Chesapeake Bay Retriever History

We all know of the story of Sailor and Canton but do we all know there are two sides to the story ? The more commonly known one is the 1807 sinking of the ship Canton with Gov. Lloyd and Dr. James Stewart getting one of the two pups. 

“The other story is of a vessel from Newfoundland running aground near an estate called Walnut Grove on the shores of the Chesapeake in the last century (19th). The crew was rescued and with them were two Newfoundlands that the captain of the ship presented to Mr. Law, the owner of the estate, in return for the kindness and hospitality that had been shown him and his crew.”
Dr. Bruette believed the Walnut Grove version based on the Laws being a wealthy sporting family with interests in breeding fine stock of various animals. The Newfoundland although great water dogs and retrievers of incomparable strength, stamina and intelligence lacked the keenness of nose a sporting dog should have. The Laws crossed the Newfoundland pair with their hounds, who though lacking in retrieving instinct and endurance in icy water have the best noses for scenting. Doing this cross, the Walnut Grove strain’s progeny had certain hound instincts that were seen in their method of locating dead and wounded game. Setters and Spaniels work from casting for body scent in one direction and then another-mainly air scenting. The hound follows a scent trail with patience and persistence especially those from Bloodhound ancestry. The Walnut Grove Chesapeakes were selected to incorporate the hound trailing and blood scenting abilities.
Bruette writes: “It is only partially true that water washes away all traces of scent. The oils from the plumage of birds are floating as a thin skim upon the water. These oils carry the scent of the birds. They are capable of coming to the surface and indicating the location of a bird that has gone to the bottom. This accounts for a Chesapeake at times diving where no bird has been seen to disappear and coming up with one in his mouth. When a Chesapeake sees a wounded duck strike the water he swims to the spot and picks up its trail and follows it. He does not spend his time searching likely places in which the birdf may have hidden not does he cast for body scent. He sticks to the trail with all the patience that is inherited from the hound blood in his veins.” He calls them the bloodhounds of the water.
General Ferdinand C. Latrobe, who for many years supervised the breeding of the strain kept by the Carroll Island Club, also attributed the breed’s beginning to the vessel going aground at Walnut Grove. “On board the ship were two Newfoundland dogs which were given to Mr. Law by the captain in return for his (Law) kindness and hospitality show to himself and crew. The beginning of the Chesapeake dog was a cross between these Newfoundlands and the common yellow and tan colored hound, or coon dog of that part of the country”. (Outers’ Recreation)
No matter which report is the truest, the early Newfoundland was certainly part of the Chesapeakes’ development. It is important to know there were two varieties of Newfoundlands. One type was a larger, rough coated dog often with a curled tail and imposing stature –meaning noble bearing. This type came in numerous different colors-red, black, brown with white markings. The white markings were found on the feet, legs, chest and head (stripe down the muzzle). Occasional throwbacks to these old white markings still crop up on rare occasions today. The other Newfoundland dog was called the St. Johns dog or Labrador. This dog was described described as smaller, shorter coated, muscular and generally black. England perfected this strain into the Labrador retriever breed.
Already in the US from the 1700’s was the Irish Water Spaniel who was brought to retrieve on the shores of lakes, bays and ocean side. Likely there were some crosses made with IWS (Albert Harris wrote about his breeding using the Irish Water Spaniel Captain Kidd). By the 1880’s the IWS became less popular. “The ability of this dog (Chesapeake Bay Duck Dog) to withstand the cold and exposure was far beyond that of the Irish retriever. Within a brief period he (Chesapeake) entirely superseded the last named animal as a water dog”. (George Norbury Appold Century Magazine)
Sailor was a dingy red color, rough coated and with a high tail carriage. He had light eyes that were commonly seen in his offspring. Canton was black smother but thick in coat and was black. Both were noted to have “dewclaws” (meaning rear dewclaws as all dogs have front). It is possible from their descriptions that Sailor and Canton represented the two different Newfoundland strains. No record exists of them being bred together but certainly their progeny were.

This article was written by Mrs Dyane Baldwin –  “THE OTHER STORY OF SAILOR AND CANTON”


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