The stallion was born in West Springfield, Massachusetts in 1789. There is far less mystery about Figure's ancestry than is popularly supposed. The small, dark colt is now believed to have been sired by an English Thoroughbred stallion named "True Briton", also known as "Beautiful Bay" and "Traveller", who was foaled in 1768. Figure's dam was of "Wild-Air" breeding, sired by Diamond, foaled in 1784 in West Springfield. The dam was, in fact, bred by Justin Morgan, for whom the breed is named. Figure is thought to have stood about 14 hh (1.42 m), and to have weighed about 950 lb (430 kg). He was known for his prepotency, passing on his distinctive looks, conformation, temperament, and athleticism.
Ownership by Justin Morgan
In 1792, Figure was advertised for stud before he was given as a payment for a debt to Justin Morgan (1747-1798), a singing teacher and one-time Randolph, Vermont Town Clerk. Justin Morgan owned Figure from 1792-1795, advertising him for stud in Lebanon, New Hampshire and Randolph, Vermont (1793), Randolph and Royalton, Vermont (1794), and Williston and Hinesburg, Vermont (1795). Figure was then lent out to Robert Evans in the fall of 1795 to clear land for a Mr. Fisk at a rate of $15.00 a year.
Justin Morgan later traded the horse for land in Moretown, Vermont, to a Samuel Allen, who then sold the stallion later that year to William Rice of Woodstock.
In 1796, Figure raced in a sweepstakes in Brookfield, Vermont, beating New York horses to win $50. That year, he was advertised at stud by Johnathan Shepard of Montpelier, who also raced him in several match races in which he did well. Figure became known as the "Justin Morgan horse."
Figure was traded again in 1797, along with a blacksmith shop, to James Hawkins. It is not known what became of him until 1801, when he was in the possession of Robert Evans of Randolph, Vermont. Evans owned the horse until 1804, using the stallion for logging, racing, and breeding, until he fell into debt to Colonel John Goss. Goss collected the horse as part of the debt, and used him to review troops and also entered him in a pulling bee, which the little horse won. He later traded Figure for a mare owned by his brother, David Goss, in 1805.
David Goss owned Figure from 1805-1811, where he worked on the farm for 10 months, and was used for breeding for two months each year. He was sold in 1811 to Philip Goss for the breeding season. Philip Goss then sold Figure to Jacob Sanderson, who sold him to Jacob Langmeade. Langmeade used the horse to haul freight, and is thought to have abused the aging stallion.
Langmeade sold Figure to Joel Goss and Joseph Rogers at the end of 1811. Figure stood at stud for several years, before he was sold to Samuel Stone in 1817. Stone exhibited the stallion in the Randolph fair. Figure was used as a parade mount by President James Monroe later that year.
In 1819, Figure was sold to his final owner, Levi Bean of Chelsea, Vermont. Toward the end of his life, Figure was put out to pasture. He died in 1821 from an injury to the flank, caused by a kick, at the age of 32. Figure is now buried in Tunbridge, Vermont.
Stories, myths and legends
There were many myths that sprung up surrounding Figure and Justin Morgan. The popular children's book, Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry, is a fictionalized account of Figure (called "Little Bub" in the book) and his early life. A movie about the pair was also made by Walt Disney Studios, released in 1972, which also took liberties with the depiction of events.