The Many Dogs of George Washington

The dogs of George Washington were of varying breeds and ranged from Greyhounds, Dalmatians, and Newfoundlands, to Briards and terriers. He even had spaniels, just like the French Queen Marie Antoinette and her friend and superintendent of her household, the princesse de Lamballe. Although Washington’s dogs varied, the dog that was most popular with him was the retriever. He also imported English Foxhounds in 1770. Because of his interest in breeding them he crossbred big French hounds with his black and tan hounds and created a new hound breed. This resulted in him becoming widely known as the “father of the American foxhound.”

George Washington. Author’s collection.

The dogs of George Washington also possessed a wide and unusual variety of names. Among them were Mopsay, Lady, Searcher, Forester, Drunkard, Taster, Cloe, Tipler, Vulcan, Sweetlips, Ragman, and Rover. There was also Madame Moose, a Dalmatian, known as a “Coach dog,” that Washington purchased in 1786 for 12 shillings. A year later because of Madame Moose’s passionate appetite for sex another “Coach dog” was purchased to breed with her. Washington noted the purchase stating, “A new coach dog [arrived] for the benefit of Madame Moose; her amorous fits should therefore be attended to.”[1]

Washington was also a devoted dog breeder and kept a diary complete with accounts about his dogs. He also mentioned his thoughts related to how he could improve his pack that he called “Virginia Hounds.” His goal was to breed “a superior dog, one that had speed, sense, and brains.”[2] The dogs of Washington were also mentioned when they gave birth because in May 1768 he wrote:

“The hound bitch Mopsey brought 8 Puppys, distinguishd by the following Names—viz.—Tarter—Jupiter—Trueman—& Tipler (being Dogs)—and Truelove, Juno, Dutchess, & Lady being the Bitches—in all eight. … The bitch Chanter brought five Dog Puppies & 3 Bitch Ditto which were named as follow—viz.—Forrester—Sancho—Ringwood—Drunkard—and Sentwell. And Chanter—Singer—& Busy.”[3]

Washington also took good care of his dogs. He reportedly visited their kennels morning and night and when away from Mount Vernon, he continued to fret about them and their care. For example, he wrote a note to William Pearce, a hired farm manager, in 1796 that stated:

“I hope Frank has taken particular care of the Tarriers. I directed him to observe when the female was getting into heat, and let her be immediately shut up; and no other than the male Tarrier to get her.”[4]

The dogs of Washington that he treasured were his hounds used for fox hunting. He was known to be an avid fox hunter and there are numerous stories of his “riding to the hounds.” He even did so during the American Revolution, and after the war, fox hunting remained a favorite pastime that he enjoyed at Mount Vernon. A diary excerpt from him about one hunt states:

“Went a Fox hunting with the Gentlemen who came here yesterday … after a very early breakfast ― found a Fox just back of Muddy hole Plantation and after a Chase of an hour and a quarter with my Dogs … we put him into a hollow tree, in which we fastened him, and in the Pinchusion put up another Fox, which, in an hour & 13 Minutes was killed ― We then after allowing the Fox in the hole half an hour put the Dogs upon his trail & in a half a Mile he took to another hollow tree and was again put out of it but he did not go 600 yards before he had recourse to the same shift ― finding therefore that he was a conquered Fox we took the Dogs off, and came home to Dinner.”[5]

dogs of George Washington

George Washington fox hunting. Courtesy of Fraunces Tavern Museum.

One of the amusing stories about the dogs of George Washington involves a French hound named Vulcan. He was a mischievous pup of Lady’s and one day he made off with a ham from the kitchen counter that Martha was planning to serve to her dinner guests later that evening. She scolded Vulcan for his naughty behavior, and at dinner when Washington asked why the ham was missing, the butler Frank relayed the story while Washington and his guests laughed with glee about Vulcan’s clever ham theft.

dogs of George Washington

Martha Washington. Author’s collection.

Among the numerous dogs of George Washington was a Poodle named Pilot. Washington referred regularly to Pilot as a “water dog” and frequently took him when he went duck hunting. Pilot was also an exceptionally randy beast, and Washington noted that dog could hardly contain himself when a female dog was in heat, that he “lind” both Musick and Mopsey, and that he produced a lot of offspring.

Despite the dogs of George Washington receiving good care, there was another side to him when it came impure breeds. He was known to have drowned puppies of mixed breeds that he considered to not be “true.” He wrote about this stating, “The Bitch Musick brought five Puppies one of which being thought not true was drownd immediately. The others being somewhat like the Dog (Rockwood of Mr. Fairfaxs) which got them were saved.”[6] At the time, this was a common practice and many other dog owners also rid themselves of unwanted dogs in this way.

In addition, Washington had opinions about his slaves owning dogs and wrote in 1792:

“I am not less concerned to find that I am, forever, sustaining loss in my Stock of Sheep (particularly). I not only approve of your killing those Dogs which have been the occasion of the late loss, & of thinning the Plantations of others, but give it as a positive order, that after saying what dog, or dogs shall remain, if any negro presumes under any pretence whatsoever, to preserve, or bring one into the family, that he shall be severely punished, and the dog hanged. I was obliged to adopt this practice whilst I resided at home, and from the same motives, that is, for the preservation of my Sheep and Hogs; but I observed when I was at home last that a new set of dogs was rearing up, & I intended to have spoke about them, but one thing or another always prevented it. It is not for any good purpose Negros raise, or keep dogs; but to aid them in their night robberies; for it is astonishing to see the command under which their dogs are. I would no more allow the Overseers than I would the Negros, to keep Dogs—One, or at most two on a Plantation is enough. The pretences for keeping more will be various, & urgent, but I will not allow more than the above notwithstanding.”[7]

Despite Washington’s occasional callousness towards dogs, he knew dog owners thought them important and demonstrated this after the Battle of Germantown. British General Charles Cornwallis had seized Philadelphia and so William Howe, also a British general, decided to move his men to Germantown, Pennsylvania. Because of the move Washington thought it was a good time to attack Howe believing the British would be vulnerable while arriving in Germantown. Unfortunately, Washington overestimated the preparedness of his forces and found they could not coordinate effectively and thus the British succeeded in winning on 4 October 1777.

American forces laying siege to the Chew house during the Battle of Germantown. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Afterwards, a small terrier was found wandering on the battlefield. American soldiers picked it up and discovered that it belonged to General Howe. They took the dog to Washington believing that he would want to keep it as retribution for their loss. Instead on 6 October 1777 in Alexander Hamilton’s handwriting Washington sent the following note along with the terrier under a flag of truce:

“General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe.”[8]  

References:

  • [1] G. Washington, W. W. Abbot and D. Twohig, The Papers of George Washington: February-December 1787 (Madison: University Press of Virginia, 1992), p. 287.
  • [2] G. Jenner, A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life from the Stone Age to the Phone Age (New York: St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2016), p. 121.
  • [3] G. Washington, “Observations [May 1768],” Washington Papers Founders Online, National Archives.
  • [4] J. C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799 vol. 35, p. 307.
  • [5] P. L. Ford, George Washington (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Company, 1896), p. 196.
  • [6] G. Washington, “Diary entry: 26 March 1769,” Founders Online, National Archives.
  • [7] G. Washington, “From George Washington to Anthony Whitting, 16 December 1792,” Washington’s Papers Founders Online, National Archives.
  • [8] G. Washington, “From George Washington to General William Howe, 6 October 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives.

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