History in Hunt Diaries

Some weeks ago, our friend Viviane brought us a packet to read. “Save it for a rainy day to look it over,” she told me. With the surfeit of precipitation this month, I found ample opportunity to take her up on the suggestion.

Inside the packet were three comb-bound publications of memories, each taken from a hunter’s hunting diary. Equestrian sports are chock full of passion and excitement, and often those elements are overlooked by those who don’t directly participate in these sports. Hunting diaries are a great way to experience the close-up history of foxhunting, as many who ride to hounds keep meticulous track of their exploits.

Called Entries From an Orange County Hunt Journal, the pages in the packet were full of personal accounts from the local sporting scene. Memories are poignant and humorous, and reflect the experiences on horseback, and were compiled by the late R. Moses Thompson, who moved to the Middleburg area in 1991. Thompson wrote one entry about falls while hunting, including a tale about his own unusual fall:

At a gallop, going east across the open pastures from the corner of the Zulla and Rock Hill Mill, my horse, to avoid a ground hog hole that he had seen but I had not, leapt to the right, suddenly, dropping his head and shooting off in a near right-angle trajectory. True to my studies in physics, my body kept going in the direction it was headed, with forward momentum of a horse in full gallop, just without the horse. Jerking to the right, my horse had dropped his head low so that my right leg slipped over his neck and I flew forward, leaving my horse cleanly, hitting the ground on my feet, spontaneously breaking into a very fast run, legs churning, to prevent burying my face in the dirt.

Excerpt from an Orange County hunt diary, 1947. National Sporting Library & Museum.

The recounting of hunting tales from hunt diaries is not new. NSLM has many hunt diaries in its collection, the earliest dating back to the early 19th Century, but quite a few from the 20th Century as well. Old hunting directories often included a calendar-based diary section for all-in-one note taking.

The childhood diary of Jane McIlvaine McClary, detailing her adventures riding with the hunts in the Middleburg area.

Keeping a diary of riding activities is a great way to keep track of adventures (and misadventures) and range from formal accounts of a rider’s activities to the heartwarming or humorous personal entries.

An anonymous British hunting diary, 1816. National Sporting Library & Museum.

For researchers, these diaries are a treasure trove of local history: names, dates, and landmarks are chronicled in a single document. The practice has continued for hundreds of years, and for those who study history, we hope it will continue in the future. Do you keep sporting or riding diaries? To view some of the NSLM’s hunt diaries collection, you can contact me to arrange an appointment.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail 


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