Washington and his sheep at historical society event

Posted: March 27, 2014

The Winchester Star

Lisa Carpenter, livestock husbander and costumed interpreter in the Rare Breeds Program at Colonial Williamsburg, will give a talk about George Washington on “My Stock in Which I Most Delight” at 11 a.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Handley Library.

Winchester — One of the nation’s greatest political and military leaders will be recognized for another aspect of his life at the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society’s annual meeting — his sheep.

George Washington was an early adopter of agricultural practices that became staples of American agriculture, said Lisa Carpenter, livestock husbander and costumed interpreter in the Rare Breeds Program at Colonial Williamsburg.

Carpenter will give a talk on “My Stock in Which I Most Delight” as the guest speaker at 11 a.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Handley Library, 100 W. Piccadilly St. It is free and open to the public.

“Talking about Washington in conjunction with some of these older breeds gets the message across about how important some of these old breeds were to our history,” she said. “Some of our founding fathers were really interested in this, and it became the backbone of the nation’s agriculture.”

Cissy Shull, executive director of the historical society, said she wanted to focus on a side of Washington that is often overshadowed by his many other accomplishments. He was a farmer and avid gardener who adopted practices, such as selective livestock breeding, crop rotation, and saving manure for fertilizer.

“You always hear about George Washington’s military or political careers. We haven’t had many programs with his other interests,” she said.

During the annual meeting, the historical society will discuss business, hold elections, and present the Historian of the Year Award and the Dola Tyler Award to an archives volunteer, Shull said.

But organizers also like having an educational component, which is why she contacted Colonial Williamsburg about a speaker to discuss Washington and his livestock.

Washington’s favorite sheep was the Leicester Longwool, a breed from Leicestershire, England, that “greatly improved his flock at Mount Vernon,” Carpenter said. “The Leicester Longwool sheep were at the forefront of the agricultural revolution in the second half of the 18th century.”

It was illegal to import the breed to the American colonies because textiles were the backbone of the British economy and the English did not want them to have good woolen sheep, she said.

“That is how I emphasize how popular this breed was. People were willing to engage in illegal activities to get their hands on this sheep,” she said, adding that Washington is only documented as having the sheep by the 1780s.

The breed flourished in America for a century but is now critically endangered, she said. Colonial Williamsburg has worked to preserve the breed, as well as other animal breeds, and uses the sheep to help “tell the story of our founding fathers’ impact on our modern agricultural landscape.”

Carpenter has a bachelor’s degree in English and history from Michigan State University and is a master’s student in American studies at the College of William and Mary.

Choosing the topic of Washington and his livestock also tied in with an event to dedicate a new outdoor exhibit about his political career at 1 p.m. April 12 at George Washington’s Office, 32 W. Cork St., Shull said.

The only piece of legislation Washington is known to have had a strong hand in while elected to the House of Burgesses from Winchester — his first elected office — is a law banning pigs running loose in the town, Shull said. “It was to protect the water supply.”

A fiberglass pig that children may climb on and have their picture taken with will be dedicated at the event. There will also be a short skit, “Hog Wild in Winchester,” performed by Shenandoah University students under the direction of Sally Anderson.

“It is a tongue-in-cheek play about irate neighbors and the reading of the law,” Shull said.

The event is free and open to the public.


The Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society will host Lisa Carpenter, livestock husbander at Colonial Williamsburg, speaking on George Washington and his livestock at its annual meeting, 11 a.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Handley Library, 100 W. Piccadilly St. It is free and open to the public. For more information, contact 540-662-6550 or go to winchesterhistory.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com