for that branch of the Doswell family), home for Meadow Farm Stable. The star of that movie is undeniably the horse, Secretariat, a Triple Crown winner (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes) in 1973. The most famous and greatest Doswell is the celebrated horse, Secretariat! [We can claim him because he raced under "our" colors.] I've seen a color photo of Secretariat with Ron Turcotte (the jockey who rode him to the triple crown) aboard, and they got the colors (blue and white checked) more or less right in the movie.

A few years ago, I had a chance to visit Doswell, Virginia. It’s not much of a town but has an amusement park of significance, and apparently has something of a timber industry, but is otherwise not impressive. It seems to be little more than a “whistle stop” on the CSX rail lines that run through the town. The pimply-faced teenager behind the counter in the local convenience store was unimpressed with the fact that my driver’s license proclaims me to be related to the family for which the town is named. Nevertheless, it’s the home of a line within my family that at one time were local aristocrats and can claim the proud heritage of arguably the greatest race horse that ever lived and raced -- from Doswell, Virginia and under the Doswell racing stable colors!

UPDATE: I recently located what appears to be a newspaper article by someone named John Markon that I hand-dated July 1982 from the Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, where Markon was a staff writer. It makes no mention of the sale of the Doswell racing stables, but discusses the relationship one Major Thomas W. Doswell had with Capt. Richard Johnson Hancock. Major Doswell lived in the vicinity of Hanover Junction (later to be named Doswell) and had an estate called Bull Field, where apparently he put on some big horse races annually until his death. Doswell is recognized in the article to be the third in a line of horsemen. This is evidently the same Major Doswell mentioned in the book about the Civil War skirmish at the North Anna River. The article discusses a horse Major Doswell owned for a while, Eolus, which is claimed in the article to be the origin of an "equine empire" in the region.

According to the article, "By 1877. Doswell and Hancock had also begun a racing partnership with Hancock conditioning Bull Field colts and fillies in Albermarle and the horses later racing under the Doswell colors." The article goes on, "T.W. Doswell died in 1890 ... Eventually, Hancock gained ownership of much of the Bull Field stock, and race horses owned by the Hancocks have carried Doswell's orange silks, the first to be officially registered by the American Jockey Club, for the last 90 years." Apparently, it was the Hancock breeding operation at Claiborne Farm that's associated with Secretariat, who was born at Chenery's Meadow Stable .

Thus, it seems the memory I had that Secretariat ran under Doswell colors was mistaken. Christopher T. Chenery (father of Penny Chenery Tweedy, who bred and raced Secretariat) established his Meadow Stable on land adjacent to Bull Field. The article makes it clear that the Doswell colors were orange silks, not blue and white checks, so my recollection of the content of the material sent to me by Dave Hoadley was in error. We Doswells probably can't make much of a claim to Secretariat after all. The most famous Doswell is likely of lesser fame than Secretariat!

I also remember an article which ran in a Richmond Sunday supplement on this topic, but if that's still in my possession and not just another mistaken recollection, I can't locate it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A pox on both houses ...

The mock trial and burning of the koran (or whatever is the preferred spelling for this 'sacred' document) has caused muslim violence, including the deaths of Americans. The christians responsible for this sequence of events, led by Florida cleric Terry Jones deny any responsibility for the consequences of their actions, naturally. If their actions had no consequence, wouldn't that be a failure for them? Provocateurs fail precisely when they can engender no response! Unfortunately the ignorant, delusional muslim fanatics know only one sort of response to provocation: violence. I certainly have no more love for the muslim version of religion than I do for the christian version.

In the same way that the Westboro Baptist Church is free to carry on their pseudo-protests (which are actually fund-raisers!) according to the doctrine of free speech here in the US, Terry Jones and his followers are free to burn a book as part of their protest. But, like the WBC crowd's protests at the funerals of American soldiers, or the marches of American nazis in Skokie in the mid-1970s, this is not the sort of activity that most people should support. No doubt exists that book-burning is a highly symbolic act -- and the symbolism is far more meaningful to most people than the act itself. The same is true for flag burning, etc. Responding to provocations with violence is precisely what the perpetrators of those provocations generally seek! The most compelling negative response is to ignore the provocateurs!!

But when people commit acts of violence in the face of provocation, they must be given the same punishment for that violence that we would administer in the absence of provocation. The muslim fanatics have learned that we in the US cannot ignore violence, and so they know we will retaliate with the very violence that the provocations are designed to produce. As I said sometime back, we're losing the so-called 'war on terrorism' by responding more or less exactly as the terrorists have hoped for with their despicable acts. We seem unable to come up with any response short of violence of our own.

The real problem here with this instance of violence in response for 'sacred' book-burning isn't insensitivity, or political correctness, or even the right to free speech. The most important aspect of this is the nature of religion itself. Christianity (in all its tens of thousands of forms) and Islam (also divided into multiple sects) share traits common to all the main monotheistic religions: they are convinced that their path is the only true path, and all those not with them are against them. Unbelievers, in the versions of righteousness common to both islam and christianity, are fit only to die and be consigned to eternal damnation. The bible and the koran are steeped in the blood of unbelievers resulting from these exclusionary principles common to both. Christian and muslim fanatics actually have a great deal of common ground, though both would be outraged at the very notion that they share anything at all.

So long as church and state remain separated, the fundamentalist christians and fundamentalist muslims can be seen quite clearly as what they truly are: fanatics, driven by their own delusions to be willing to commit any act to support their faith. It's where religion and government become intertwined and the state reinforces religious dogma that the 'moderate' believers, who might otherwise not be inclined toward violence, may have the binary choice: with us ... or against us (with all the consequences of the latter being pretty apparent!) forced on them with state power as well as that of their religion.

The very principle of free speech that figures in the book-burning by Terry Jones and his delusional followers surely would be at risk should the christians in this nation succeed in making the US a christian theocracy. The conflict with the muslim world would be amplified into Orwellian proportions -- a jihad on both sides -- and take on an ever-growing stridency when voices of moderation are forced to choose: us ... or them.

It's the widespread delusion of religion that's to blame for this series of events leading to violent deaths in Afghanistan. The pointless christian provocation and the inevitable, predictable response by muslim fanatics are the logical outcome of the exclusionary principles characterizing most religions. These actions threaten the freedom here in the US that has been the grand experiment envisioned by the framers of our Constitution, and that we've enjoyed since the end of the 18th century here. If a US citizen can't see why the separation of church and state is so important, I'm at a loss for understanding how such a person could have failed so utterly, so completely to grasp the essence of democracy: protection of the rights of minorities, especially when we find minorities disagreeable. Of course, Afghani muslims know little of respect for the expression of minority opinions. But neither would US residents if a christian theocracy is established here!