Little is known about W. S. Hedges except that he was an English painter who traveled to British Guyana in the early 1830s, where he painted a view of Georgetown and accompanied an expedition to Pakaraimas, a remote mountainous region of the country. After members of his party fell ill, while waiting for replacements he visited a Carib village up the Demerara River and painted a scene of its inhabitants. Sometime in 1841, Hedges visited Alabama, where he painted A Race Meeting. For years the painting was believed to depict a race in Jacksonville, the city in northeastern Alabama, but recent scholarship has suggested that it actually depicts a community outside Mobile of the same name. This identification is supported not only by the fact that Mobile would have been Hedges’ likely port-of-entry from the Caribbean, but also because the royal palms in the background are indigenous to the Gulf Coast.
The influence of eighteenth-century English sporting prints is evident in the clockwise direction of the race and other details. With its attention to detail, particularly to the individuals in the foreground, Hedges’ composition provides an extraordinary visual record of mid nineteenth-century horse racing in Alabama, closely resembling a period newspaper account, which recorded: “There was a half mile or more of low buildings, stables and jockey’s quarters; and all about were the pleasure loving crowds, the fashionably dressed and poorly clad, mingling in a kaleidoscope of controlled confusion. In the judges’ stand were the moguls of the racing circles, their eyes turned to the mile long oval of track, to the rippling-muscled thoroughbreds pitting speed against steed as they thundered down the track to the roar of the crowd.” The painting was not Hedges’ only treatment of the subject. In 1846, while in Barbados, he painted Race Day, Savannah of St. Ann’s (The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, St. Ann’s Garrison, St. Michael, Barbados).