We know George Washington as America’s first, and IMHO, our greatest president. As Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee said at his funeral, Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” But who knew that Washington was also the man responsible for introducing the modern mule to America?
Mules were used by farmers in Europe in the 18th century, but were rare in America. They were sought after particularly by farmers trying to carve fields out of rugged frontier lands, and for use on large plantations, like Washington’s Mount Vernon. Trouble was that you needed to breed a male donkey and a female horse to make a mule, and not too many farmers could pull that off successfully.
In 1788, during his brief retirement between Revolutionary War hero and America’s first president, Washington was struggling to make a fortune as a farmer. He received as gifts several prize donkeys from Marquis de Lafayette and from the king of Spain. Using these asses as a springboard, Washington began experimenting with breeding mules.
By the time Washington died in 1799, there were 57 mules running around Mount Vernon. They were rugged, had stamina, and would become the basis of a stock that would eventually populate farms across the young country. And that is why we should consider Washington as not only the Father of our Country, but also the Father of the American Mule.