In the antebellum world of Thoroughbred racing, one jockey’s name stands head and shoulders above all others—Abe Hawkins. Like most Southern horsemen in this era, Abe was a slave. Enslaved jockeys held a special status which included freedom of movement, unaccompanied, to other horse farms.
Usually, a jockey’s name wouldn’t be mentioned in racing publications. Abe, however, was the exception. Everyone involved in Thoroughbred racing knew his name and respected him. A determined competitor, he was driven to win races. And, he often did.
We don’t know much about his growing up years, nor his exact day of birth. We do know he once belonged to Adam Bingaman, a Louisiana planter.
In 1853, Duncan Kenner purchased him from Bingaman for over $2,000 and brought him to his Louisiana sugar plantation, Ashland.
In 1854, Abe rode Lecomte against Lexington at the Metairie Race Track in New Orleans. More on Abe’s role in this race in a future post.
During the Civil War, as the Union army bore down on Ashland in 1862, Duncan Kenner escaped capture but Abe fled north where he continued winning races, earning fame and fortune. After the war, afflicted by tuberculosis, he returned to Ashland and Kenner’s nursing care. He died in 1867, but his name and reputation on the turf lived on.
Katherine C. Mooney, Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack (Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2014).
Nick Weldon, “From slavery to sports stardom: Abe Hawkins’ rise from a Louisiana plantation to horse-racing fame,” The Historic New Orleans Collection, January 11, 2019, https://www.hnoc.org/publications/first-draft/slavery-sports-stardom-abe-hawkins%E2%80%99s-rise-louisiana-plantation-horse-racing