The Faithful Groomsman
(Photo : Lawn Jockeys)
“The Faithful Groomsman”
The trademark on most Kentucky farms is a statue of a black jockey in the owner’s racing silks, with his right hand outstretched and something resembling a rectangular steel ring dangling from his hand. It’s always been a matter of intrigue as to why there is such a ‘stock’ sameness to so many properties, and we just found out.
On a freezing evening at the height of the American War of Independence (December 1776), General George Washington (he of the “never-told-a-lie” story) and his troops pulled up on the banks of the Delaware River at nightfall, with the intention of launching an attack on the British army on the opposite side, during the course of darkness. A 12 year old African-American jockey by name Jocko Graves, approached the general, and asked if he could join his regular force. Imagine though, the size of this fellow, a jockey of twelve, and you’ll understand the general’s hesitation. As a consolation, he offered the young man the job of caring for the calvary’s horses on the banks of the river, while the battle was in progress. He instructed him to hold out a lantern, so that when the troops returned, they would know where to find their horses.
With the battle successfully resolved, the general and his men duly returned, to find the lantern still burning, but the young jockey frozen statuesquely to death. The General was so moved by the young man’s dedication, he commissioned the erection of a statue dedicated to the “Faithful Groomsman” on his Mount Vernon estate.
By the time of the Civil War some decades later, lawn jockeys played a pivotal role in pointing out the safe houses of the Underground Railway to runaway slaves, a green ribbon clasped in the hand indicating safety, and a red one pointing to danger.