Did Thomas Jefferson have a vicious sheep that killed a boy outside the White House?

Yes, according to this.

But if this was true wouldn’t we know more about the boy? His name, perhaps? Children are not frequently killed at the White House. True story or historical legend?

The story is repeated on Wikipedia which got it from the Monticello.org web site. The story is elsewhere on the internet and also in a couple of books.

Wikipedia page that mentions it:

Apparently the only actual evidence we have of this is a journal entry from Jefferson’s friend Anna Maria Thornton. It seems kind of an odd thing for someone to make up in a journal entry, but then she might have just been repeating an exaggerated story that she heard somewhere.

Anna Maria Thornton’s journal is in the Library of Congress, according to the cite given on the Monticello web page. I can only find a partial quote from the journal online: “a fine little boy killed by the Ram that the president has.”

Maybe the boy was black? That’d explain the lack of detail and wider mention.

We may only have evidnce of a boy being killed from one source, but the OP’s cite gives multiple sources for Jefferson’s violent sheep, and in particular of an aggressive ram that attacked passers-by.

Lots of farmers have kept annoyed animals that slew tragically slew people. Maybe millions in the last 3000 years.

Rarely the farmer’s fault unless they left gates open.

Sheep don’t kill people, farmers and presidents do.

Can’t tell with no context. The sheep could have killed the boy before Jefferson became President and not anywhere near the White House, with Anna Maria remembering the story from another time and place. That would have made it an older story, one not local to Washington., which would make it less likely to be reported. Of course, she could also have been reporting an inaccurate story.

Until I know more, I’m going to assume that if it happened, it didn’t happen at the White House.

But the story claims it was at the White House and that the sheep had injured someone before. That would seem to command more attention.

I don’t believe that in Jefferson’s time the White House is the secure compound that we know today. People coming and going were not logged and monitored, especially if they were just outside. Was there even a fence around the White House grounds? Even if the event did happen, it is not surprising that the child’s name is unknown.

Another story about the bad sheep.

It’s just odd to me that if the incident did actually happen by the White House that there is not more confirmation somewhere.

Apparently people are sheepish about discussing it.

BAND NAME! (Somebody notify Grace Slick!)

Here’s a cite confirming that the White House grounds were freely open to the public in Jefferson’s time. Certainly no records kept on who was wandering around. Jefferson had an area for livestock, kid wanders in and gets killed by an animal. Likely pretty common for kids to have bad interactions with farm animals when they are all around (relatively) densely populated areas. Not particularly newsworthy, especially when you have to set the newspaper type by hand.

There were newspapers that existed at that time in DC. For sure this would have made it into one of them, however, these recollections that I am reading aren’t 100%. Someone would have to request copied in microfilm and see if this was reported.

Not necessarily true. Owners are generally strictly liable for injuries caused by domesticated animals with a known propensity for aggression.


If this sheep injured somebody before (and that does seem to have been documented), then the death of a child near the White House at the (hands?) of the same rogue sheep must have at least lead to some coverage and some legal action one would think.

And I once killed a hyena in my pajamas.

Seriously though, fabulous line Evan.