Horse Racing at Hilton

Horse Racing and Equestrian Labor Under the Glenn Family

Like many Baltimore County plantations in the mid-19th century, the grounds of the Hilton estate were well acquainted with the sound of beating horse hooves. In 1842, future U.S. Fourth District Court Judge, John Glenn, bought Hilton to raise thoroughbred racehorses. According to historian Bayly Ellen Marks, the Glenn family continued in this endeavor until 1891 when Glenn’s widow, Henrietta Wilkins Glenn, died and the estate was divided among their children. Photos from the archives of Catonsville Community College of Baltimore County show that Judge Glenn’s stable was in the current location of the Classroom and Laboratory Building, very near the farmhouse, which like the Hilton Mansion is also still standing. While many exact details are lacking, it seems very likely that Judge Glenn would have either sold or raced the horses on his estate. Marks tells us that Glenn talked frequently of the horse-racing world in his correspondence--of selling horses, evaluating competition, etc. There was a racetrack nearby in Catonsville that the Glenn family may have frequented. Henry “Harry” Harwood, Glenn’s grandson, was also deeply invested in the horse racing world. As a boy, he rode horses at Hilton and became a renowned rider in Maryland. He competed at Pimlico Race Course and Saratoga Springs.

Thoroughbred horse racing was an enormously popular and important aspect of American life in the nineteenth century. Not only did it provide heart-pounding entertainment, but it served as an arena for establishing social and political hierarchies. Here young men proved their manhood, by attaining their own membership into a jockey club for example. Those already deemed gentlemen maintained that status by wagering large sums of money to show off their economic security. When met with a loss, a true gentleman acted with decorum. Anyone who raced their horses solely in order to make money was held in disdain by the rest of the honor-conscientious crowd. Held in high honor were those gentlemen who owned winning horses. In some cases, the owners themselves could be rightly credited with the masterful breeding and training which produced a successful steed. Often, however, these duties were found in the hands of enslaved black horsemen.

While there is little precise documentation of the slaves’ work on Hilton, reasonable conclusions can be drawn. CCBC archives show that the Glenn estate included 26 slaves at the time of Judge Glenn’s death. In her book Race Horse Men, Katherine C. Mooney describes the typical experiences of enslaved equestrian laborers in nineteenth-century America, especially in the South. Black horsemen often served as stableboys, grooms, jockeys, trainers, or stable supervisors. Their extensive and intimate knowledge of horses was seen as invaluable by the owners of the steeds to be raced. Because of their high value, highly talented black horsemen were commonly afforded greater freedoms and respect than most of their fellow enslaved laborers. In fact, CCBC historian Michelle Wright recounts an incident of an enslaved horseman who was trusted enough to travel from Hilton to Kentucky and back on behalf of the Glenn family. While especially respected trainers may have been spared from most violence, lower-ranked horsemen were not necessarily. Because enslaved men and boys working with these valuable horses were often watched with a more careful eye, mistakes were more likely to be found and punished. The enslaved who served as jockeys suffered from particular mistreatment. In order to keep them as lightweight as possible, owners would often underfeed them or subject them to extreme weight-loss techniques--such as burying them to the neck in manure in order to make them sweat off weight.