Martha Washington's grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, recalls the General on horseback, furiously chasing these "firery animals" alongside packs of his beloved hunting dogs in Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington (1860).

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the normal prey animal of a fox hunt in the U.S. and Europe. (Wikimedia)“The time which Colonel Washington could spare from his building and agricultural improvements between the years 1759 and 1774, was considerably devoted to the pleasures of the chase….fox-hunting being of a bold and animating character, suited well with the temperament of the “lusty prime” of his age, and peculiarly well accorded with his fondness and predisposition for equestrian exercises….

“During the season, Mount Vernon had many sporting guests from the neighborhood, from Maryland, and elsewhere. Their visits were not of days, but weeks; and they were entertained in the good old style of Virginia’s ancient hospitality. Washington, always superbly mounted, in true sporting costume, of blue coat, scarlet waistcoat, buckskin breeches, top boots, velvet cap, and whip with long thong, took the field at daybreak, with his huntsman, Will Lee, his friends and neighbors; and none rode more gallantly in the chase, nor with voice more cheerily awakened echo in the woodland, than he who was afterwards destined, by voice and example, to cheer his countrymen in their glorious struggle for independence and empire. Such was the hunting establishment at Mount Vernon prior to the Revolution….

Engraving of George William Fairfax Fox Hunting with George Washington (Felix O. C. Darley)

“The habit was to hunt three times a week, weather permitting; breakfast was served, on these mornings, at candle-light, the general always breaking his fast with an Indian-corn cake and a bowl of milk; and, ere the cock had “done salutation to the morn,” the whole cavalcade would often have left the house, and the fox be frequently unkennelled before sunrise. Those who have seen Washington on horseback will admit that he was one of the most accomplished of cavaliers in the true sense and perfection of the character. He rode, as he did everything else, with ease, elegance, and with power. The vicious propensities of horses were of no moment to this skilful and daring rider! He always said that he required but one good quality in a horse, to go along, and ridiculed the idea of its being even possible that he should be unhorsed, provided the animal kept on its legs. Indeed the perfect and sinewy frame of the admirable man gave him such a surpassing grip with his knees, that a horse might as soon disencumber itself of the saddle as of such a rider.

Forensically based life-sized figure of Washington shows him at age 45, looking stoically determined astride his horse Blueskin“The general usually rode in the chase a horse called Blueskin, of a dark iron-gray color, approaching to blue[.] This was a fine but fiery animal, and of great endurance in the long run….There were roads cut through the woods in various directions, by which aged and timid hunters and ladies could enjoy the exhilirating cry, without risk of life or limb; but Washington rode gaily up to his dogs, through all the difficulties and dangers of the ground on which he hunted, nor spared his generous steed, as the distended nostrils of Blueskin often would show. He was always in at the death [of the fox], and yielded to no man the honor of the brush.”

Learn more about Washington's excellent horsemanship

“The chase ended, the party would return to the mansion-house, where, at the well-spread board, and with cheerful glass, the feats of the leading dog, the most gallant horse, or the boldest rider, together with the prowess of the famed black fox, were all discussed, while Washington, never permitting even his pleasures to infringe upon the order and regularity of his habits, would, after a few glasses of Madeira, retire to his bed supperless at nine o’clock. He always took a little tea and toast between six and seven in the evening.

“Of the French hounds, there was one named Vulcan, and we bear him the better in reminiscence, from having often bestrid his ample back in the days of our juvenility. It happened that upon a large company sitting down to dinner at Mount Vernon one day, the lady of the mansion (my grandmother) discovered that the ham, the pride of every Virginia housewife’s table, was missing from its accustomed post of honor. Upon questioning Frank, the butler, this portly, and at the same time the most polite and accomplished of all butlers, observed that a ham, yes, a very fine ham, had been prepared, agreeably to the Madam’s orders, but lo and behold! who should come into the kitchen, while the savory ham was smoking in its dish, but old Vulcan, the hound, and without more ado fastened his fangs into it; and although they of the kitchen had stood to such arms as they could get, and had fought the old spoiler desperately, yet Vulcan had finally triumphed, and bore off the prize, ay, “cleanly, under the keeper’s nose.” The lady by no means relished the loss of a dish which formed the pride of her table, and uttered some remarks by no means favorable to old Vulcan, or indeed to dogs in general, while the chief [Washington], having heard the story, communicated it to his guests, and, with them, laughed heartily at the exploit of the stag-hound.”

 

Dogs at Mount Vernon

General Washington loved dogs, and so do we. Mount Vernon invites guests to enjoy this landmark property along with their pets. Learn more about dogs on the Estate, yesterday and today.

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