From the time of his early youth, George Washington had a deep appreciation for his horses, which he rode on a daily basis.  Washington favored white horses, and he continually sought more for purchase, even in his final years. Washington once specified his ideal body measurements and fur color for a horse, stating that he “would prefer a perfect white” horse before “a dapple grey” or a “deep bay.”1  Prescott, one of Washington’s “white chargers,” or parade horses, fulfilled this description. 

Washington bought Prescott in 1789 when the horse was around 10 years old, placing the horse’s birthdate in 1778 or 1779.2  During his time as president, Washington owned two white chargers, Prescott and Jackson, and he rode them on an alternating basis.  After Washington’s death, his step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, described Prescott as “a fine parade horse, purely white, and sixteen hands high.”3

Washington, proud of his white chargers, made sure they received the best care out of any of his steeds. He made it a routine to ride early every morning. According to Robert E. Gray, who grew up in Philadelphia near Washington’s presidential mansion, Washington “was a fine horseman, and, being a long-bodied man, looked grandly on horseback.”4 He rode upon his parade horses with a gold-lined saddle with a leopard skin seat. Per Washington’s instructions, on a nightly basis, his slaves brushed Prescott’s fur with a pasty substance matching the color of his fur and cleaned the horse’s teeth and rinsed out his mouth.  Each night, one of Washington’s slaves also gave Prescott a comfortable blanket to go along with new straw used as bedding. Then each morning a slave polished Prescott’s hooves.

Washington rode Prescott most during his tours of various areas of the country.  The first journey brought Washington from Mount Vernon to New York City for his inauguration in April 1789.  Upon arriving in every town, Washington mounted Prescott and paraded through the streets as ecstatic citizens cheered him on. Washington followed the same pattern during other trips. During his tour of southern states in 1792, Washington rode Prescott at each destination. Between towns, Washington rode in a coach, while a slave, Paris, rode Prescott. Washington lamented the “abominably sandy and heavy” roads, which left his horses “much worn down.”5

Prescott had a calm demeanor. According to Custis, the horse generally remained “indifferent to the firing of artillery, the waving of banners, and the clang of martial instruments.”  Prescott was ideal for parading, though Washington rode him less frequently than other horses, especially when riding in coaches, as the horse “had a very bad habit of dancing about on the approach of a carriage.”6  This characteristic made Prescott ill-suited for pulling wagons along with other horses.  

The date of Prescott’s death is not known. The average lifespan of a horse ranges between twenty and twenty-five years, meaning that Prescott would have not long outlived his famous rider. 

 

Joseph Albanese

George Washington University

 

Notes:

1. “George Washington to William Fitzhugh, August 5, 1798,” The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008).

2. “George Washington to John Campbell, May 10, 1789,” The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008).

3. 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, ed. Benson J. Lossing (New York:  Derby & Jackson, 1860), 425. 

4. Robert E. Gray, interview by Grace Greenwood, in Stories and Sketches, (Kessinger Publishing LLC, 2010), 16. 

5. “George Washington to Tobias Lear, May 14, 1791,” The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008).

6. 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, ed. Benson J. Lossing (New York:  Derby & Jackson, 1860), 425.

Bibliography:

Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life. London, UK: The Penguin Press, 2009.

Custis, George Washington Parke. Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, By His Adopted Son, George Washington Parke Custis, With a Memoir of the Author, By His Daughter. New York, NY/USA: Derby & Jackson, 1860.

Ferling, John. The Ascent of George Washington. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009.

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