George Washington was more of a dog lover, but Martha Washington appears to have had a soft, feathery spot in her heart for birds. If it weren’t already evident by the green parrot named Snipe that the Washingtons brought with them to the presidency, then it should be apparent by the fact that days before Martha Washington’s death, as she lay ill, a lonely cockatoo was living on the back piazza, just looking for a friend.
Its name is unknown but the extent to which the little guy must have really been doted on by the lady of the house was documented by a visitor to the Mansion. He recorded during his 1802 visit – two years after George Washington’s death – that a female companion sat down and the bird hurriedly left its cage and “endeavoured to gain her favour by a familiarity which thwarted his design. Alarmed at the hurried motions & chattering of the poor fellow, she fled & left him as destitute as before.”
The doctor caring for Martha Washington came along about that time and informed the couple that “this bird was the favourite of Lady Washington, who fed & caressed him daily & being neglected since her sickness, he seemed quite lost & dejected.”
Whatever happened to the feathery companion is unknown, but with his outgoing disposition and the rarity of such an animal during that time, it’s easy to hope that someone might have been willing to take him in.
Research on the Washington cockatoo was provided by Mount Vernon research historian Mary Thompson. The photo of the cockatoo was taken by Duncan Rawlinson/Snowmanradio and was posted to Wikipedia and licensed under a creative commons attribution.