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In early colonial America, gentlemen with a little time on their hands enjoyed plenty of hunting & fowling in season. Less wealthy professional hunters searched for skins to sell or trade. And even common farmers hunted to augment their family's food supply. As cities expanded at the end of the 18C, townsfolk, most of whom had moved to the city from the countryside, searched for nearby venues for hunting and shooting.
Early American Hunting, Fowling, & Shooting History
The sheer quantities of wildlife available for the taking in the early British American colonies, at first without legal restrictions of any sort, must have seemed like paradise to Englishmen arriving on the Atlantic coast of America. In England, hunting was severely restricted, both because wildlife was scarcer, and because hunting was a traditional privilege of the upper classes.
1773 Mr. and Mrs. Robert Crafton by Benjamin West (American painter, 1738-1820 This image painted, after he had left Pennsylvania for England)
In early America, it was not easy to acquire a firearm. While many arms were supplied from abroad, those created or repaired by Americans often used a mixture of parts from prior guns. There were only a handful of true gunsmiths in America in its first 150 years. But gun ownership grew steadily up to the American Revolution. An examination of household estate inventories taken during the period show several trends in gun ownership in colonial British America before 1776. There were high numbers of guns in mid18C America. Guns were much more common than swords or other edged weapons. Women owned guns. The guns listed in the inventories were not old or broken guns. Scholars estimate that at least 50% of male & female wealthholders owned guns in 1774 colonial America.
Rural settlers sometimes depended on arms to help feed their large families, as well as to provide personal, physical protection, & to fulfill local militia demands. The heavily wooded terrain of the New World provided a bounty of game ranging from turkeys, geese, ducks and game birds to the larger deer, bear, elk and moose. In England, only the wealthy were allowed to trap game. In the American colonies nearly everyone could trap, and most free white landowners could hunt with firearms. There were few restrictive rules, although most colonies banned hunting at night for fear of wounding precious cows and horses.
1776 North Carolina Half Dollar Hit or Miss
1623 In colonial America, the vast flocks overhead must have seemed even more amazing than the liberty to hunt. Emmanuel Altham’s 1623 description of Plymouth Colony declared, “that one man at six shoots hath killed 400.”
1640s There was a smith named John Dandy who appears in the Maryland records at the Maryland State Archives during the 1640s. In 1644, he may have made the first gun in the American colonies. In 1647, he claimed to have made a gunlock 8 years earlier, probably in England, since he arrived in Maryland in 1642.
1650 In 1650, Lord Baltimore appointed Robert Brooke to a position in the Province of Maryland. Brook arrived from England on June 30, 1650, with his wife, 8 sons, 2 daughter, 28 servants and his hounds.
1656 John Hammond’s description of 1656 Virginia describes “Water-fowl of all sorts are… plentiful and easy to be killed…. Deer all over the country, and in many places so many that venison is accounted a tiresome meat; wild turkeys are frequent, and so large that I have seen weigh near threescore pounds.”
1679 At a plantation on Chesapeake Bay, Jasper Danckaerts, visiting America 1679-80, noted, “There was a boy about twelve years old who took aim at them from the shore, not being able to get within good shooting distance of them, but nevertheless shot loosely before they flew away, and hit only three or four, complained of his shot, as they are accustomed to shoot from six to twelve and even eighteen or more at one shot.”
1782 Colonel John Onslow by Ralph Earl (American painter, 1751-1801)
1705 Robert Beverley’s 1705 description of Virginia declared that: “I am but a small Sports-man, yet with a Fowling-Piece, have kill’d above Twenty [wild fowl] at a Shot.”
1710 When explorer John Lawson sailed to the Carolinas in 1701, he noted that even "the meanest Planter" in America could enjoy hunting. "A poor Labourer, that is Master of his Gun" might hunt under the law.
1769 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) The Hunter Dogs
1710-50 German and Swiss riflemakers in Pennsylvania began producing flintlocks suitable for use on the American frontier around 1710. Settlers soon began "shooting at a mark" to sharpen their skills. The mark was usually a knot on a tree or an "x" marked on a slab of wood. Villages and settlements had a shooting matches on weekends and holidays, often attracting a hundred or more marksmen. A common target was a piece of board, blackened in the smoke of a fire or charred, on which an X was slashed with a knife, the intersection marking the centre. Shooting at a wooden figure of a bird atop a pole, as crossbowmen had in the Middle Ages, was also a popular target. Live turkey shooting—the bird tethered behind a box or rock so that only the neck and head showed—was a standard event. The first forms of these public competitions were "rifle frolics" or "turkey shoots," offering prizes of beef, turkey, or other food items. Matches were usually one-shot affairs fired from a distance of 250-330 feet from either the standing or rest shooting positions.
18C English woodcut
1732 Dr. Thomas Walker of Albemarle County in Virginia founded a neighborhood pack of hounds called Castle Hill Hounds.
1747 The earliest surviving record of American fox hunting in the modern manner, by what is now known as an organized hunt, maintained for the benefit of a group of foxhunters rather than for a single owner, is instituted by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax in 1747, in northern Virginia.
1750-1776 Prominent colonials who maintained foxhound packs included Maryland’s Charles Carroll and George Calvert and Virginia’s Charles Lee and George Washington. Washington's diaries indicate a great enthusiasm for the sport. He was first introduced to fox hunting, while in his teens by Lord Thomas Fairfax, who settled in Virginia in 1746. Fairfax was a devoted fox hunter who brought his horses and hounds with him from England.
Unknown American artist, The Start of the Hunt 1780
Between 1759 and 1774, Washington spent a great deal of time breeding his own hounds, giving them such romantic names as Musick, Countess, and Truelove. He inspected his kennels twice daily and hunted the dogs several days a week from September until May. Often he would hunt with his neighbors’ packs as well. Mount Vernon was frequently aswarm with guests from near and far, who rode with him to the hounds. They would take the field at dawn after a candlelight breakfast of corncakes and milk. A typical Washington diary entry of the time is one of January 1, 1768: “Fox Hunting in my own Neck with Mr. Robt. Alexander and Mr. Colvill. Catched nothing.” And February 12 of the same year: “Went fox-hunting with Colonel Fair-fax, Capn. McCarty, Mr. Chichester, Posey, Ellzey and Manley, who dined here with Mrs. Fairfax and Miss Nicholas—catched two foxes.”
1783 Reclining Hunter by Ralph Earl (American painter, 1751-1801)
1757 Charles Lee was reputed to be so fond of his pack that he allowed the hounds to follow him everywhere, even to his host’s dining table when visiting. Little is recorded about Thomas Jefferson’s taste for the sport, although it was reported, that while in his teens (1757), “attending the Reverend Mr. Maury’s School in Virginia,” Jefferson fox-hunted on foot with his classmates. “A little later, however, he rode to hounds and was both enthusiastic and capable.”
Unknown American artist, The End of the Hunt 1780
1766 One of the 1st the organized hunting clubs was established near Philadelphia on October 29, 1766: the Gloucester Foxhunting Club. Its initial meet of 27 members was held on the grounds of the Philadelphia Coffee House on the corner of Front and Market streets. From then on, hunts were held regularly on Tuesdays and Fridays. Philadelphia gentry hastened to join: Benjamin Chew, one-time chief justice of the Pennsylvania supreme court; James Wharton and John Cadwallader, from distinguished Philadelphia families; Thomas Mifflin, later a Revolutionary general and member of the First Continental Congress; and Robert Morris, financier and later United States senator from Pennsylvania, among others. Articles were drawn up including a call for dues of 5 pounds “current money” to be paid for the upkeep of the pack. In 1774, the members decided to add an air of elegance to their sport, adopting a uniform of a dark-brown coat with “lapelled dragoon pockets, white buttons and frock sleeves, buff waistcoat and breeches, and a black velvet cap.”
1768 On Long Island in New York, fox hunting was introduced shortly after the Gloucester Hunt began, when an Englishman named John Evers began to hunt his own hounds near Hempstead in 1768. He imported dogs, horses, and huntsmen from the British Isles.
18C English woodcut
1774 James Yeomen and John Collins, watchmakers, advertised their ability to repair guns for "Gentlemen." All the advertisements targeted gentlemen and promised guns "as neat as in England." New-York Gazette (September 18 1769, November 7, 1774)
1776 The new Pennsylvania constitution spoke to hunting in that state, "The inhabitants of this state shall have liberty to fowl and hunt in seasonable times on the lands they hold, and on all other lands therein not inclosed; and in like manner to fish in all boatable waters, and others not private property."
1781 Hunting was enjoyed in Brooklyn as early as 1781, although no formally organized hunt existed there until 1856. A notice appeared in the Royal Gazette on November 14, 1781, reading: “Hounds will throw off at Denyse’s Ferry, on the estate of Denyse Denyse, Esq., at the Narrows [now Fort Hamilton] at 9 o’clock, Thursday morning, and a guinea will be given for a good, strong, bag fox.” (A bag fox is one brought to the hunt in a sack and turned loose to give the horses chase.)
1783 A subscription hunt (one where the members subscribe by paying dues), the St. George Hunt, was formed on Long Island in 1783. It listed active members as Henry Astor, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Charles Lee, and George Washington.
1784 Gentleman by Ralph Earl (American painter, 1751-1801)
1805 Benjamin Waldron also opened a sports garden in New York City in 1805. He erected a target range in the field adjoining his garden and offered free use of the field pluse target to "gentlemen, civil or military" to whom he would sell powder, balls, flints, and liquors of the best kinds.
1814 Even New York City, on the island of Manhattan, produced a hunting club, the Belvidere, shortly after the War of 1812. Edward Prime was the founder, and he called the meets in front of Cato’s Inn, situated at what is now Sixty-seventh Street and Third Avenue. Cato’s took its name from the owner, Cato Alexander, a popular black man who catered to the foxhunter trade.
1822 William N. Blane, an Englishman traveling through America in 1822 and 1823, described the astonishment when he informed Americans that British game laws prohibited hunting deer in public lands, and even limited hunting on one’s own land to the wealthy. “Such flagrant injustice appeared to them impossible….”
British Fowling, & Shooting History
In Britain, hunting with hounds was popular in Celtic Britain, before the Romans arrived, using the Agassaei breed. The use of running hounds to track prey dates back to ancient times.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Landscape with Huntsmen
When the Romans brought their dogs to Britain in the 1st century, Britons were already hunting with Agassaei hounds.
England 1680 John Poulett, 1st Earl Poulett by John Closterman (British artist, 1660-1711)
The Romans brought their Castorian and Fulpine hound breeds to England, along with importing the brown hare (the mountain hare is native) and fallow deer as quarry. Wild boar were also hunted. The most dangerous prey was the wild boar, which was hunted only by men, usually on foot, with dogs and spears.
England 1732 Huntsman with Horse by John Wootton (British artist, 1686-1765)
Norman hunting traditions were brought to Britain when William the Conqueror arrived in 1066, along with the Gascon &Talbot hounds. The earliest known attempt to specifically hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, in the East of England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs as a form of pest control.
England 1733-36 Viscount Weymouth's Hunt - Mr Jackson, the Hon. Henry Villiers and the Hon. Thomas Villiers, by John Wootton (British artist, 1686-1765)
Packs of hounds were first trained specifically to hunt foxes in the late 17C, with the oldest such fox hunt likely to be the Bilsdale Hunt in Yorkshire.
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Fox Hunting with dogs
In 1660, after the restoration of the monarchy, hunting grew as a sport: the first dedicated foxhound packs emerge but the game remained prime quarry (the hunted).
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Coursing Fallow Deere with dogs
In England, a forest was not defined as wild, impenetrable woodland, but rather royal property managed by officials called foresters. Their job was to protect the "vert and venison" - the deer and the plants they rely on for food and cover.
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Otter Hunting with dogs
John Manwood wrote in 1598 Treatise on the Lawe of the Forests, "A forest must always have beasts of venery abiding in it, otherwise it is no forest: and if there be no beasts of forest, nor beasts of chase in the same, then may men fell their woods that they have within the forest and destroy their covers"
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Stag Hunting with dogs
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Hare Hunting with dogs
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Cony Catching with dogs
England 1733-36 Viscount Weymouth's Hunt - Thomas, 2nd Viscount Weymouth, with a Black Page and other Huntsmenby John Wootton (British artist, 1686-1765)
The Bilsdale Hunt was established in 1668, by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. By the end of the 17C, many organized packs were hunting both hare & fox in Britain. Sight hounds, (sometimes called gazehounds) including greyhounds and Irish wolfhounds, were prized for visual acuity & speed, crucial when coursing, in which the prey is sighted, stalked silently, pursued, and taken down.
England 1740 The Shooting Party by John Wootton (British artist, 1686-1765)
The Quorn Hunt was founded in 1696, by Mr Thomas Boothby of Tooley Park, Leicestershire. Tooley Park lies about eight miles southwest of Leicester, just to the north of the Hinckley road. The hunt takes its name from the village of Quorn, where the hounds were kenneled from 1753 to 1904.
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Pheasant Hawking
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Partridge Hawking
Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Herrin Hawking
Shotguns were improved during the 18C and 19C, and game shooting became more popular.
England 1744 Clotworthy Skeffington, 1st Earl of Massereene by Sir Joshua Reynolds (English painter, 1723-1792)
To protect the pheasants for the shooters, gamekeepers culled vermin such as foxes and birds of prey almost to extirpation in popular areas, and landowners improved their habitats for game.
England 1744 The Honorable John Spencer & His Son, the 1st Earl Spencer with their Servant, Caesar Shaw by George Knapton (English painter, 1698-1778)
British Game Laws were relaxed in 1831, which then allowed anyone to obtain a permit to take rabbits, hares and gamebirds.
England 1748 George Rogers and His Wife, Margaret, and His Sister, Margaret Rogers by Francis Hayman (English painter, 1708-1776)
The practice of hunting in England, at the time the American Colonies were settled, was legally restricted to the gentry.
England 1748 Thomas Nuthall (1715-1775) and Hambleton Custace (1715-1757) with a very small bird by Francis Hayman (English painter, 1708-1776) c. 1748
Virtually all of the land was owned in large parcels by the wealthy, who preserved them from generation to generation by bequeathing their entire estates intact to the oldest son through the law of primogeniture.
Britain 1749 Windham Quin of Adare, Co. Limerick, Ireland by Stephen Slaughter (English painter, 1697-1765)
Though hunting was primarily a masculine activity, women also participated as spectators and hunters. Elizabeth I of England (ruled 1558–1603) hunted avidly. On one occasion her hunt consisted of repeatedly firing a crossbow into a paddock filled with deer, killing three or four of them. The slaughter was accompanied by tunes played by the queen's musicians one of whom reportedly placed the crossbow into her hands.
England 1750 Mr. & Mrs. Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough (English artist, 1727-1788)
Royal gamekeepers made sure that royal forests were continuously stocked. Sometimes deer had to be imported to maintain population levels. One hundred head were sent from Haughton Forest to Windsor Forest in 1711, for example.
England 1750 Richard Gwynne of Taliaris and Tregib
Over on the continet, in densely populated parts of Europe, game reserves were walled or fenced off to keep game in and poachers out. Palaces served as hunting lodges for monarchs.
England 1752 A Sportsman by Edward Haytley (British painter, fl 1740-c1762)
Commoners were usually prohibited from owning hunting dogs of their own. Instead, some were required to board a European nobleman's dogs & make them available whenever the owner wanted to hunt, with only part of the costs defrayed by the owner. Scent hounds were valued for their sense of smell. They were generally used in a pack, known as a cry of hounds. Some breeds have a bell-like bark or yell; others are known for deep, booming barks. Gervase (or Jervis) Markham (c 1568-1637) suggested a method for making a cry of hounds have more pleasant music, "If you would have your kennel for sweetness of cry, you must compound it of some large dogs that have deep solemn mouths, and are swift in spending, which must as it were bear the base of the consort. Then a double number of roaring and loud ringing mouths which must bear the counter tenor. Then some hollow, plain sweet mouths, which must bear the mean or middle part. ... Amongst these you may cast in a couple or two of small, single beagles, which as small trebles may warble amongst them. The cry will be a deal more sweet."
England 1754 John Orde, His Wife Anne, and His Eldest Son William by Arthur Devis (English artist, 1712-1787)
In Europe, peasants might also be called on to perform during the hunt as beaters or carters of slaughtered animals. They could only watch as the privileged hunters ran their horses through the fields, destroying the peasants' own crops.
England 1755 Major John Dade, of Tannington, Suuffolk by Thomas Gainsborough (English artist, 1727-1788)
Hunting retained its aristocratic character at the end of the 18C in Europe, and would only be opened to commoners with the French Revolution.
England 1760-70 The Death of the Hare” by Unknown
For commoners, there were few restrictions on catching marginally edible fare such as badgers or starlings, but they were usually barred from hunting prime edible game animals such as wild boar & deer. Some resorted to poaching to provide meat for their diet or to sell at market.
England 1761 Sir Humphrey Morice by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (Italian-born artist, 1708-1787)
Poaching was illegal in early modern Europe, but it was not uncommon. Account books show numerous fines for illegal capture or killing of game.
England 1762 Francis Noel Clarke Mundy of the Markeaton Hunt by Joseph Wright of Derby (English painter, 1734-1797)
In rare cases, poaching was a capital offense, but in most of Europe, the most widespread punishment was a stiff fine.
England 1763 Jacob Morland of Capplethwaite by George Romney (English painter, 1734-1802)
In 17C England, it was not at all rare for gentry to poach on the lands of their neighbors. Most historians assume that forest officials were often bribed to look the other way.
England 1763 Self Portrait with His Father & Brother by John Hamilton Mortimer (British painter, 1740-1779)
The Black Act in England in 1724, among other things, made deer-stalking in royal forests a capital crime. The numbers of animals taken in the areas affected by the Black Act were small.
England 1764 Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (Italian-born artist, 1708-1787)
It is impossible to say how frequently poachers were caught in early modern Europe or how important game was for the livelihoods of villagers in the vicinity of forests.
England 1764 James and Mary Shuttleworth with One of Their Daughters by Joseph Wright of Derby (English painter, 1734-1797)
To protect fields and woodlands from poachers, gamekeepers were employed who patrolled noblemen's properties and provided selective hunting for the owners.
England 1765 Charles IV as Prince
By law, no one was allowed to own a gun, unless he possessed substantial freehold property or was given special permission.
England 1765 The Third Duke of Richmond Out Shooting with his Servant by Johann Zoffany (German-born painter, 1733-1810)
Legal shooting was not even a choice for the average citizen. By the 1740s, this restrictive practice led to hunting being considered a symbol of wealth, and field shooting “on the wing” had become a popular sport for the well-to-do.
England 1765 Thomas Nuthallby Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland (English painter, 1735-1811)
England 1768 The Repose After Shooting by George Stubbs (English painter, 1724-1806)
England 1768 Two Gentlemen Going Shooting by George Stubbs (English painter, 1724-1806)
England 1768 Two Gentlemen Shooting by George Stubbs (English painter, 1724-1806)
Britain 1769 Thomas Graham, Baron Lyendoch by David Allen or Allan (Scottish artist, 1744-1796)
England 1769 William Hulton with Gun-Dog and Shotgun by Henry Pickering (British artist, fl 1740-c 1771)
England 1770 A Sportsman, by Henry Walton (British painter, 1746-1813)
England 1770 Hunter
England 1774 Sir Edward Hales, Baronet, of Hales Place, Hackington, Kent by Philip Mercier (German-born painter, c 1689-1760)
England 1776 Sir John Nelthorpe, 6th Baronet, Lincolnshire by George Stubbs (English painter, 1724-1806)
England 1779 A Sportsman & His Son by Francis Wheatley (English painter, 1747-1801)
England 1780 Carrow Abby Hunt by Philip Reinagle (British painter, 1749-1833)
England 1780 Gilbert McHutchin by William Williams (British & American artist, 1727-1791)
Britain 1780 John, 4th Duke of Atholl, and his Family by David Allen or Allan (Scottish artist, 1744-1796)
England 1780s attributed to Thomas William Coke (English painter, 1752-1842)
England 1782 Sir William Elford, by James Northcote (English painter, 1746-1831)
England 1784 Joshua Walker, of Clifton House by John Russell (English artist, 1745-1806)
Britain1785 John Cockburn Ross by Alexander Nasmyth (Scottish artist, 1758-1840)
England 1785 Sir Thomas Gascoigne and Sir Walter Vavasour with a Priest and Servants
England 1786 Mr. and Mrs. John Custance of Norwich by Sir William Beechey (British painter, 1753-1839)
You might be interested in finding
George Turberville, The Noble Art of Venerie Or Hunting: Wherein is Handled and Set Out the Vertues, Nature, and Properties of Fifteene Sundry Chaces : Together with the Order and Manner how to Hunt and Kill Euery One of Them, 1575
Gervase Markham, Country Contentments Or, The Husbandmans Recreations: Containing the Wholesome Experience, in which Any Ought to Recreate Himself, After the Toyl of More Serious Business. As Namely, Hunting, Hawking, Coursing with Grey-hounds, and the Laws of Leash, Shooting in the Long-bow Or Cross-bow, Bowling, Tennis, Baloon; the Whole Art of Angling; and the Use of the Fighting Cock. 1611