John E. Turner, Horse Jockey

"Give me races and few records, as I want the money and have no craving for honors."

- John E. Turner, aka "The General"

John E. Turner (1832-1912) was an Irish immigrant with the skills of a reisman (a male horse jockey). He took care of horses when he was a boy.

Fun Fact #1: He was considered "industrious" when he got the attention from the road drivers by having good manners and keeping everything shipshape order with their horses. As a return for his good manners, one gentleman gave him a horse named May Day. Unfortunately, his horse May Day fell over the broken macadam (a type of road construction), and had cuts, blood, and wounds. Due to May Day's injuries, John never saw his horse again.

John E. Turner (1832-1912)

He never had an education until a kind woman requested her husband to make arrangements for John to attend school in the winter.

John had a hard time learning how to write like others in his age group. He ended up dropping out of school and returned to his shed where he took care of the horses. He then realized he made a mistake and busied himself to learn how to read, write, and even financing.

He found employment as a groomer on the race tracks. He gained attention from road drivers while walking his mare. He was joked upon by them until John claimed to them that his mare could trot faster than any horse. That caught the road drivers' attention.

From there, John began to race with various horses he sold and bought. He began in Philadelphia, and traveled from town to town, and even went as far as Iowa and Canada.

He had a horse named May Queen that he brought out from Burlington, New Jersey. May Queen won more races for John than from her previous owner John B. Haines. When he returned to Philadelphia, there were Quaker City experts who wanted to bet him and May Queen to three matches to be trotted. May Queen won the first two, but John paid forfeit in the third match. As a result, May Queen was sold for $11,000.

Fun Fact #2: John had a picture of his horse May Queen in his home.


John had a horse named Hannis, a bad-tempered little horse that John saw as a serviceable piece of racing material. He made four campaigns with Hannis. Hannis was 58 races where he was in first place in 17 races, second in 15 races, and third in 13 races.

Fun Fact #3: Hannis was considered one of the famous horses in 19th century America.

Hannis was born in 1868 in Baltimore, Maryland. He was raised by his former owner Benjamin Jenkins. From age 5-7, Hannis began speeding on the race tracks. He was sent to John in Philadelphia where he worked on him for several months. It was the year 1877 under the generalship of John who gave Hannis's debut in Philadelphia, entering him in the 2:25 class.

During his debut in Philadelphia, Hannis didn't do well in the race due to the bad conditions on the track. Hands had been in 2nd and 3rd place after traveling to places in the West. It was in Chicago where Hannis won his first race with the time of 2:27. But, the most major event Hannis faced was in 1879 Cleveland.

"Dan Mace had won a great race at Springfield with Sheridan, and his admirers were confident that the Edward Everett gelding could lower the colors of Hannis and all the other horses named in the 2:34 class."

- William Henry Gocher, Wet Sundays (45-46)

"At the word Murphy rushed to the front with Lady Pritchard and won the heat in 2:27, with Hannis struggling along near the distance stand ... At this point the Eastern brigade was jubilant, Mace bright and witty and Turner storming over a bad start and the condition of his horse ... At the half Hannis was struggling along the rear when he suddenly regained his stride and speed. From that point he acted like a trotter and picked up every horse in the race except Sheridan, the latter winning by a head. This unexpected awakening put a crimp in Mace's wit and when Hannis stepped by him at the half in the fourth heat he pulled into Turner and took a couple of spokes out of one of his wheels. Fortunately Hannis never faltered and won the heat in 2:22.25 and the next two in 2:24.75, 2:26.25. John Murphy, by winning the first heat with Lady Pritchard, saved the race for Turner."

- William Henry Gocher, Wet Sundays (46-47)

Fun Fact #4: His best time was 2:19.25 when he and John (again) defeated their rival Dan Mace and his new horse Prospero.

His race at Ambler Park took place on May 21, 1879, where he lost to a horse named Midnight.

From the "Famous Horses of America" (1877)

With his success in racing and making money with his horses, John finished his career in a happy note, and retired in Ambler.

"Having risen from the ranks, Turner was a master of every detail in a racing stable. He favored kindness to punishment and on that account never carried a heavy whip when working a horse or in a race. He taught his horses to do their best at the word or a light tap, and from the day that he was high enough in the profession to reject a horse he would not train one that pulled."

- William Henry Gocher, Wet Sundays (55)

Ever since he died, his property began turning into a housing development in 1913.

Montgomery County 1893, Ambler Borough; J. L. Smith, Publisher
Atlas of the North Penn Section of Montgomery County, Pa., 1916, Plate 26; A. H. Mueller, Publisher
Montgomery County 1949 Vol D, Plate 15 - Ambler Borough; Franklin Survey Company, Publisher
Clipping ad from the Ambler Gazette (October 4, 1906): Page 8
Clipping from the Ambler Gazette (May 21, 1908), first half: Page 7

Clipping from the Ambler Gazette (May 21, 1908), second half: Page 7


Famous Horses of America: Containing Fifty-nine Portraits of the Celebrities of the American Turf, Past and Present. With Short Biographies. (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1877): 70-71.

Franklin Survey Company. Montgomery County 1949 Vol D, Plate 15, 1949.

Gocher, W.H. 2:30 Book and Table of Sires, Containing All Trotters with Records of 2:30 Or Better, All Pacers with Records of 2:30 or Better, All Sires of 2:30 Performers and their Performers, World's Records, Big Money-Winners, Winning Sires, Champion Trotters and Pacers, Up to the Close of 1894. (Cleveland: W.H. Gocher, 1894): 120.

Gocher, W.H. Wet Sundays. (Hartford: W.H. Gocher, 1903): 32-57.

Mueller, A. H. Atlas of the North Penn Section of Montgomery County, Pa., Plate 26, 1916.

Smith, J.L. Montgomery County 1893, Ambler Borough, 1893.

"Wissahickon Valley Public Library's Ambler Gazette Collection." POWER Library: Pennsylvania's Electronic Library. Accessed February 18, 2021.

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