History from Home – Presidential Pets
Famous Pets of The Hermitage
Poll the Parrot
One of the most unusual pets that lived at The Hermitage was a parrot named Poll.
On June 5, 1827, Andrew Jackson purchased a parrot from Decker & Dyer, a specialty shop in Nashville, in the amount of $25 as a gift to Rachel.
After Rachel’s death in December 1828, Jackson left The Hermitage in January, making his journey for his inauguration. Jackson often wrote to family and inquire on “poor Poll’s health.”
On June 8, 1845, the country’s seventh Commander in Chief passed away. Thousands gathered to pay their respects, including Poll, who squawked, squeaked and swore like a sailor.
Reverend William Menefee Norment said:
“Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house.”
Reverend Norment went on to say the presidential parrot was “excited by the multitude and … let loose perfect gusts of ‘cuss words.’” People were “horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence.”
We don’t know what happened to Poll after his indecent outbursts, but we do know that Jackson and his dirty bird mouth will forever live in infamy.
Prize Horses of Jackson
Andrew Jackson named one of his favorite horses, Sam Patch, after one of America’s first celebrities. Never heard of Sam Patch? Well, the original Sam Patch, a daredevil, certainly had his 15 minutes of fame.
America’s first daredevil, Sam Patch became a household name in 1829 after he leapt into the Niagara River near the base of Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, Sam Patch did not survive the jump.
Even so, Sam Patch and his trademarked slogan “Some things can be done as well as others” became so popular that when the city of Philadelphia gave President Andrew Jackson a white stallion in 1833, the president named him Sam Patch.
Jackson was passionate about horses and horse racing. As a young lawyer — well before he became president — Jackson became famous as the leading breeder and owner of thoroughbreds in his native state of Tennessee.
Jackson was part-owner of Clover Bottom, a track near his home, and he trained his horses there, including Thruxton, his prized Virginia-born racehorse.
Thruxton, born in 1800, was sired by Diomed, a thoroughbred brought to this country from England, where his lineage was directly traced to the Godolphin Arabian.
In March 1806, a match race between Thruxton and Joseph Erwin’s undefeated horse Ploughboy was canceled. According to the rules, Erwin was supposed to pay Jackson a forfeit fee.
As the story goes, Erwin and his son-in-law Charles Dickinson disagreed with Jackson about the amount of the fee.
Things escalated until Dickinson wrote a letter to a Nashville newspaper calling Jackson a coward. That prompted Jackson to challenge Dickinson to a duel. It was Jackson’s third duel so far.
Dickinson fired first, striking Jackson in the chest. Jackson survived. Dickinson was not so lucky and lost his life with Jackson’s return fire. You can find out more–and perhaps even be chosen to participate–in our award-winning guest experience, The Duel: Art of the Southern Gentleman.
When he left Nashville for Washington, he brought his stable with him. That’s right: The White House became a fully functioning breeding, training and racing operation.
As for Thruxton, Andrew Jackson’s racehorse, he was said to have accompanied the president to the White House upon election in 1828.
Learn more about Jackson’s role in horse racing in our interactive guest experience, Wager to Win: Art of the Southern Gentleman.