George Washington and Bassets

George Washington and Basset Hounds

Most modern books on the Basset Hound state incorrectly that George Washington received two Basset Hounds as a gift from General Lafayette, referring as to their source to the diaries of George Washington.

Having scoured the George Washington diaries and letters we can find no mention of a gift of two Bassets, however in Washington's correspondence we find the following:

Paris, April 16th 1785: Lafayette to Washington
English dogs are so much in fashion Here that the King who likes to Ride fast Has no french Hounds which, says He, are Very Slow—at last I Have discoverd a tolerable good Breed of them, which young M. Adams will take with Him in the Next packet. 

Paris, May 13th 1785: Lafayette to Washington 
French Hounds are not Now Very Easely got Because the king Makes use of English dogs as Being more Swift than those of Normandy—I However Have got Seven from a Normand Gentleman Called Monsieur le Comte d'Oilliamson ...

September 1st, 1785 Washington to Lafayette
The Hounds which you were so obliging as to send me arrived safe, and are of promising appearance
; to Monsieur le Compte Doilliamson (sic)… … and in an especial manner to his fair Competesse, my thanks are due for this favor: the enclosed letter which I give you the trouble of forwarding contains my acknowledgement of their obliging attention to me on this occasion.

September 1st, 1785: Washington to d'Oilliamson
Sir: I have just received seven very fine Hounds, for which, the Marqs. de la Fayette informs me, I am indebted to your goodness ...
Editors note: 4 hounds and 3 bitches.

The arrival of the French Hounds

In the papers of George Washington Parke Custis (Washingtons step-grandson and adopted son) we find Parke Custis describing the arrival of the French hounds, and where he notes that the dogs were larger than Washington's own Virginia hounds.  

After the peace of 1783, the hunting estalishment, which had gone down during the war, was renewed by the arrival of a pack of French hounds, sent out by the Marquis de Lafayette.  These chiens de chasse were of great size …

Parke Custis adds that children liked to ride the French Hound Vulcan, which certainly implies that they were large hounds.

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.

George Washington with Hound
George Washington with a hound
Furthermore, the paintings and drawings of Washington that include images of his dogs, virtually always include only dogs that look much like today's foxhounds, Washington's Virginia hounds which were a more black and tan version of a foxhound, and an occasional large dark, almost black, hound type of dog, which is presumed to be the French hounds which were his gift from Lafayette.

In conclusion, there seems to be ample evidence that the French hounds Washington received from Lafayette were a much larger breed than the Basset Hound.

The American Foxhound

Washington's Virginia hounds were bred with the French hounds and this cross would eventually produce the American Foxhound.

A hypothesis - the Le Couteulx hounds

Now it is still possible that Basset (Hounds) came to the USA in the 1780's. 
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George Washington
President George Washington


Washington diaries 

Library of Congress
University of Virginia

Memoirs of Washington by G.W. Parke Custis

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Editors note:
I am indebted to Prof. Emeritus Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., author of, amongst others,
The Pawprints of History for pointing me to the Memoirs of George Washington Parke Custis and the information about Washington being pictured with his hounds.