George Washington and the American Foxhound
Most people know George Washington for being the commander in chief of Continental forces during the Revolution and as our first President of the United States. Many know that he served in the French and Indian War, playing a major factor in the start of that war, and know he was a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Many also know that he was a successful entrepreneur. What most do not know, is that George Washington was a dog lover and was credited for having created a new breed of dog, the American Foxhound, a breed that won Best in Show at the National Dog Show in November 2013.
The father of our nation being a dog enthusiast, had many different breeds that lived at Mount Vernon including spaniels, pointers, terriers, Dalmatians, Mastiffs, and a few others. But he being an avid fox hunter, his favorite breed came from the hound group. When he was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775, he took his favorite hound, a female he named Sweet Lips, who he called the “perfect foxhound”, with him to Philadelphia. Washington was creative in some of the names he gave his dogs with included females such as Dutchess, Maiden, Musick, Countess, Truelove, and Pilot; some of his males included Mopsy, Drunkard, Tippler, and Taster. Washington’s love for his dogs even went so far as him having checked and cleaned the kennels daily, when he was there, both morning and afternoon or evening.
Washington was also involved in breeding dogs, especially hounds. He had a large pack of hounds that he bred and hunted with at Mount Vernon. These hounds in his pack, he claimed, were descended from English foxhounds that Robert Brooke had brought over to Maryland in 1650 from England. Brooke’s hounds came to be called “Brooke Hounds.”
Washington’s journals reveal many of his attempts and ventures in the breeding of hounds. Since he was a fox hunter, he wanted to create a “superior dog, one that had speed, sense, and brains” and could adapt to hunting on more rugged terrain and last longer on the hunt. Other breeds, such as the English foxhound, were adapted to hunting on less rugged terrain. Washington’s journal entries from March of 1769 made the following observations on his breeding of hounds:
[March] 24. Returned home from…Frederick &ca. and found that the Hound Bitch Maiden had taken Dog promiscuously. That the Bitch Lady was in Heat & had been promiscuously lined….Dutchess was shut up, and had been lin[e]d twice by Drunkard…that Truelove was also in the House—as was Mopsy likewise (who had been lin[e]d to Pilot before she was shut up).
26. The Bitch Musick brought five puppies one of which being thought not true was drownd immediately. The others being somewhat like the Dog (Rockwood of Mr. Fairfaxs) which got them were saved.
27. The Hound Bitch Countess brought 7 puppies….Began about the 28th. To Plow behind the Quarter for oats & grass seeds.
One person who aided Washington in his efforts at breeding was his compatriot and “adopted son”, the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington had asked Lafayette to send him some French hounds (Grand Bleu de Gascogne) and in a letter dated May 13, 1785, Lafayette wrote that “French Hounds are not Now Very Easily got Because the King Makes use of English dogs, as Being more Swift than those of Normandy—I However Have got Seven from a Normand Gentleman Called Monsieur le Comte doilliamson the Handsomest Bitch Among them was a favourite with His lady who Makes a present of Her to You.” What the French hounds lacked in speed, they more than made up for in pedigree in being of high quality and reliability. Future president, John Quincy Adams, accompanied these seven hounds from France to New York. Wednesday, August 24, 1785, Washington “Receiv’d Seven hounds sent me from France by the Marqs. de la Fayette, by way of New York viz. 3 dogs and four bitches” at his home at Mount Vernon.
Washington would eventually begin cross breeding his “Brooke Hounds” with the French hounds sent by Lafayette, creating a more sizeable and faster hound that would evolve into the modern day American Foxhound. Add that to his long list of accomplishments.
Flaim, Denise. “By George: A Founding Father and his American Foxhounds.” American Kennel Club. Accessed December 15, 2020. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/by-george-washington-american-foxhounds/.
Twohig, Dorothy. George Washington’s Diaries: An Abridgment. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 1999.
Unger, Harlow Giles. The Unexpected George Washington: His Private Life. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006.