Lawn Jockey: Tacky ornament, or proud symbol of emancipation?

No, this isn’t for Great Debates, this is a question as to the veracity of the following stories:

My Bovine Scatology Detector went off pretty loud when I read the second part. Unfortunately, all I have are suspicions:

  1. The name “Jocko” seems backronymmed (or “retconned” if you’re into that).

  2. The signals for the Underground Railroad are a tempting target for other urban legends.

  3. The purported signals don’t make practical sense – at night, how will someone escaping tell a green ribbon from a red one, or a lantern over the statue’s arm from a lantern in its hand?

  4. The passive voice and lack of sources bothers me. I understand that it might be an “oral tradition”. I just wish there were some source where somebody had decided to write down the story – either in the 1780s because of Jocko’s contribution, or in the 1880s because of his use in freeing slaves.

  5. Why didn’t Washington bring someone along for the specific purpose of tending to the horses? And why didn’t that person set a camp fire, or take the horses back to the nearest house?

…anyway, you can see where I’m going with this. My suspicions are high on a number of points. I’d like to see a more authoritative source. And, for the record, I think lawn jockeys are tacky whether or not they represent a hero of emancipation.

Well, this article claims that there’s no mention of Jocko Graves in any primary source (written documents) of the day. And there are some inconsistencies – if the kid died in Trenton, NJ, how likely is it that they would have taken the trouble to bury him at Mt. Vernon? At Valley Forge, hundreds of people probably froze to death. Would one more have been notable?

As for the green or red ribbons – that also sounds like BS, but I have nothing concrete to prove it. However, we do know that the classic “green for go, red for stop” signals did not become prevalent until the first World War. So the fact that it’s a green ribbon as opposed to, say, a white one or a yellow one, makes me suspicious. I’m guessing this one was also made up.

Well, no such statue is at Mount Vernon. Also one source that repeats the GW story indicates the statue first came into use (as a groomsman, not a jockey) in the mid 1800s, long after George.

The Battle of Trenton history makes no mention of the incident. Only two soldiers died, both by exposure, but there’s no mention that they were at the crossing.

There is another story around that says the jockey lawn ornament originally honored black jockeys. According to that story, black men were among the top jockeys in the US until racism drove them out of the profession.

Frankly, I don’t know if it’s any truer than the Jocko fantasy.