Wednesday, February 17, 2016

George Washington's Dogs

This past Monday was President's Day, so I thought I would pay tribute by writing a post on our first President, George Washington and his dogs. In fact, it would not be a long stretch to say that George Washington may not have ever been our first President if it wasn't for his dogs.

George Washington was an avid dog breeder and fox hunter. During his years living in Virginia (before he ever became President), Washington would spend two or three times a week fox hunting. He loved his hunting dogs and bred them specifically for the sport. His knowledge of animal breeding and husbandry came from being a devoted farmer. He would keep dairy upon dairy accounting the process of dog breeding specifically for hunting. Eventually, this passion of his created a unique breed of Foxhounds that he called "Virginia Hounds".

Fast forwarding a little bit in time--- The British rule over the American Colonies was becoming a bit awkward. Discontent was arising and the Continental Congress was formed to discuss the relationship between the colonies and King George III. Their first meeting was in Philadelphia and George Washington attended as the Representative of the Colony of Virginia.  During his time in Philadelphia, George Washington started to get a bit antsy with the fact that he could not just whisk his dogs away for a bi-weekly fox hunt and had to resort to walking his favorite dog, Sweet Lips, down the sidewalks of the city for exercise. It was during one of these walks that he and Sweet Lips caught the eye of Elizabeth Willing Powel, wife of the very wealthy Mayor of Philadelphia, Samuel Powel. Elizabeth stopped Washington to question him about the gorgeous dog he was walking. This led to an exuberant conversation led by Washington on his dogs and his discontent about not being able to hunt with his dogs while in Philadelphia. Elizabeth thought she might have a solution and invited Washington to dinner to meet her husband. Samuel Powel was a member of the Gloucester Club: a hunting club across the river in New Jersey. It was through the Powels that Washington became a member of the club and it wasn't long before Washington was highly looked upon as an upstanding individual among the members. They thought of him as honest, moral and intelligent. Plus, as an added bonus, he often gave members a Virginia Hound as a gift.

Discontent between Great Britain and the American Colonies continued to escalate and eventually the Revolutionary War broke out. During the war, Washington met a French General, Marquis De La Fayette and the two became friends. The two of them would have frequent conversations about dogs and La Fayette often praised the French King's staghounds for their stamina and focus during a hunt (something Washington felt his dog's lacked).  After the war, Washington retired to Mt. Vernon to breed his dogs once again and to do some agricultural work. He contacted La Fayette and asked him if he could acquire some staghounds. After much diligent work and searching, La Fayette was able to secure 7 large staghounds for Washington's breeding project. Washington was very selective on what attributes were bred between the staghounds and Virginia Hounds. He wanted a dog that was a bit larger than the Virgina Hound, but smaller than a staghound. He also wanted the speed, strength and focus of the staghound. After much work, the American Foxhound was established.

In 1787, Washington's dog breeding and hunting came to a halt once more. He headed to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia as the head of the Virginia Delegation. It was there that he was elected presiding officer unanimously. He also met up with the Powels and started to visit the Goucester Club with his new breed of dogs. Once again, members of the Gloucester club were enamored by Washington's charm and outstanding dogs. They used their power and influence to buy him support from members of the Electorial College, which had been established to elect the first President of the United States of America. Once the constitution had been ratified and legal, Washington was elected our first president unanimously!

If you would like to read more about Washington and his dogs, here are some good links (which are also my references for this story):

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