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Boston Terrier Roots

Historic photo of a Boston Terrier

Pictured Above: Ch. Ace of Aces – first BTCA National winner of the Fred Davis Cup (c. 1920s).

The beginnings of the Boston Terrier harken back to 1865 amid the turmoil the country faced with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the end of the Civil War. It was during that year that an imported dog, sent from the shores of England to the shores of Massachusetts, became one of the most historically significant progenitors of the breed. A cross between an English Bulldog and a White English Terrier or possibly bull terrier, the 32-pound import arrived in Boston in 1865 to augment the pit dog stock in the United States. William O’Brien sold this dog to Robert C. Hooper and consequently Hooper’s Judge was bred to Burnett’s Gyp (aka Kate). Noted historian-author Arthur Huddleston dubbed these two the Adam and Eve of the breed.

Boston Terrier History
Ch. Fastep – owner unknown (c. 1927).

The dogs tracing their ancestry back to Judge possessed more characteristics of the bulldog in these crosses. While a lengthy discussion could take place regarding the names, sizes, colors and conformation of these early, highly inbred dogs, limited space does not allow it, nor do these dogs have any place in the pedigrees of today’s Bostons. From the first and perhaps only litter sired by Hooper’s Judge, type didn’t begin to coalesce for maybe ten years. Possibly by the mid-1870s, Boston, Massachusetts livery stable owner John P. Barnard, often times noted as the “Father of the Boston Terrier”, began to transition his kennel towards a focus on improving the outcomes from the original crossing.

Boston Terrier History
Illustrations from The Ideal Boston Terrier by Josephine Z. Rine (c. 1932).

It was in 1878 that litter brothers Barnard’s Tom and Atkinson’s Toby were born, both becoming popular studs. Barnard’s Tom, more than any Boston heretofore, actually deserves the appellation “Founder of the Breed”, greatly contributing to establishing type in a breed that had yet to even receive a consistently-recognized name. Variously called Bullet Heads, American Bull Terriers or Round Heads, in 1888 the New England Kennel Club recognized the breed in competition as the Round Head Bull and Terrier.

Boston Terrier History
Ch. Million Dollar Kid Boots owned by Mrs. Jesse Thorton (c. 1930s).

Noted as a dog of stable keepers and barbers, the descendants of Judge soon enough acquired reputations as sought- after household pets. Bred down in size, their temperament was more suited as a companion than as either a ratter or a pit dog and the Boston Terrier quickly gained favor as a companion dog with both the working class and the wealthy. During the 1880s, the appeal of breeding dogs increased as an extensive assortment of breeds was brought into this country.

This necessitated ever greater numbers of dog shows, to which many exhibitors travelled by train, horse drawn buggies, wagons or carts. However, the mode of customary transportation began to change in 1900 as automobile ownership began to grow. Traveling and shipping dogs by rail also enabled a greater market to be reached—by 1900 more than 200,000 miles of track crisscrossed the country and AKC registrations of Bostons were on the rise.

Boston Terrier History
Ch. E. D’Lis Carry On – owner unknown. For its time, a rare uncropped champion. (c. 1920s/30s)

At the beginning of the last decade of the 19th century, the most noted of breeders and fanciers in and around Boston came together with the intention of forming an organization, then calling themselves the American Bull Terrier Club. In 1891, armed with breeding and litter records and a newly written Standard of the breed, the club petitioned the American Kennel Club for breed admittance. However, opposition from the AKC Officer, among them the affluent dog and horseman August Belmont, Jr., (and first President of AKC) prevented recognition of the breed, citing lack of consistency of type.

Although the breed was denied entrée to the Stud Book, the Boston Terrier Club was admitted to AKC membership and the breed was for once and for all given the official name of Boston Terrier. Its Standard was adopted, allowing weight classes from 15 pounds and under and up to 36 pounds. The preferred colors were brindle and white, or brindle or solid white, but black, mouse or liver were not acceptable. There was no consideration for the markings that later became coveted by the Boston Terrier fancy.

Boston Terrier History
Ch. Emperor’s Ace owned by Mary and Fred Lucas (c. 1940s)

Two years later, with conditions attached that only those Bostons having an approved three-generation pedigree would be eligible for registration, the Boston Terrier was finally admitted into the AKC Stud Book on February 27, 1893.

By then, the good folks of Boston and its environs began breeding America’s first dog in earnest. More and more often Boston Terriers were brought from the stable and shed into the kitchen, where many a litter found warmth in a paper-lined box behind the wood-burning cook stove. Over the next three decades, the Boston’s popularity grew and enthusiastic breeding of Bostons took on prolific proportions. During the 1920s, one-fifth or more of the entries at all-breed shows were found on the Boston Terrier benches and entries numbering over 200 weren’t unheard of at specialty shows. It was during the first third of the 1900s that such eminent examples of the breed influenced future generations: Ch. Ace of Aces, Ch. Million Dollar Kid Boots, Ch. Royal Kid Regards, Int. Ch. Rockabye Dempsey and Int. Ch. Grant’s Royal Command were but a few of the “good ones”.

Boston Terrier History
Ch. Hagerty’s Surprise – Droll and Rosenbloom (c. 1940s),

From 1905 until 1935, the Boston Terrier was the first or second most popular breed in the United States based on AKC registrations. Between 1921 and 1934, AKC saw registrations of Boston Terriers reach the 90,000 mark. And little wonder. The small, tuxedoed Boston Terrier is indeed, as the standard states, an incomparable companion. Friend to young and old, the Boston Terrier is well-named as the American Gentleman.

A highly intelligent dog, the elegant Boston is one of the most accommodating of breeds. As willing to hike as he is to curl up on the couch with its master, the Boston Terrier is also an actively keen contender no matter in what ring or arena he competes.

Boston Terrier History
Ch. Emperor’s Ace owned by Mary and Fred Lucas (c. 1940s).

Not particularly yappy, nonetheless, the Boston is alert to the safeguarding of his family and may be feisty with other breeds. He has an excellent temperament and is exceedingly affectionate, so it is most fitting to close with words from the venerable Vincent Perry, who wrote, “There is no better dog—no greater companion.”


Boston Terrier Roots: From the January 2017 issue of Showsight Magazine