Topic: Animals

George’s Farm Animals in the Classroom

By Caitlin Conley
April 24, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

We recently produced a series of short, educational videos called “George’s Farm Animals,” which directly feature GW’s documents. Even though the videos focused in turn on his cattle, sheep, hogs, and mules, the documents concerning these animals also show his daily life at Mount Vernon, the importance of agriculture in the United States, his network of foreign connections, and even a glimpse of his elusive personal side. We hoped that educators would find them useful in classrooms, and that kids would enjoy learning about George and his monumental achievements from the perspective of his daily home life.

Emily Marrs is a public educator who teaches second grade at Foothills Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She generously agreed to show “George Washington’s Black Cattle,” featuring George’s cows, to her second graders and to tell us if they found it interesting. Here are the comments they gave her:

AM class

What was your favorite part of the video?

-Walking into the manure

-Liked learning about George Washington

-Everything about the manure!

-Hearing the letters that he wrote

-Seeing the animals

-The music was nice and felt calm

-That the girl had a coat like mine! (one of my girls has a coat like yours!)

-That it was on a farm


What is something new that you learned from the video?

-That he liked cattle

-That he had a thousand animals on his farm

-Manure was gold!

-He had five farms

-He liked animals

-He was also a farmer and that he had so many different jobs!

-He named his cattle

-His farm was 8 thousand acres

-He got food from his cattle

-His cattle worked on the farm

-That people now can read all the letters and diary pages that he wrote so long ago


PM class

What was your favorite part of the video?

-The girl almost stepping in manure

-Told us more about what George liked

-That we got to see the hens!

-How the girl talked about manure

-They showed the actual letters that he wrote

-It was fun seeing real animals and the real farm that he had

-That a someone was reading his real letters out loud to us


What is something new that you learned from the video?

-He hired farm hands to help him with the animals, so he must have had a lot!

-That he was a farmer

-That manure was so important

-That he had three different jobs!

-That manure was used for fertilizer

-That he had five farms

-That he had over a thousand animals

-All the acres he had

-That he would plow

-That he liked experimenting

-That he owned cattle

-Surprising that his favorite job was farming


Emily herself says:

“As a public educator I am always looking for new ways to engage my students in the classroom. That is why I was so excited when I discovered the “George’s Farm Animals” series. The short videos were both engaging and educational, and were integrated in effortlessly with our Famous American’s unit and our President’s Day activities. My class really enjoyed learning about a different aspect of George Washington and his love for his animals, a topic that isn’t generally focused on in basic elementary text books and curriculum. I have shared the YouTube links with fellow educators who were also highly pleased with the quality and the content that the videos provide. I have shown three of the animal series videos to support several different lessons in my class, and I am eager to see what content they are producing next!”

Thank you Emily–we’re excited too!

If you have a story of how you have used the videos, please let us know!


George Washington and Bees

By Mary Thompson
April 2, 2015

Mary is the Research Historian at Mount Vernon, with a primary focus on everyday life on the estate, including: domestic routines; foodways; religious practices; slavery and the enslaved community; hired and indentured workers; and animals, both pets and livestock.

There are only two brief mentions in George Washington’s papers indicating that bees were raised by him at Mount Vernon. On July 28, 1787, 300 nails were given out at the Circle Storehouse to an indentured English joiner named Matthew Baldridge, “for to make a bee house.” Two days later, Matthew received another 200 nails for the same project. [1] In addition to getting honey from his own bees, George Washington is known to have purchased honey, as well as other foodstuffs such as chickens, eggs, vegetables, and fruit, from his slaves. Honey, for example, was acquired at various times from Nat (a blacksmith); Davy, who was an enslaved overseer; and carpenters Sambo and Isaac, indicating that they, too, probably kept bees. [2]

14th cent. bee houses (27-alimenti,_miele,_Taccuino_Sanitatis,_Casanatense_4182)

Bees would have been prized for making the honey, which was one of George Washington’s favorite foods. Both family members and visitors made note of the fact that Washington usually ate hoecakes, a “typically American” dish thought by some historians to be a reflection of slave influence on Anglo-American cuisine, and honey for breakfast. [3] Houseguest Winthrop Sargent found breakfast with the Washingtons to be a “very substantial Repast”, but noted that “Indian hoe cake with Butter & Honey seemed the principal Component Parts.” [4] A visitor from Poland reported that Washington had “tea and caks made from maize; because of his teeth he makes slices spread with butter and honey….” [5] According to step-granddaughter Nelly Custis, Washington “ate three small mush cakes (Indian meal) swimming in butter and honey,” and “drank three cups of tea without cream”. Her younger brother, George Washington Parke Custis, described Washington’s discipline regarding breakfast: “…This meal was with out [sic] change to him whose habits were regular, even to matters which others are so apt to indulge themselves in to endless variety. Indian cakes, honey, and tea, formed this temperate repast….” On days when he planned to go hunting, however, Washington would substitute “a bowl of milk” in place of tea. [6]

All of those hoecakes would have required a large amount of honey. Following a serious illness during the presidency, George Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis, of Kenmore in Fredericksburg, celebrated her brother’s return to health by sending a special present she knew he would enjoy:

“We have been extreamly [sic] concern’d at hearing of your late illness, but the arrival of Roberts [sic] last letter brought us the Agreeable information that the Doctors had Pronounc’d you would shortly be Able to ride out—when I had last the Pleasure of seeing you I observ’d Your fondness for Honey. I have got a large Pot of very fine in the Comb, which I shall send by the first Opportunity [sic].” [7]

A few months later, another relative, Ann Willis, who was married to George Washington’s cousin, Lewis Willis, sent the President and First Lady “four glasses of Virg[in]ia honey” from her home near Fredericksburg. In her accompanying note, Mrs. Willis noted that she had “not a doubt of that article being plenty [sic] in the State of New York but perhaps not wrought in the same manner and of course not so pure.” She closed with the thought that she “flatters herself if it has no other recommendation than being sent by an acquaintance from a place near that of his Nativity they will be induced to taste it and will be happy to hear of the welfare of the family and that they have made an agreeable breakfast on it.” [8] At the close of Washington’s presidency eight years later, among the many things the family packed to ship back to Mount Vernon from Philadelphia was “one demijohn with honey.” [9] A demijohn was a very large glass bottle, covered with wickerwork.


1. See entries dated July 28 and 30, 1787, in the Mount Vernon Storehouse Account Book, 1787 (typescript, LGWMV). [back]

2. See entries for September 7, 1788, September 27, 1788, July 19, 1789, and March 28, 1791, in Ledger B (bound photostat, LGWMV), 270a, 275a, 306a, and 325a. [back]

3. Stacy Gibbons Moore, “Established and Well Cultivated: Afro-American Foodways in Early Virginia,” Virginia Cavalcade (Autumn 1989, 70-83), 78-79. [back]

4. Winthrop Sargent, October 13, 1793 (typescript, LGWMV). (Also see GW to James Madison, 14 October 1793, note 3.) [back]

5. Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, June 5, 1798, Under Their Vine and Fig Tree: Travels Through America in 1797-1799, 1805, edited and translated by Metchie J. E. Budka (Elizabeth, NJ: Grassman Publishing Company, 1965), 103. [back]

6. Nelly Custis Lewis to Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, December 23, 1823 (typescript, LGWMV); George Washington Parke Custis, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, By His Adopted Son, George Washington Parke Custis, With a Memoir of the Author, By His Daughter; and Illustrative and Explanatory Notes, by Benson J. Lossing (originally published, New York: Derby & Jackson, 1860; reprinted, Bridgewater, VA: American Foundation Publications, 1999), 166-167, 386. [back]

7. Betty Washington Lewis to George Washington, July 24, 1789, in The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, 3:301. [back]

8. Mrs. Ann Willis to Martha Washington, September 18, 1789, “Worthy Partner,” 218 & 218n1-n2. [back]

9. George Washington, Packing List from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon, March 17, 1797 (photostat, LGWMV). [back]


New Video! George Washington’s Royal Gift

By Caitlin Conley
March 10, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

We’re excited to bring you the fourth episode of “George’s Farm Animals!” This video features the remarkable story of Royal Gift, a prized Spanish jack sent to George by the King of Spain, Charles III (1716-1788).

Mule plow harnessGeorge had been trying to procure a Spanish donkey for quite some time. Through his research on the new methods of agriculture and his own experiments, he had determined that mules were harder and cheaper workers than horses. He wrote to Arthur Young, the famous British agriculturalist who popularized new agricultural techniques, about his hopes for the future of American farming.

Virginia had excellent horses, including pure bloodlines of Arabians and Thoroughbreds, but the donkeys and mules in the colonies were not of the same high quality. Finding a quality jack to breed with a mare in order to have strong mules meant, for George, importing one from Spain. Thought the best in the world, the donkeys were difficult for foreigners to procure because the permission of the King of Spain was required to buy one–even after gaining permission, the cost of importing one was enormous.

George had made connections with members of the Spanish court during the Revolutionary War and attempted to use them to procure his jack. Don Juan de Miralles, a Cuban Merchant, slave trader, and agent of the King of Spain during the war, had promised a jack to George, but passed away in 1780, after visiting George’s encampment at Morristown. After several more attempts, George had nearly given up on the prospect because of the expense of the animals.

However, George’s networking finally paid off. His contact Richard Harrison (d.1795), consul for the United States in Cadiz, asked William Carmichael (1738-1795), the U.S. chargé d’affaires at the Spanish court, to help him with getting George a jack. Carmichael then asked the Spanish foreign minister, José Monino y Redondonde, Conde de Floridablanca (1728-1808), for the favor, and Floridablanca at last procured King Charles’s permission. 

George was immensely excited about his jack’s arrival and wrote careful instructions for how the jack was to be treated on his journey from Gloucester, to Boston, to Mount Vernon. John Fairfax (d.1843), a young overseer at Mount Vernon, completed his mission successfully, and arrived with the jack and his Spanish keepers in December 1784. When his jack arrived safely from long, long trek from Spain, George was eager to begin breeding mules right away.

He hadn’t counted on the jack’s reluctance to perform this duty; in several instances, George was forced to offer the services of his Arabian stallion Magnolia to people who had already paid for their mares to go to Royal Gift. His customers didn’t seem unhappy with the alternative of the stallion, who was descended from one of the American “foundation mares,” Selima, a famously successful racehorse. George had gone through too much trouble to get Royal Gift to give up on his mules, though, and at last managed to excite the jack’s desires by letting him catch sight of female donkeys, or jennies, and then substituting them for a mare at the last moment.

There were mules and jacks in the colonies before Royal Gift came along, of course, but George improved and popularized his breed of mule and did much to increase their presence in the United States. If you’re still curious about Royal Gift, Mary Wigge recently wrote a blog post on her own project featuring his journeys.

Correspondence quoted from in the video:

George Washington to Arthur Young, 4 December 1788

William Carmichael to George Washington, 3 December 1784

José Monino y Redondonde, conde de Floridablanca to William Carmichael, 24 November 1784

George Washington to John Fairfax, 26 October 1785

George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, 10 May, 1786

Watch this video, as well as the rest of the videos in “George’s Farm Animals,” on our video page.


We had a lot of help with making these videos happen; thank you to you all!

Mule Historian Deb Kidwell was an enormous help to us and kindly shared some of her extensive research on Royal Gift from her upcoming book. She helped us with preparing the script, navigating the many myths surrounding Royal Gift, and finding images to feature.

Mary Thompson’s essays on George Washington’s animals, many of which appear in the Mount Vernon digital encyclopedia, were also extremely helpful in preparing the scripts for all the videos on the series.

Mary Wigge helped us navigate the financial papers concerning Royal Gift, and found the advertisement for his services in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser. Thank you!

Thank you to Tim and Melissa Branning for allowing us to film their donkey, J.J., Katie Erhler, for letting us film her miniature donkey, the Al Kaly Shrine for the footage of their mules, and Shari Conley for helping us with filming.

We’re very grateful to everyone who lent their voices to reading Washington’s documents, and to Eva Lucy Alvarado and Spencer Park, for volunteering their time and talents to help us film.

Thank you to Claire Eager, Patrice Kyger, Caitlin Hamilton, and Marti Lupinettem for your helpful feedback on the filming and scripts. Thank you especially to Emily Marrs and her third grade class, who gave us invaluable comments on “George Washington’s Black Cattle.”

Finally, thank you again to Mount Vernon for letting us film all of their beautiful animals and letting us have George’s home setting as the backdrop for our narration.


New Video! “George Washington’s Unnumbered Hogs”

By Caitlin Conley
February 17, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

Welcome to Part III of our series “George’s Farm Animals!” This video features GW’s hogs. Most of the references to his hogs in the Confederation and Retirement periods of his documents appear in his diaries, which are quite different in tone and character from his letters.
The diaries at first seem to be tedious, for they simply give the facts of what he did each day, rather than long reflections. In the introduction to the Papers of George Washington Diaries Series, Dorothy Twohig explains:

“…let us not be unfair to a man who had his own definition of a diary: “Where & How my Time is Spent.” The phrase runs the whole record through. He accounts for his time because, like his lands, his time is a usable resource. It can be tallied and its usefulness appraised. Perhaps it was more than mere convenience that caused Washington to set down his earliest diary entries in interleaved copies of an almanac, for an almanac, too, is an accounting of time.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 6.49.32 PM

Source: “The hog : a Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding, and Medical Treatment of Swine” by William Youatt and W. C. L. Martin. New York: C.M. Saxon, 1856.

GW also carefully accounted for all of his animals in his diaries, listing them variously by name, number, and color. Hogs, because they were so difficult to keep penned, were the exception, for they ran free in the forest and could not be counted for much of the year. Read the full diary entries featured in the video here:

Diary Entry 15 November, 1785

Diary Entry 12 December, 1785

Diary Entry 13 December, 1785

In addition to the diaries, the video features a letter to David Stuart, a letter from Benjamin Fitzhugh Grymes, and a letter from Gouverneur Morris. The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition gives identifying information for each of these correspondents.
Dr. David Stuart (1753-c.1814) had intimate connections with GW. He had married the widow of GW’s stepson, John Parke Custis, in 1783, and taken over Custis’s business affairs in 1785. GW often turned to him to translate the letters in French that he received.  In the latter part of the decade, Stuart was a member of the Virginia Assembly and the Virginia ratifying Convention. Read the full letter featured in the video here: George Washington to David Stuart, 6 December, 1786.
There is less biographical information available for Benjamin Fitzhugh Grymes (died c.1803), who evidently was a more casual acquaintance of GW’s. He was a planter who lived in King George County, Virginia. Read the full letter featured in the video here: Benjamin Fitzhugh Grymes to George Washington, 14 March, 1787.
Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), on the other hand, was a prominent figure in the founding era and a longtime supporter and friend of GW. During the Confederation period, he was assistant to Robert Morris, the superintendent of finance. After leaving that position in 1785, he continued to have business deals with Morris and acted as an agent for him in Europe. Read the full letter featured in the video here: Gouverneur Morris to George Washington, 12 November, 1788.
In illustrating these documents, we were lucky to be able to feature Mount Vernon’s Ossabaw Island Hogs. This heritage breed is descended from hogs brought to the New World by Spanish explorers, and so gives an idea of what the animals George raised would have looked like. For more information on the breed, see the Livestock Conservancy site, and for more information on Mount Vernon’s hogs, see the page on their animals.
Watch this video, and the previous two installments, on our video page. Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

New Video! “George Washington’s Woolly Tribe”

By Caitlin Conley
February 9, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

Welcome to Part II of our video series “George’s Farm Animals.” This time we explore how GW cared for his sheep, which were his favorite part of his stock. Perhaps he enjoyed them so much because they were incredibly useful; they not only brought in money with their wool, but provided mutton and helped fertilize his fields. When he returned home from the Revolutionary War, GW instituted a careful breeding program in order to increase the numbers and strength of his flocks. When he had to leave again to assume the presidency, unfortunately the quality of his stock suffered, as it had during his absence for the war.


First edition title page of Arthur Young’s published correspondence with George Washington

He corresponded with noted agricultural experts of the day on all topics related to agriculture. In fact, one of the most enjoyable parts for me in doing research for this series was reading the correspondence between Arthur Young and GW. Young was fascinated by all aspects of American agriculture, and George wrote him long letters that described the landscape of Virginia, his frustrations with his fellow farmers, and his hopes for the future of American agriculture. Throughout this correspondence, George voiced particularly strong opinions about the importance of raising sheep.

The video features a letter to Henry Dorsey Gough, letters to and from Arthur Young, and a letter to James Athill. The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition gives the following biographical information for each.

Henry Dorsey Gough (c.1745-1808) was a merchant and land speculator who lived in Baltimore County, Virginia. He raised improved breeds of livestock at his country estate, Perry Hall. He was also the president of the Maryland Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1786. Read the full text of the letter featured in the video here: George Washington to Harry Dorsey Gough, August 23, 1797.

Arthur Young (1741-1820) was a prominent English agriculturalist who became the leader of the movement to modernize agricultural methods in England. In 1784, he began editing, and writing most of, the annual periodical Annals of Agriculture, volumes of which he periodically sent to GW. He began a long correspondence with GW in 1786, exchanging seeds, plans, books, and more. Read the full text of the letters between Young and GW here: George Washington to Arthur Young, 4 December, 1788, George Washington to Arthur Young, 18-21 June, 1792, Arthur Young to George Washington, 17 January, 1793, and Arthur Young to George Washington, January 25, 1791.

GW identifies James Athill (unknown dates) as the Speaker of the Assembly of Antigua in his diary entry on Athill’s visit to Mount Vernon on November 13, 1797. Athill sent GW five sheep and exotic plants from Antigua as a gift; in return, GW sent a ram and five ewes. Read the full text of the letter featured in the video here: George Washington to James Athill, 4 September, 1789.

Bringing these documents to life are Mount Vernon’s rare Hog Island sheep, a breed native to Virginia. We’re not sure what kind of sheep GW raised, but this breed is a close approximation to what sheep would have looked like during his time. For more information on Hog Island sheep, see Mount Vernon’s website and the Livestock Conservancy website.

Watch the video on our video page, and please let us know what you think! Stay tuned for Part III, coming next week!



New Video! “George Washington’s Black Cattle”

By Caitlin Conley
February 2, 2015

Caitlin is a Research Assistant for the Bibliography Project and is part of the Papers of George Washington social media team.

Have you ever been curious about what George was up to when he wasn’t on the public stage? We all probably tend to hear a lot more about George Washington the general, and George Washington the president, than about George Washington the farmer. Perhaps counter-intuitive to us today, farming was the true means for supporting himself, his family, and his staff. He did not accept a salary as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and he accepted a salary as president only reluctantly, a salary that even still was not adequate to his needs.

However, even as it was necessary to his economic survival, farming was also George’s most treasured occupation. When he returned home from his eight-year absence due to the Revolutionary War, he found his farms in bad repair. He wrote to the celebrated British agriculturalist Arthur Young that “agriculture has ever been amongst the most favorite amusements of my life, though I never possessed much skill in the art, and nine years total inattention to it, has added nothing to a knowledge which is best understood from practice…” (George Washington to Arthur Young, August 6, 1786).

“George Washington’s Black Cattle” is the first installment of our four part series called “George’s Farm Animals”, which is set in this fascinating period between the Revolutionary War and his first term as president. Raising animals was connected with every part of George’s daily life: growing crops, improving buildings, managing overseers and slaves, fertilizing fields, and even conducting politics. In this way, the series offers a glimpse into Washington’s life as a complex whole.


Eva Lucy Alvarado, Claire Romaine, and Caitlin Conley filming a take for “George Washington’s Black Cattle.”

This video series is special because it heavily features George’s correspondence; you’ll hear in his own words what he thought about his farms and his cattle. You’ll see his personality thrown into relief, including his humor, passion, strict discipline, anger, and deep love for the land. You’ll also glimpse the lives and personalities of his contemporaries, ranging from his farm managers, to his fellow farmers, to foreign experts and court officials.

This first video features a letter to Anne Cesar, Chevalier la Luzerne, a letter from Howell Lewis, a letter to George William Fairfax, a letter to Anthony Whiting, a letter to George Augustine Washington, and a letter from George Lee. The following biographical information comes from the identifications in the Papers of George Washington Digital Edition.

Anne Cesar, Chevalier la Luzerne (1741-1791) was French minister to the United States during the Revolutionary War beginning in 1779 and ending in 1784. He then became France’s ambassador to Great Britain. Read the full text of the letter featured in the video here: George Washington to Anne Cesar, Chevalier La Luzerne, 1 August, 1786.

Howell Lewis (1771-1822) was GW’s nephew, being the son of Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis. He worked for GW as a recording secretary until January 1793, when GW sent him to manage affairs at Mount Vernon after overseer Anthony Whitting’s death. Read the full text of the letter featured in the video here: Howell Lewis to George Washington, 31 July, 1793.

George William Fairfax (1724-1787) was one of GW’s neighbors and a close friend of his since youth. He had lived at Belvoir, near Mount Vernon, until summer 1773, when he left for England; he never returned to Virginia, but corresponded with GW from afar. Read the full text of the letter featured in the video here: George Washington to George William Fairfax, 30 June, 1785.

Anthony Whitting (d.1793), a native of England, was recommended to GW by Congressman Lambert Cadwalader to be an overlooker. He was replaced by Howell Lewis upon his death. Read the full text of the letter featured in the video here: George Washington to Anthony Whitting, 5 May, 1793.

George Augustine Washington (1763-1793) was a favorite nephew of GW’s. He had served as an aide to Lafayette during the Revolutionary War. He suffered from what was probably tuberculosis, sailing to the West Indies in 1784 to recover his health. Read the full text of the featured letter here: George Washington to George Augustine Washington, 1 July, 1787.

George Lee (1736-1807) was a planter who lived in Prince Georges and Charles Counties in Maryland. Read the full text of the featured letter here: George Lee to George Washington, 28 April, 1787.

To illustrate these documents in this first video, we are privileged to feature the rare, heritage breed Milking Devon Cows that live at Mount Vernon. This breed was developed originally in England and brought over to the American colonies with the Pilgrims beginning in 1623. The breed was vastly popular through the late 1800’s, when they began to be replaced by cattle bred specifically for beef. See the Livestock Conservancy for more about the breed in general, and Mount Vernon’s website for more on their specific animals.

While we hope that the video will be useful for elementary school classrooms, we know that it will be of interest to anyone curious about George Washington, eighteenth-century daily life, the history of agriculture, and even those just interested in seeing some awesome cows.

Thank you so much to everyone involved in making these videos happen. It was a wonderful adventure and we hope that you’ll all enjoy seeing your efforts come together!

Find the video on our video page.

Mapping a Spanish Donkey’s Long Journey

By Mary Wigge
January 29, 2015

Mary is a Research Editor with the Financial Papers Project.

It’s not every day that you sit at your office desk, contemplating the journey of a Spanish donkey, even if it did belong to George Washington. But last week found me hunkered down looking at various maps, trying to identify and pinpoint cities and towns through which this prominent creature journeyed. It’s this type of research that brightens my work-day, actually seeing and applying small pieces of history – locations, people, and, in this case, animals – to a physical map.

At the request of an individual who wished to learn more of Royal Gift, GW’s Spanish jack, we began investigating the letters and financial documents that referenced this noteworthy animal. Many of these documents have already been transcribed and published by the Papers, but we wished to dig deeper, especially relating to the southern tour that the noble donkey embarked on.

This particular Spanish donkey was a gift to GW from the Spanish King Charles III. GW had desired to breed mules in Virginia – he considered them superior as draft animals to horses or oxen. Mules could live longer than horses, did more work with less feeding, and withstood the potentially harsh handling of farmers’ hands.

mule etching 1700

Mule etching from 1700. Image courtesy of mule historian Deb Kidwell.

At the time, one required the permission of the Spanish king to acquire and import the high-bred stock from Spain. However, upon hearing of GW’s request, the Spanish king accommodated and sent him two jacks: one was lost at sea and the other, Royal Gift, arrived safely to Mount Vernon in 1785.

Reading some of GW’s letters that discuss or reference Royal Gift reveal a side to Washington – his enjoyment in animal husbandry and a lightened sense of humor – that’s uncommonly seen. Though often serious in voicing his concerns and directing attention to the maintenance of the jack, GW at times displayed a comic tone when discussing Royal Gift’s performance (or lack thereof) in breeding mules (see GW to Bushrod Washington, 13 Apr. 1786 or GW to William Fitzhugh, Jr., 15 May 1786). Over time, however, Royal Gift became a reliable stud that bred with jennies (female donkeys) and mares to create donkeys and mules. GW advertised Royal Gift for further breeding purposes and to generate interest in mules amongst farmers. In 1791, GW agreed to send Royal Gift on a southern tour to South Carolina where he would reside at John Freazer’s plantation for breeding, under the official care of William Washington, GW’s second cousin. Washington, who lived in Sandy Hills, South Carolina, hired James Allen to transport Royal Gift to South Carolina; Allen and Royal Gift began traveling southward in the early fall of 1791.

Acct & Papers.Royal G.pg1

Accounts and Misc. Papers Relating to Royal Gift, 1792-1795, photocopy, Mount Vernon.

It’s this journey that we chose to focus on and detail. By using the financial documents (from the Chicago Historical Society) that detailed payments Allen spent, we found numerous towns and locations mentioned. This information provided a window into their journey and gave us the means to map out where they went and stayed. Starting at Mount Vernon, for example, Allen had  “expences @ Colchester,” rested shortly at Dumfries and Stafford Courthouse, and stayed “2 Nights at frederigsburg.” Moving on, he stays in Bowling Green and Hanover Courthouse, followed by “5 Nights & 4 days at Richmand”. He later stays at “Mr olifers”, then “Mr kings”, and “Mr Slauters.” In such cases when only names are given, the path grows foggy, and it requires more digging to determine who these individuals are and where they live. Once found, we plan to map these locations and the overall route on a web-based visualization for viewers and researchers to study and explore.

These financial documents literally create a road map that offers greater understanding and visual clarity of a unique, fascinating past event. And, digital tools grant us the chance to display this imagery. Not to mention, it’s exciting to unravel and piece together a trip that occurred over two centuries ago! We look forward to unfolding and sharing Royal Gift’s journey with you soon.

30 Jan. 2015: As an addition, we wish to mention that Royal Gift was advertised to stud as early as 1786. You can find more information and resources on Royal Gift here. It includes links to letters and documents, published works, and newspaper articles referencing the prized jack.