Murder on the Racetrack – The Death of Beverly Pryor (1836)

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I tell you, I find more deaths of Pryors that take place around gambling and horse racing.  A warm day in the South, the passions of a horse race, probably some  high-stakes gambling, top it off with perhaps a bit of alcohol and what you’ve got is a recipe for disaster. And so goes the story of the death of Beverly Pryor in 1836.

A Mr. Beverly Pryor, a young man from the neighborhood of Huntsville, Alabama, suspecting there had been foul play in the race, attacked and knocked down one of the trainers. Mr. Eli Abbott, of this town, the Proprietor of the Race Course, remonstrated with him on such conduct, and told him that a race-ground was not a proper place for such disturbances. Upon this Pryor drew a pistol, pushed the muzzle into the face of Abbott, so violently as to take off the skin, telling him at the same time to draw and defend himself. Abbott declared that he had no pistol. Just at this time, a man by the name of McRhodes, Pryor’s friend, snapped a pistol at Abott, which momentarily drew off the attention of Pryor. Abbott taking advantage of the occasion, instantly drew a large knife, plunged it into the breast of Pryor, turned and severely wounded McRhodes, who made off, and Abbott followed him. Pryor, though mortally wounded, pursued Abbott some fifteen or twenty paces, snapped his pistol repeatedly at him, then fell and expired without a groan.

We saw young Pryor early in the day, riding about town, in all the flesh and pride of youth, and in a few brief hours, we saw him borue (sic) back a corpse, his father attending him, covered with the blood of his son, which he had got on his clothes in supporting him on the ground in his death struggle! What a spectacle! And what a sudden and awful transit from all the gayety and buoyancy of youth to the cold an unrelenting arms of death! The grieved and disconsolate father has had the corpse carried to Alabama, to be buried at his family residence….
— Miss. Free Press, re-published in the Adams Sentinel, Gettysburg, PA on 13 June 1836

These stories fascinate me. Which Pryor was involved? What was the story of their lives? How were they all involved in horse racing.  Oh, I would certainly like to know who Beverly Pryor was! Remember the Beverly’s were one of the wealthy tidewater families in VA. Major John Pryor (of Richmond) — his first wife was Anne Beverly Whiting. The Major was a horse breeder (ie. the horse Federalist).

When I searched for more information on Eli Abbott I found an article on a Sumner Co., TN site that reports he owned a horse named Zelina in 1833 with J. B. Jones, Johnson & Tayloe and Henry H. Tayloe of Alabama (see article). Isn’t it interesting that Major Pryor also had a horse/Tayloe connection? (read my post Captain Pryor in the Revolutionary War?)

I haven’t seen it yet, but there’s an obituary for Beverly Pryor in the Huntsville, Democrat published on 17 May 1836, which means that perhaps Pryor died a month or so before the article made it into the Gettysburg newspaper.

There’s only one Pryor family in the Huntsville, AL (Madison County) area in 1830. That’s Richard Pryor. If Richard is the  father of Beverly Pryor, Beverly may have been the only son in his household on the census, making the story more poignant.

And if Richard Pryor is related to Beverly Pryor, the is he the Richard Pryor who had a racetrack in  Nashville?