George Washington loved to ride and to hunt, and he often went fox hunting several times a week during the winter. His papers stored at the Library of Congress reveal that he wanted to breed a new American hunting dog, “a superior dog, one that had speed, sense and brains.”
Washington’s close friend and ally during the Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette, heard of this interest and sent seven French hounds to Washington in the care of John Quincy Adams, when Adams returned home after serving as minister to England.
The young Adams, who was to follow his father John Adams into the presidency, provoked Washington’s anger, however, when he abandoned the dogs at the dock in New York City. Several historians report that although the dogs were found and sent by carriage to Mount Vernon, Washington never really forgave John Quincy for this oversight.
The large French hounds were reportedly so aggressive that Washington assigned one of his servants to monitor their mealtimes so that the dogs would not tear each other apart over their food.
The president bred these dogs with his own black and tan hounds to create a new breed that is now known as the American foxhound.
Elizabeth Willing Powel, the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia, recalled the first time she encountered Washington: “His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he was walking with a tall, exceedingly graceful dog of the hound type as he strode down Walnut Street.”
When Powel asked about the dog, Washington introduced her to Sweet Lips and proudly told her that the dog was a “perfect foxhound” that he himself had bred.
Don’t Miss: George Washington’s Relationship With Dogs
Washington was creative in naming his dogs. In addition to Sweet Lips, he had dogs named Tipsy, Tipler, Drunkard, and Vulcan.
Vulcan is described in Mount Vernon documents as being “so big a young boy could ride him like a pony, with powerful jaws and an insatiable appetite.” Apparently the large black dog once snatched a ham from the Mount Vernon kitchen and ran “straight to the kennels with it locked in his great jaws.”
According to Martha Washington’s grandson George Washington Parke Custis, Washington inspected his kennels each morning and each evening and spent time visiting with his dogs.
Legend has it that Lafayette also sent Washington a French basset hound, who probably was the first basset hound to come to America.