Letter of Joseph P. Floyd to his nephew Francis Reed Wills in Baltimore, Feb. 10, 1826
A major topic of this letter is Fox Hunting, which has been popular in Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia since Colonial times:
The earliest record of the importation of hounds to this country was on June 30, 1650, when Robert Brooke arrived in Maryland with his family and hounds. By the early 1700’s, foxhunting was increasing rapidly in Maryland, Virginia and probably other colonies. The earliest surviving record of American foxhunting 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 for the pack instituted by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax in 1747 in northern Virginia.
Much of what little is recorded about early hunting comes from letters written by Lord Fairfax and the diaries of George Washington. Washington, the first president of the United States, was an ardent foxhunter who owned his own pack of hounds. Washington’s diaries are laced with frequent references to foxhunts near the nation’s capital. On one occasion while congress was in session, hounds ran near the capital. Many congressmen ran outside to watch hounds and some jumped on their horses and joined the chase. Masters of Foxhounds Association and Foundation
In fact, the 9th Lord Fairfax is mentioned in Floyd’s letter, in connection with the social occasions when the local gentry gathered from both sides of the Potomac during the winter hunting season. George Washington’s diary makes similar notes:
Mount Vernon was frequently aswarm with guests from near and far—mostly Maryland and Virginia- 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 i, 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 Fairfax, Capn. McCarty, Mr. Chichester, Posey, Ellzey and Manley, who dined here with Mrs. Fairfax and Miss Nicholas—catched two foxes.”
In the 1840s, a number of notices about the Charles County Jockey Club can be found in the Port Tobacco Times. Its members included: Col. Francis Thompson, Col. William Thompson, Robert Ferguson, Francis Green, Nicholas Stonestreet, George Dent, Geo. W. Hodges, Joseph Stone. Several of these names appear in the text of this letter.
Likewise the National Intelligencer of Nov. 18, 1817 has a notice from Basil Bowling in Prince George’s County: “Tallyho! Tallyho! An extraordinary Bag Fox will be let loose at Upper Marlboro on Dec. 4. Every comfort will be provided, & a nice premium given for the brush, by B. Bowling, owner.”
Active Fox Hunting groups in Southern Maryland today include the De La Brooke Foxhounds (originally the Charles County Hunt) and the Marlborough Hunt Club which provides an introduction to Fox Hunting in the area today.
Mr. Francis R. Wills, Baltimore (Pass by Robt. Fergusson)
Port Tobacco — 10th Feby 1826
I had the pleasure to receive your esteemed favor of 4th Instant by Mr. Robt. Fergusson [a young neighbor of the Wills family whose father owned an adjoining farm], which gave me much pleasure, as it always has, and ever will be to hear from you, wherever you or I may be; and I hope you’ll accept of my thanks for your good wishes for my prosperity and happiness, and I assure you at the same time that there is no man under the sun, whose society and company I would rather have than yours (save one) and that one is your father’s; in fact I consider you both as one, and equal, only that the father has more age, experience, and consequently Judgment than the son of human nature, and therefore only preferable.
I regret very much to hear that your health is not restored and that you have passed such a gloomy winter in Baltimore. From what I can learn I am afraid that you are too studious and that you don’t take amusement and exercise enough for the mind and body — but still I feel highly gratified to hear that I so soon shall have the pleasure to greet you in your native city, and where I hope all Gloom and Melancholy will be changed to health, good spirits and mirth in the enjoyment of your Relations, friends, and pretty Girls Company.
I am very sorry to tell you that you will have to try to provide for your self for you need not expect to get anything from your father’s estate as I think it is very probable that he is in a fair way to spend what little he possesses in keeping Dogs and Fox Hunting and worst of all I think it is likely he will ruin his good neighbor Gusty Brown [Gustavus Brown]. They commenced Hunting about the 1st Nov. and never killed a Fox that they know of till about 3 weeks ago. Bob [a slave of John B. Wills] went out one Sunday morning and the dogs started a Fox in the Hickory wood, and killed it in the forest, a red: the next week they went to Charleston, Danl. Jenifer’s, and killed 2 red, and 1 gray and banked a 4th in 2 days; but they took Bob with them as whipper in. They never pretend to hunt now without Bob, who some days tires 2 horses in one chace and leaves the rest so far behind that your father had been afraid that Bob was lost and never would be found again; last week they had a chase about Edw. Hamilton’s, after a red Fox and banked him in Robt. Digges, where they dug him out and killed him and dined at Hamiltons. John Fergusson, Hamilton, Digges, Wm. Thompson, Col. Cox and several others on the chace. Last Wednesday evening your Father and Brown and Bob went down to Jenifer’s again to Hunt and yesterday morning Wm. Thompson, John and James Ferguson, Stonestreet and good many others and Ladies went down to the same place. I am told there is to be a large company, Doctr. Plater’s wedding party and a good many from St. Mary’s. It is now ten o’clock and I have not heard from any of them yet. Yesterday they had a fine day; today it commenced raining about 10 O’clock and rained till night but I expect if Tomorrow is a good day they will hunt again. I am told they have a very fine pack of Dogs now. They have got all Wm. Hanson and Young’s Dogs, and three from Vernal Dorsey from St. Mary’s, Brown and Thompson keep 6 or 8 here and Johnsontown supports the balance.
Pye was very handsomely encouraged the last Ball. He had 40 men the first night and 50 the second. He had 7 or 8 from Alice Nagle, Rosier, Dulany, Lord Fairfax etc. I am told they enjoyed themselves very sociably and had nothing to mar their conviviality but for more particulars and courtships etc. I must refer you to Mr. Robt. Ferguson who was on the spot — I forgot to tell you that little Dido that came from Baltimore is the leader of the pack. Brown says she is the fleetest dog he ever saw run after a Fox, and his Diane is the next best.
Elly [Francis’ sister] was in this evening from your father’s, they are all well except Jackson [Mary Jackson, Mrs. Wills’ sister] who has been sick for 8 or 10 days with high fever but she is now getting well. Doctr. Johnson went out to see her on Monday last. By the by I must tell you that the Doctor had a fine (son/dau.?) born on tomorrow night fortnight past for which he appears to be very much pleased—your Uncle Charles [Wills] has lost his oldest daughter a few days since with the Dropsey. There has been more sickness this winter than I ever experienced in any place that I ever lived it, it is called the influenza. Whole families of whites and blacks have had it and nearly at the same time, some could hardly talk that you could understand them—and a good many has died. F.D. Stone quit drinking the first of this year and continued sober until the night of the Ball and has been drunk every day since. Mrs. Cooksey, Miss Delia, and Mrs. Chunn are all well and desired me to give their love to you. Also accept a share from your ever sincere friend and well wisher,
Joseph P. Floyd