Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Sports at America's Public Spaces - Swimming & Bathing


COLD WATERS, PLUNGING SHOWERS, & WARM BATHS

Commercial public gardens in early America often presented a variety of bathing & swimming arrangements to their clientele. The medicinal benefits of mineral springs & cold baths were touted in the British American colonies throughout the period.  On the other side of the Atlantic, educated English writers told of the potential benefits, & in the New World, Native Americans had been visiting mineral springs near the Atlantic coast for centuries.  Often practical 18C gentlemen just swam in rivers near their homes.


Apparently herbal baths were popular early 


Virginian William Byrd II (1674-17440) noted in his diary (between romancing the ladies & punishing the slaves) swimming in the James River to "help restore Our Vigour" and of learning the crawl from Indians who joined him there. Rev. Henry Muhlenberg (1711-87) reported that large crowds of men & boys stripped naked splashing and paddling in the Delaware River at Philadelphia.



Other colonials enjoyed swimming in the ocean. Some oceanside swimming was done from a public pleasure garden, which was a privately owned ornamental ground or piece of land, open to the public as a resort or amusement area, and operated as a business. In 1773, a combination mineral spring & seaside spa advertised from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, "The Convenient BATH...is put into every good Order, for the Reception of such as incline to bathe in Sea Water...The Mineral Spring is also in good Order...Genteel lodgings to be had in private Families."

For centuries, people visited Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, to enjoy the health benefits of the warm mineral waters that flow from local springs at a constant temperature of 74.3°F. Reportedly Native Americans from as far away as Canada, the Great Lakes, & the Carolinas traveled to bathe there. In the mid 1700s, George Washington, who first visited at age 16, was a regular visitor and spread word of the waters, helping establish Berkeley Springs' reputation as a health resort throughout the American colonies.


One of the earliest sources showing an appreciation of mineral waters for bathing in the new world is a 1748 reference in George Washington’s diary to the “fam’d Warm Springs.” At that time only open ground surrounded the springs which were located within a dense forest.


Another entry for July 31, 1769, records his departure with Mrs. Washington for these springs (now known as Berkeley Springs, West Virginia) where they stayed more than a month. They were accompanied by her daughter, Patsy Custis, who was probably taken in hope of curing a form of epilepsy with which she was afflicted. In the latter part of the 18C hundreds of visitors annually flocked to these springs. Although the accommodations were primitive, we early note that the avowed therapeutic aims for visiting these waters were very quickly combined with a growing social life on dry land.


Rude log huts, board and canvas tents, and even covered wagons, served as lodging rooms, while every party brought its own substantial provisions of flour, meat and bacon, depending for lighter articles of diet on the “Hill folk,” or the success of their own foragers. A large hollow scooped in the sand, surrounded by a screen of pine brush, was the only bathing-house; and this was used alternately by ladies and gentlemen. The time set apart for the ladies was announced by a blast on a long tin horn, at which signal all of the opposite sex retired to a prescribed distance, ... Here day and night passed in a round of eating and drinking, bathing, fiddling, dancing, and reveling. Gaming was carried to a great excess and horse-racing was a daily amusement.


An announcement in the New England Weekly Journal of Boston, MA. September 16, 1740 gave notice that "There is now finish'd and ready for Use, a very convenient and ornamental Cold Bath, accomdated to both Sexes in the Garden at the West End of Town, that was formerly Capt. Gooh's, now in the Occumpation of William Griggs; where constant Attendance will be given for giving and receiving the Key: All Invalids whose Disorders by the Advice of their Physicians require it, my receive all the Advantages that can arise by Cold Bathing."

An advertisement in The Boston Gazette, or, Weekly Advertiser on February 26, 1754, offered to be let a House with a garden reaching 360 down to the seashore with, "a beautiful cold Bath enclose'd, which ismore or less imporved every Season, and hath been found very beneficial: the shole well-adepted for a publick Garden."



Philadelphia boasted several public gardens featuring bathing & swimming. A proposal for publically financed baths created a controversy on August 20, 1761, when the The Pennsylvania Gazette reported that a committe of religious leaders in Philadelphia wrote a letter to the governor.  "It hath been with the greatest Concern, for some Years past, that we have observed, among our Fellow Citizens, an immoderate and growing Fondness for Pleasure, Luxury, Gaming, Dissipation, and their concomitant Vices. The Impropriety as well as Ingratitude of such a Conduct, is too remarkable to be passed over... Last Winter, we heard of high Scenes of public Gaming, added to and mixed with the usual Diversions of the Season. And yet, not content with these, our Projectors of Pleasure, our Leaders in Modes and Fashions, as if they were afraid to leave themselves or their Followers one Moment for Business, or sober Conversation, or serious Reflection upon what they were sent for into this World, have set on Foot a Scheme for filling up the Summer Season also with the like Scenes of Dissipation, Idleness and Excess. The Scheme we mean (as far as it is yet avowed by them) is a large Subscription Lottery, for erecting public Gardens, with Baths or Bagnios, among us. How destructive such Places of public Rendezvous are to the Morals of a People, what they usually terminate in, and how ill suited they are to the Circumstances of this young City, and the former Character of its Inhabitants, we need not mention to your Honour...Were a hot and cold Bath necessary for the health of the Inhabitants of this City, they might at a small Expence be added to the Hospital, put under the sober Government of that Place, and kept separate from those used by the Patients; and as to a publick Place of Walking, the State House Green or Garden , by a Law of the Province, is already set apart for that Use. --- But much more than this lurks under this Scheme, and will certainly attend its Accomplishment. We well know that Gaming Tables, a House of Entertainment, Places of Drinking, and the like, make a Part of public Gardens."

Apparently, the popularity of public baths was not squashed in the Quaker city.  In 1765, John White advertised his New Bath in Northern Philadelphia, to "Accomodate Ladies and Gentlemen with Breakfasting, on the best of Tea, Coffee. amd Chocolate, with plenty of GOOD CREAM...He likewise hopes to give Satisfaction to any Person whose Health may require their going to the Bath, by his Attention and by furnishing them with Brushes and proper Towels."



One of the mineral springs in Pennsylvania attracted from 100 to 500 guests daily in the summer season.  The public bath, Yellow Springs in Chester County, Pennsylvania, was put up for auction in March of 1770 as advertised in the The Pennsylvania Gazette"A VALUABLE plantation...well known by the name of the Yellow Springs, situate in Pikeland township, Chester county, about 30 miles from Philadelphia, containing 150 acres, one half or more cleared, the other well timbered, and the whole well watered, by never failing streams...having thereon erected a good stone dwelling house, 2 stories high, 57 feet front, and 36 in depth, a fine piazza in the front, the whole breadth of the house, 8 or 9 feet wide, good cellars and chambers, kitchen barn, stables, and other out houses...The medicinal virtues of the springs, on the above plantation, for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly, are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here. There are three bathing springs, which can be emptied or filled in a very little time, by opening or shutting a sluice; two of them are inclosed by good new frame houses, 35 feet front, and 16 feet deep. Each bath has a drawing room, and one a fireplace in it; the buildings are neat, and make an elegant appearance, having glass windows front and back, and walks, with rows of shady trees, up to the dwelling house...The dwelling house, on said plantation, is now used as a public house, and is so well accustomed as to have from 100 to 500 people daily, for the summer season, besides the unhealthy and infirm that come from all parts, and take lodgings for weeks together, for the benefit of the waters."  In 1774, Dr. Samuel Kennedy offered to rent Yellow Springs, which he had apparently purchased 4 years before, noting, "The Baths and other outhouses are in good repair...from four to six hundred persons have convened there in one day in the summer season."

In The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal on July 16, 1770, Sarah Dawson, widow of Joseph Dawson, Gardner, deceased, at the Cold Bath in Cambridge Stree, New Boston wished to inform "all Gentlemen and others that the Cold Bath is now in good Order, and constant Attendance will be given as usual...Also a large and commodious Garden for Gentlemen and Ladies to walk in and spend an Afternoon if they please, where they may have all Kind of Fruits and Flowers at the lowest Rate."


Lady Worsley dressing in the Bathing House by an Unknown British artist, 1782

The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser on February 20, 1790 offered to be let, "The Wigwam Tavern...on the banks of the Schuylkill...with a shower and two plungings Bath...and 7 summer houses."  And within the year, John Coyle opened his commercial garden on the Schuykill River in 1791. Coyle's Wigwam Garden featured a good restaurant with excellent coffee, a bowling green, and public baths.

In 1795, public garden owner George Esterly announced Philadelphia's Harrowgate Spring, "In the house erected over the Harrowgate waters are two shower baths and two dressing rooms and at the Chalybeate spring, is a convenient bath for plunging and swimming...The garden is in excellent order...He is determined to keep the best of liquors of all kinds. Breakfasts, dinners, teas, coffee and fruits of all kinds may be had at the shortest notice, and also excellent accomodations for boardings and lodgings."


The Bristol Baths, twenty miles north of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, were advertised for sale in 1807 with, "plunging showers and warm baths." When the property was put up for sale again in 1811, the advertisement described, a "Mansion 112 by 33 feet; 30 lodging rooms; 12 ft piazza in front of the whole; 2 kitchens; bar room and stabling for 100 horses...ballroom 45 by 18 feet, a billiard room, mineral baths, warm baths, pump room...40 acres."




Advertisements for mineral springs usually contained claims for improvement of health in addition to the more obvious enticements. In 1811, the owner claimed that the waters at Chalybeate Springs in Virginia, "have been inspected by a number of medical gentlemen, both of the city and country, and are admitted to be equal if not superior in their medical and healing qualities to any of the kind ever discovered in America, or perhaps in the world. Liquors of the best kind will be provided and entertainment as good as the country and the season will permit."



Early Bath House

By the early 19th century floating baths were established in every city of any importance including Boston, Salem, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah. One bath located at the foot of Jay Street in New York City was described as follows: "The building is an octagon of seventy feet in diameter, with a plank floor supported by logs so as to sink the center bath four feet below the surface of the water, but in the private baths the water may be reduced to three or even two feet so as to be perfectly safe for children. It is placed in the current so always to be supplied with ocean and pure water and rises and falls with the tide."

As was true at the springs, men and women were segregated; but in the floating baths they were only separated by being in different compartments rather than in different bath houses.


Although there were a number of these baths there were not enough to cover all of the inviting river banks and sea shores. There are many instances of men enjoying the water of undeveloped shores and there is some evidence of women venturing into the bays and rivers.



Hot - Cold by J. Green, British School c. 1746 Perhaps an English lady preparing for a cold bath

Bathing and swimming were popular up and down the Atlantic Coast. Henry Wansey visited Long Island in 1794, and noted, "A Mr. Bailey, of New York, has just built a very handsome tea-drinking pleasure house, to accommodate parties who come hither from all the neighbouring ports; he intends also to have bathing machines, and several species of entertainment."

In 1805, James Lownes proudly announced the the citizens of Virginia that he had "AT CONSIDERABLE EXPENSE, ERECTED A BATHING HOUSE" at the Falling Garden in Richmond. His new structure contained four rooms "each has a Bath, and supplied with Hot and Col Water." Bathers could purchase tickets from the attendant who was in "constant attendance at the Bathe." One dollar bought three baths, and two children could bath with only one ticket.


The most ambitious plan for a public bath appeared in Charleston in 1813. The "splendid Establishment" at the East Bay was a "CIRCULAR FLOATING BATHING HOUSE." The proprietor declared it to be "a beautiful structure...greatly ornamental to the city," as well as increasing the town's "resources for health and pleasure...FORTY capacious private bathing rooms, lighted by VENETIAN windows: a large SWIMMING bath in the centre, of about 160 feet circumference: FORTY Dressing CLOSETS attached to the swimming bath: two spacious SITTING rooms, one for the...LADIES, and the other for GENTLEMEN" All this housed inside a floating circle 250 feet in circuference.


Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote about both the art & utility of swimming. He was an accomplished & enthusiastic swimmer, having first taught himself by paddling around as a young boy, and perfecting his strokes by reading an illustrated treatise called “The Art of swimming ... with advice for bathing.”  In his late teens, while working in London, Franklin showed off his swimming skills to friends: “I stript and leapt into the River, and swam from near Chelsea to Blackfryars, performing on the way many Feats of Activity both upon and under Water.”


His “Feats” were widely discussed, and a few months later, Sir William Wyndham approached Franklin to ask him to teach his sons to swim. Franklin recalled in his Autobiography that, “From this Incident I thought it likely, that if I were to remain in England and open a Swimming School, I might get a good Deal of Money. And it struck me so strongly, that had the Overture been sooner made me, probably I should not so soon have returned to America.”


Franklin, an inveterate inventor, also fashioned swimming paddles for his hands & feet to help him swim faster. Unfortunately, his paddles were made out of wood & were too heavy to aid his swimming. He also floated in the water while holding onto a kite, hoping the wind power from the kite would pull him across the water.

Benjamin Franklin quoted the 1699 book "The Art of Swimming. Illustrated by proper figures. With advice for bathing..." By Monsìeur Thevenot.  Here are figures from that book. Melchisédech Thévenot (1620-1692) was a French author, scientist, traveler, cartographer, orientalist, inventor, & diplomat. He was famous for his 1690s book The Art of Swimming, one of the first books on the subject.." These images are from Capital Collections - The Image Library of Edinburgh City Libraries & Museums & Galleries.



Of the manner of entring into the water


Suspension by the Chin


The Perpendicular Descent


To come to the top of the water, after having dived


To swim holding up the hands


To swim neither on back, nor belly


To swim on the belly holding both your hands still


The Art of Swimming 1699

Bathing in streams was certainly not new to British American colonists arriving in the new world, as the following images indicate.


 François Boucher (French painter, 1703–1770) Bathers in a Stream


William Taverner (English artist, 1703-1772) Women Bathing


Benjamin West (American painter, 1738-1820) The Bathing Place at Ramsgate 1788 detail


Monday, January 28, 2019

Sports in American Public Spaces - Horse Racing

Horse racing in the British American colonies dates back to the establishment of the Newmarket course on the Salisbury Plains in Hempstead Plains of Long Island in 1665. Only 1 year after the English captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch, the first English governor of New York Richard Nicolls laid out the formal race course. The course was constructed 2 miles long on Salisbury Plain on Long Island. In contrast to the dense virgin forest which covered most of the eastern Atlantic seaboard, Salisbury Plain offered a tract of grass 4 miles wide &16 miles long.



Governor Nicolls explained that the purpose of the race course was “not so much for the divertissement of youth as for encouraging the bettering of the breed of horses which through great neglect has been impaired.” To induce competition in the importing & careful breeding of horses, Nicolls offered trophies at the spring & fall meetings.  To foster quality in American horses, as early as 1668, the court of Massachusetts decreed that only horses “of comely proportions and 14 hands in stature” could graze on town commons. A law was enacted by William Penn in Pennsylvania in 1687, which set a minimum height of 13 hands for free ranging horses. Any horse more than 18 months old & less than 13 hands had to be gelded. In 1715, Maryland enacted a law, that any old stray horses could be shot on sight.

Many towns in early America had streets called “Race Street." Such streets gained their names from the habit of running horse races on them. In 1674, the citizens of Plymouth, Massachusetts evidently grew tired of the races in their village & created an ordinance forbidding racing. About a century later, Connecticut enacted a law which demanded the forfeit of a man’s horse, in addition to a fine of 40 shillings, if he was caught racing in the streets.



In Virginia, races were often held at courthouses, fairs, churches, or taverns attracting large gatherings of people of all sorts. But only gentlemen could enter horses in races. In York County in 1674, a tailor wagered 2,000 pounds of tobacco, that his mare could beat his neighbor’s horse. The county court fined him 100 pounds of tobacco, declaring that “it being contrary to Law for a Labourer to make a race being a Sport only for Gentlemen.” 

The June 1704, Maryland court records give an account of a suit by Joseph Addison against Capt. Edward Hunt. Addison charged that Hunt "at Lyons Creek in Anne Arundel County…stood justly indebted" for an itemized list of expenses that included "money lent you at the race" in the amount of 18 shillings. Obviously, there were horse races being held at Lyons Creek (near Herring Bay) as early as 1702.

While horse racing generally followed English rules in the northern American colonies, another form of racing began to flourish in the southern regions.  The racetracks in these wooded regions were sometimes little more than 2 parallel race paths, 1/4 mile in length, cut through the forest. There was little space at either the beginning or the end of the track. The races were run on a straight course marked at the end by upright stakes, where the judges stood. Short sprints-about a quarter of a mile-were the most common distances for races in the 17th century, & this continued in the backcountry in the next century. The quarter-mile track, therefore, gave both the race & the smaller horses their names.  It was not unusual for the competitors & spectators to travel far to these early quarter-race tracks in the woods & to place considerable wagers on their town’s horse. Typical side wagers included money, tobacco, slaves, & property.



 In 1724, Hugh Jones observed that Virginians “are such lovers of Riding, that almost every ordinary Person keeps a horse; and I have known some spend the Morning ranging several Miles in the Woods to find and catch their Horses only to ride two or three Miles to Church, to the Court-House, or to a Horse-Race.”  In December 1729, William Woodford wrote that when he took his young nephew to Williamsburg for the King’s Birthday celebration, the boy declined to go to the governor’s house or to the balls. Instead he “mist no Opportunity of seeing the Races which he took most delight in.”

The British American colonial's love affair with horses did not escape the capitalistic minds of commercial garden proprietors.  To increase traffic at his public pleasure garden, New Yorker Francis Child held a horse race there in 1736. Child operated Catiemuts Garden which was the favorite outdoor tavern of the city's sporting set. The prize, a silver plate valued at twenty pounds, could be won by any "Horse, Mare, or Gelding carrying Ten Stone, Saddle and Bridle included, winning the best of three Heats, Two Miles each Heat."

18th Century Woodcut

By 1735, horse races were occuring regularly at the Bowling Green House & the Quarter House in Charleston, South Carolina. The South Carolina Gazette advertised a variety of prizes for the winners of these races from saddles & bridles to horses to silver swords to cash. For one 1735 race, a requirement to enter was "for white Men to ride." Many of the jockeys in colonial America in the South were slaves, who were referred to only by a first name.

By 1737, The Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg reported that, "there is to be Horse Racing every Saturday till October, at the Race Ground near this City."  The Virginia Gazette on December 9, 1737, reported that, "On St. Andrew's Day...a great Number of Gentlemen, ladies, and others; Booths were set up, and an extraordinary good Dinner provided for them, with Variety and Plenty of Liquors. The Horse and Foot Races whereon; and all or most of the Prizes contemned for, and won. The fine Saddle and Housing were won by a Bay Horse belonging to one Tynes, of Carolina County...Flag was display'd, Drums were beating, Trumpets founding, and other Musick playing, for the Entertainment of the Company, and the whole was manag'd with... good Order."



Continuing the tradition, but cleverly charging both entrants & spectators for the privilege, New Yorker Adam Vandenberg leased land of the Church Farm in 1742, next to his property, laying out a race course & advertising the familiar "run for a Piece of Plate by any Horse, Mare, or Gelding carrying Ten Stone, Saddle and Bridle included, of three Heats, Two Miles each." Vandenberg charged each race entrant half a Pistole. Observers on horseback or in chaises could expect to pay six pence apiece to watch the events. Vandenberg hoped that those at the track would wander over to his Mead House and Garden (or Drover's Tavern) after the race.  Vandenberg's garden & tavern was near the site of the later Astor House.

In wealthy Annapolis, Maryland, the highlight of the social season was a week of parties & plays organized around a racing meeting. In 1743, a silversmith was commissioned to make a trophy for the Annapolis Subscription Plate, a premier event of the city’s September races. 


Plan of Town of Newbern, North Carolina, 1769, by Claude Joseph Sauthier (1736-1802) shows the race course just outside the town.

In North Carolina, Halifax, Warren & neighboring counties in east Carolina were the horse raising sections of the state. There were racetracks at Halifax, Scotland Neck, Tarboro, by 1768 at Hillsbough, & earlier, in the late 1700’s, at Tuckers Paths.

18th Century Woodcut

Horseracing was exceedingly popular by mid-century. On Friday, June 1, 1750, a New York newspaper reported a great race at Hempstead Plains, for a considerable wager, which attracted such attention that on Thursday, the day before the race, upward of 70 chairs & chaises were carried over the Long Island Ferry, plus a far greater number of horses.  The number of horses on the plains at the race was said to far exceed a thousand.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, & James Monroe were fans of racing.  George Washington attended the Maryland Jockey Club race meeting frequently in 1762 going to the track for almost every carded event. He also attended race meetings in 1766, 1767, 1771, 1772, and 1773 in Annapolis, Maryland, & kept a written record of his gambling wins & losses. 

Rhode Island, Maryland, & Virginia were centers of colonial horse breeding, along with South Carolina & New York. During the American Revolution, importations of race horses from England practically stopped but resumed after the signing of a peace treaty.



Before the days of baseball, football, & basketball, horse racing was the sport of its day.  Jockey clubs were organized to set rules & regulations.  Maryland maintained some 20 racing centers before the Revolution.  In 1765, a British officer noted that “there are established races annually at almost every town and considerable place in Virginia." To supply the horses demanded for quality racing, a breeding industry steadily grew in Virginia. By the time of the Revolution, there were 27 important breeding farms in the vicinity of the James, York, Rappahanock, & Potomac rivers.  America’s first jockey club, composed of wealthy horse owners & breeders, was organized in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1734. The Maryland Jockey Club is a sporting organization dedicated to horse racing, founded in Annapolis in 1743.  The Philadelphia Jockey Club was founded in 1766, "to encourage the breeding of good horses and to promote the pleasures of the turf." The Wilmington, North Carolina Jockey Club was established in 1774.

As English thoroughbreds were imported into the South, Virginia race horses were no longer sprinters but distance runners. The circular mile-long track, where horses competed for a subscription purse, grew in popularity. On November 25, 1773, New England school teacher Philip Vickers Fithian attended a race between 2 horses at Richmond Court House. He wrote: “One of the Horses belonged to Colonel John Taylor [Tayloe], and is called Yorick—The other to Dr. [Nicholas] Flood, and is called Gift—The Assembly was remarkably numerous, beyond any expectation and exceeding polite in general...The Horses started precisely at 5 minutes after 3; the Course was 1 Mile in Circumference, they performed the first Round in 2 minutes, third in 2 minutes & a-half...when the Riders dismounted very lame; they run five Miles, and Carried 180 lb.”


from John Lawrence, The History and Delineation of the Horse (London, 1809)

Horse racing expanded  after the American Revolution, as jockey clubs were established in nearly every region, annual races became major social events, & horse breeding became big business. It became necessary to standardize racing weights, distances, & other variables.

In the Chesapeake, where races were regularly scheduled during court days, public gardens organized events around the horse races. In 1801 the Hay-Market Gardens in Richmond, Virginia announced their special arrangements for race days. The owner, Mr. J. Pryor, had ordered and installed a new organ for his music gallery that would play for the first time during the races. He had built an "extensive building surrounding the gallery" in preparation for theatrical performances planned for the third day of the races. There will be a BALL on the first night of the races--a Grand Concert accompanied with the organ and voices on the second night." He was also looking for "two good Bar Keepers and a few waiters" to meet the increased demand he expected during the races.

William Penn (1644-1718) reportedly raced his horses in Philadelphia, down what would fittingly later be named Race Street. From 1682 to 1684, Penn, a Quaker, was in the Province of Pennsylvania, & he returned once more in 1699.  Penn declared that, "Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it."  Sports & athletic contests had long been associated with gambling, drinking, & other earthly sins. Horse racing was one sport that the conservative early legislature did not specifically ban. George Washington attended local races staged by the Philadelphia Jockey Club. Pennsylvanians had long been familiar with sporting public pleasure gardens. In Philadelphia, Hunting Park opened as a race track in 1808, & doubled as a public pleasure garden. But in 1820, the Pennsylvania legislature banned horse racing throughout the state.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Sports in American Public Spaces - Hunting, fowling, & shooting

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 rifle makers 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….”


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Sports in American Public Spaces - Fishing with American artist Winslow Homer 1836–1910

Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)  A Good One


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  An Unexpected Catch


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Bass Fishing Florida  1890


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Boy Fishing 1892


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Casting, Number Two 1894


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  The Rise 1900


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) A quiet pool on a sunny day


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Casting in the Falls (1889)


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Casting


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Crab Fishing


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Playing a Fish


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Hauling in the Nets


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Spearing Eels


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The Herring Net 1885


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The lobster pot


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The Lone Fisherman


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Trout Fishing, Lake St. John, Quebec (1895)


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Three Boys in a Dory with Lobster Pots


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Man in a Punt Fishing


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Playing Him


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Quananiche Lake St John


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) The Angler


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Two Men in a Canoe


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Fishing in the Adirondacks


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)