John Adams was the first president to live in the White House, and as such, he saw to the construction of the first White House stables.
One of several residents of the new stables was Cleopatra, said to be the president’s favorite horse. Another horse was named Caesar. The pair of them apparently were pulling President Adams’ elegant carriage as it arrived at his inauguration.
In her book Presidential Pets, Julia Moberg describes Cleopatra as having “a dark shiny hide and flowing black hair.” We’re not sure how accurate that description is, but it certainly sounds nice.
The Adams family had a knack for naming their animals. President Adams and his wife, Abigail, also had two dogs, Juno and Satan.
First President to Live in the White House
On Nov. 1, 1800, in the last year of his only term as president, Adams arrived in the newly created capital city of Washington, D.C. to take up residence in the White House. On his second evening in its damp, unfinished rooms, he wrote to Abigail at their home in Quincy, Massachusetts:
Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
Adams had been living at hotel near the half-finished Capitol building since June, when the federal government was moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. In his biography of the second president, historian David McCullough records that Adams was pleased with the new site and had explored the White House with satisfaction.
Here’s a video clip from an HBO miniseries called John Adams, showing what it was like when Adams and his wife arrived in horse carriage at the White House for the first time. As you can see, the property was very much still under construction.
© HBO. Clip online, courtesy YouTube. Provided here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with the program.
Heading Back Home to Massachusetts
Just five months after Adams moved into the White House, he was defeated by Thomas Jefferson in his bid for re-election. Abigail left for the family home in Quincy in February 1801 and, as Jefferson was being sworn in on March 4, 1801, Adams was already on his way back home as well.
No word on whether the family’s animals went home with John or Abigail. In fact, a number of horses actually stayed behind at the White House after Adams left.
In a letter to incoming President Jefferson, Adams wrote:
In order to save you the trouble and Expence of purchasing Horses and Carriages, which will not be necessary, I have to inform you that I shall leave in the stables of the United States seven Horses and two Carriages with Harness the Property of the United States.
These may not be suitable for you: but they will certainly save you a considerable Expence as they belong to the studd of the Presidents Household.
I have the Honor to be with great respect, Sir your most obedient and humble Servant.”
Thanks — But No Thanks — For Your Horses
The presidency was changing political parties for the first time. And according to Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, Thomas Jefferson didn’t want the horses. As a Republican rather than a Federalist, he sought simplicity and the removal of the usual regalia and pageantry.
There would be no royal parades and certainly “no elaborately ornamented coach drawn by horses for Jefferson” — who “immediately sold the coaches, horses, and silver harnesses that President Adams had used and kept only one-horse market cart.”