At left, Orr’s 1848 engraving of John Horse for Lt. John Sprague’s The Origin, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida war. At right, Orr’s engraving for Joshua Giddings’ 1858 history, The Exiles of Florida.
Few Americans know his story, but the Black Seminole warrior John Horse (1812-1882) was probably the most successful black freedom fighter in U.S. history. His accomplishments were amazing, despite his obscurity. In Florida, he rose to lead the holdouts in the country’s largest slave uprising. For forty years afterwards he led his people, the African allies of Seminole Indians, on an epic quest from Florida to Mexico to secure a free homeland.
Over a long life he defeated leading US generals, met two Presidents, served as an adviser to Seminole chiefs, a Scout for the US Army, and a decorated officer in the Mexican military. He defended free black settlements on three frontiers, and was said to love children, whiskey, and his noble white horse, “American.” In 1882, he fulfilled his quest for a free homeland with the final act of his life, securing a land grant in Northern Mexico. His descendants live on the land grant to this day.
The life story of John Horse structures the trail narrative (although the narrative covers a wide range of other topics as well). To get as complete a biography of John Horse as possible, see Kenneth Wiggins Porter’s Black Seminoles or Kevin Mulroy’s Freedom on the Border, which adds some details to Porter. Both resources are described under selected books. As these books demonstrate, the known facts of John Horse’s life are scarce, barely filling one or two chapters in all. To document his life, therefore, Rebellion draws on archival images and an evocation of his world to create an authentic portrait of his life and times.
Learn more about John Horse by following this link.