Justin Morgan’s main claim to fame in history has been as the owner of an unusual runt work horse raised in Vermont and originally known as “Little Bub” which became the sire of a famous American breed of horse named after its first owner, the Morgan horse. However, Justin Morgan was not a horse breeder. He was an early American school teacher, singing master, and composer. Those of us who are familiar with American concert music may be acquainted with a piece called “Fantasy for Double String Orchestra on a Hymn Tune of Justin Morgan” by Thomas Canning which is based on “Amanda,” a hymn tune composed by Justin Morgan. The book tells the story of how Morgan, with his young friend and student Joel Goss, goes from Randolph, VT, to Springfield, MA, in 1795 because Farmer Beane owes him some money that he needs.
Farmer Beane cannot pay, but he gives Morgan a fine steed named Ebenezer instead. Little Bub seems to want to go with Ebenezer, so Farmer Beane throws him in the deal as well. However, the main character of the book is not Morgan but Joel, who gentles Little Bub for Morgan, watches the horse outpull and outrace other horses while being rented out to a local farmer, and then tries to buy him at an auction after Morgan’s death. Unfortunately, he does not have enough money, and Bub is purchased by the local carpenter but is then sold very quickly to someone else who takes him away. Joel looks for Bub while an apprentice at Miller Chase’s inn, searches for the horse while fighting during the War of 1812, and continues to think about him after becoming an adult and a partner of Miller Chase. But will he ever see the horse again? Marguerite Henry has written several good horse stories. We have read her series beginning with Misty of Chincoteague (a 1948 Newbery Honor book) and also her Newbery Award winning King of the Wind. Justin Morgan Had a Horse was a Newbery Honor book in 1946. We did this as a family read aloud and everyone enjoyed it.