Category Archives: History & Political Science

“Why Do I Study the Kentucky Frontier?” by Nancy O’Malley, Author of BOONESBOROUGH UNEARTHED

As a military brat, I spent my childhood moving from place to place. I began my journey in Fort Worth, Texas, where I was born, and later moved to Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, Japan, Texas and back to Alabama, where I then finished high school. I learned two key things during my nomadic childhood: the ability to assimilate into a new culture quickly and the knack of observing while participating. For me, there was always another social frontier to cope with, whether it was a Deep South country school, a foreign culture, a large urban high school or the throes of desegregation. Everywhere I went, I was the stranger, the outsider, until I could find my niche.

A persistent theme in my research is the idea of the frontier as the unfamiliar and uncharted, a concept that I trace directly to my upbringing. For me, a frontier can be a physical place or a social arena, and generally both. Kentucky’s position as one of the earliest areas of western American expansion certainly qualified it as a “frontier” to incoming settlers in the classic Jacksonian sense. My interest in the Kentucky frontier of the late eighteenth century was sparked by a site type called a “station” – a defensible residential site that usually housed more than one family—that was a key element of the early historic settlement of Kentucky during the Revolutionary War. Extensive research on pioneer stations in a twelve-county area in Central Kentucky resulted in my publication “Stockading Up.” I eventually received an invitation to conduct research on Fort Boonesborough, one of a handful of large public forts that were built to provide protection and sanctuary for the hundreds of settlers that flocked to Kentucky during the Revolutionary War.

I was intrigued by their experiences in a land that was similar in many respects—weather, forest composition, physiography—to their homes back east, but still very unfamiliar, lacking the landmarks, both physical and metaphysical, of the “civilized” Euroamerican society in which they had grown up. Moreover, there were Native Americans (Shawnee, Cherokee and other allied tribes) who violently opposed the incursions of commercial hunters and settlers, like Daniel Boone. These hunters killed hundreds of wild game animals, and settlers cut down the forests and claimed land as if the native people who had lived in Kentucky for millennia had no rights. And then there was the war that started just as settlement began in earnest. And not just any war, but a bloody family conflict that was fought to separate the American colonies from their mother country of England.

My research into the practical survival strategies that the settlers used to weather deadly attacks and raids while still moving toward their goal of permanent settlement focused necessarily on the defensive sites they built—the stations and forts that formed a network of protective places connected by trails and paths. But always present in my mind was what was going through the settlers’ minds as they woke up each day, not knowing what harrowing event might come yet still having to find enough food for themselves and their animals, get along with their neighbors and put up with often squalid living conditions.

Anthropologists are taught that people bring their attitudes, mores, practices and prejudices—their cultural baggage—with them wherever they go. Kentucky settlers were no different. And there were many differences among them—“distinctions and partitions” as Robert Johnson wrote to Governor Patrick Henry in 1786—that belied a monolithic stereotype of a frontier emigrant. People came from every American colony as well as some European countries; most were white but black emigrants, enslaved and free, comprised a significant minority of the growing population. Settlers who spoke English as their first language encountered German and French settlers who spoke accented English as their second language and exhibited unfamiliar ethnic practices. Social class and wealth distinctions were immediately identifiable. [1]

 

Kentucky settlers sensibly emigrated in groups composed of friends and family and often settled in the same station until conditions allowed them to settle their own farms. Personal relationships and familiarity and combined resources made shared risks, deprivations and losses easier to bear and increased the chances for survival. An enemy’s bullet knew no distinction of social class or wealth. Your life might be saved or lost but for the intervention of a stranger or a friend. Cultural differences were particularly acute and had to be negotiated in the close spaces of larger, public forts like Fort Boonesborough even while the safety of greater numbers mitigated the dangers of frontier life. Settlers had to keep their hopes trained on a future, better life that lay beyond the immediate uncertainties of life on a wartime frontier. Prosperity was not a given; many failed to attain the land and financial success they sought. [2]

What was remarkable to me was how brief this period of frontier life really was. For the core area of central Kentucky where much of my research has focused, the period of instability and insecurity was, for all practical purposes, over once the Revolutionary War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Other areas such as northern Kentucky along the Ohio River experienced Native American attacks and raids until the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville in 1794, but that area also did not experience widespread Euroamerican settlement until some years later than the central Kentucky area. For all its brevity, however, the eight years of the war must have seemed endless at times. The experience informed the society that Kentucky eventually became—largely conservative, patriotic, passionately attached to place and somewhat insular. But as Stephen Aron carefully and precisely explains, the development of Kentucky society from a frontier to an ordered society “did not unfold in an orderly parade” and its transformation “featured many casualties.” [3] Like many other aspects of human endeavor, the frontier experience was complicated and complex and cannot be readily reduced to tidy stereotypes.

A frontier as uncharted and unfamiliar is perceived as such only by the newcomer. As a child and young adult, I adapted as I learned more about the places and people I encountered with each move. The unfamiliar became familiar and I usually found a spot where I could fit in. But since I moved often, assimilation became a habit and a survival strategy that never really left me, even though I have now lived in Kentucky for over forty years.

It’s perhaps inevitable that my personal experiences have informed my opinions about the hot topic of immigration these days. Modern immigration discussions are characterized by disturbing polarization of attitudes and opinion, but there is nothing new or unusual about the issues that immigration from without or emigration from within currently raise. We have experienced it all before, numerous times, from the first European arrivals on American shores to the trans-Appalachian movement to the entry of Irish fleeing famine, Germans fleeing oppressive governments, Asians responding to work opportunities, southern blacks moving north to escape the Jim Crow South, Latin immigrants seeking sanctuary and prosperity and so on.

Fundamentally, the forces that drive people to relocate today are no different from those of the past. Sadly, the reactions of those who feel threatened by newcomers are no different either. A look backwards seems to suggest that we keep repeating old patterns over and over again. But I believe that we are at our roots an immigrant nation and that anti-immigrant sentiments have always been limited to a minority whose voices have been temporarily magnified but ultimately, eventually quieted by the embrace of cultural diversity and equality.

Another thing I learned growing up was to adopt a “glass half full” attitude even when conditions around me, whether they be personal challenges or national sentiments, seemed particularly divided and polarized. Amid the rancorous political debates, the demonizing of opposition regardless of which side of the debate you are on and the partisanship that divides, optimism often is a challenge to maintain and the complexity of the issue makes resolution of our differences hard to attain. I recall the pioneers that looked forward to a better day and relief from their temporary privations and take a lesson from their hopefulness. Will partisan politics and “partitions and distinctions” continue to rise to the top in the future? Undoubtedly. Are we as a nation up to the challenge of fighting against the inequities they inspire? Absolutely.


[1] Elizabeth Perkins, Border Life: Experience and Memory in the Revolutionary Ohio Valley, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998. p. 85.

[2] Aron, Stephen, How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

[3] Aron, p. 2


Order BOONESBOROUGH UNEARTHED at http://bit.ly/2YjUWsz

The Parallel Timelines of Joseph Holt and Sandy in Leonard’s SLAVES, SLAVEHOLDERS, AND A KENTUCKY COMMUNITY’S STRUGGLE TOWARD FREEDOM

In her book, Dr. Elizabeth D. Leonard documents the lives and community of Joseph and Sandy Holt, particularly their time during the Civil War and its surrounding context. The interwoven stories of these two provide very different perspectives on the Civil War. Joseph was a slaveholder turned abolitionist who had family ties to confederates and held high level offices. Sandy was a former slave of the Holt family, purchased by Joseph himself, who managed to survive the awful system of slavery, marry, and escape to serve the Union in the Civil War during his middle-age. By placing the timelines of the stories of these men next to each other, we can see the contrasts and the intersections in these two extremely different lives.

Joseph Holt Timeline Sandy Timeline
1807: Joseph Holt was born in Breckenridge County, Kentucky

Mid-1820’s: Holt attended Centre College where he encountered criticisms of slavery. He also gave at least one speech that was critical of slavery

1845: Holt wrote a letter to his maternal uncle, Robert Stephens, saying that slavery was a “social political or moral evil”, but that there was not a safe way to abolish it

1856: Holt gave a speech defending the rights of states to manage themselves when speaking on behalf of Democrat James Buchanan’s presidential candidacy. His speech also spoke on the necessity of preserving the Union

1857: Holt and his wife, Margaret, left Kentucky for Washington D.C. after he was appointed commissioner of patents. Before leaving, he transferred ownership of all but a few slaves to his younger brother Thomas

1860: Margaret, Holt’s wife, died

October 1860: Holt emancipated his wife’s slave, Jane, who remained in his employ

Fall of 1860: Holt remained critical of abolitionists in his speeches and letters, as he was still primarily concerned with preserving the Union

Winter of 1860: Holt’s brother Robert declared that the time for Kentucky’s secession was soon

Early 1861: Holt was declared Secretary of War by Buchanan

February 11th, 1861: Holt received a letter from his brother Robert that may have been what caused him to abandon his last defenses of slavery

March 4th, 1861: Lincoln became president

March 6th 1861: Holt stepped down from the position of Secretary of War to focus on efforts to persuade Kentucky to remain in the Union

April 15th 1861: Lincoln issued a call for a militia to put down the rebellion

Late May 1861: Holt wrote a letter to Joshua F. Speed arguing against Kentucky’s claim of neutrality and blamed Southern nationalist slaveholders for the conflict. He also traveled to Kentucky to give speeches against Kentucky’s neutrality and the possibility of secession

October 1861: The Liberator said that Holt could not be expected to overcome the prejudices that came from the way he was raised

Fall of 1861: Holt’s former father-in-law, Charles A. Wickliffe, as well as other Unionists remained very supportive of slavery

April 16th 1862: Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act

May 21st 1862: Congress declared that laws and ordinances applied to black Washingtonians in the same way they applied to white Washingtonians

May 24th 1862: Holt freed his only remaining slave, Alfred, who also remained in his employ and eventually married Jane

September 3rd 1862: Lincoln appointed Holt the Judge Advocate General of the Army under the War Department

September 30th 1862: Holt petitioned the District of Columbia to free his brother and sister-in-law’s slave Caroline Robinson due to their part-time residence there

September 22nd 1862: Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

October 13th 1862: Holt also petitioned the District of Columbia on the behalf of Ellen Cox, another of his brother and sister-in-law’s slaves, for her freedom

December 1862:  The Liberator called Holt an abolitionist

January 1st 1863: Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

March 13st 1863: Holt recommended either a court-martial or dismissal for a union solider who was criticizing the Emancipation Proclamation

May 1st 1863: The Confederate Congress passed the Retaliatory Act

Summer of 1863: Holt’s employee, Alfred,  possibly enlisted

Summer of 1863: Holt spoke to Lincoln for the protection and freedom of black soldiers, especially in the light of things like the Retaliatory Act

July 1863: Lincoln issued his response to the Retaliatory Act where he promised that if a black union soldier was enslaved or executed in violation of the laws of war the same or a similar punishment would be enacted on captured confederate soldiers

July 13th 1863: Holt talked to Lincoln on behalf of a black soldier, Sergeant Robert Sutton, who was being court-martialed

January 1st 1864: Holt urged Lincoln to overturn the court ruling in the case of a white man who tortured and murdered a fugitive slave woman in order to sentence him to a harsher punishment

July 1864: Holt was sent to Kentucky by the Secretary of War to meet with civil and military leaders to discuss the military situation. He did not visit his home county due to fears for his safety

Fall 1864: Holt returned to the war department. He issued a report on his home state that condemned the justification for white oppression of black people and reported positively on the recruitment of black men for the war in Kentucky

Final Months of the War: Holt served as judge advocate general and head of the War Department’s Bureau of Military Justice and continued to advocate for the rights of black soldiers and civilians

1824: Sandy was born to unknown parents in Virginia

1837-1840: Sandy was bought and brought from Mississippi, where he was taken due to a previous sale, to Holt’s Bottom in Kentucky by Joseph Holt for his brother’s wife

1842-1843: Sandy and other family slaves were periodically sent to Louisville to perform domestic chores and to look after the land and garden of the house of Joseph Holt and his first wife Mary

1846: Sandy’s name appears for the first time in historical record

1853: Sandy married Matilda, an important member of the local slave community

1853: Joseph Holt took out an insurance policy on Sandy, which he had never done before, to cover his unaccompanied steamer journey to Louisville from Holt’s Bottom in case of his death, injury, or escape

1857: Sandy’s ownership, along with many others, is transferred from Joseph Holt to Thomas Holt

1863: Sandy’s wife Matilda dies

Summer of 1864: Sandy, now forty years old, ran away to Owensborough to join the 118th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. By law he was required to register under the name of his owner, Holt.

June 1864: Adjunct General Lorenzo Thomas recommended that recruiters enlist even fugitive slaves who could only do the minimum of work due to physical disability, since they had no other place to go but their masters, who would punish them severely

July 1864: A surgeon was appointed for the 118th, which was important due to the prevalence of disease in the military

September 1864: Marion Lucas describes the mistreatment of black soldiers by their white peers in a letter

October 5th 1864: Sandy and his company were with Union forces that found the body of eighteen-year-old Robert Eaves, a recruit, who was lynched by local guerilla confederates

October 1864: Recruiters gathered enlistees from the Owensborough area and the 118th reached the minimum operational strength and began the journey of roughly seven-hundred miles from Owensborough to Baltimore, Maryland

October 8th 1864: The 118th is ordered to proceed to City Point, Virginia via Baltimore

October 24th-25th 1864: The 118th received their equipment and uniforms in Baltimore, and they were formally assigned to the XVIII Corps Third Division

October 1864: The 118th performed guard and fatigue duty, which was difficult but essential maintenance work

November 1864: The 118th were reassigned to the First Brigade and told to retire to the line to be trained due to concern over the condition of the regiment

November 3rd 1864: The 118th’s Lieutenant Colonel, Moon, was recommended by fifteen of the regiment’s white commissioned officers for promotion to Colonel because of his bravery and success with recruitment

November 1864: Moon was appointed Colonel of the 118th

November 1864: Unfavorable weather obstructed opportunities for federal forces to advance

November 1864: Sandy was hospitalized for parotitis

December 1864: Sandy was hospitalized for diarrhea

December 3rd 1864: The X and XVIII Corps were reorganized along racial lines. The white men were put in the XXIV Corp and the black men, including the 118th, were put in XXV where General Godfry Weitzel assumed command

Late 1864-1865: Sandy and his company performed labor for General Butler’s Dutch Gap Canal Project. There, Sandy was assigned to throwing up breastworks to help protect the others workers. He permanently injured his left wrist in the process of doing this

January 1st 1865: The ends of the Dutch Gap Canal were blown up with 12,000 Ibs of gunpowder. It was ultimately deemed a failure as the earth simply settled back to where it was before the explosions

January 7th 1865: Lincoln replaced Butler with Major General E. O. C. Ord, which upset many black soldiers

January 23rd-25th 1865: Sandy and the 118th were peripherally involved in the Fort Brady battle

 

History Book Receives Thomas D. Clark Foundation Medallion Award

Leonard CoverElizabeth Leonard’s Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community’s Struggle toward Freedom is the 2019 winner of the Thomas D. Clark Foundation’s Medallion Award.

The nonprofit Clark Foundation gives the annual award in support of the University Press of Kentucky (UPK), which published Professor Leonard’s book. After reviewing several top UPK books published in 2019, a committee of the foundation choose Dr. Leonard’s book because of its high standards for research and writing exemplified by the award’s namesake, the late, distinguished historian Thomas D. Clark.

TDC_Medallion“Much of what we know about Kentucky history and culture rests on works published by the University Press of Kentucky, and Professor Leonard’s book adds greatly to this tradition,” said Stan Macdonald, president of the Clark Foundation‘s board. “She illuminates with pace and clarity the dramatic personal journey of Joseph Holt as he rises from the shackles of his large slaveholding family in Breckinridge County, KY to a prominent position in President Lincoln’s administration and a life advocating for emancipation and civil rights. Unearthing hard-to-find historical records, the author also pieces together the lives of slaves from this same area of Kentucky, including the story of Sandy Holt, who had been acquired by Joseph Holt and who later joined the 118th United States Colored Infantry during the Civil War.”

Professor Leonard will speak at an event in her honor on September 17 at The Filson Historical Society in Louisville, KY. The event is being sponsored by the Clark Foundation, University Press of Kentucky and The Filson Historical Society.

UPK’s Spring 2019 catalog is here!

The University Press of Kentucky’s Spring and Summer 2019 catalog is now out! Featuring such titles as The US Senate and the Commonwealth, Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crownand Adolph Rupp and the Rise of Kentucky Basketball, there’s something for everyone.

Check out our new releases!

UPK is also proud to announce the launch of two imprints: Andarta Books (in partnership with Brécourt Academic, publisher of Global War Studies) and South Limestone. Combining original research and top-level scholarship, Andarta Books will publish works in a variety of subject areas such as military/naval history, air power studies, diplomatic history, and intelligence studies. Decision in the Atlantic: The Allies and the Longest Campaign of the Second World War is the first title from Andarta Books, while Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River Gorge and the Greater Red River Basin and Wild Yet Tasty: A Guide to Edible Plants in Eastern Kentucky are the first titles for South Limestone.

Take a look at forthcoming books in the Screen Classics series!

Many of our other series have new titles, too. Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown will be the most recent installment in the Horses in History series, while The Soldier Image and State Building in Modern China, 1924-1945 is part of the Asia in the New Millennium series. Foreign Friends: Syngman Rhee, American Exceptionalism, and the Division of Korea and Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era are forthcoming in the Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace series. Coming in April, Biplanes at War: US Marine Corps Aviation in the Small War Eras, 1915-1934 and Lectures of the Air Corps Tactical School and American Strategic Bombing in World War II will be the first members of the Aviation and Air Power series.

Multiple of our Association of the United States Army (AUSA) series have upcoming releases as well. Click here to find them.

The catalog also includes a novel from Aga Khan Prize for Fiction winner Lamar Herrin, a work that explores pop culture and what can happen when people move beyond the borders of law and order, and an edited collection inspired by a recent photography exhibition at the University of Louisville.

And don’t forget to see what is new in paperback!

Author Carol Boggess Wins Book Award

KHS Award logoUniversity Press of Kentucky author Carol Boggess has been named the recipient of a 2018 Kentucky History Award given by the Kentucky Historical Society for her book, James Still: A Life. The Kentucky History Awards recognize outstanding achievements by historians, public history professionals, volunteers, business and civic leaders, communities, and historical organizations throughout the Commonwealth, promoting the history of state and local history. The awards were presented at the Kentucky History Awards Ceremony on Friday, November 9, at the Old State Capitol in Frankfort.

Boggess offers a detailed portrait of writer James Still in the definitive biography of the man known as the “dean of Appalachian literature.” Despite his notable output, including the classic novel River of Earth, and his importance as a mentor to generations of young writers, Still was extremely private, preferring a quiet existence in a century-old log house between the waters of Wolfpen Creek and Dead Mare Branch in Knott County, Kentucky. Boggess, who befriended the author in the last decade of his life, draws on correspondence, journal entries, numerous interviews with Still and his family, and extensive archival research to illuminate his somewhat mysterious personal life.

In James Still: A Life, James Still.final.inddBoggess explores every period of the author’s life, from his childhood in Alabama, through the years he spent supporting himself in various odd jobs while trying to build his literary career, to the decades he spent fostering other talents. This long-overdue biography not only offers an important perspective on the Still’s work and art but also celebrates the legacy of a man who succeeded in becoming a legend in his own lifetime. According to Lee Smith, author of Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, Boggess’s “graceful and informative biography sheds light into many shaded places and dark rooms of his long life, illuminating the sources and passions of this beloved giant of American literature, one of the greatest writers of all time.”

James Still is the seventh University Press of Kentucky publication in eight years to win a KHS award, joining Kentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front by David J. Bettez; The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia by Gerard L. Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin; Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South by T.R.C. Hutton; The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America’s Premier Sporting Event by James C. Nicholson; A History of Education in Kentucky by William E. Ellis; and Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920 by Estill Curtis Pennington. James Still was previously named the winner of the 2018 Weatherford Award for Non-Fiction.

Carol Boggess is president of the Appalachian Studies Association and former English professor at Mars Hill University.

Boggess KHS award pic

KHS Executive Director Scott Alvey, Carol Boggess, and KHS Governing Board President Constance Alexander. Photo by Marvin Young.

 

The Beauty in Bourbon’s History

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Spirits Tank, George T. Staggs Distillery, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY.  

Whiskey making has been an integral part of American history since frontier times. Kentucky is home to more barrels of bourbon than people, and ninety-five percent of all of America’s native spirit is produced in the Bluegrass State. In Kentucky, early settlers brought stills to preserve grain, and they soon found that the limestone-filtered water and the unique climate of the scenic Bluegrass region made it an ideal place for the production of barrel-aged liquor. And so, bourbon whiskey was born.

More than two hundred commercial distilleries were operating in Kentucky before Prohibition, but only sixty-one reopened after its repeal in 1933. Though the businesses were gone, most of the buildings remained, unused, slowly deteriorating for decades. Now, thanks in large part to the explosion of interest in craft bourbon, many of these historic buildings are being brought back to life, often as new distilleries. As the popularity of America’s native spirit increases worldwide, many historic distilleries are being renovated, refurbished, and brought back into operation.

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Spears Warehouse, Second Floor, Jacob Spears Distillery, Bourbon County, KY.

In The Birth of Bourbon: A Phorographic Tour of Early Distilleries, award-winning photographer Carol Peachee takes readers on an unforgettable tour of lost distilleries as well as facilities undergoing renewal, such as the famous Old Taylor and James E. Pepper distilleries in Lexington, Kentucky. This beautiful book also includes spaces that well-known brands, including Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace, have preserved as a homage to their rich histories. By using a photography technique called high-dynamic-range imaging (HDR), Peachee captures the vibrant and haunting beauty of the distilleries. HDR photography is a process that layers three or more images taken of the same scene at different shutter speeds. The technique creates a fuller range of luminosity and color and gives the photographs a striking, ethereal quality.

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Knobs and Pipes, J.E. Pepper Distillery, Lexington, KY. 

“Photographed again today,” Peachee explains, “they would look different, which would make some of the images, barely four years old, a relic in their own right.” In 2010, the James E. Pepper Distillery in Lexington was the first set of ruins that she photographed. Four years later, the location was repurposed and commercialized.

Just months after Peachee visited the Old Crow Distillery in Millville, the ruins were sold to entrepreneurs who built Castle & Key Distillery, home to Kentucky’s first female Master Distiller Marianne Barnes. Likewise, the Dowling Distilleries warehouse in Burgin was photographed in the process of being torn down. Major buildings at other sites like Buffalo Springs Distillery in Stamping Ground did not survive to be photographed.

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Pillar and Engine, Old Crow Distillery, Woodford County, KY.

As more and more historical distilleries are lost or altered, these images provide an important glimpse of the past and detailed insight on Kentucky’s relationship with bourbon. The Birth of Bourbon is a tour of Kentucky bourbon heritage that might have otherwise been lost if not for Peachee’s determination to save it. The results not only document what remains, but they also showcase the beauty of these sites through a meditation on impermanence, labor, time, presence, and loss.

Carol Peachee is a fine art photographer and cofounder of the Kentucky Women’s Photography Network. She is the winner of the 2010 Elizabeth Fort Duncan Award in photography from the Pennyroyal Art Guild.

 

A Look at the Night He Disappeared

It was a cold and foggy February night in 1983 when a group of armed thieves crept onto Ballymany Stud, near The Curragh in County Kildare, Ireland, to steal Shergar, one of the Thoroughbred industry’s most renowned stallions. Bred and raced by the Aga Khan IV and trained in England by Sir Michael Stoute, Shergar achieved international prominence in 1981 when he won the 202nd Epsom Derby by ten lengths—the longest winning margin in the race’s history. The thieves demanded a hefty ransom for the safe return of one of the most valuable Thoroughbreds in the world, but the ransom was never paid and Shergar’s remains have never been found.

In Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case, Milton C. Toby presents an engaging narrative that is as thrilling as any mystery novel. The book provides new analysis of the body of evidence related to the stallion’s disappearance, delves into the conspiracy theories that surround the inconclusive investigation, and presents a profile of the man who might be the last person able to help solve part of the mystery.

In honor of such a gripping tale, we have included an excerpt from Taking Shergar below, which tells of the beginning of the mystery that is the disappearance of one of the most beloved champions of horse racing.

The story broke early Wednesday morning.
Julian Lloyd, a livestock insurance underwriter for the John Marsh Syndicate at the time, was staying at the Keadeen Hotel in Newbridge. He had an 8:00 a.m. appointment that day to meet a veterinary surgeon from Sycamore Lodge Equine Hospital, a clinic located at The Curragh. The two were supposed to visit the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud, just a mile down the road and situated between the hotel and the racecourse, to talk about a possible increase in insurance premiums. The veterinarian arrived in a rush as Lloyd was walking out of the hotel.
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Shergar winning the Chester Vase by twelve lengths on May 5, 1981. (George Selwyn)

“We’re in good time, Joe,” Lloyd told his friend. “There’s no need to hurry.”

“Oh, no,” the vet said. “Shergar was taken in the night.”

“What?”

“He was taken.”
“You mean he’s dead, Joe?”

“No, you eejit, taken. Someone stole Shergar!”
“Oh my God!”
Lloyd tried to piece together the story of what happened to Shergar, but information was scarce and nothing he heard made any sense. The first reports were brief and confusing. An armed gang? Shergar missing? The stud groom kidnapped? Ransom? The Irish Republican Army?

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Shergar with jockey Walter Swinburn and lad Dickie McCabe before his 10-length victory in the Guardian Newspaper Classic Trial at Sandown Park on April 25, 1981. (Miralgo Publications Photo Archives/John Crofts photo)

Tuesday, February 8, one of the coldest days in Ireland that year, started like any other for James Fitzgerald. A quiet man in his fifties, Fitzgerald had worked for the Aga Khan’s family for his entire life, ever since 1945, when he was sixteen years old. Now he was the stud groom at Ballymany, a job his father had held before him, and one of the most valuable Thoroughbreds in the world was his responsibility. Fitzgerald took the job seriously, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine being asked one day to put his life on the line for “his” horse.

Fitzgerald lived with his wife and children in a house a short walk from the four-stall stallion barn. The house was isolated, situated at the end of a narrow, tree-covered lane well off the road running between Newbridge and Kildare Town. Security at Ballymany consisted merely of a heavy wooden gate with a simple latch at the bottom of the lane. A sign for visitors read: “please close gate.
Around 8:40 in the evening, a man wearing a long coat and peaked cap, the way a Garda officer might dress on such a bitterly cold and rainy night, walked up to James Fitzgerald’s house and knocked on the front door. Fitzgerald, who had just returned from checking on Shergar one last time before turning in for the night, was upstairs and one of his sons, Bernard, went to the door. No one expected visitors at that time of night.
Hearing the knock at the door and then a commotion from the front of the house, Fitzgerald hurried downstairs. He found chaos, a scene that he could not immediately comprehend. Bernard lay pinned to the floor by a masked man and two other men in balaclavas were shouting, waving their hands, and pointing guns at his family.“We’ve come for Shergar,” one of the men said.