Article written/researched by Vivienne Peterson BA - First published March 2009 - Copyright Protected
This article was published in the American Pomeranian Club Pomeranian Review 50th Anniversary edition March 2009
Breaking News... Spado has been found, more to come on his fascinating story shortly
FIRST KNOWN WHEN LOST
Spado is one of the most unique Pomeranians in history! He appears to be America’s first recorded Pomeranian.
If he had not gone missing in 1776 his importance may never have been known as the research for this article began with the discovery of a lost or stolen advert in the Virginia Gazette March 7th 1777, placed by William Finnie a future Mayor of Williamsburg. Here is the exact transcript of the notice.
Twenty Dollars Reward
LOST or STOLEN, a very remarkable black shaggy dog of the Pomerania breed,called SPADO. He belongs to our brave but unfortunate general LEE, and was seen in the possession of a person who called himself JOSEPH BLOCK, at Wright’s Ferry,on Susquehannah, about the 25th of December last. It is supposed that BLOCK, who pretended to have undertaken to carry him to Berkeley County, Virginia, has parted with him for a trifling consideration, or lost him on the road. Whoever gives information where the said dog may be had, or will bring him to the subscriber in Williamsburg, shall receive the above reward, and no questions asked. WILLIAM FINNIE
By March 10th 1777, Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams the future 2nd President of the United States, wrote in a letter to her husband;
‘I see by the newspapers you sent me that Spado is lost. I mourn for him. If you know anything of His Master pray let me hear, what treatment he meets with, where he is confined…’
Spado was no ordinary dog, he was owned by Major General Charles Lee, the second in command to George Washington in the Continental Army, who had been captured by the British on December 13th 1776 at Baskingridge in New Jersey.
Charles Lee was a fascinating character a ‘soldier of fortune’. Known to be impulsive, opinionated and restless he had an adventurous life before going to America in 1773. Born in England in 1731 he was the son of a land -owner and army colonel. He was well -educated attending school in Switzerland and spoke several languages fluently. He served as an officer in the British Army in America between 1754 -1760. Living with the Mohawk Indians for a while who made him a chief with the name “Boiling Water” – perhaps a clue to his disposition. Wounded at Fort Duquesne he returned to England.
After this he served in Portugal, spent a short time with Frederick the Great of Prussia, joined the Polish Army and served in a campaign in Turkey. Upon returning to Poland he decided to return to England via Austria and Italy (1770) – while there he shot and killed a man in a duel, losing two of his fingers – the first of several duels in his life. He became very discontent after George III refused him promotion and became outspoken in his criticism of ministerial oppression. In 1772 he travelled to France and Switzerland before deciding to quit England and move to America. He arrived in New York October 1773 and quickly familiarised himself with the revolutionary leaders.
It is said that it was Lee who first broached the concept of declaring independence. Concerned about his property in England being forfeited should he serve against the British, Congress apparently advanced him $30,000 to indemnify him against this loss. With some of this money he purchased an estate called Prato Rio in Berkeley County, Virginia. He had hoped to lead the army and was disgruntled at the prospect of being the second in command.
Lee was famous for his deep attachment to his dogs – especially Spado. Samuel Adams Drake wrote ‘ his great fondness for dogs brought on him the dislike and frowns of the fair sex: for the General would permit his canine adherents to follow him to the parlour, the bed-room, and sometimes they might be seen on a chair next to his elbow’. He was never without his dogs and Spado was his particular favourite.
above - Hobgoblin Hall ( also known as the Isaac Royall House) where Lee stayed with Spado in 1775.
SPADO - of the Pomerania breed
We are very fortunate that there is an engraving of Lee with his beloved companion Spado, by B. Rushbrooke circa 1770/1771, depicting Lee just after his return to England. Spado appears to be a small/ medium sized black dog sporting the fashionable ‘lion-cut’ of the era. Rashbrooke’s caricature exaggerated the features of both Lee and Spado leaving the dog with a slightly porcine head. Spado stands close by his master displaying his loyalty and is clearly taking direction from him off lead indicating he was an obedient dog.
Just where Lee acquired Spado is not known. Gilman speculated he was perhaps ‘brought with him from Portugal’. It is unlikely he came from Portugal as Lee left there in 1763, some 12 years earlier, however if this was the case Spado would have been 13 to 14 years old when he went missing. Lee was not an economic immigrant and certainly could have afforded to bring a favourite dog with him. Such was the deepness of Lee’s attachment to his dog it is most likely he had owned him for a number of years.
(Please see footnote regarding the breed in 18th century America.)
Spado’s name is unusual and Lee was known to select odd names. One English author wrote in 1825 the names were often ‘ contemptible’ adding ‘ but yet blasphemy, the most sacred names were those chosen and the effect was partly ludicrous partly distressing’. In Spado’s case it may have indicated he was neutered as this is the Latin word for a castrated animal or person. If he was neutered then it is possible the procedure was already accomplished when Lee acquired him as it is a strange name to give an intact puppy. Spado is also an archaic term for a spade or shovel and also a 16th century side sword in the Iberian peninsular.
Any source arising from Abigail Adam’s observations tends to refer to Lee’s dog as Spada not Spado, sometimes she called him Mr Spada. Could this reflect Mrs Adam’s accent and she wrote the name phonetically.
A Victorian author noted how in 1775 Lee, on a ride about town with ‘his Pomeranian dog’, took a liking to the Royall mansion in Medford, Mass. He requisitioned it for his personal use. Lee renamed it Hobgoblin Hall as it was a little eerie. In a bid to interest potential dinner guests on one occasion he went to Brattle Hall with his Pom. Mrs Adams left a detailed account of this visit. ‘ The general determined that I should not be acquainted with him, but his companions too; and therefore placed a chair before me, into which he ordered Mr Spada (his dog) to mount, and present his paw to me for a better acquaintance. I could not do otherwise than accept it. “That, Madam” says he “ is the dog that Mr__ has rendered famous”. Another visitor John Morgan noted that ‘everyone was so taken with the tricks of General Lee’s pet dog Mr Spada, that she (Mrs Adams) had no chance’. There is no record of the name of the man who made Spado famous.
Mr Gilman noted that Spada ‘shared his quarters at Hobgoblin Hall, went with him to dinner parties, and was formally presented to his guests and friends’. Dr Belknap said Spada was ‘constantly at his master’s heels and accompanied him in whatever company he might keep’.
Spado accompanied his master on military campaigns and it is noted by Mr Rankin, when Lee was in Halifax, Virginia ‘ the general will not suffer Spado (his dog) to eat bacon for breakfast …. lest it make him stupid’.
Early writers mention that Pomeranians were sometimes black but this was unusual. The earliest black in English art was painted in 1791 and is similar to Spado except in full coat. Another interesting aspect is that William Finnie mentioned the ‘Pomerania breed’ and this implies that the average reader would know of the breed and what to look for – so there were probably more Pomeranians in America at this time.
From the caricature it can be seen Spado was not a big dog but by Victorian times there are a couple of writers who call him a ‘great dog’ and liken him to a bear! Possibly some of Lee’s other dogs were large and these writers were confused.
The amount of the substantial reward (a lot for this era) also confirms the importance and value placed on Spado – he truly was ‘ a very remarkable dog’ as Finnie noted.
HOW SPADO CAME TO BE LOST OR STOLEN
Lee was captured at White’s Tavern in Baskingridge, he elected to stay there overnight with some soldiers and not near the main army. He had just penned one of his infamous letters berating Washington’s abilities when some English soldiers besieged the tavern and captured him. There is a description of the incident but no dog is mentioned. Ironically one of the English, Lt Colonel William Harcourt, was the brother of the very man who had accompanied Queen Charlotte over to England, his family later (1767) received her gift of Mercury and Phebe – two Pomeranian dogs. The capture of Lee is commemorated on the Harcourt Memorial at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
It is possible that Spado was with Lee when he was captured. In the papers of General Nathaneal Greene it noted that after Lee’s capture, Lee’s servant and dog were sent down the lines.
Mr Gilman wrote ‘ when General Lee was a prisoner, his dog was sent down the lines by General Greene under passport’. Lee’s long time servant was the Italian Guisippi Minghini who outlived Lee being a benefactor in his Will. Spado was apparently entrusted to another man named Joseph Block for this mission to return him to Lee’s estate in Berkeley for safe -keeping. Initially it was feared Lee would be deported to England on charges of treason. However, he was eventually exchanged for a high -ranking English prisoner held hostage by George Washington and continued fighting against the British.
The route from Baskingridge to Berkeley County would require crossing the Susquehannah river and Wright’s Ferry (right) would be the obvious crossing point. Spado was last seen at this location on Christmas Day – some 12 days after Lee was captured.
It is a total mystery why Block having got this far would abandon his mission!
Lee was court-martialled by Washington (over the handling of a battle) and his response was ‘O that I were an animal, that I might not call man my brother’.
Lee retired to Berkeley and a ‘planter’s life’ and sometimes wrote for the ‘Maryland Journal’. He kept cows and grew tobacco. Lee was reported to be slovenly, eccentric – wearing unusual clothes and his language was very course. He built a house with no internal walls – using chalk marks to demarcate rooms claiming this was an improvement on walls. He had hardly any furniture but his love of dogs continued. It was written of him‘ … surrounded by his dogs, of which he was immoderately fond, and his books, he lived “ more like a hermit than a citizen of the world”’.
Around 1779 we learn of one last piece of information about Spado. Lee had responded angrily to a magazine article ridiculing him and Brackenridge the editor of the United States Magazine then lambasted Lee in his magazine, calling him an ourang-outang and a metempsychosist, followed by ‘You have been heard to say that you expect when you die to transmigrate to a Siberian foxhound, and to be messmate to Spado’. (Note – a mess is a military term for a place where soldiers ate and socialised). An enraged Lee went to Brackenridge’s office and challenged him to step outside for a ‘horse whipping’. It is significant that Lee would become incensed over his feelings about Spado being mocked and risk yet another duel – luckily this was avoided. It is known that Lee always had an interest in metaphysics.
Mr Gilman wrote that after Spado was sent down the lines he ‘passes out of history’ so it is reasonable to conclude that he was never found. Although Lee continued to keep canine companions none are named. No dogs are mentioned in his Will.
Lee had requested in his Will that he did not wish to be buried in a churchyard (his request was not honoured) reasoning ‘ I have kept so much bad company when living, that I do not choose to continue when dead’. He then added ‘ I recommend my soul to the Creator of all worlds and of all creatures.’ He died in 1782.
It is likely that he did wish to transmigrate and see his beloved Spado once again. He clearly considered him dead by 1779 and it appears the two were never reunited.
Since writing this article for the American Pomeranian Club's Pomeranian Review 50th Anniversary Special Edition further research unearthed an interesting reference in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 1881 (this can be read on archive books).
“Daniel Wister was a member of the Jockey Club, and had a great fondness for animals, fancying in special manner horses and dogs. He imported from Germany the progenitors of the well-known breed of Spitz dogs, whose descendants still snap and snarl about the grounds of some members of his family. The name of the ancestral dog ‘Keys’ is preserved among his descendants”.
Daniel Wister (1738 – 1805) was the son of a wealthy German immigrant John Wister. He read German newspapers and had a German education in Lancaster County. He was a friend of Dr Benjamin Franklin and bought his house at 141 High Street Philadelphia – the first house with a lightning rod – he also owned a large house called Grumblethorpe in Germantown that still exists. His daughter Sarah or Sally Wister (1761- 1804) is well known for her diary chronicling events in 1777 when her family evacuated Philadelphia and sought refuge at the Foulke’s farmhouse in Gwynedd near Valley Forge.
A clue to the type imported by Wister is perhaps in the name ‘Keys’. Pomeranians of the type now called Wolfs Spitz in Germany (see illustration below) are also known as Keeshond elsewhere. Legend has it that the Dutch name was adopted in honour of patriot Cornelis de Gyselaer (also recorded as Gijselaar) whose nickname was Kees. He lived from 1751 -1815 and around 1785 was instrumental in the bid to oust the ruling House of Orange in Holland. In Britain this type was simply known as the Pomeranian and in America as the Spitz dog – regardless of size or type. Please see our History of the breed pages for clarification.
Unfortunately we do not know when Wister imported his dogs from Germany but it is odd that he called one of the German variety by a name used by the Dutch in the northern region of Holland – they were called ‘Fik’ dogs in southern Holland according to Hutchinson 1935. If he imported his dogs before the 1780s then this would suggest that the name Kees or Keys may have an earlier origin than the previously thought.