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A friend of a friend has just written that Washington, Lafayette and Jefferson all rode side saddle to ease the pain of their war injuries. Before I proceed to dismantle this person with extreme predjudice, I wanted to double check.

I can't find any record that Washington was wounded during the Revolutionary war, and I'm very skeptical that Jefferson, who never fought, was wounded. (Perhaps he fell during his flight from Williamsburg?)

Is anyone aware of any record of any of the founding fathers riding sidesaddle for any reason?

Update with a couple of notes:

  • The FOAF didn't specify a time period. From the context of the comments it sounded like she was referring to the post-revolutionary period. I'd be happy with evidence showing Washington (or the others) in a side saddle at any point in their lives, but I'd be happiest with the Revolutionary war period.

  • I'm aware that I have asked SE to prove a negative, and that I should eat some crow because I've criticized others for this in the past. Is there any evidence that Washington was either wounded, or suffered from some other ailment (e.g. arthritis, back / hip problems) that might have required him to ride sidesaddle? I'm aware that Washington was reknown as a rider during the revolutionary war; are there contemporary accounts of his riding towards the end of his life?

  • I should eat more crow because I haven't documented my preliminary research. Some of it is in person interviews with the historian of the International Side Saddle Organization. I've also searched for any evidence that Washington was wounded during the Revolutionary war - I found no indication of any serious wounds during his career. I see that Lafayette fought with a leg wound during the battle of Brandywine, but I haven't found any evidence that he rode sidesaddle. (Jefferson has no military career other than cowardly flight, so I'm going to exclude the possibility of war injuries for Jefferson).

  • Riding sidesaddle doesn't necessarily imply an injury to the bum. Sidesaddle can be a more comfortable seat as a result of back injuries. I'm not an authority on the subject but I understand it can also be more comfortable for people who suffer from scoliosis, and for certain leg injuries.

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I have also heard this anecdotally. I am curious if anyone can find any record. –  called2voyage Dec 4 '13 at 15:32
    
Is he claiming they all got shot in the bum? This seems fairly unlikely. –  Lennart Regebro Dec 4 '13 at 23:14
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

It appears that this was almost certainly not the case. Here are some of the things contemporaries said of Washington's horsemanship during the revolution:

"the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback." - Thomas Jefferson

"a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild." - Marquis de Chastellux

These feats are quite frankly physically impossible on a sidesaddle without use of something like a two-pommel sidesaddle, which was not invented until the 1830's.

The impact of the second pommel was revolutionary; the additional horn gave women both increased security and additional freedom of movement when riding sidesaddle, which allowed them to stay on at a gallop and even to jump fences

Additionally, if you check out the Wikipedia entry for Men on the sidesaddle lists some specialty cases where it might prove useful, but no mention whatsoever of someone as famous as a Washington or Jefferson. While that isn't evidence to the contrary, it is certainly the case that there's no evidence I could find supporting their use in places that really ought to have it.

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Excellent. You've anticipated me somewhat - I had planned to update the question with some of this, but your research is better than mine. I'm going to let this run for a week while I check some other sources, but this is very likely to be the accepted answer. –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 9 '13 at 17:40
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I passed the question to the professional historians at Mt Vernon (Washington's home).

The Mt. Vernon research historian provided the following information, which I'll quote.

Interesting...I've been on the staff here at Mount Vernon for almost 34 years and have never heard anything about Washington riding sidesaddle.

I think what people might be thinking of is Washington's physical condition at the Battle of the Monongahela (aka Braddock's Defeat) on July 9, 1755. Then 23 years old, Washington had been suffering from pain, fever, and delirium since mid-June and was very weak. Here is how Washington biographer Douglas Southall Freeman described his condition on that day: "George's responsibility was neither for strategy nor for tactics but for being mounted and afield on the day of all days in his life of twenty-three yeas. His fever and pain were gone; but they had left him with his muscles so weakened that he did not know whether he could endure the jolt of a fast-moving horse. He determined to try it, and, to lessen his ordeal, he procured cushions and tied them into his saddle..." (From: Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948), 2:51-64; quote on page 2:64)

Many years after the battle, George Washington wrote this about himself at the start of the action that day: "...the first division approached the Monongahela 10 miles short of Fort Duquesne the 8th. of July; and which time and place having so far recovered from a severe fever and delirium from which he had been rescued by James's powder, administ[er]ed by the positive order of the Genl. as to travel in a covered Waggon [sic], he [Washington] joined him [Braddock] and the next day tho' much reduced and very weak mounted his horse on cushions, and attended as one of his aids [sic]." (From: The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, 39 volumes, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1931-1944), 29:42)

I have attached some information on horses & horsemanship at Mount Vernon, which contains a section on descriptions of Washington as a horseman, which may be helpful for your research.

Mt Vernon provided a supplemental reference that seems to be every time that Washington was mentioned with a horse. This is quite a large document and as such inappropriate for posting to SE.

Mt. Vernon granted permission to share the information, but I'm going to withold the researcher's name; unless she grants explicit permission, I'd rather err on the side of privacy.

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Can't believe this doesn't have more votes –  DVK Dec 24 '13 at 3:11
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