In most parts of the U.S. this time of year brings out the truly avid fox hunter hoping that the weather will break just enough that the day’s hunting won’t be canceled.
Those readers who are lovers of Fox Hunting will enjoy one of my favorite websites, Foxhunting Life, http://www.foxhuntinglife.com/. This site is chock full of hunting activity. You can subscribe for a fee or sign up for free e-letters or just enjoy the site on it’s own. And if you’re in to ringtones for your phone you can down load your choice of hunting horn ringtones! Check it out.
I enjoy reading historic accounts of fox hunting and have a library full of older books about the sport. “Hunting in the United State and Canada” by Higginson and Chamberlain has provided me with some of my favorite histories of Hunts in America. My edition was published in 1928.
The account of the Chevy Chase Hunt includes more than one fine hunt as well as sections from George Washington’s diary. I enjoy reading about another side of this great Founding Father. The account is a bit long so I’ll be including it in three parts. The Chevy Chase Hunt was from the Washington area and is today the beautiful Chevy Chase Club. You can visit the Chevy Chase Club on line at http://www.chevychaseclub.org/club/scripts/home/home.asp and see for yourself the land that was once home to many fine hunters. Watch for the unusual reason for the demise of the Chevy Chase Hunt. It will be in the third installment. The first installment begins below:
THE CHEVY CHASE HUNT
It would seem to us a mistake to leave the group of Hunts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware without mentioning something of the hunting which went on around the city of Washington under the Mastership of George Washington, in the latter part of the Eighteenth Century. It is well known that Washington had been educated as a civil engineer and in his younger days had been employed by Lord Thomas Fairfax, an Englishman by birth, who had settled on the Northern Neck of Virginia, in 1746 or 1747.
In one of Washington’s early diaries (1747) we find the following entry, speaking of Lord Fairfax: “At this time he was fifty-nine years old. Although a heavy man, he was a fine horseman and as I was never tired of the saddle, we were much engaged in the hunting of wild foxes.” The taste which Washington developed in his younger days was never abandoned, as the following extracts from his diaries, together with a short sketch of his fox-hunting, taken from an article in the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine,
“The time which Colonel Washington could spare from his building and agricultural improvements, between the years of 1759 and 1774, was considerably devoted to the pleasure of the chase. His kennel was situated about a hundred yards south of the family vault, in which at present repose his venerable remains. The building was a rude structure, but afforded comfortable quarters for the hounds, with a large enclosure paled in, having in the midst a spring of running water. The pack was very numerous and select, the Colonel visiting and inspecting his kennel morning and evening, after the same manner as he did his stables. It was his pride (and a proof of his skill in hunting) to have his pack so critically drafted, as to speed and bottom, that in running, if one leading dog should lose the scent, another was at hand immediately to recover it, and thus, when in full cry, to use a racing phrase, you might cover the pack with a blanket.
“During the season. Mount Vernon had many sporting guests from the neighbourhood, from Maryland and elsewhere. Their visits were not of days, but weeks; and they were entertained in the good old style of Virginia’s ancient hospitality. Washington, always superbly mounted, in true sporting costume of blue coat, scarlet waistcoat, buckskin breeches, top boots, velvet cap, and whip with long thong, took the field at daybreak with his huntsman. Will Lee, his friends and neighbours; and none rode more gallantly in the chase, nor with voice more cheerily awakened echo in the woodland than he who was afterward destined, by voice and example, to cheer his countrymen in their glorious struggle for independence and empire. Such was the hunting establishment at Mount Vernon prior to the Revolution.”
Washington kept a register of his horses and hounds, in which might be found the names, ages, and marks of each; and with these, his companions of the chase, he was as punctual in his attentions as to any other business of his life. Quoting from his diary of February 12, 1768, we find the following entry:
“Went fox-hunting with Colonel Fairfax, Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Chichester, Captains Torrey and Manley, who dined here with Mrs. Fairfax and Miss Nichols. Catched two foxes.”
After the peace of 1783, the hunting establishment, which had gone down during the War, was renewed by the arrival of a pack of French hounds, sent out by the Marquis de Lafayette. A letter to the Marquis, dated at Mount Vernon, July 25, 1785, refers to this importation, as follows:
“I am much obliged to you, my dear Marquis, for your attention to the hounds, and not less sorry that you should have met the smallest difficulty or experienced the least trouble in obtaining them. I was in no way anxious about these, consequently should have felt no regret, or sustained no loss, if you had not succeeded in your application.”
end of the first installment of Chevy Chase Hunt.
Thanks for reading U.S. Horsemanship,
May most of your new year be spent on the back of a good horse!
Barbara Ellin Fox
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