President Jefferson’s Murderous Sheep

Kamie Berry | November 20th, 2017

Presidential pets often become as famous as their owners. There have also been a wide range of animals kept as White House pets, from an alligator to a wallaby to everything in between. One presidential pet stands out, though, but not because of its species. This pet is memorable because of its murderous temper.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was a gentleman farmer. In addition to his scholarly pursuits, he was deeply attached to the land. Even when he moved to Washington, D.C. to take up his presidential job, he brought a bit of his beloved Monticello farm with him. This piece of his home was in the form of a herd of 40 Shetland sheep.

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Jefferson grazed these animals on the lawn of President’s Square, which in front of the White House. This wasn’t considered too terribly odd at the time, but the behavior of one of the animals certainly was.

Jefferson’s favorite sheep was a ram. It was unusual because it was a polycerate, meaning it had four horns instead of two. Its other notable characteristic was its violence. Though it was small, it was quite territorial. Its first notable attack was on a man who was trespassing in President’s Square. The man was rammed by the ram and was injured so badly that he could not walk for six weeks.

The murderous sheep did not just injure people. In one notorious incident, the ram killed a small boy who had wandered onto the lawn. Though one of Jefferson’s friends mentions the incident in her journal, Jefferson never talked about it. It is likely that he was never told about the animal’s victims, though he had to know how mean it was.

Even if Jefferson was aware that his prized pet had killed a child, that did not cause him to move the animal or have it destroyed. He did eventually tire of the animal’s aggressive nature, though, and had it packed off back to Monticello. It was there that the ram violent life came to an end.

Jefferson was also breeding another type of sheep in an enclosure near to the infamous ram’s. This angered the beast, and he broke through the fence into their enclosure. There, it went on a murder spree, killing several other sheep and lambs. After this incident, Jefferson insisted that the animal be killed.

Despite his bad luck with sheep, Jefferson continued to breed them for meat and wool, though his efforts were not very successful. Thankfully, none of his other sheep were as violent as his notorious Shetland ram.

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