The horses are the products of a long period of slavery. Horses have been bred as beasts of burden and sent to the Americas for hundreds of years as part of the transcontinental slave trade. Most of the current American population is descended from slaves.
If an animal has been bred as a slave for thousands of years, then it should never have the ability to express human speech. That is called “spearing,” and for that reason there could be no racehorse named after Benjamin Franklin, the man who first published an English-language paper on the art of spearing.
The story goes—and most people think it’s true—that when Benjamin Franklin entered New York in 1765, an African-American in the audience at his dinner party said this: “The best part of the story may be told, my friend, by the words of the great Ben Franklin. ‘I have seen horses, on which it were impossible to see through the tongue. One, which I did not take so far under the skin, seemed to speak to me. It took up a considerable part of my face, and when I looked down below, I saw its little lips. They were as white as the finest snow. The horse must have had a large tongue. It could not breathe through a nose. It must have been a very large horse, to have carried his head like that, and the tongue as long as his body.’ That, my friend, was the truth.”
The tale of Ben Franklin was then widely reported, and the story of a horse that spoke to people in its face for an hour has stuck in people’s minds ever since. Now some scientists believe the story was probably a hoax, as did several other reports of the horse speaking.
So why does the story persist?
Here are all the known facts about Benjamin Franklin’s horse, which is currently being held at the Smithsonian Institution:
Benjamin Franklin and his dog, Daisy. From an 1823 account by Benjamin Franklin and his son-in-law Samuel Adams, Jr., published in the British Gazette.
Benjamin Franklin and his wife, Ann. As noted, a story about a horse speaking to people was widely reported by Europeans in the 1800s.
An early photograph of James Franklin. From an 1825 photograph by Joseph Franklin, Jr. published in the New York Herald.
The horse was called “Benjamin Franklin’s Horse.” That name has been used for several generations, as the horse
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