Dogs Were Involved in America’s War of Independence
There are many stories about dogs and how they contributed to the American War of Independence, largely behind the scenes, those some made it onto the battlefield.
Many of the Founding Fathers had a great attachment to and affection for their dogs and they liked to keep them at their side as much as possible. This love of man’s best friend has carried over until today, as we see so many dog lovers all around us.
George Washington – Lifelong Dog Lover
Ever since childhood, America’s first president and commander in chief surrounded himself with dogs. Right into adulthood he owned dogs of various breeds.
He had descriptive names for his dogs such as: Truelove, Sweetlips, Pilot, Rover, Drunkard, Jupiter, Captain, Searcher, Duchess, Juno, Vulcan, Tipler, Taster, Tipler, and many more.
Washington especially loved Sweetlips, an Amercian Foxhound who accompanied him often on trips to matters of state in Philadelphia and even into war zones during the Revolutionary War.
Once, when George Washington strolled through Philadelphia, he met the Mayor’s wife, Elizabeth Powel. Struck by his handsome elegance, she described her first encounter with him saying, “His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he was walking with a tall, exceedingly graceful dog of the hound type as he strode down Walnut Street.”
Elizabeth introduced Washington to her husband, the wealthy well connected Mayor of Philadelphia, who helped helped win Washington the command of the Continental Army. Hence, it might be said that Sweetlips, who Washington had breeded, helped win the Revolutionary War.
American Foxhound – Washington Creates a Breed
After the war ended George Washington went back to his favorite pastime: dog breeding.
Befriending the Marquis de Lafayette, Washington asked him to try and obtain some French staghounds. The hounds that Washington had set his heart on, originally came from the royal French kennels, and were therefore hard to come by. However, in the end, Lafayette found 7 large hounds and sent them to his friend.
Washington began breeding the large French staghounds to his Virginia Hounds, which were considerably smaller. He aimed for a hound that was somewhat larger than his Virginia hounds, but definitely smaller than the French hounds. He wanted to retain the strength and speed of the French dogs, so that the new breed would have a superior running speed when compared to the English foxhound. This was important when considering the larger distances such hounds had to cover during the hunt in America. xx
George Washington developed a breed that still exists today. He gave us the American Foxhound. This breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1886, and is the official State Dog of Virginia.
Marquis de Lafayette Imported French Basset Hounds
Staghounds and Briards were not the only dog breeds that the Marquis de Lafayette brought from France. He also was instrumental in introducing Basset Hounds to the New World.
Lafayette presented two Basset Hounds to George Washington as a gift, knowing he loved dogs and hunting. Their short stature and keen sense of smell made excellent hunting companions.
Marquis de Lafayette has had considerable influence on America’s canine history according to the American Kennel Club.
Briards & Thomas Jefferson
The Briard originally came from France and is an ancient breed of large herding dog.
All those who love Briards – those lovable shaggy herding dogs – they can thank the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence for introducing them to American soil.
In 1789, the Marquis de Lafayette introduced the breed to Thomas Jefferson, who had never been as keen on hunting and hunting dogs as was George Washington, however, he fell in love with Briards.
Jefferson ended up importing the breed to America and became one of the country’s first Briard breeders. These dogs were a perfect match for Jefferson’s domestic temperament, and he described them as “the finest house and farm dogs I have ever seen.”
Benjamin Franklin’s Son Had a Newfoundland
Benjamin Franklin’s son William had a black Newfoundland. There are two references to him in correspondence exchanged while Franklin was in France.
In the first, a visitor to Franklin’s home promises that “nothing shall tempt me to forget your Newfoundland Dog,” which makes one wonder what mischief the pup visited on him.
The second, from a neighbor in Paris, references her having returned the dog after it strayed. Franklin also, of course, noted that those who lie down with dogs get up with fleas.
The British Bulldog at the Siege of Yorktown
The American soldiers had man’s best friend at their side, but so did the British. As they faced off in various battles, the Continental Army and Redcoats each had their own canines.
At the Siege of Yorktown, an especially large British Bulldog chased English cannonballs as they were fired over American trenches. One rebel soldier named Joseph Plumb Martin, wrote in his diary: “Our officers wished to catch him and oblige him to carry a message from them into the town to his masters, but he saw American soldiers had been intimidated by him.”
The decisive victory by the Continental Army at Yorktown put an end to the war.
General William Howe – How He Lost His Dog
Here was an incident often cited as showing George Washington to be a man of highest honor and humanity.
During the Battle of Germantown in Pennsylvania, a thick fog acted as the perfect cover for the Continental Army during their pre-dawn attack, however, it also caused a great deal of confusion on the battlefield, which led to rebel forces firing on each other.
Apparently, the situation also confused a small dog belonging to the British army’s commander-in-chief, General William Howe. By coincidence, the dog ended up in the hands of General Washington after wandering about among the American troops, who had identified its owner from the collar markings. While his soldiers wanted to keep the dog as a trophy to boost morale, because Washington loved dogs so much himself, Washington ordered the dog be returned to General Howe under a flag of truce.
Some historians have viewed this act as a display of Washington’s honor, while others continue to see it as a shrewd tactic, which enabled the messenger who delivered the dog to its owner, to also get a quick look at the British headquarters.
“General Washington’s compliments to General Howe, does himself the pleasure to return [to] him a Dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe.”
General Charles Lee – Dog Lover
During the Revolutionary War, Charles Lee was a general in the Continental Army. His ambition was to become commander-in-chief, however, that was not to be and the appointment went to George Washington instead. There are those who believe that Lee’s eccentric behaviors might have stood in his way. Lee was known to be slovenly in appearance and extremely foul-mouthed. In addition, as a “great admirer of dogs,” he was trailed by several of his furry friends wherever he went.
Not only did Lee take his dogs with him to the battlefield where they roamed in packs, but he brought his dogs to dinner invitations as well. One anecdote describes a dinner party at the Adams house where Lee ordered Spada, one of his dogs, to sit up on a chair and shake hands with Abigail Adams.
Spado was a Pomeranian
We are very fortunate that there is an engraving of Lee with his beloved companion Spado, by B. Rushbrooke circa 1770/1771, depicting Lee just after his return to England. Spado appears to be a small/ medium sized black dog sporting the fashionable ‘lion-cut’ of the era. Rashbrooke’s caricature exaggerated the features of both Lee and Spado leaving the dog with a slightly porcine head. Spado stands close by his master displaying his loyalty and is clearly taking direction from him off lead indicating he was an obedient dog.
Just where Lee acquired Spado is not known. Gilman speculated he was perhaps ‘brought with him from Portugal’. It is unlikely he came from Portugal as Lee left there in 1763, some 12 years earlier, however if this was the case Spado would have been 13 to 14 years old when he went missing. Lee was not an economic immigrant and certainly could have afforded to bring a favourite dog with him. Such was the deepness of Lee’s attachment to his dog it is most likely he had owned him for a number of years.
Spado’s name is unusual and Lee was known to select odd names. One English author wrote in 1825 the names were often ‘ contemptible’ adding ‘ but yet blasphemy, the most sacred names were those chosen and the effect was partly ludicrous partly distressing’. In Spado’s case it may have indicated he was neutered as this is the Latin word for a castrated animal or person. If he was neutered then it is possible the procedure was already accomplished when Lee acquired him as it is a strange name to give an intact puppy. Spado is also an archaic term for a spade or shovel and also a 16th century side sword in the Iberian peninsular.
Spada was ‘constantly at his master’s heels and accompanied him in whatever company he might keep’.
Spado accompanied his master on military campaigns and it is noted by Mr Rankin, when Lee was in Halifax, Virginia ‘ the general will not suffer Spado (his dog) to eat bacon for breakfast …. lest it make him stupid’.
Early writers mention that Pomeranians were sometimes black but this was unusual. The earliest black in English art was painted in 1791 and is similar to Spado except in full coat. Another interesting aspect is that William Finnie mentioned the ‘Pomerania breed’ and this implies that the average reader would know of the breed and what to look for – so there were probably more Pomeranians in America at this time.
From the caricature it can be seen Spado was not a big dog but by Victorian times there are a couple of writers who call him a ‘great dog’ and liken him to a bear! Possibly some of Lee’s other dogs were large and these writers were confused.
The amount of the substantial reward (a lot for this era) also confirms the importance and value placed on Spado – he truly was ‘ a very remarkable dog’ as Finnie noted.
John Adams’ Dog Satan
One of the Founding Fathers, John Adams and his beloved wife Abigail owned two dogs.
Abigail loved Juno most of all. In fact, she wrote about him in a letter to her granddaughter, “as if you love me proverbially, you must love my dog.”
Although less has been said about John Adams’ other dog, its unusual name, Satan, has attracted considerably more attention. Wherever Presidential pets are discussed his name comes up. No one seems to know how Satan got his name. However, whether or not his behavior earned him this unusual name, it certainly compares well with one of George Washington’s dogs called Drunkard.
Paul Revere & the Dog Who Brought Him His Spurs
Paul Revere did actually ride on horseback in order to warn the Colonial militia that the British army was fast approaching. However, much of what we know about Revere’s “midnight ride” is shrouded in legend.
Paul Revere Night Ride
One such story tells it this way: Because Revere left in such haste, he forgot his spurs. Although he quickly realized his mistake, he decided not to turn back. Instead, he sent his trusted dog, thought to be named Lucky, home with a note pinned to its collar. Eventually the dog and Revere crossed paths again. According to legend, Revere was delighted to see his trusted dog and especially the spurs attached to its collar. There is no evidence that this actually occurred, but its a great story just the same.
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