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Painting of Owner and Dog

Colonial Pets

Ever wondered if the Thorowgoods owned pets on the property? While not much is known about that aspect of their history, there is a good amount of information about colonial pets in general! Colonial pets were oftentimes more exotic and uncommon compared to today’s pets. Called “favorites,” colonial pets were kept for a variety of reasons: companionship, amusement, herding, hunting, and protection.

Other animals were kept as “favorites," too. Europeans brought over animals from Europe such horses, dogs, and cats. They also tamed animals they encountered in North America such as deer, beavers, otters, and raccoons. In 1752, Dr. Benjamin Jones of Virginia noted that he “kept over a hundred deer to amuse his children and grandchildren. A little bell he used on a pet deer is owned by one of his descendants.” Deer as pets were often domesticated, and wore collars like dogs. In portraits at the time, deer are painted to resemble greyhounds. Beavers, otters, and raccoons were also domesticated. Beavers and otters, specifically, were trained to dive underwater and catch fish for their owners.

During the travels of Finnish-Swedish botanist Peter Kalm, from 1748-1751, he noted seeing each of these animals being “as tame as dogs”, but for the raccoons it was “impossible to make it leave off its habit of stealing.” This led to raccoons being dropped from their status as favorites. Other animals were kept as pets as well such as snakes, lambs, monkeys, and chicken.

Each animal of course had their own problems: monkeys made homes difficult to keep clean and neat while snakes were unfavorable to women and girls. Both of these accounts (Jones and Kalm) were taken around the time John Thorowgood lived in the historic home, but it is unknown if he had his own exotic pets. John did list numerous livestock in his will that were split up between his wife and children such as horses, cows, calves, bulls, sheep, lambs, yearlings, hogs, oxen, cattle, and bees.