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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mr. Washington's Hounds

Happy independence day! I've bumped the schedule a day to celebrate the Fourth with a little bit about Mr. Washington and his hounds. After all, who can think of American history without thinking of George Washington?

Many portraits of General Washington show him on horseback, and there's no doubt that he was an excellent horseman. Not only did he ride to get from here to there, but he rode for pleasure, too. He was an avid foxhunter and maintained a pack of hounds to which, when his schedule allowed, he rode three or four times a week.

Foxhounds of the Trader's Point Hunt Club, Zionsville, Indiana, waiting to be let out. 
Photo courtesy of Barbara Gresham. ©Barbara Lentz Gresham

Washington also loved dogs, especially hounds. Oddly, few of his portraits include his dogs, but many written accounts mention his passion for his canine companions. Washington himself wrote about his hounds in his journals and mentioned at least thirty individuals by name, including "Drunkard,” “Tipler,” and “Tipsy,” which makes me wonder what was going on in the kennels at Mt. Vernon! 

On a darker note, despite his own love of hounds and appreciation for human-canine relationships, Washington forbade the slaves at Mt. Vernon to own dogs, and punishments were in place if dogs were found in the slave quarters. It's hard to fathom that Washington and other champions of national independence could deny even the simple yet profound pleasure of a dog's love to people whose every other freedom they had stolen.

Trader's Point Hunt, Huntsman and Whippers-in with the pack. Most 
American hunts today are "drag hunts," meaning the hounds follow a scent 
laid down by dragging a scented cloth. There is no kill. The point is the fun 
of the ride, which is absolutely the most exhiilarating experience you can 
imagine! Photo courtesy of Barbara Gresham. ©Barbara Lentz Gresham

Washington, like all the Founding Fathers, certainly had his faults. But we see with the benefit of historical perspective, and we should give him credit where it's due. Did you know that George Washington is considered to be the father not only of his country, but of the breed we now know as the American Foxhound? In 1770, Washington imported a number of foxhounds from England, and in 1785 the Marquis de Lafayette sent him several French foxhounds. Through careful selection and interbreeding, Washington developed a type of hound suited to the terrain and conditions in Virginia, and that hound eventually came to be called the American Foxhound.

One anecdote from the War concerned a little dog named Lila, found on the field among dead and wounded soldiers from both sides after the Battle of Germantown. Washington checked the dog, who was wearing a collar and tag, and was surprised to discover she belonged to General Howe, the commander of the British forces. Washington's men wanted to keep the dog as war booty, but Washington said the dog was not the enemy and should be returned to her owner. A truce was arranged so that Lila could be sent back to Howe with a note tucked into her collar:  “General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe.”

Another titbit I found has made me see old George in a softer light than suggested by his stern-jawed portraits. He had a favorite hound for many years; she was more pet than hunter, living with him in the house and often accompanying him on his travels. Her name was Sweetlips.

Here I am (left) at the Blessing of the Hounds, New Britton Hunt, near Indianapolis, October many moons ago - I was 15. The horse was named Witch - my horse was injured and my coach loaned her to me for the Blessing.

Sheila Webster Boneham is the author of the Animals in Focus Mystery series. Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, won the Dog Writers Association of America Award in Fiction, Mystery, or Humor. The fourth book, Shepherd's Crook, will be out this fall. She is also the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. Sheila has bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. For more information, visit SheilaBoneham.com.

1 comment:

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