You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know about George Washington, the United States’ very first President. But while you’re apt to hear stories about a cherry tree and crossing a certain river, what you may not hear much about are the animals he considered his pets and friends. One animal that was very important to Washington was one of his horses, Nelson.
Nelson was about 16 hands high and chestnut in color, with a white streak (or “blaze”) down the center of his face and four white feet. He was born in 1763, and owned by a man named Thomas Nelson. Years later, when the horse was 15 years old, Nelson overheard a rumor that Washington had been having trouble replacing a horse he had been riding in the war. Nelson then gifted the charger to Washington, who promptly renamed him after the man who had so generously gifted the horse to him.
While Washington was often seen riding another favorite horse, Blueskin, Nelson was his horse of choice for battle. It was said that Blueskin was less steady under fire than Nelson who could be counted on to stand firm even when the cannons were firing. Nelson was so remarkable that there were those that took note of him even when other events were of the utmost importance – like October 19th, 1791, the day that the British surrendered at Yorktown. “On the day of the surrender, the commander-in-chief rode his favorite and splendid charger, named Nelson, a light sorrel, sixteen hands high, with white face and legs, and remarkable as being the first nicked horse in seen in America.”
After the war, Washington decided that Nelson had performed admirably and that now it was time to retire the horse to a life of ease. Nelson was sent to Washington’s farm, where he was often the object of interest and note to visitors. In a letter to a friend, a visiting Englishman named John Hunter remarked upon Nelson: “When dinner was over, we visited the General’s stables, saw his magnificent horses, among them Old Nelson now 22 years of age, who had carried the General almost always during the war.”
Nelson lived a leisurely life on the farm, and finally died of old age in 1790, at roughly 27 years old – a tremendous lifespan for a horse in that time.