Simon the Jockey
Good afternoon to you all. I want you to know that you are looking at the most successful jockey that ever raced a horse in this whole country! I’ll tell you about some of my races. Why, even General Jackson knew I was the best jockey there was.
Well, I was brought as a slave from Africa as a small boy – that would have been sometime in the 1780s as I am told I was born about 1781. They said I was prince over there and I always believed because I am the prince of jockeys here.
I came to South Carolina which is the horse racing capital of the whole world. They’ve been raving there for over a hundred years and everybody rides horses – even the slaves usually do, and I was no exception. You see how small I am – about four feet six inches they say. I hung around the race tracks and I learned how to ride to win, which I nearly always did.
Pretty soon I had a reputation and I was soon sought after by everyone. Of course, I was a slave, but, you know, I never had to pay much attention to that because of my talents. I was well-known and always had money from tips and little gifts.
Here's a story: I went up to Kentucky to ride a horse owned by a preacher over in Gallatin. General Jackson had spent a lot of money on his horse Pacolet that he bought up in Virginia. There was lots of betting on Pacolet. I mean that's what racing was – gambling. Why, I beat that Pacolet and they said that old Andy pretty near went broke that day. Later, I raced that mare again up there and they say that half the men in the state had bet against me and they all ended up broke!
I was traded around a lot, but as I said, anyone who owned me wanted me to be a jockey and that's what I wanted. There were two young children here in Nashville that had title, but I don't remember who they were. Their guardian leased me out to racing trainers like Mr. Green Berry Williams for twelve or fifteen dollars a year! A year! I don't think that guardian was very smart 'cause those men I rode for made thousands of dollars every year.
Another horse I rode was named Maria. She always beat General Jackson's horse and he was mad about it, too. One time he told me to not spit in his horse's eye when we were racing. Well, I told him that I'd ridden against his horses many a time and they never got close enough to me for me to be able to spit in their eye! He didn't like it, but he didn't do anything. He knew how good I was. If you see him around, ask him how much money he spent trying to beat me. I bet he won't.
Come back and see me. I have a lot of stories I can tell.
Some Guide Notes About Simon
Horse racing was the first national sport in this country. The South was the heart of the sport – Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Jockeys like Simon, both white and black were in demand and good ones could write their own ticket.
After Simon quit racing, there is not a lot known about him except that he appeared to live here in Nashville.
Simon's obituary appeared in the local papers in 1833, when he was about 52 years of age. He died of cholera in one of the epidemics that swept through Nashville in those years. He was neither described as a slave or a free person of color, so it's not known if he purchased his freedom or not. He was likely buried here though records before 1845 are missing.
– Carter Baker
Robert Renfro, Innkeeper
Good afternoon. My name is Robert Renfro, and I am a well-known innkeeper here in Nashville. In fact, if you have been down on the Public Square during your visit here, you likely saw my place. Lots of folks say it's the best in town, though I do have competitors down there.
If you're around town some, you'll likely hear me referred to as Black Bobb as Bobb was my name back when I was a slave.
I was put up for auction back about 15 or 20 years ago and was bought by Mr. Robert Searcy. Mr. Searcy is a man of influence here in Nashville. He was a Treasurer of the State of Tennessee and was on the Board of Trustees of Davidson Academy.
But, Mr. Searcy knew I could run a successful place, so in 1794 I was given permission of the County Court to operate a business, on my good behavior, as the Court put it, to sell liquor and victuals here in town.
My business was successful and many well-known folks knew me, so in 1801 they petitioned the State Legislature to have me emancipated and it happened that I became my own man as a free person of color. He never said so, but I am sure Mr. Searcy helped me since he was Treasurer, as I said earlier, and was known to the Legislature.
Two years later, I bought my building from Mr. Searcy – lot 25, on the north side of the Square. That's where my inn and livery stable are now and I hope for many years to come.
I have many gentlemen who stay with me at my Boarding House where meals are served and a bar is kept. You can keep your horse there or rent one from me if you need. A little while ago a rumor got started that I had sold my business, but that's not true. In fact, I had to put an advertisement in the paper to tell folks that I was still in business.
You'll see it up on the Square – at the sign of the Crossed Keys. One of my frequent customers is General Andrew Jackson. He may be around here and you can ask him about the Crossed Keys!
Possible Guide Info about Robert Renfro
Renfro continued to operate the Crossed Keys until 1814 when it burned. He reopened nearby in a building called the Stone Tavern.
He is said to have come with the Donelson party on the boat Adventure. He was the slave of a Joseph Renfro and was able to escape after the Renfro Station was overrun by Indians not long after they arrived. (I didn’t find anything to confirm this possible legend).
His purchase by Searcy was part of a complicated legal case. Both Searcy and Elijah Robertson, brother of James, claimed ownership. The court decreed in favor of Searcy.
His last mention is in 1816 and he is not listed in the 1820 Census.
– Carter Baker
Prepared for Living History Tour 2017
McKendree United Methodist Church since 1787, by Henry Thurston Tipps
When Bishop Asbury came to Nashville in 1800 he wrote in his Journal the following statement: “October 19, I rode to Nashville, long heard of but never seen by me until now. Some thought the congregation would be small, but I believed it would be large. Not less than one thousand people were in and out of the stone church, which if floored, ceiled and glazed would be a fine house. We had three public services.”
Nashville Daily News, January 19, 1890
Cross and Crown. Methodist Church in Tennessee
In the town of Nashville there was a stone building on the southeast corner of the Square which for a while served as a place of public worship. After that building was abandoned the Methodists preached at the jail which was kept by E. D. Hobbs, who was himself a member of the church and class leader. Mr. Nicholas Hobson says when he came to Nashville in 1807, “It was but a small village, principally of wooden buildings, not even affording a house for the public worship of God. There was a handful of Methodists who used to hold their meetings in the county jail.’’
Historic New Orleans Collection. William Cook Papers. On-line
Claim of Edward D. Hobbs [Keeper of the Nashville Public Jail] for taking charge of 33 (Creek) Indian prisoners sent by Maj. General Andrew Jackson for safe keeping. Sept. 27, 1814. Signed Edward D. Hobbs. Sworn before and attested to John McNairy, District Judge of Tennessee’s Superior Court. Receipt of payment from Tobias Lear, Dept. of War Accounting Office and James Monroe, Secretary of War, was dated May 18, 1815.
Methodists moved a number of times. In 1812, a small brick building was constructed on Broad, between Spruce (8th Avenue North) and Vine (now 7th ) but it was found to be too far from the center of town on Spring (Church Street). George Poyser gave the Methodists a lot on Church between College (3rd) and Cherry (4th) where a church was built and worship was held until a lot on Church near Summer (5th) was bought. McKendree Methodist Church opened at this location (same location, later building 2017) in 1833.
Edward D. Hobbs' will was recorded in Davidson County at the July Session 1833. His will requested that he “be buried in a plain & decent manner.” City Cemetery opened for burials in 1822 but existent burial records begin in 1846. Earlier interment records were lost during the Civil War. In the Davidson County Cemetery Survey, 505 graveyards have been surveyed. No family graveyard has been discovered for the Edward Hobbs family, as of October 2017.
Persons with additional information are encouraged to send an email to the City Cemetery website at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello, my name is Piominko
I was born around 1750 in Chokkilissa, near what is now Tupelo Mississippi.
My father was a prominent Chickasaw Minko (leader). He was killed in a Shawnee raid. My mother was a member of the Chocchumas tribe. She was either a captive from a battle with the Chocchumas or she sought refuge with the Chicaksaws from that battle. My birth name is unknown but our names and ranks often changed as we grew older and accomplished new achievements. I became known as Piominko , Mountain Leader. Before my time the honor of Minko was handed down through family lines,through the mother to the oldest male, but during my time that honor was bestowed to us through accomplishment. Minkos were usually either peace or war minkos. I was both. Not only was I a fierce warrior I was also described by a Tennessee settler as “naturally one of the shrewdest of men…a true and good man…among one the smartest men by nature I ever saw.”
I spent many of my adolescent years with the Cherokee Nation. My mother moved us there after the murder of my favorite brother. I was adopted as the nephew of Little Turkey who was also a great leader and the first principal Chief of the Cherokee. I learned to speak the Cherokee language as well as my own Chickasaw. I could also speak with the French; the Spanish; and I spoke English quite well.
I moved back to Choka Falla (Tupelo) shortly before the Revolutionary war where I met my wife, Mollatulla and had at least two children.
My wish for the Chickasaw nation was to stay neutral while the white brothers fought with themselves. Britain sought the Chickasaw as allies and offered us total protection in exchange for our military service but we refused. We formally allied with neither side but did lean toward helping the British. We only wanted to preserve our people and our lands.
We did fight against the Americans and always over land.
A man named James Robertson, led a party of settlers here…to French Lick.
They built a fort not far from here on a high bluff on the Cumberland river.
They called it Bluff Station. The Cherokees, led by Dragging Canoe, attacked the station at every opportunity. Robertson lost two brothers and two sons in those attacks and he was wounded several times. The settlers eventually built 8 stations, Freeland was one.
I led almost 150 warriors in an attack against that station. We would have overtaken it but the other stations heard the noise and one fired a cannon. We knew that it would not be long before the militia arrived so we fled the station. The next day the settlers left the station and moved back to Fort Bluff. They moved back in to Freeland a year later.
In late fall of 1781 we learned that the British had surrendered and we could no longer straddle the neutral line. We chose to negotiate peace with the Americans but there were 13 councils with 13 minkos and we did not know where to start…so we sent a letter through the Cherokees to Gen Martin in Virginia. With no word from him we sent another to George Rogers Clark. It was a long time before word returned to us but in October,1783 we came here to meet with Robertson. We met here at French Lick for the treaty gathering. We did treaty here. Robertson's home became the first Chickasaw agency and Robertson became a lifelong friend of mine.
We called Robertson “Little Father”. We brought him many gifts for the treaty. I understand that some of them are in the Tennessee Museum here in French Lick.
The next problem to be confronted was dealing with the Spanish. They had control of the lower American territory and tried to sway us to their way to destroy the Americans and take control of the Mississippi valley and the river.
The Chickasaw nation split. Part of the nation under Minko, Wolf's Friend and the Spanish, and part with me and the Americans. The Spanish offered much and had paid Wolf's friend, and the Americans were not honoring a treaty…The Hopewell Treaty. I drew the map for the Hopewell, giving access to Chickasaw lands in exchange for supplies and assurances from the Americans. To keep the Chickasaws standing with the Americans, the treaty had to be upheld.
After much time, work and travel to meet with the American minko, George Washington, the treaty was upheld. We eventually came to truce with the Creeks, the Spanish left the forts in 1797 and peace was finally established.
I established a personal relationship on behalf of the Chickasaws with President George Washington, visiting him officially in Philadelphia and at Mt. Vernon in Virginia. He gave me this coat, an officers coat, and this peace medal. He agreed to have my daughter formally educated and the payment was overseen by my friend Robertson. I was also gifted with a very fine rifle built by the maker of Gasper Mansker's rifle. It was just like Mansker's and very expensive. The Americans paid $53.39 for the rifle. That was a very fine gift. Most rifles only cost about $13.00.
Sometime in 1799 in Choka Falaa I died. Most likely I did not reach the age of 50. My hair was anointed with oil, my face painted red and I was dressed in my finest clothes. I was buried under my home, seated, facing east, and surrounded by all of the things that I most valued.
By Anthony Martin
Living History Tour 2017
History of Piomingo/Piominko
SUGGESTED READINGS. About Characters in Living History Tour 2017
Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements 1779-1796 by Paul Clements
References: James Robertson (99); Charlotte Robertson (8); Jonathan Robertson (7);
Piomingo (43); Andrew Ewing (11); Anthony Foster (3); Judge John McNairy (11);
Ann & John Cockrill (13); Robert Renfro (2); Rachel & Andrew Jackson (24)
The African American History of Nashville, Tennessee 1780-1930, by Bobby L. Lovett
Robert Renfro pages 8 & 10; Slaves & Free of Color during Settlement Pages 2-5
Nashville 1780-1860 by Anita S. Goodstein
References: James Robertson (16); Charlotte Robertson (1); Rev. Wm. Hume (5);
Andrew Ewing (1); Judge John McNairy (2); Anthony Foster (4); Andrew Jackson (20)
West Nashville: Its People and Environs by Sarah Foster Kelley
References: James & Charlotte Robertson (47); Ann & John Cockrill (13); Andrew Ewing (4)
A Long Path: The Search for a Tennessee Bicentennial Landmark, Kem G. Hinton
Judge John McNairy page 112; McNairy Springs pages 10-12, 148; Andrew Jackson (12)
Spizzerinctum: The Life & Legend of Robert Renfro by Larry Michael Ellis
The Great Black Jockeys: Lives & Times of Men in Americas’ First Sport by Edward Hotaling
References: Simon the Jockey (22)
The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African Americans in the White House by Jesse J. Holland
Horse Racing – References: Andrew Jackson (4); Simon the Jockey (3)