George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Dorsey Gough, 4 February 1792

To Henry Dorsey Gough

Philadelphia, February 4th 1792.


I have the pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of your polite letter of the 1st instant, and to inform you that the very fine mutton which you have had the goodness to send me has come to hand in the best order.1

While I beg your acceptance of my thanks for this mark of polite attention, permit me to express the satisfaction which I feel in learning from your letter the success you have met with in your laudable attempts to improve the breed of our Sheep, by introducing among them the broad-tail’d persian breed. I have ever been satisfied in my own mind, that by a proper attention to our Sheep (particularly in maryland and Virginia, where the climate and other circumstances seem to be peculiarly favourable to the object) they might be made not only a most profitable subject to the farmer, but rendered highly important in a public view, by encouraging extensive establishments of woollen manufactories from the abundance of wool which they could furnish.

During the time of my residing at home, between the close of the war and the entrance on my present office, I had paid much attention to my Sheep, and was proud in being able to produce perhaps the largest mutton & the greatest quantity of Wool from my Sheep that could be then produced.2 But I was not satisfied with this, and contemplated further improvements both in the flesh and wool by the introduction of other breeds, which I should by this time have carried into effect, had I been permitted to pursue my favorite occupation. I am however much pleased to find that some Gentlemen seem to view this matter in the light which it deserves, & exert themselves in promoting it; and if I can not give my aid by a personal attention to the object those who do, will always have my best wishes for their success. With great esteem and regard, I am Sir, Your most obedt Servant,

Go: Washington.


Baltimore merchant and land speculator Henry (Harry) Dorsey Gough (Goff; c.1745–1808), president of the Maryland Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1786, raised improved breeds of livestock at Perry Hall, his country estate in Baltimore County, Maryland. Gough later sent GW a blooded bull calf (see John Eager Howard to GW, 10 April 1797, GW to Howard, 30 April 1797, Gustavus Scott to GW, 16 June 1797, n.3, and Gough to GW, 17 Aug. 1797).

1Gough’s letter to GW of 1 Feb. 1792 from Baltimore reads: “I have taken the Liberty to send You by the Stage the Hind Quarters of a Mouton raised at my Farm in Baltimore County near this Town; The Sheep was about three years old, and had never been fed with any kind of Grain till within ten Days before It was slaughtered—In the year 1786 I procured from Curassow [Curaçao] A broad taild Persian Ram; the Intermixture of this Breed with the Common Sheep of the Country has added Considerably to the Beauty, and value of my Flock, the Individuals are larger and the Mouton in general equally fine with that which is now presented to your Excellency. I cannot speak so favourably of the Wool the Quantity is increased but the Quality inferior to that which is Shorne from the common Sheep of the Country; Still it is well suited to the making of Coarse Cloth. During last Summer A Ship Arrived at this place Immedeatly from the East Indies having on Board A Persian Ram, much more fully bred than the one alluded to in the former part of this Letter. This Sheep by good Fortune fell into my Hands; He has four Horns is Elegantly formed and His Tail measures fully twelve Inches in Breadth, The Wool is also more abundant and much Superior in fineness to that of the former Ram Imported from Curassow I do flatter myself that in the course of A few years it will be much improved from the change of Climate & other circumstances. I have no other Apology to make for my Conduct upon this Occasion than a desire to give every Information which may be useful to the concerns of Husbandry and as you Sir have discover’d so partial an Interest to that Cause I feel a Confidence that this Communication will be received not unfavourably by Your Excellency” (DLC:GW). After retiring from the presidency, GW expressed an interest in purchasing a ram and two ewe lambs of Gough’s Cape sheep to improve the quality of mutton from his own flocks. Gough, however, informed GW that his flocks had by then so degenerated from disease “that I would not recommend their introduction on your Farm” (GW to Nathaniel Ramsay, 11 Aug. 1797, to Gough, 13 Aug. 1797, and Gough to GW, 17 Aug. 1797).

2For GW’s abiding interest in sheep raising and attention to his flocks after the Revolutionary War, see GW to William Fitzhugh, Jr., 15 May 1786, n.2, Richard Bland Lee to GW, 23 Nov. 1787, GW to Arthur Young, 4 Dec. 1788, Young to GW, 25 Jan. 1791, and GW to Anthony Whitting, 2 June 1793. GW admitted that his prolonged absences from Mount Vernon during his presidency were responsible for the deterioration of the quantity and quality of his own flocks. He wrote to Gough on 23 Aug. 1797 that the average size of his individual fleeces had degenerated from 5¼ pounds at the 1789 shearing to 2½ pounds in the spring of 1797 (see also GW to John Sinclair, 20 July 1794).

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