Horse racing was always a popular sport on the frontier of Tennessee.
Any time that people got together, there might be some fiddle music, some dancing, a little wrestling between the boys and some passing around of a jug of hard cider … and a few horse races.
But, the sport of kings was not the version played on the backroads and trails of Middle Tennessee. It was usually a friendly wager between friends or neighbors between whatever old nags were available.
That changed when Dr. Redmond Barry brought the first thoroughbred horse to Sumner County around 1802.
Dr. Barry, as we have seen in our articles this month, had Hartsville connections. He married a Hartsville girl, Jennie Alexander.
In 1804, the first thoroughbred horse race in Middle Tennessee took place in Gallatin, and the winning horse was owned by Dr. Barry.
Among those attending the race was our own Capt. James Hart, the founder of Hartsville.
So, who was this man named Hart?
Hart arrived here around 1795.
Unlike many of the other people here, Hart had not received a land grant from the state of North Carolina for service in the American Revolution. His older brothers had participated in the war, but James, we believe, was too young and instead served with his local home guard and there attained the rank of captain, a title he would keep the rest of his life.
A man of some wealth, James Hart is traditionally said to have been the first slave owner in what is now Trousdale County, having brought several slaves with him when he and his family moved here.
By 1797 he purchased land on the west side of Little Goose Creek from the family of Major Thomas Donoho, whose North Carolina land grant covered most of what is now Hartsville.
In 1798, Hart received a license to operate a ferry on the Cumberland River, and in 1800, he built an inn for travelers on the old Immigrant Trail (now known as the Historic Avery Trace). In that same year, he purchased the grist mill on Little Goose Creek, which was owned by the Donoho family.
Quite the entrepreneur, James Hart saw the business opportunity that owning a race track presented. After all, no matter whose horse won the race, the race-track owner could make money from gate receipts and from a percentage of the winnings.
So, after watching the race in Gallatin, Hart returned home and marked off some flat land by the creek and put up a sign that read, “Hart’s Race Track.”
If you were to go to our local Trey Park, you would be on the very same parcel of land.
Horse racing was a little different back in 1804 than it is today. The race track was a straight length. The horses did not run in a circle as they do today. Also, the horses often ran the best two out of three heats.
People would sit on the same hill that our old Hartsville Cemetery occupies and watch the end of each heat.
Hart would also race on the flat piece of land where our high-school football field lies, rotating between the two.
When one field was not being used for racing, Hart would plant a corn crop. The field being used for the races would be planted in clover. The clover would be a natural method of fertilizing the land for the next year’s corn.
Hart’s Race Track was a popular track, and it is said that Gen. Andrew Jackson liked it over his own track at Clover Bottom, close to his home in what is now Hermitage.
That leads up to one of the most famous races on the Tennessee frontier. And, as you may already suspect, Jackson was one of the men with a horse in that race.
Always a shrew man when it came to judging a horse’s potential, Jackson had attended a race between Major John Verell’s horse, Truxton, and Lazarus Cotton’s horse, Greyhound.
Greyhound won the race, but Jackson felt that Truxton was the better horse and purchased him from Verell. After a year of training the thoroughbred, Jackson announced a rematch between it and Greyhound … and the race was to take place in Hartsville.
Next week, we’ll read of how you win some and you lose some.