- An Accidental Historian in Antebellum AmericaEdward Troye, Thoroughbred Horses, and Representations of African American Manhood and Masculinity
Click for larger view
View full resolution
On November 7, 1834, Edward Troye placed a public notice in the Lexington, Kentucky, newspaper the Intelligencer to promote his services as an animal painter. In the ad he provided potential patrons with the opportunity to see some of his work at “J. Brennan’s Phoenix Hotel, where gentlemen may either leave their cards, or leave word on the subject with G. L. Postlethwaite, Esq.” Troye’s three portraits, “Richard Singleton,” “Singleton’s dam,” and “Maria,” provided examples of the painter’s eye for detail and his ability with a brush. Troye’s advertisement inviting “gentlemen’ to leave their cards” [End Page 3] or “leave word on the subject” of his paintings, suggests that he was fully aware of the class appeal of capturing the countenance and distinct attributes of the well-bred horses of the bluegrass. He understood the ego involved in the business of breeding and racing horses, and the competition between owners to increase their status and financial assets through friendly competitions, stud fees, and the sale of quality horse flesh. Troye also understood that by providing examples of his previous commissions, he could potentially increase the number of opportunities to paint some of the best animal flesh being developed in Kentucky by bold men, most of whom recognized the value of improving thoroughbred stock to meet the demands of the growing and westward expanding nation. To his advantage, a number of the Kentucky turf men subscribed to John Skinner’s American Turf Register and Magazine, which promoted “owners of fine animals, whether horses or dogs, to be careful not to have a ‘handsome picture,’ but a ‘faithful representation’ of all the features and points of the animal, whether good or bad” made on behalf of the patrons interested in purchasing champions or their “get.”1
In his biographical treatise Edward Troye (1958), Kentucky historian J. Winston Coleman describes the painter as “Handsome, talented, a gifted linguist and conversationalist, [who]…found a ready entrée as a dinner and house guest in many of the antebellum homes of wealthy planters and turf men throughout the South.” In painting horses, he obviously surpassed some of those who had preceded him in these orders, and word soon got around that “genius had touched his brush.” Between 1833 and 1864, Troye produced dozens of paintings whereby he accounted not only for some of the most important horses bred in America, but the significant role played by enslaved African American jockeys and trainers of the early to middle part of the nineteenth century. Through an examination of his life, experiences, and a close reading of a few of his paintings, Troye becomes a kind of accidental historian, who through his efforts to record the property of horse breeders and slaveholders created a visual record of African American men and boys who would otherwise be lost to history. Many of the enslaved jockeys, grooms, and trainers contributed significantly to the success of the thoroughbred industry, the horses they were closely affiliated with, and the status of their particular owners. Most importantly, Troye’s “faithful representation of the features and points…whether good or bad” of animals and people, function as mirrors of memory, whereby one could catch a glimpse of the true likeness of the lesser known contributors to the development of Kentucky as the horse breeding capital of the United States, and the successful horse racing industry that emerged after the Civil War.2
Born Edouard de Troy into an exceptionally talented and artistic family in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 12, 1808, Troy never knew his mother who died when he was still an infant. His father, the French painter Jean Baptiste de Troy, moved the family to England where he used his skill as a sculptor to gain a commission from the royal family. In London, under the strict guidance [End Page 4] of their father, the Troy children were pushed to excel in all aspects of education...