History, History Column

Thomas & Parker Read Across America

Written by Parker A. Poodle ™

Copyright ©2019 Sarah Becker

Thomas & Parker Read Across America

“Books are boring,” the green frog said.  “Dude, books are fascinating,” the orange frog replied, “Especially this one.”  The frogs were discussing Newbury medalist Kwame Alexander’s Surf’s Up.  Read Across America Day is March 1st and I, Parker A. Poodle a Reading Education Assistance Dog encourage you to participate.  Did you know Thomas Jefferson—author of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Minister to France, first Secretary of State, third President of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia—was fascinated with books?

“A world of knowledge was in his personal library,” children’s author Cheryl Harness wrote.  “During the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson heard that British troops…burned the Capitol and, with it the government’s library.  Thomas, who believed that only an educated people could fully take part in democracy offered his beloved collection [of 6,700 books] to the nation…The people got the beginning of the Library of Congress.”

Cats read books.  Fish stories especially.  If you don’t believe me just ask children’s authors Curtis Manley and Kate Berube.  Together they wrote The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read.  I wonder if Nick and His Cats have read Dr. Seuss’ One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.  Or Vicki Myson’s Dewey the Library Cat: A True Story.


As of 1783 Thomas Jefferson arranged his Monticello library books into three main sections: History, Philosophy and Fine Arts.  His list was adapted: from the three categories English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) referenced in The Advancement of Learning: Memory, Reason, and Imagination.  Whereas I, Parker poodle am property—a lap loving pet—Parker A. Poodle ™ is my mistress’ Imagination made real.

Libraries are primarily for humans.  Poodles are admitted only by permission.  But I can’t complain.  Thomas Jefferson’s dogs all stayed outdoors.  “Jefferson was not, in general, a dog lover,” Monticello’s Lucia C. Stanton declared.

“In 1784, the Congress sent Thomas on a mission,” Harness continued.  “Thomas…his 12 year-old Martha [her dad called her ‘Patsy’), and a slave, James Hemings, set off for France.  Thomas joined his old friends Ben Franklin and John and Abigail Adams trying to win European trade and loans for their weak, young nation…In Europe, Thomas studied everything that could improve America: trees, crops, vineyards and buildings.”  It was there he discovered the Bergere shepherd, the French sheepdog.

When Thomas Jefferson left France, “he brought to Virginia a small band of foreign emigrants,” Stanton explained.  “On board the Clermont with Jefferson…were over sixty European trees and three French dogs.  The day before he left the French port of LeHavre Jefferson had been ‘roving thro the neighborhood of this place to try to get a pair of shepherd’s dogs’…The next day the mission was accomplished, for Jefferson recorded in his Memorandum Book the payment of thirty-six livres (the equivalent of six dollars) for ‘a chienne bergere big with pup.’”


“Bergere, as she was thereafter known, whelped on transatlantic passage, and she and her two puppies were installed at Monticello early in 1790,” Stanton continued.  “There were no flocks of sheep awaiting her supervision—animal husbandry was not yet on Jefferson’s mind.  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 worthy of ‘colonizing’ to the United States.”  As was “the skylark, nightingale, and red-legged partridge, the hare and Angora rabbit, and the Angora goat.”

Bergere may be, probably was not related to the long-tailed, shaggy Briard.  Or the Berger Picard.  Although the American Kennel Club describes the Briard as a “muscular Frenchman” and the Berger Picard “a lanky herding dog of strong bone and sturdy build” TJ’s shepherd’s dog Buzzy—Buzzy and Thomas Move Into the President’s House—“was obviously Bergere.”  Tails, oops “tales illustrative of the Bergere’s reasoning power survived until the 1850s.”

“Besides the [shepherd dogs] wonderful sagacity and never ceasing attention to what they are taught to do, they appear to have more courage than I had before supposed that race to possess,” Jefferson wrote.  “They make the best farm dogs I have ever seen…But they must be reasonably fed; and are the better for being attached to a master.”

“In the middle and upper parts of Virginia sheep are subject to the wolf, and ‘neglected, poorly fed’ dogs who ‘prowl for themselves,’” Jefferson penned in 1792.  It’s how the phrase “canine appetite” came to be.  In 1787 Thomas described the Marquis de Lafayette as having a “canine appetite for popularity and fame.”  Jefferson admitted his “canine appetite for reading” in an 1818 letter to John Adams.

Jefferson called Monticello, his Charlottesville estate “his essay in architecture.”  Pets were not so prevalent back then hence house breaking was not an issue.  The issue as of 1809: merino sheep, a variety of sheep with long fine wool.  “Dog laws began to spring up all over.”

“Should we not add a provision for making the owner of a dog liable for all the mischief done by him,” Jefferson asked, “and requiring that every dog shall wear a collar with the name of the person inscribed who shall be security for his honest demeanor?”

In his book, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781-1785) Jefferson refers to slavery as an “abominable crime.”  Yet he freed neither his slaves, Jupiter especially, nor the slaves’ dogs.  Instead he greeted the slaves’ dogs with “hostility” and twice “ordered them killed.”

“I do take Jefferson to task for his insensibility to the conditions of his slaves,” Stanton noted.  “Many of their dogs were probably their assistants in hunting expeditions in their free time—part of their continuing effort to supplement the rather meager rations they received.”

So tell me.  Is the 18th century English nursery rhyme Baa, Baa Black Sheep really a protest piece?  Leslie Helakoskie’s Woolbur the Sheep dyed his wool blue.

By 1814 Jefferson “had acquired the largest personal collection of books in the United States.”  His curiosity was unending.  History, ancient and modern.  Natural philosophy and Science.  Ethics and Religion.  Politics and Commerce.  Arithmetic and Geography.  Painting and Poetry.  Comedy and Tragedy.  Lupines, Canines and Sheep.

In 1791 son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph brought a wolf to Monticello.  He wanted to compare lupine and canine behavior.  The wolf “had much less command” over its tail.      

Feeling sheepish or hangdog?  Visit your local library and ask the librarian for a history pick.  Joseph J. Ellis’ American Sphinx, The Character of Thomas Jefferson; Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power or Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello, An American Story.  My children’s pick: Barb Rosenstock’s Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library. 

The Alexandria Library Company, in business since 1794, now prepares for its 225th centennial celebration.  The date: July 27, 2019.  The Company is “one of the oldest continuously operating social libraries in the United States.”  The Company’s first librarian: Quaker and Alexandria pharmacist Edward Stabler.


The Stabler and later Leadbeater families knew a lot about dogs: their collars and licensing, health and nutritional needs.  Early U.S. veterinary history dates from the second half of the 19th century.  It was tied primarily to large farm animals, equine and bovine.  As was M. bovis tuberculosis.

“[E]very child in America…should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice,” Noah Webster noted in 1788.  Thomas Jefferson could “not live without books.”

Read with me America!

Parker A. Poodle ™ is the significant companion of columnist Sarah Becker ©2019.  Sarah started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England.  Similar publications followed.  She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board.  Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency.  Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means.  The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.”  A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007. 

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