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“Well, I hear you went up to Saratoga”

Lexington

And your horse naturally won…

Not exactly. You’d have to go back 165 years to watch the incredible win of the horse my ancestor, Ben Pryor, was famous for training. Last month, my sister and her husband, Evie and Tom Kelly, visited the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga, New York, to learn more about Ben and the racehorse he trained, Lexington.

With the help of the hall’s docent, Evie and Tom found some items of interest. Lexington was part of the inaugural class of inductees to the newly founded Hall of Fame in 1955. The plaque below gives his history better than I could.

Below the plaque are listed the four men who owned Lexington during his celebrated lifetime, but only one trainer—J. B. Pryor.  

J. B. “Ben” Pryor

John Benjamin Pryor, known as Ben, was the grandfather of our grandfather, Luke T. Pryor. While seeing her second great-grandfather’s name listed on Lexington’s plaque was cool, Evie was not prepared for what she found next. On Halloween, as the only visitors in the place, the docent took the time for a bit of research.

According to Evie, “The Docent had told us Lexington’s shoe was there but did not mention Ben Pryor was in that display. When I found the shoe (called a plate then), there was a letter from the person who had been gifted the shoe after an important race. The letter was faded, of course, being 150 years old but B. Pryor’s name jumped right out at me. My reaction was, ‘There he is!’ Even though I was alone in the room (Tom had wandered ahead), I said it out loud and smiled to myself.”

Lexington’s Plate (Horseshoe”}
Find ‘B. Pryor’ two lines above the closing

Somehow, seeing an actual letter in the handwriting of a man who spoke directly to Ben Pryor gave Evie a chill. Our ancestor instantly became authentic and more immediate.

The novel I’m working on, Pryor Knowledge, is a first-person account in Ben Pryor’s voice, as I imagine it. Although he is not a Hall of Fame inductee, Ben has left a footprint there for us to follow as I work to speak for him in this book.

History isn’t as long ago as it seems. Evie’s discoveries in Saratoga are our family’s less dramatic version of Roots author Alex Haley’s, “You old African! I found you!”

2 comments on ““Well, I hear you went up to Saratoga”

  1. lisebreen says:

    Re looking for Africans: Is this the John Benjamin Pyror associated with Adam Louis Bingaman Jr, the son-in-law of Judith Sargent Murray of Natchez, MI, and Gloucester, Ma? I understand that Pryor’s mother-in-law, Mary E. Williams, had been enslaved by the Williams family–relatives of the Sargents. As a free woman of color, she lived openly with Bingaman in New Orleans and probably was his consort in Natchez (Judith Sargent Murray’s daughter, Julia Maria, had died in the early 1820s). Thoroughbred breeder and slave labor plantation owner, Bingaman went to court to assert his paternity to gain the assets of their son’s estate. Another of their children, Frances Ann, married the famous horse trainer, Pryor. Have you found correspondence mentioning Bingaman and the Sargents?

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  2. mbgibson345 says:

    Hello Lise Breen. Yes, this is the John Benjamin Pryor you’re looking for. One error in your comment I’ve discovered is that while Mary Ellen Williams was a free woman of color who served as Bingaman’s consort in New Orleans, she was not Frances’s mother. Frances was my great-great-grandmother. Looking into Mary Ellen, I found she was too young to be the mother of Frances and some of her sisters. With the help of a distant cousin from New Orleans, I found out Frances was the daughter of a slave (I assume Bingaman’s) named Amelia or Millie. She would be Pryor’s mother-in-law. Bingaman had other children with Mary Ellen whom he went to court over, but Frances’s death record names Adam Bingaman and Amelia as her parents. I have not found any paperwork to that effect other than the death record from New Jersey in 1875. I’d love to discuss it further. Contact me at my email address: mbgibson345@gmail.com.

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