George Washington is often mistakenly referred to as the “Father of the American Mule.” He is also credited with being the first to bring a jackass to the colonies and the first to breed mules in said colonies.
Almost 100 years before Washington was born, an invoice from the Virginia Company showed that 80 asses were ordered from France. Jacks were offered as studs and mule breeding was taking place from South Carolina to New York for decades before Washington’s first large Spanish jack, Royal Gift, arrived at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, in 1785, a gift from King Carlos III of Spain.
After a six-week sea voyage on the American ship Ranger that endured two hurricanes, Royal Gift and his faithful Spanish groom Pedro Tellez landed, battered and bruised, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on September 26, 1785. Tellez and the Spanish jack then walked 45 miles to Boston, where word was sent to Washington of their arrival.
Mount Vernon overseer John Fairfax fetched the two and assisted them on their way to Mount Vernon. Fairfax rode a mare, but Tellez walked nearly 500 miles because the jack had to be walked in hand. He also could travel only up to 15 miles a day, so they didn’t arrive until December 5.
The following year, the Marquis de la Fayette sent Washington a jack and two jennets from the Southern European island country Malta. Once they reached Mount Vernon, the Maltese jennets were bred to Royal Gift. Both the Maltese jack, named Knight of Malta, and Royal Gift serviced mares to make mules as well. Washington purchased an additional jennet, from the South American country Suriname, by trading fine flour.
Washington was the first in America to see the need for larger jacks to produce larger mules. By being the first to cross large donkey breeds from abroad, he is actually the Father of the American Jackass—the American Mammoth Jackstock donkey breed.
Deb Kidwell breeds American Mammoth Jackstock and mules at Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm in Martin, Tennessee.