The American Mule: Did George Washington Really Introduce Them to the United States?

A mule.
A mule.

What Is a Mule?

A mule is the offspring of a female horse, called a mare, and a male donkey, called a jack. Mules are considered to be hardier, more patient, long-lived, intelligent, and less stubborn than donkeys. George Washington, the first president of the United States, numerous types of animals on his farm, Mount Vernon, including sheep, cattle, hogs, and horses, as well as mules.

Washington began breeding mules after receiving a jack in 1785 from the King of Spain. The Marquis de Lafayette also sent a jack and two female horses the following year. Given his fondness for and breeding of mules, Washington has been called “The Father of the American Mule." By 1799, he had 58 mules and 28 horses working on the Pioneer Farm Site for harrowing and plowing fields, pulling wagons, and other purposes.

Who Introduced Mules to the United States?

While George Washington is often attributed as the person who introduced mules in the United States, historical records indicate this is false. For example, an invoice from a Virginia-based company dated about a century before the birth of George Washington showed an order for 80 donkeys from France. Additionally, mule breeding is known to have occurred in parts of New York decades before Washington recieved his mule as a gift.

However, Washington was the first person to recognize the need for larger and stronger mules. For this reason, he was the first to crossbreed large donkeys from abroad to create the American mule, or the American Mammoth Jackstock donkey breed. This breeding earned him the name “The Father of the American Mule," which, from this perspective, is a correct description. Some of the breeds that inspired the Mammoth Jack include the Baudet du Poitou, the Catalan, and the Andalusian. The largest Mammoth Jack stands at a massive 68 inches in the US state of Texas.

Mules from the King of Spain

When Washington saw the need for larger mules, he was faced with the challenge of restrictions around accessing certain animals from Spain. In particular, Spain prohibited the exportation of the Andalusian donkey, and therefore Washington had to write to King Charles of Spain, which resulted in his gift. One of the donkeys Washington received in 1785 was named the “Royal Gift,” and one of the donkeys he received from the Marquis de Lafayette was named the “Knight of Malta.”


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