Tag Archives: Racing

Richard Pryor In Richmond, VA and In Madison County, AL


Why on earth are there so many men named Richard Pryor in the 1820-1830’s? While looking at Richard Pryor of Hempstead County, AR I also noted a Richard H. Pryor in Samuel Pryor’s estate in Hardeman County, TN, then there was Richard Pryor the gamble and hothead in Catahoula Parish, LA. So why not look at one more!

Then there was Richard Pryor who was in Madison County AL. Richard was in this county as early as 1822 when he first started appearing as a named party on lawsuits. The first US census of the county wasn’t taken until 1830– his age was recorded between 30-39 years old. His presumed wife, Dolly, was 52 in 1850 so Richard may have been born close to 1798. Richard wasn’t on the 1809 Census of Madison County, so, he must have arrived in the county sometime between 1809 and 1822.

I’ve written a few times about the death of Beverly Pryor (see posts). He was killed on a Mississippi racetrack in 1836 and his father traveled from Alabama to collect his body. In 1837 Richard Pryor (about age 36-45) was appointed the administrator of Beverly’s estate (Madison Co., AL). Was Beverly 21 or older when he was killed in MS? — that would make Richard about 17-27-ish at the time of Beverly’s birth. They could be father and son.

I can’t mention Beverly without mentioning the demise of the man who killed him — he was later beheaded and it was assumed he was killed by one of the Pryors. Involved in horseracing — a revenge killing —  that would possibly describe this Richard Pryor as a “blackleg” or in our contemporary terms, a “bad ass.” I wonder if he was the Richard Pryor who was in Catahoula Parish, LA (see post).

In 1836 an Alabama Legislative act changed the name of Dolly Beverly B Harrel to Dolly Beverly B Pryor and recognized her as the legitimate child of Beverly Pryor. And she was recognized as the rightful heir of Richard Pryor. Dolly B (born 1835) was living in the older Dolly Pryor’s household in 1850. I’ve long suspected that Richard and the older Dolly were kin. An old newspaper clipping helps to ID as husband and wife.

TO RICHARD PRYOR AND DOLLY HIS wife, George W. Turner and Catharine G. his wife, Ursula D. Ragland, John Brown, —-Anderson and Octavia his wife, and A. Cook and Judith his wife.
As you are not residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and have no agent therein known to us, you will hereby take notice that we shall proceed on Thursday, the 28th of February, 1850, and between the hours of 9 o’clock, AM and sunset of that day, at the office of Messrs. Meredith and Young. Attorneys at Law in the City of Richmond, to take the depositions of John Sheppard, Wellington Godin* and others, to be read as evidence on behalf of the defendants in a certain suit now pending in the Superior Court of Chancery for the Richmond Circuit, in which you and others are plaintiffs, and ourselves and William Davis, Hardin Davis, Spotswood G. Waldrop, Alfred Winston, John Clash, and others, are defendants, and which suit is now on the rules docket of said court; and if from any cause the said depositions be not commenced, or being commenced shall not be completed on that day, the taking thereof will be continued from day-to-day at the same place, and between the same hours, until the taking thereof shall be completed.
Executors of John D Brown, deceased.
(Richmond Enquirer, February 08, 1850)

* Wellington Godin was recorded in Richmond in 1850, occupation constable.


In older posts I mused over the first name Beverly as a possibly Beverly surname connection to Major John Pryor of Richmond. Isn’t it interesting that we now know this Richard Pryor had some kind of tie to Richmond?

I’m thinking through all the possibilities. What if Richard was still alive in 1850 and still alive in 1852 to be involved in the feud in Catahoula Parish? Could the Richard in Catahoula Parish and in Madison County, AL be the same Dick Pryor who was racing horses up in Nashville? I don’t think so and will explain in my next post.




“Blackleg” Richard Pryor and A Killing In Catahoula Parish, LA

On 27 July 1852, the Woodville Republican (Woodville is in Wilkinson County, MS) reported on two homicides in Catahoula Parish, LA. These were really nasty killings where a group of men laid wait in the tall grass and behind trees waiting for their intended victims and then when their had them within shooting range, they apparently killed them while they were still seated in the buggy in a one-sided barrage of gun power. Oh yes, there was a Pryor involved!

Reading stories about the murder of these men it brings to mind mountain-men feuds. It started in 1848 between an unidentified woman and Charles Jones who was living on Black River near St. John R. Liddell. The woman shot Jones in the presence of Liddell. Jones went away for 4 years then returned with a man named Richard Pryor. The feud erupted again, leading to the event where Samuel Glenn and Moses Wiggins were waylayed and killed on the road to Trinity– allegedly killed by St. John R. Liddell. It was all a horrible case of mistaken identity because Liddell thought he was killing Charles Jones’ friend Richard Pryor!

Just so you know, these weren’t poor hill folk. Liddell was the owner of a large plantation, he had attended the military academy at West Point, and he was a friend of the future Confederate President, Jefferson Davis (see Wikipedia). Did Liddell’s position reflect later in the damaging testimony about Pryor’s character?

By 1854 the case of the State of Louisiana vs. St. John R. Liddell was in front of a Grand Jury and there’s some interesting testimony about nasty characters, smeared honor, Glen and Wiggins’ buggy was previously owned by Richard Pryor (see report in 14 June 1854 The Independent, Harrisonburg, LA ).

Witness Grant Lincecum stated he “is very well acquainted with the man Dick Pryor; has known him, off and on, for many a year.” Lincecum is on the 1850 Census in Catahoula Parish he was born 1798 in Georgia. His profession was recorded as MD– is that a medical doctor? Wouldn’t be interesting to know how their paths had crossed in the past? Perhaps there would be a clue to the identity to Richard Pryor!  The witness further testified “Pryor was a notoriously bad character–he was a gambler and a horse-racer. Witness believes that he was the worst man that ever went unhung. Witness did not testify before the Grand Jury which found this bill.”

Another witness, Mr. Laningham stated, “Pryor, Sam Smith, Emerson, Glenn and Wiggins were in the habit of coming to Trinity armed, and making threats against Liddell and his friends.”

Why did one newspaper account refer to Pryor as a “blackleg”? Well the testimony of C.C. Waters states “On the same day, Pryor, while standing on the gallery of Mr. Robb’s store, offered to bet one thousand dollars that Maj Liddell would be killed in less than twelve months from that time, and offered to give two hundred dollars to any man that would get him the bet.” He also swore, “Pryor offered to shoot the top off of the head of any of Liddell’s fighting friends who would show themselves.” Then “At one time saw Pryor and Sam Smith get their guns and go up the street towards the Saw-mill , witness believes to hunt Capt. Phillips” (a friend of Liddell’s).

Felix Robb describes Pryor as quite the colorful character: “Pryor had been but a short time in the country**, only a few weeks, and left soon after Glenn and Wiggins were killed. Pryor had no property here: witness understood that Pryor spoke of buying or of having bought some land somewhere in this Parish, but believes it was a a pretense. Pryor was a notoriously bad character, given to gambling, rioting, and fighting.”

I know you may be running login to an online census record to ID Richard Pryor. I’m thinking we can already ID him from other accounts of a hot-headed Dick Pryor.  I really don’t look for all road to lead to Tennessee but I think on this trip we’re going there again! Remember sweet old Miss Jane H. Thomas who had memories of a Dick Pryor who engaged in horse racing in Nashville? (see post). Of course there could be 2 Dick Pryors who were gamblers and horse-racers. What are the odds?

And could he be the same Richard Pryor who was using enslaved boys as jockeys at his racetrack near Nashville and maybe in Montgomery County, TN? (see post). There are just a few Richard Pryors on the 1850 Census who could possibly be the one who showed up in Catahoula Parish.

Now, because it’s always fun to know how things turned out– what ever happened to St. John Liddell? Well the feud between Liddell and Charles Jones reignited in January 1870 over a real estate deal when John Nixon was shot by C W Carmack, a cashier at the Citizens Bank. Carmack had done a slick property sale for Charles Jones without notifying the firm that employed Nixon as an agent. An article published in the Ouachita Telegraph mentions that Nixon had $20,000 in life insurance — that’s quite a chunk of change at that time. It must have been a dangerous area to be doing business.

Liddell was killed a couple weeks later. He had boarded a river boat and had sat down to dinner. Charles Jones boarded the same boat and when he came in Liddell attempted to take a shot at him, but Jones shot first, killing Liddell (read more online). Liddell also had a chunk of life insurance:

NEW ORLEANS, March 22, 1870.
To Gen. Dabnov H. Maury, Agent of Piedmont and
Arlington Life Insurance Company
My Dear Sir:– Accept my thanks for the prompt and agreeable manner in which your company has acknowledged and made payment on the policy taken out by the late Gen. St. John R. Liddell for the benefit of his daughter, Mrs. Louisa Liddell McMillan. Cordially commending your company to the confidence of your people. I remain, very respectfully, yours,
W. P. McMillan, M.D.
The Ouachita Telegraph (Monroe, LA), 30 April 1870

** I read several articles published in Louisiana newspapers which use “country” to denote locale not that some one was from a foreign country.

American Pharoah’s Lineage Has A Pryor Sidenote

I can’t resist posting about American Pharoah’s lineage. When I start posting horse stories you know it must be Triple Crown time again in the world of horse racing. This year’s horse to beat is American Pharoah. I checked out his lineage and found he’s another thoroughbred descended from Lexington b. 1850 (that’s his skeleton pictured above in the Smithsonian Institute). Lexington was trained by John Benjamin Pryor of Natchez, MS. 165 years later it’s still worth a mention because we have a Pryor in the mix. Lexington’s descendant California Chrome was in the run for the Tripple Crown last year (read post).

American Pharoah’s Pedigree (Family Tree)

Lexington b. 1850 (and Bellamira)
Embrys Lexington b. 1858 (and Carrie D.)
Kate Walker b. 1868 (and Alarm)
Ann Fief b. 1876 (and Virgil)
Tremont b. (and Salina)
Sara b. 1891 (and Prince of Monaco)
Fancywood b. 1898 (and Yankee)
Nonpareil b. 1909 (and Hassock)
Cushion b. 1917 (and Upset)
Rude Awakening (and Bull Dog)
Roused b. 1943 (and Free For All)
Rough’n Tumble b. 1948 (and Iltis)
My Dear Girl b. 1957 (and Intentionally)
In Reality b. 1964 (and Magic)
Charedi (and Le Fabuleux)
Gana Facil b. 1981 (and Fappiano)
Unbridled b. 1987 (and Toussaud)
Empire Maker b. 2000 (and Star of Goshen)
Pioneer of the Nile b. 2006 (and Little Princess MMA)
American Pharoah b. 2012

Connecting Richard Pryor to Dick Pryor’s Racetrack in Nashville

A runaway slave offers our next clue in the identity of Richard Pryor who had a horse track in Nashville.

In 1832 a $100 reward was offered for the return of a runaway slave, a mulatto young man by the name of Warren, aka John. He was 17 or 18 years old and about 4ft. 6in (dang, that’s small by today’s standards!).  He spoke English, French, and Spanish which makes me wonder if he was from the Caribbean or had traveled. The ad placed for his return stated,  “He was in Clarksville, on Cumberland river, Montgomery county, Tenn., and was when a boy owned by Richard Pryor, who employed him as a race-rider in Lexington, Bowling Green, Nashville and other places. He was afterwards sold to Livingston Lewis Leavell of Trenton Christian Co., KY. who brought him to new Orleans, about 4 years and a half ago.”

Yes there’s a Livingston Levell living in Christian County on the 1830 Census, but more importantly it gives us more insight into Richard “Dick” Pryor and his racing activities. One glaring thing is that he was using child slaves as jockeys. The ad also indicates he was traveling between the Kentucky towns named, Nashville and perhaps also in Clarksville.

There was William Pryor, the young naval mid-shipman from Clarksville, who had been gambling in Nashville when killed (read post). I’ve speculated that he was the son of Samuel counted on the census records in Montgomery Co., TN. I’ve also speculated that Samuel was the brother of Thornton Pryor and one of the Bourbon County, KY Pryors who were horse-trading in Nashville. We also know from the truncated will of Joseph Pryor of Bourbon county that he had sons named Samuel, Thornton, and Richard. This is looking like a solid lead toward identifying Richard Pryor and  his racetrack.


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

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?