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Percherons Hold Place of Honor in Moorestown History

The horses, which will be represented in the Fourth of July parade, came to America thanks to a Moorestown man.

When the Moorestown Fourth of July parade steps off today at noon, Percheron horses will be among those strutting down Main Street. But the horses mean more to Moorestown than simply participants in the parade.

Percherons, which originated in France, first came to the United States thanks to a 19th-century Moorestonian. Moorestown native son Edward Harris Jr., described as a gentleman farmer and natural scientist, brought the horse breed to America in 1839 after he visited France.

The Percheron horses Harris saw pull coaches struck his fancy and he decided to bring several back home. Percherons had everything Harris was looking for in a workhorse. The breed generally is enthusiastic about working, and their proportions make them ideal to pull heavy loads. 

Harris, who lived at 12 High Street, in what is now the Smith-Cadbury Mansion, wanted to try out the breed on his farm.

But, Harris’ first attempt failed. According to the 1886 book The Percheron Horse in America, by Mason Cogswell Weld and Charles Du Haÿs, Harris first imported a stallion and two mares by boat. The stallion died in passage and one mare arrived quite ill. The other mare fell through the boat’s deck and was put down after breaking her legs.

Harris didn’t give up. He returned to France, again in 1839, and looked for more Percherons to bring back, according to the authors.

This time, he selected two stallions—Bonaparte and Diligence—and several mares. Although one of the stallions eventually went blind, the horses generally got on well and established the Percheron’s presence in New Jersey and America.

The book’s French authors don’t mince their opinion of this event.

“This importation was of immense value to that part of the country. Teaching the farmers by actual experience that a useful horse of good weight, great activity and nerve, coupled with great power of draft and absolute honesty of the collar, were more profitable to raise than the high-strung, weakly things they had been breeding from high-blooded horses, then fashionable as sires,” the authors write.

Harris also had nothing but praise for the breed. Cogswell Weld and Du Haÿs quote a letter Harris wrote to the Farmers' Cabinet newspaper in 1842. In it, he expounds on the positives of Percherons, especially his beloved Diligence.

Percherons, Harris wrote, were far superior to the English draft-horses more commonly used at the time for farm work.

“I have frequently been questioned as to my reasons for selecting this horse for farmers' use in preference to the English draft-horse. My reply has always been, that the draft-horse of England, whenever brought to this country, must prove a failure,” his letter to the newspaper reads. “He wants the go-a-head principle; he cannot move out of a walk, which is saying quite enough of him, without dwelling upon his defects of form, which can only be concealed by loads of fat, and not even then from the eye of the horseman.”

Harris embarked on breeding the Percherons, which produced replicas of the strong farm horses he sought.

“By 1930, there were almost three times as many registered Percherons in the USA as all other draft horse breeds combined,” according to a historical account supplied by Moorestown resident Margo Foster. “Harris’ imported Percherons had had a monumental impact on the farming and hauling businesses nationwide.”

Harris gave up farming in 1846 and ill health forced him to break apart the remaining Percherons in 1853. Several, including some of the original imports, went to a friend of Harris’ in New York. 

In addition to appearing in today’s parade as a way to honor Moorestown’s past, the town’s garden club has proposed a pocket park at Main and High streets named Percheron Park. Design plans call for honoring the breed’s place in Moorestown history.

Gina Zegel July 04, 2011 at 10:45 AM
Thanks for bringing this wonderful history to everyone that subscribes.
July 4 fun July 04, 2011 at 11:13 AM
Great story. Wish we could see one. Perhaps Gina and margo's idea of placing statue-like Percheron horses on the corner of main and high by the park could work?
Beth Schroeder July 04, 2011 at 11:46 AM
Thank you for this piece of history! May the MGC proposal for the pocket park become reality and soon; it is a thoughtful concept with a lot of benefit for all who walk through it in a town that has so much history!
July 4 fun July 04, 2011 at 12:36 PM
How could a fundraiser drive for the park happen? I know we have a a latitude of time of a year or so due to someone saying gas vents need to be removed? We saw them the other day, quite a few. As I read, I too have a concern for skateboarders etc from occupying and jumping the park, any ideas?
Carmen H. von Wrangell July 04, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Great article, full of important information. Percherons may not be as photogenic or well-known as Clydesdales but they are absolutely perfect for the work at hand and their Moorestown connection must be highlighted.
Lisa Hammell July 04, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Thank you for posting this article filled with important history concerning our town.
Lorraine Bowers July 10, 2011 at 11:34 PM
Gina, The owner of the Percherons in the 4th of July parade is a Moorestown native who presently llives in Marlton. He is the owner of Twin Holly Farm and he does carriage rides with his horses for different events. He is interested in being part of your proposed Percheron Pocket Park. Lorraine Bowers
Johnny Engleheart-Noel July 03, 2012 at 05:03 AM
Edward Harris was my great, great, grandfather on my mother's side. My mother always told me about this and here it is!
Cynthia Crane January 27, 2013 at 02:22 AM
Hi Johnny, Edward Harris was also my great great grandfather on my mother's side! I am descended from Mary vansittart Harris, his daughter.
Cynthia Crane January 27, 2013 at 02:23 AM
Forgot to mention, Edith Vavasour Noel Borman was my grandmother.

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