The Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses

“Let Horse Thieves Beware”

Stop thief! Possee gives chase on horseback

The official name is The Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses. In one sense, the name says it all; but the background goes something like this:

The movement to establish a Horse Company in a community was widespread and began, in some instances, before the Revolutionary War. Despite early legislation by the Commonwealth and severe punishment if convicted, organized gangs of horse thieves roamed the countryside at will. In those days, law enforcement was the responsibility of the county sheriff or local constable.

The formation of a Horse Company seems to have been a spontaneous protective measure. Almost every rural community in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the adjoining states had a Horse Company. At one time, there were at least 21 Horse Companies in Montgomery County.

The horse was of supreme importance to all fortunate enough to possess one or more – and especially to every farmer. The farmer was not only dependent on his horse for mobility, but also for service in the field and on the farm. The needs of the horse came first – it received the best attention and care available.

The objective of these Horse Companies was to put potential thieves on notice of the protection by the Company with broadsides and branding, and to pay for advertising in the event of the loss of a horse by theft. In such an event, the Company posse would go looking for the horse, and, in the event the horse could not be recovered, the Company would pay the owner some recompense based upon an appraisal by Company members or neighbors acquainted with the horse’s value. In short, the Horse Company provided an early form of casualty insurance. In the 1850’s these societies were at their height of service and added value to the cause to which they were dedicated. From Township records, the 1887 assessment recorded that there were 1,653 horses in Lower Merion.

drawing of a horse with every part of it labeled
American Farrier, Containing a Minute Account of the Formation of Every Part of the Horse from the Extremity of the Head to the Hoof by H.L. Barnum. Published by Uriah Hunt, Philadelphia, 1832, page 9 illustration.