Monday, January 25, 2010

Nash County Horse Race Dispute

Horse racing was a popular sport in the early days of northeastern North Carolina. This is the story of a horse race that took place in 1805.

The horse race was planned. They would run at Douther's path, on the Monday before next Christmas, for $200. Mathew Culpepper was to run a filly called Dolly Washington, a sorrel which he had gotten from Abner Foster. Francis Ward was to run a sorrel also, called Golden -Rod, which was got by DonGalo and raised by Mr. William Avent. Both horses were 2-year olds.

They were to run 1/4 mile, to start at the end towards the old house, and to run out towards the road. Te lowest nag was to carry 136 pounds; the other was to carry 14 pounds for the first inch, and 7 for every inch over, or in proportion for parts, etc. The two parties agreed that either two of the judges, on the day of the race, should measure the ground, and whatever they said was a quarter of a mile should be binding on both parties.

Culpepper and Ward signed the agreement spelling out the terms of the race and it was witnessed by Abner H. Hines.

Confident of his horse's prowess, Martin Culpepper made a side bet with Peter Arrington, signing the following agreement, also witnessed by Abner H. Hines: "If Francis Ward wins the race that he and myself made this day, I promise to pay to Peter Arrington the just sum of $1,000, on or before 25December next, as witness my hand and seal, this 30 November, 1805."

Culpepper's bond was delivered to a third person, as a stakeholder, to be turned over to Arrington in case Culpepper lost the race.

The race between Ward and Culpepper was run agreeable to the articles, and Ward was declared to be the winner. Afterwards, and on the same day, the stakeholder was directed by Culpepper to deliver over the obligation to Arrington, saying "he would have won the race if his rider had rode agreeably to his directions," and the stakeholder delivered the $1,000 bond accordingly.

Case closed. Right?


Culpepper refused to make good on his bond, arguing that the agreement that he and Arrington had signed did not specify and make clear exactly what race they were betting on, and therefore, he was under no obligation to pay. It seems that, in 1800, an act was passed requiring that a wager on a horse race must be written, as this one was, and that no testimony would be allowed to explain the terms of the bet.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, the agreement between Culpepper and Arrington merely refers to a "race made" without making clear that there was only one race arranged for that day. Culpepper might say that he and Ward made another race on the day referred to and then it would be a matter of controversy between Culpepper and Arrington as to which race was intended in the agreement.

The Legislature did not intend that horse-racing contracts should depend on that kind of testimony, and it would not have been necessary had either party recited the terms of the race or referred to it with sufficient certainty in the agreement. The writing by Ward and Culpepper was not signed by Arrington and Culpepper. The court argued that, as Arrington won, he was willing to admit that the agreement between Ward and Culpepper was the one referred to in the side bet and he felt Culpepper should be compelled to do the same; however, if Arrington had lost, he would not deem this reasoning applicable.

Even the fact that Culpepper directed the stakeholder to deliver the obligation to Arrington, after losing the race, did not make Culpepper responsible for the debt.

The Supreme Court, in its July 1809 term, ruled in favor of Culpepper and against Arrington. Culpepper did not have to pay!
This story was published in The Connector, newsletter of the Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Spring 2001 issue.

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