Friday, May 13, 2011

The Lawn Jockey

The fabled Lawn Jockey has a long and illustrious history that goes all the way back to George Washington.  There are three versions of the American Lawn Jockey and there are two distinct historical time frames associated with it.

1) 1776 to 1913: the original versions were made of solid iron or zinc and weighed 300-400 pounds and were designed for functional use, tying horses.  The one pictured above may be from this time period. (This one is on Ebay right now)

2) 1913-present: reproductions were made of hollow iron (weighing about 150 pounds), concrete, plastic or aluminum.  These were made for decorative use.

The fabled "21 Club" in New York has a wide array of reproduction "Cavalier" Lawn Jockeys.

There were three versions of the the Lawn Jockey.  Two you have probably seen before, but there were other versions too.  The three manufacturers that had catalogs and marketed their products were JW Fiske and JL Mott of New York City, and Robert Wood and Co. of Philadelphia.  The makers mark was usually stamped on the top of the base.

There is a story about the "Faithful Groomsman" that could be fact or fiction, it is unclear.  But the original Lawn Jockey was indeed a "Faithful Groomsman" who worked with General George Washington.  The story goes that a 12-year old slave named Jocko Graves stayed on the shore of the Delaware River that famous night when Washington crossed the Delaware.  He held a lantern to mark the location but he froze to death later that night.  To honor him, Washington commissioned a cast iron statue of Jocko holding a lantern and called it "The Faithful Groomsman."  There is no existing record, however, of there being a statue like this at Mt. Vernon.  But there are records of many "Faithful Groomsman" statues existing. 

In a somewhat related story, legend has it that the Faithful Groomsman statues were used to point the way to freedom for the Underground Railroad.  According to oral tradition, if no slave hunters were near, the sympathetic agent lit Jocko's lantern or tied a bright cloth to his arm to signal that it was safe.  Some records point to the use of red or green lights or fabric. 

Up until around 1860, there was likely only one version of the Lawn Jockey, "the Faithful Groomsman."  After 1860, two new versions emerged:

"Jocko" as it came to be known was a caricature version of "The Faithful Groomsman."  This version was never copyrighted or patented. (This one is a reproduction.  I prefer the older Jocko statues).

The "Cavalier" is today widely reproduced and an unpainted cement version can be purchased for less than $200.  This version was copyrighted in 1871 and patented in 1872.

The term "Lawn Jockey" is rather recent originating in the 1940's. 

It is not uncommon to see these painted in farm colors.

You can purchase these today from various places, order it unpainted or custom in whatever colors you desire.  You can find the older ones on Ebay, at auctions and in antique stores but be prepared to write a big check for the old ones, if you can find one. 

I'm loving these Lawn Jockey canasta cards:

Next time you spot a Lawn Jockey on someone's farm, I hope you will enlighten them to the unique history of this fabled statue with a past.


  1. Always liked these guys! Do you have any Ann?
    xo Cathy

  2. I have a Jocko, one that is old.

  3. Hi! My grandmother has a lawn jockey/ hitching post made by J.L. Mott and we were wanting to know more about it. I can send pics if interested. You can email me at Thanks!

  4. I have two jocks I had installed at the end of my driveway, one is the 1870 version. I need to find the lnaterns that i can buy and would really like them to use LED's. Any idea where I can find these?

  5. I appreciate your post. My new neighbors just put one up in the back yard and I was a little freaked out until reading more about it. Theirs is like the center one, caricature version from 1860, pedestal and all. Now I know more about it, thanks.

  6. Can't wait to get one!

  7. It is a shame that people are afraid and paint their black Jocko white! Where I live there are houses still standing that were part of the Underground Railroad, composed by Whites who helped escaped Blacks from the South. These houses had BLACK Jockos and depending on the color of the ribbon on his hand the slaves knew if it was safe to go in. I guess that if Blacks admitted all this they would have to stop whining and moaning about racism, etc, and recognize the thousands of White men who died to free them. Shame, shame, shame!

    1. oh is that what we do "whine and moan?" while YOURE the race that seems to benefit from it all? its funny how the guy thats NOT being insulted is the one telling the other guy if they should be insulted or not...

  8. Thank you so much for your fascinating articles on the Lawn Jockey! My grandparents bought a farm in the 1930's in northern Iowa which was originally owned by a wealthy Chicago gentleman who acquired the land and built the farm in the late 1800's for his son. It was quite a large farm known at the time as the "Chicago Stock Farm". The house on the farm, which my grandparents lived in for many years, was a beautiful large Victorian. In front of it stood two Lawn Jockey hitching posts. My sister and my cousins and I called these "The Little Men" and we played around them often. Eventually after my grandparents died the house was first rented out and then sold, but my aunt still has the two "little men" in her garden on her own farm. Until I read this I had no idea that they are actually important pieces of Black Americana! They are the Jocko type and I am sure that they are from the 1800's. It is true that their faces are charicatures and definitely could be interpreted as racist, but I love the stories of Jocko Lawn Jockeys being part of the underground railroad--though I have no idea if these were used that way. But I love them and truly appreciate your article!

  9. Just wondering what the worth is of my pure iron Jocko?

  10. I'm looking for a cavalier one unfinished but having a hard time finding one.I live in Port Huron,Michigan.HELP!!!!!!!!

  11. i find it curious and obvious...we have all sorts of documentations from past civilizations and writings from mother england, and yet when it comes to blacks, or indians...magically there is little written...little found. So here you are looking at the early image...1700s. a black youth, holding a lantern...then you see the black paint one(its not like we didnt have brown paint, right? the original was brown the obvious second one is a racist attempt by white men) and then its suddenly used to hitch horses!?

    Ok you cant see the obvious change in use? The story attached to the black youth, you quickly say "there is no documentation to prove the story". exactly what documentation would you require? what documentation is there for many of the things you believe of the "forefathers?" Yet you believe those tales without question. Funny....and then to create even greater insult to injury, you have the audacity to claim the clearly offensive black pain red lip version is good and welcomed imaging!!! then call US the complainers for wanting to take those jocking and hurl them through your windows?! Im trying to understand...why would we not hurl them through your racist windows? if we as black people had images of statues of white officers with their hands in the air, and we sat them on our lawns, you would make laws banning would protest people having them...but not on the street...but at the person's JOB via media attention, so the person would lose their job. or if they were renting, you would push till they lost the home...if they were on a pension, you would push till it was lost..if they were a celeb, you would push till they lost endorsements (thats how white men protest...being that you have high power, there is no need to protest on the streets)


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