‘Whipped Peter’ is the inspiration behind Will Smith’s latest film Emancipation. In March 1863, Peter escaped a plantation where he’d been whipped to near death. Peter masked his scent from search dogs by rubbing onions all over his body. After walking for 10 days, Peter stumbled into a Union soldier encampment. Peter asked to enlist.

His physical examination revealed the true horror of enslavement in the South: Peter’s back was crisscrossed with scar tissue from the numerous beatings he’d received from slavers. Photographers at the camp took a photo of Peter’s back and distributed it among the American public, demonstrating that the horrors of slavery were real. 

Whipped Peter likely died of old age in July 1907

Whipped Peter’s cause of death remains unclear. However, we suspect that he died of old age in July 1907. His age at the time of his death is unclear: no records show when he was born or his real name. 

Peter told people at the Union soldier camp that he’d spent two months in bed following a severe beating. Whipped Peter almost died after he escaped from the plantation – he arrived at the camp near-starving, wearing only rags, and exhausted. He would likely have died had he not encountered the Union soldier gathering. 

Peter escaped death by a whisker again when Confederate forces took him captive, tortured him, and left him to die. The resilient Peter escaped to Union lines and continued fighting. Peter reportedly showed great bravery fighting as a sergeant in the Louisiana Native Guard during the Siege of Port Hudson. 

Peter underwent unimaginable torture but refused to die. Due to his resilience, people learned about the pitfalls of slavery, accelerating the push to abolish the practice in the United States.