Historians disagree about the origins of the lawn jockey because there is no documentation on who designed the first one. After the Civil Rights Movement, lawn jockeys were considered racist and declined in popularity. However, there are some defenders who feel the jockey statues are a tribute to the determination and resilience of African-Americans.
There are two popular tales surrounding this controversial figure.
The first widespread story is of the brave 12-year-old named Jocko Graves. On December 24th, 1776, Tom Graves, a free African American man, joined a local militia to aid George Washington. His son Jocko accompanied him, eager to become a soldier. Washington was impressed by the child’s courage and assigned him to tend to the officers’ horses while troops crossed the Delaware River. Jocko was to keep a lantern burning to guide soldiers back to camp once the battle had ended.
The following day, after Washington’s victory over the British, the general returned to find Jocko frozen to death, still clutching his lantern. Washington was moved by Graves’ resolve and erected a statue of the young groomsman when he returned to Mount Vernon.
Another unconfirmed belief is the depiction of a ‘footman’ with a lantern was significant to the Underground Railroad. Pieces of cloth were wrapped on the iron jockeys signaling slaves escaping from Southern plantations. Green would signify it was safe and slaves would be provided temporary shelter, red meant there was danger.
Still others believe the lawn jockey is nothing more than a decorative ornament. Over time, the statue’s original design changed, and its origin stories were forgotten. Groups like the Friends of Jocko Society hope to keep this young man’s legend alive.
With more than 90 antique and collectibles dealers between two handicap-accessible floors, The PAST Antiques Marketplace is sure to have something for the history lover in all of us.