"The old Leicester sheep were known in Virginia at an early day, if they did not,
indeed, form the foundation of most of her flocks. Previous to the war of the
Revolution some individuals of the
Bakewell improved or New Leicester sheep
were brought into the colonies, principally into New Jersey and Virginia, but they
had no general effect upon the sheep husbandry of that day, and at the close of the
war the blood had run out. The stringent English laws against the exportation of
sheep from the British Isles prevented the American agriculturalist from participating
in the great improvement made in the English sheep from 1750 to 1810, yet, under
some difficulties and at much risk, these laws were broken and evaded, and
cunning or enterprising sea captains and others smuggled sheep out of British parts
and landed them in America. Washington, as it appears had some descendants of
the smuggled stock, particularly, as he says of the Bakewell (Leicester) breed."
"The man who, of all others, was the first to improve the breed of native sheep, of which we
have record, was
George Washington. Few ever possessed so keen a love for the farm
and for rural pursuits and a greater pride in the profession of farmer than he, and before the
war he was known in London as the most reliable planter in Virginia. Immediately after the
peace of 1783, and his return to the occupation of farmer, he paid particular attention to his
breed of sheep, of which he usually kept from 700-800, and from which he realized upon
the average over 5 pounds of wool to each sheep."
Excerpt from a letter from George Washington to Arthur Young:
“Bakewell’s breed of sheep are much celebrated, and deservedly, I presume; but if intrusted to a common bailiff
(or with us is called an overseer) they would, I should apprehend, soon disintegrate, for want of that care and attention
which is necessary to preserve the breed of its purity. But the great impediment is in the British statutes; these discourage
men of delicacy, in this country, from attempting what might involve the master of a vessel of serious consequences if
detected in the breach of them. Others, however, less scrupulous, have attempted to import English rams with success,
and by this means our flocks in many places are much improved -- mine, for instance, though I never was concerned,
directly, or indirectly, in the importation of one, further than by buying lambs which have descended from them.�
New Leicester Ram
New Leicester Ewe
Leicester Longwool Sheep
“...the American sheep, although somewhat different in various districts, consisted chiefly of a coarse kind of Leicester, and those were originally of British breed."
Illustrations and information excerpted from:
Special Report on the
History and Present Condition of the Sheep
Industry of the United States
Published by Authority of the Secretary of Agriculture
D.E. Salmon, Chief of the Bureau of Animal Industry