Black History Month ‘Faithful Groomsman’ remembered

Black History Month ‘Faithful Groomsman’ remembered
By SHIRLEAN HARMON
Special to The Messenger
In recognition of Black History Month, I would like to share a piece of not widely-known history.
On a cold and snowy December night in 1776, General George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware river to launch a surprise attack on the British forces at Trenton, N.J.
Meanwhile, a slight-of-build 12-year-old boy who always dreamed of serving in the army, like his father, saw this as his opportunity, as he heard the troops were in the area.
He knew his mother would not allow this, so he ran away to join Washington’s troops.
Washington, realizing the boy was much too young to put on the battlefield, assigned him the job of taking care of the horses and keeping a lamp going so the company could see where to return after the battle.
It was bitterly cold and the boy was scantily clad, but he jumped at this opportunity to serve. He was in the Army!
After several hours, Washington and the remaining troops returned to find the horses tied to the little boy; he had frozen to death, with the lantern still clutched in his fist.
Washington was so moved by this youngster’s devotion that he wanted to honor him in some way.
The honor and recognition came in the form of a stone statue Washington had commissioned of the this little boy standing, holding the reins of horses in one hand and a lantern in his other hand. He had this statue placed on the lawn of his Mt. Vernon estate.
After that, this statue could be found on plantation lawns throughout the South, and in some instances it utilized as a means of communication for the underground railroad.
Slaves on the plantation would drape the statue in green to indicate to runaway slaves that this was a safe house or in red to indicate danger.
Over the years, however, the look — as well as the significance of this small monument — has changed.
The clothing was changed to that of a race horse jockey. Some have been made of cast iron and some have even been painted white.
These statues today, with the original attire, are quite valuable.
Regardless of where you may find one of these “lawn jockeys,” or “Faithful Groomsmen” as they are often called, its symbolism, as Washington is said to have stated, is one of a proud moment in U.S. history, representing the innocence and devotion of an African-American boy named Jocko Graves.
Editor’s note: Several stories and at least one book have been written about this moving story celebrating the patriotism and heroism of a very young African-American boy who loved his country and wished to serve it. While Washington scholars say they cannot find written evidence pointing to the actual event, researchers also note that a lack of printed material may or may not have historical significance. According to Joann Martin, co-founder of the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, the lack of documentation doesn’t necessarily disprove the Jocko legend. She points out that much of the documentation of black history has been lost. Mrs. Harmon bases her story on a book about Jocko Graves, which presents the story as factual.
Published in The Messenger 2.28.12

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