November 30, 2012
Based on diaries, letters and cash accounts we know that George and Martha Washington played host to numerous guests throughout the year. In addition to human guests, there is also an all too cryptic reference to the brief visit of a particularly interesting animal: “By the man who brot. a Camel from Alexa. for a show….0.18.0″ These few words are the only documentation of a visit to Mount Vernon by a very rare exotic animal for 18th century America.
From a variety of sources, we know that George Washington had quite an interest in animals, both domestic and rare, and often paid to see them. Over the years, Washington and various members of his household were able to learn something about the world outside Virginia from the itinerant entertainers who traveled along the eastern seaboard and would have been drawn to large gatherings of people at events such as fairs. Many of these individuals seem to have worked with exotic or specially-trained animals. For example, in some of the earliest references to this sort of thing, Washington recorded paying 10 shillings to see a “Lyoness” in June of 1766 and three years later spent 3 shillings and 1 1/2 pence to see a “Tyger.”
There is nothing in the surviving records to indicate how the camel ended up at Mount Vernon, but we know that in 1787 a camel was brought to the estate for the enjoyment of Washington’s Christmas guests.
In keeping with history, Mount Vernon still brings a camel to the estate during our special Christmas programming for the enjoyment of our guests. You can meet Aladdin on the field in front of the Mansion during Christmas at Mount Vernon, our daytime Christmas program running through January 6. Find out more information about daytime events and Candlelight tours at MountVernon.org/Christmas.