Topic: Video

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.”

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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.

New Financial Papers Project Video

December 4, 2014

Interested in learning more about the Financial Papers Project?  This video details the importance of studying George Washington and his detailed financial records, as well as the work happening now to create a digital resources for educators, students, historians, businesspeople, and those generally interested in the life of Washington. The Financial Papers Project is funded in part by a grant from the NHPRC.

You can watch the video on YouTube or Vimeo, or on our Videos page!

To learn more about the Financial Papers Project, see our Financial Papers Project page.


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‘Meet the Papers of George Washington’ Video

November 25, 2014

Documentary editing involves George Washington’s vast repository of rich documents, a deep understanding of history, and a keen determination to persevere through even the worst handwriting. But what are the challenges involved? What kinds of discoveries can be made? What is involved in the editing process? This introductory video will allow you to learn the answers to these questions, find out more about our far-reaching projects, and meet the editors who accomplish this work—and you might even meet Washington himself.  Ready to watch?  Click here!