Although George Washington is best known for his hunting dogs, his journals and letters show that he had many types of dogs throughout his life, and that he had a real fondness for them.
He probably had about 50 or more dogs during his lifetime.
Records from 1786 reveal that our first president paid 12 shillings for a “coach dog” (a dalmatian) named Madame Moose. In August of the following year, he purchased a male coach dog to breed with her. He noted the event in his diary: “A new coach dog [arrived] for the benefit of Madame Moose; her amorous fits should therefore be attended to.”
Several years after the Revolutionary War, Richard Sprigg, a prominent Maryland lawyer, sent George Washington a young female spaniel puppy descended from an English spaniel that Washington had admired while visiting Sprigg’s Annapolis home.
An avid rider and hunter, Washington used spaniels both to flush out land birds from their hiding places and to retrieve birds after they had been shot.
According to Martha Washington’s grandson George Washington Parke Custis, Washington also had a Newfoundland.
Custis wrote that Tom Davis, one of the slaves at Mount Vernon, hunted ducks for the Washington household and was often accompanied by a “great Newfoundland dog who was named Gurmer.”
Terriers were also part of the Washington kennels.
In a letter to William Pearce, who managed Mount Vernon during his presidential term, “I hope Frank [the butler] has taken particular care of the Tarriers [sic]. 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 get to her.”
According to Mount Vernon records, terriers were useful on the plantation because they hunted and killed rats.
Washington is widely known as the father of the American foxhound. He began to crossbreed big French hounds with his own black and tan hounds to create a new breed of hound. Today, the American Kennel Club recognizes our first president as the founder of the American foxhound.
Here are the animals Washington is thought to have had specifically during his time as president:
George Washington’s Pets
- Samson, Steady, Leonidas, Traveller, Magnolia and other stallions
- Nelson and Blueskin, horses used during the American Revolution
- A horse given to Washington by Gen. Braddock
- Drunkard, Mopsey, Taster, Cloe, Tipsy, Tipler, Forester, Captain, Lady Rover, Vulcan, Sweet Lips, and Searcher, all hounds
- Five French hounds
- Rozinante, Nellie Custis’s horse
- A parrot belonging to Mrs. Martha Washington
More to the Story
One of our readers, in the comments section below this article, suggested there was a darker side to George Washington’s relationship with dogs.
Washington felt threatened by his slaves’ dogs, who were well trained and suspected of killing his sheep. Eventually, according to researcher Mary V. Thompson in an article for PBS Frontline, Washington ordered that most of his slaves’ dogs be hanged.
In addition, our nation’s first president drowned puppies. Yes, he drowned certain mixed-breed puppies that weren’t considered “true” — and this may horrify animal lovers today, but the practice wasn’t uncommon among breeders in Washington’s time. Even so, researcher John Ensminger puts it this way: “Washington was not a precursor of the cooing pet lovers that have since inhabited the White House.”