A True Outdoorsman: George Washington Was A Big Time Hunter And Fisherman

George Washington
John Ward Dunsmore via Getty Images

Happy President’s Day, everyone.

While the holiday has morphed to include all of the presidents, the actual title for today is Washington’s Birthday and while it’s cool to acknowledge all the leaders of this country, I think it’s important to give the guy who beat the British and became America’s first president his due.

I’m sure you’ll find a bunch of articles on his accomplishments and probably more on his downsides, but there’s an overlooked piece to the Washington story that really interests me.

George Washington was a bigtime hunter and fisherman.

In fact, his ability on horseback, which many described as the best of his era and was crucial to America’s success in the Revolutionary War, can be attributed, at least in part, to his love for foxhunting.

Foxhunter-In-Chief

According to the Museum of Hounds & Hunting, Washington was introduced to running foxes with hounds by his neighbor Lord Fairfax at just 16 years old. He took to the pastime immediately and was soon participating in land surveys of the Shenandoah Valley, which many believe were just thinly veiled excuses to hunt red fox.

For the next 3 decades of his life, fox hunting became something of an obsession. He went so far as to selectively breed his own hounds at his Mount Vernon home, possibly creating the foxhound breed, and became adept at following those hounds through terrain that few, if any, others wound dare to ride through.

Hunting in this way was quite dangerous, with Doctor William Beebe noting at the time:

“Frequent instances have occurred, where in leaping the fence, or passing over gullies, or in the woods, the rider has been thrown from his horse, and his brains dashed out, or otherwise killed suddenly. This, however, never stops the chase—one or two are left to take care of the dead body, and the others pursue … old men, whose heads were white with age, as eager in the chase as a boy of 16.”

It’s easy to draw a line between running down red foxes in deep wilderness and running down Red Coats in the Revolutionary War.

But foxhunting was far from his only outdoors endeavor. Historian Phillip G. Smucker notes he spent more nights sleeping under the stars than any of the other founding fathers and would take trips through many states in search of game.

His diaries are full of stories of hunting ducks, turkeys, buffalo (which he hunted alongside Native Americans), deer, and bears, most of which were tracked by his trusty hounds.

If you’re eager to get outside this year but need to revamp your hunting wardrobe, FirstLite has you covered. From jackets and vests to pants and boots, they’ve got what you need to be successful on your next hunt.

But his love for hunting didn’t stop him from enjoying time casting a line as well.

An American Angler

Washington actually controlled the local fishing industry of the Potomac River near his Mount Vernon estate. Hundreds of thousands of fish each year were pulled out of the river by his enslaved workers and sold throughout the colonies and all the way down to the Bahamas, adding additional income to his tobacco and wheat farming operations. Fishing wound up being the most profitable of all his companies.

On top of being a commercial fisherman, or at least owning a commercial fishing outfit, Washington fished for sport as well. He kept track of the various species in the Potomac through his own exploits, often bringing his brothers or friends out on the water to fish with tackle and live bait.

In a letter written to a friend, he said the Potomac was:

“Well supplied with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and in the Spring with the greatest profusion of Shad, Herring, Bass, Carp, Perch, Sturgeon, etc.”

He also once ordered a “fishing case for the pocket” from London in 1762, which was basically a small tackle box that allowed him to always have fishing gear with him in case an opportune moment to cast a line presented itself.

While they’ll be slightly different than the ones Washington used in the 1700’s, Tackle Warehouse has a great selection of tackle boxes and bags if yours is looking a little shabby or you’ve run out of room to store all the lures you’ve accumulated over the years.

The Potomac wasn’t the only body of water he fished. Washington took many trips for work and would often test out the local fisheries. In Barbados he caught shark, dolphin, and catfish. In Ohio is was trout and perch. In New Jersey it was sea-bass and black fish.

He also used fishing trips as a way to bring political rivals together, the most famous being a trip to Sandy Hook, New Jersey with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, two men who did not in the slightest like each other.

While George Washington will rightly be remembered as a top tier general and politician, it’s important to remember his human side as well.

Maybe the best way to honor George Washington’s legacy today is to get outside and enjoy the rich spoils of American wilderness and continue to do so throughout our lives.

It’s the American thing to do.

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