New marker recalls career of one-time slave Charles Stewart who became renowned horseman, earning fame and fortune in 19th century

RICHMOND — A state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will be dedicated the month that recalls the life of Charles Stewart, who was born into slavery near Petersburg and became a renowned expert horseman and jockey in the 19th-century U.S, earning fame and fortune.

The marker dedication ceremony will be held Saturday at 2 p.m., at the sign’s location on Pocahontas Island in Petersburg at the intersection of Pocahontas and Sapony streets. The public is encouraged to attend.

Speakers at the ceremony will include Richard Stewart, founding director of the Pocahontas Island Black History Museum; Pegram Johnson III, a retired Episcopal priest and educator; and Jennifer Loux, of the Department of Historic Resources (DHR).

Charles Stewart spent part of his childhood on Pocahontas Island and when he was about the age of 12 was sold to William R. Johnson, one of the foremost figures in horse racing, then America’s most popular sport, according to the historical marker.

Stewart soon found success "as a jockey, trainer, stable manager, and stallion man, affording him money and fame," in the words of the marker.

His portrait was painted with a stallion in 1832, and in 1837 Stewart, still enslaved, went to Kentucky to run a stable and was later sold to Alexander Porter, a U.S. senator from Louisiana.

In 1884, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine published Stewart’s dictated memoir.

The marker for Charles Stewart was approved for manufacture and installation earlier this year by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which has the authority to designate new historical markers. The manufacturing cost of the sign has been covered by its sponsor, the Cameron Foundation.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,500 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, as well as by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority such as Petersburg.