President George Washington, our nation’s first President, set quite a few precedents during his time in office. One of the best precedents he laid down was the Presidential predilection for pets – starting a trend that would continue throughout almost all future Presidencies. As was common in his era, Washington owned several horses; among them Samson, Steady, Leonidas, Traveller, Magnolia and other stallions.
Washington had an interest in breeding, and his farm maintained a stud stable almost from its inception. Samson and the other stallions were part of a succession of animals he used to stud. Washington took an active role in the breeding process and at one point he purchased 27 army mares that were “worn down so as to render it beneficial to the public to have them sold.” However, Washington cared little for the mares’ condition at the time of sale, saying “I have many large farms and am improving a good deal of land into meadow and pasture, which cannot fail of being profited by a number of brood mares.” By purchasing these mares for breeding Washington likely saved their lives.
Magnolia in particular was a full-blooded Arabian that had been a racer in Alexandria and was in high demand. Washington would occasionally direct his farm manager to advertise or exhibit Magnolia during public events, like fairs. Interestingly, Magnolia was a descendant of the original horse named ‘Traveller’, a racer imported into the United States and put to stud in 1746.
Traveller was obtained in 1798, as is shown on a rough profit-and-loss statement, for a price of 9.17 pounds, or $11.80. He was brought to Washington’s farm and put to stud.
Leonidas is presumably named for an ancient king of Sparta who excelled in war. When Washington was a teenager, he wrote poetry and one poem in particular featured the Spartan king who, although he ultimately lost the battle, is remembered along with his army for their courage. The name Leonidas seemed to have struck a chord with Washington as he would eventually name one of his horses after the king and also used the name as a parole during the Revolutionary war.
Little is known about the stallion named ‘Steady’. While most of Washington’s stallions were remarkable, Steady was likely the least noticeable of the bunch as he garnered little mention. He did have a stud fee of £60 (roughly $77.31 dollars.)
Samson (or ‘Sampson’), like Steady, received little mention but in Samson’s case it may be because he was not in the stables as long as some of the others. Samson was gifted to Washington’s nephew Robert Lewis. Lewis, in a letter to his uncle dated January 4th, 1793, thanks Washington for the gift of the horse: “The Horse which you have been so good as to give me, (I am convinced), will be very valuable in this part of the Country, and, I trust, no small addition to my little income. I have therefore to thank you for your kindness, and to assure you that I am grateful.”
Given Washington’s interest in breeding, it is likely he had many other stallions and mares during the course of his lifetime. These stallions were cared for diligently as they were not only a passion of Washington’s, but a profitable venture as well.