MAD DOGS AND FAITH SERVANTS
IN MEMORY OF THOMAS JEFFERSON
Written and Presented by  Lucia Stanton
( Shannon Senior Research Historian, Monticello )
November 3, 1989 Fall Dinner at Monticello
  When Thomas Jefferson crossed the Atlantic in November 200
years ago, he brought to Virginia a small band of foreign
emigrants. On board the
Clermont with Jefferson, his two
daughters, slaves James and Sally Hemings, and over sixty
European trees and three French dogs.

  The day before he left the French port of Le Havre Jefferson
had been "roving thro the neighborhood of this place to try to
get a pair of shepherd's dogs. We walked 10 miles, clambering
the cliffs in quest of the shepherds, during the most furious
tempest of wind and rain I was ever in." He had stumbled on a
suicide in his ramblings, but found no dogs. The next day,
however, the mission was accomplished, for Jefferson recorded
in his Memorandum Book the payment of 36 livres ( the
equivalent of six dollars ) for "a chienne bergere big with pup".

  Bergere, as she was thereafter known, whelped on the
transatlantic passage, and she and her two puppies - along with
figs, cork oaks, and larch trees - were installed at Monticello
early in 1790. There were no flocks of sheep awaiting her
supervision - animal husbandry was not on Jefferson's mind at
this time. Bergere's employment was secondary to her role as
founder of the American branch of her family. The shepherd's
dog was on Jefferson's list of Old World animal species worth
of "colonizing" to the United States, along with the skylark,
nightingale, and red-legged partridge, the hare and the Angora
rabbit and the Angora goat.

  But why had he braved the equinoctial gales of the French
coats to secure one of a species whose extinction he would
enthusiastically endorse ? "I participate in all your hostility to
dogs", he wrote to Peter Minor in 1811, "and would readily join
in any plans of exterminating the whole race."

  Whether or not Jefferson ever observed, while in Europe, the
impressive sight of a sheepdog pursuing it's pastoral
occupations, he certainly read praise of its character by his
favorite classical and modern authors. Varro devoted a whole
chapter to
Res Rusticue to this indispensable farmworker,
including advice on feeding (barley bread soaked in milk) and
flea prevention (infusion of bitter almonds).

  The greatest acclaim came from the man Jefferson called "the
best informed Naturalist who has ever written", the Comte de
Buffon. "M. de Buffon", stated an American encyclopedia, "has
given a genealogical table of all known dogs, in which he
makes the
chien de berger, or shepherd's dog, the origin of all,
because it is maturally the most sensible". Jefferson may have
disagreed with Buffon's theory that climate fashioned every
other breed as a degeneration or refinement of the original
species. He would nonetheless have read with interest the
French naturalist's final assessment of this canine origainal.
After praising its fidelity, Buffon noted that, while other dogs
require instruction, the shepherd's dog was born, as it were,
"tout eleve". He concluded: "One is confirmed in the opinion
that this dog is the true dog of Nature, the one she has given us
for the greatest utility, the one....family that must be regarded
as the root and model of the entire species".

  Other accounts commended the sheepdog's "philosophic"
nature and its devotion to its work - "instinctively prone to
industry", as one writer noted, "The qualities of utility, fidelity,
sagacity, philosophy, and industry would have been irresistible
to Jefferson, and Bergere seems to have lived up to her
publicity. Tales "illustrative of her reasoning powers" survived
until the 1850's when Henry Randall heard the following story
from one of Jefferson's granddaughters: "Having had assigned
to her, among her 'constitutional functions', the office of
gathering up the poultry at nightfall, and seeing them 'folded',
and having observed that it is the nature of the feathered tribe
to go to roost on clody days earlier than on others, she adapted
her government to the character of her subjects, and used, in
such weather, to drive them up without regard to the hour of
sunset."

  Bergere's offspring were described by Jefferson as "all
remarkably quiet, faithful and abounding in the good qualities
of the old bitch." He was not so lucky with Grizzle, a second
sheepdog sent to Monticello from Normandy in 1790. In 1796
Grizzle's line, which had proven "mischievous", was destroyed
- all except Damon who was kept out of mischief at the end of a
chain.

  No one has yet solved the mystery of what Bergere, Grizzle
and their progeny looked like. Some have suggested they were
long-tailed shaggy
Briards. The breed, however, bears little
resemblance to the
chien de berger in Buffon's Historie naturelle
(see illustration). In the only eyewitness account, which raises
moe questions than it answers, the slave Isaac remembered
that Jefferson "had dogs named Ceres, Bull, Armandy, and
Claremont, most of 'em French dogs he brought 'em over with
him from France. Bull and Ceres were bulldogs. He brought
over Buzzy with him too, she pupped at sea: Armandy and
Claremont, stump tails, both black." Buzzy was obviously
Bergere, and Claremont - correctly Clermont - was no doubt
one of her pups born on the vessel. Ceres may have been the
second of Bergere's pups, named for the ship that had carried
Jefferson in the opposite direction in 1784. Armandy was
perhaps Norman, one of only three of Bergere's descendants
left at Monticello in 1796: a fourth, Sancho, belonged to
Thomas Mann Randolph. The reference to bulldogs is puzzling,
since no other mention of the presence of this breed at
Monticello has been found.

  In 1791, one of Bergere's distant relatives temporarily shared
the mountaintop. Jefferson's son-in-law Thomas Mann
Randolph brought a wolf to Monticello to compare lupine and
canine behavior. He noted that the wolf dined heartily on
persimmons, enjoyed caressing and provoking attention "by
the same arts" as a dog, but had "much less command over its
tail". It seemed less rapacious than the wolf of Europe, as it
was shy of horses and cows, and showed no interest in calves
and hogs, "but was very eager and alert in the pursuit of fowls."
Extending his inquiry to an area which had baffled the efforts of
Buffon, Randolph planned to mate the wolf with a dog and
study the results. The sheepdogs of Monticello were spared
such an alliance and the wolf was sent "down the country" for
the experiment.

  There was still a bounty on wolves in the frontier parts of
Virginia, and in the older settlements the dog had stepped into
the wolf's role as marauder of livestock. In 1792 Jefferson wrote
about the problems of raising sheep: "In the middle and upper
parts of Virginia they are subject to the wolf, and in all parts of
it dogs. These great obstacles to their multiplication." A law for
the protection of sheep enacted in the 1750's prohibited slaves
from taking their dogs out of their own plantations. Exempt
from this interdiction was a slave taking his master's "hounds,
spaniels, pointing or setting dogs, for his diversion." And
"whereas dogs frequently ramble from home, and destroy great
numbers of sheep, and some person are so unneighbourly as
to refuse their being killed," known offenders could be
dispatched at the order of the justice of peace.

  From 1809, when the Spanish merino began to be imported
inot the United States and raising sheep became the favorite
endeavor of "improving" farmers, dog laws began to spring up
all over. Pennsylvanians actually laid a tax on dogs,
progressively higher for owners of more than one animal. In
1810 Judge Richard Peters stood before the Philadelphia
Agricultural Society and gave an unabridged account of canine
killing of sheep. Admitting that "many dogs are faithful and
useful animals" and that "there should be no hue and cry, or ill
founded prejudices, indiscrimately raised against them, "
Peters came to his main point: "They are kept in too great
numbers, and of breeds, in many instances, worthless: and
many, being ill fed and hungry at home, are compelled to prowl
for their sustenance. It should be made disgraceful and uncivic,
in those who keep supernumerary, worthless, or starved dogs."

  Word of the Pennsylvania law reached Peter Minor in
Albemarle Country, His letter proposing regulation of Virginian
dogs elicited from Jefferson the philippic of 1811 already
partially quoted. It continued: "I consider them as the most
afflicting of all the follies for which men tax themselves, But as
total extermination cannot be hoped for let it partial. I like well
your outlines of a law for this purpose: but should we not add a
provision for making the owner of a dog liable for all the
mischief done by him, and requiring that every dog shall weat a
collar with the name of the person inscribed who shall be
security for his honest demeanor ?"

  The dog tax was almost enacted in Virginia in 1814 (Jefferson
ordered his Poplar Forest overseer to reduce the dog
population to two if it passed), but the licensing of dogs was
nearly a century away. No dog collars with Jefferson's name on
them have survived (only a chain marked "Trench"), but he
practiced his own brand of self-regulation. In 1808, by which
time sheep grazed in large numbers on the mountain, Jefferson
wrote his overseer that "to secure wood enough, the negroes
dogs must all be killed. Do not spare a single one." Even the
vaunted caetakers of sheep could become their destroyers. In
1815 a female shepherd's dog Jefferson had promised to his
brother was aught in the act of eating a sheep and summarily
"hung". As Jefferson wrote, even sheepdogs, if neglected and
poorly fed, will "prowl for themselves" and "their sagacity
renders them the most destructive marauders imaginable. You
will see your flock of sheep and of hogs disappearing from day
to day, without ever being able to detect them in it."

  The art of feeding a dog was one which many Americans, it is
apparent, did not mster. In Richard Peter's opinion, "not only
sheep killing, but diseases and madness, in dogs, are
frequently effects, either immediate or consequent, of keen and
long continued hunger, which stimulates to gorging voraciously
on whatever esculent they find." From this latter habit cam the
medical term, "canine appetite", which Jefferson used in
surprising ways in his correspondence. He referred to the
Marquis de Lafayette's "canine appetite for popularity and fame"
and his own "canine appetite for reading."

  Jefferson considered canine madness, or rabies, "the most
distressing" of all human diseases. Commending James Mease
in 1792 for his
Inaugural Dissertation on the Disease produced
by the Bite of a Mad Dog
, he suggested that some enterprising
soul might "confine in a safe place a number of animals,
communication the disease successively to them, and
subjecting them to various treatments till some one should be
found the success of which might be relied on. The
experimentalist who should be successful in establishing by
multiplied trials a certain method of cure, would merit an altar."
Almost a century would pass before Louis Pasteur successfully
cured a case of hydrophobia with inoculation.

  Jefferson's own dogs, fortunately, remained for the most part
rational and useful. In 1809 a third family of French shepherd's
dogs arrived at Monticello. By this time valuable flocks of
sheep grazed in the fields of gentlemen farmers throughout the
country. Their canine attendants were suddenly in great
demand. Jefferson urged Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours to
bring back "a couple of pair of true-bred Shepherd's dogs. You
will add a valuable possession to a country now beginning to
pay great attention to the raising of sheep." Isaac Coles,
Jefferson's former secretary, was commissioned to procure in
France some dozen dogs for Monticello. The selection was
made by the Marquis de Lafayette from the neighborhood of his
estate La Grange, where, as Coles reported, "the breed was said
to be most pure."

  This pair of dogs crossed the Atlantic on the
Mentor and
arrived at Monticello in September by battean from Richmond.
Jefferson immediately began to get applications for their
offspring. A female - reared on a diet of cornbread - was sent to
Joseph Dougherty, Jefferson's former coachman at the
President's House. William Thornton, who confessed himself
"
very sheepishly inclined", was to have a male. Unfortunately it
did not survive being tied up "in the broiling sun one broiling
day" at Monticello. Thornton thaked Jefferson for the intended
gift and philosophically observed that "Fate seems to have
destined his Services for some celestial Shepherd." He also
remarked on its extraordinary size - two and a half feet high (the
chien de berger illustrated by Buffon was only two and a half
feet long).

  The female sent by Lafayette in 1806 was a fully educated
working dog. She was immediately put to work in the Monticello
fields, which had no interior fences - only rows of peach trees
planted in the 1790's. In 1810 Jefferson wrote that he had
"persons now to follow my sheep, and with the aid of the bitch
I received from France, perfectly trained, they have the benefit
of fine pastures in which they could not run but for the facility
she gives of keeping them from the grain in the same fields."

  Word of Monticello shepherd's dogs spread to the west.
Judge Harry Innes asked for a pair to populate the state of
Kentucky. In his reply Jefferson evaluted the breed: "Their
extraordinary sagacity renders them extremely valuable,
capable of being taught almost any duty that may be required
of them, and the most anxious in their performance of that
duty, the most watchful and faithful of all servants." Listing the
labors of his own dogs, he raises yet another image of
scurrying poultry on the mountaintop. His dogs, he wrote,
"learn readily to go for the cows of an evening, or for the
sheep, to drive up the chicken, ducks, turkies, every one into
their own house, to keep forbidden animals from the yard, all of
themselves and at the proper hour, and are mean a pet with
access to the family living quarters." One of Bergere's puppies
did, in fact, gain entrance to Monticello in 1795, when Martha
and Thomas Mann Randolph left their children with Jefferson
while they visited a distant plantation. The grandfather,
recurring to Greek, wrote the parents that he was alarmed by
two-year-old Thomas Jefferson Randolph's "kuno-phobia". He
decided "to take a puppy into the house to cure him by forcing
a familiarity to the form and safety of the animal."

  If not quite pets, then, the sheepdogs from France were still
part of the Monticello "family". In 1790 Jefferson had written
from Philadelphia to his daughter that "there is not a sprig of
grass that shoots, uninteresting to me, nor any thing that
moves, from yourself down to Bergere or Grizzle." Martha, in
her turn, provided her father with news of Bergere's annual
litters in the same breath with accounts of the growth of the
Monticello chestnuts and sugar maple trees and the latest
accomplishments of her children. For more than thirty years the
immigrants from France were "carefully multiplied" by
distribution to brothers, son-in-law, grandchildren, neighbors,
and friends, as Jefferson sought to spread throughout America
"the most careful intelligent dogs in the world."

Lucia C. Stanton