The Oldest Known Record of an Organized Fox Hunting Club in North America: From the Library Collection

Image from Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club Near Philadelphia, Philadelphia: Judah Dobson, 1830. Gift of John and Martha Daniels.

A few weeks ago, I was researching books published by The Derrydale Press under the management of its founder Eugene V. Connett. I came across a series of reprints of Early American Sporting books privately published by The Derrydale Press for Ernest R. Gee. The series consists of: Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club (1927), The American Shooter’s Manual (1928), The Sportsman’s Portfolio of American Field Sports (1929), and The Sportsman’s Companion (1930).

Ernest Gee, a rare books dealer based in New York City, commissioned these reprints to preserve the history of Early American Sport. The Derrydale reprints are themselves uncommon, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that The National Sporting Library & Museum owns three of the four original books from which the Derrydale editions are reprinted. This is the first of a series of posts that will examine these Early American texts.

Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club by William Milnor, Jr.

In his preface to Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, Ernest Gee writes that, “the original book is excessively rare and unknown to the majority of present-day sportsmen.” Of the 375 reprints published by The Derrydale Press, the Library owns number 162. While the oldest documentary record of fox hunting in North America is found in volume one of The Hunter-Naturalist: Romance of Sporting by C.W. Webber— published in Philadelphia in 1851— Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, is the oldest known documentary record of an organized fox hunting club in the United States. The book provides all sorts of interesting stories about the hunts and members of the club.

The Gloucester Fox Hunting Club was formed in Philadelphia on October 29, 1766 and held its first meeting on December 13, 1766. Founding members included Benjamin Chew, Charles Willing, John Cadwallader, and James Wharton. Members who attended the first meeting included James Wharton, Anthony Morris and his son, Samuel Morris, and James Massey.

James Massey, “was appointed the first Huntsman for the Gloucester Foxhunting Club. He served in that capacity from 1766 to 1769 and he was the first professional non-slave hunt servant to officially handle the hounds for a regular subscription pack in America.” (Stewart, Sherri L. “An Historical Survey of Foxhunting in the United States, 1650-1970,” retrieved from:

Image from Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club Near Philadelphia, Philadelphia: Judah Dobson, 1830. Gift of John and Martha Daniels.

The book chronicles the club’s operations—from the ebb and flow of membership and regular hunt locations—to changing characteristics of the club as time progressed.

We learn that, “The hunts took place principally at Cooper’s Creek, about four miles from the city, at the horseheads seven miles, at Chew’s landing, nine miles, at Blackwood-town, twelve miles, at Heston’s Glass-works, twenty miles distant, and sometimes at Thompson’s Point, on the Delaware, many miles to the South.”

During the Revolutionary War, the hunting club took a hiatus when “No less than twenty-two of the club associated and viz. formed the First Troop of Philadelphia City Cavalry,” to include the hunt’s president, Sam L. Morris. After the war ended, “the old club was revived with spirit and a renewed zest imparted to this warrior sport, by the reassemblage of old friends, after years of unavoidable separation, again to partake of the ecstatic pleasures of the chase.”

Specific hunts stood out for being especially memorable: for example, “In 1798, one of them carried the pack in full cry to Salem, forty miles distant.” Out of curiosity, I searched for any town named Salem within a 40 miles radius and did locate a Salem that checks out!

In its more touching moments, the book describes how the club would pay tribute to its first president Samuel Morris, Jr. in his later years. The author writes:

“Years previous to this lamented event [the death of Morris in 1812], when infirmity no longer permitted him to enjoy the manly exercise of horsemanship, he frequently made his welcome appearance on the field in the midst of his old quondam companions of the Hunting Club… He usually rode in a chaise, and sometimes in a light carriage… On these joyous occasions, every kind indulgence was extended, every means used to gratify the venerable and much loved chief of the association. The hunting ground was selected where good roads intersected each other, and where the exciting music of the pack, almost constantly saluted the delighted ears of their followers, and where the clearing occasionally afforded the chance of a view. Oh! these were reviving spirits to the genuine old sportsman…”

Amusingly enough, the author later laments in the history that in contrast to their first president, “the hunter’s chivalric spirit and his generous mantle, had not descended to some enterprising spirited sons of fortune…” He goes to note that in 1800, only half of the 40 members of the Gloucester Club”…were habitual or efficient hunters. Too many chose to relinquish early rising and exposure to invigorating frost, surmised danger, and the apprehension of fatigue, for the cheerful exhilarating festive occasion, which always rounded off the duties of the day, a good hunting dinner, flowing bowls of governor, and sparking goblets of madeira… It was no difficult matter, to discern who had chased the Fox. There could be no mistake, the keen appetite, the roseate bloom of health, and the cheerful countenance, sufficed to mark well the hunter.”

Image from Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club Near Philadelphia, Philadelphia: Judah Dobson, 1830. Gift of John and Martha Daniels.

The physical differences between the original 1830 publication and the 1927 Derrydale edition are few but significant. The original is slightly smaller than the Derrydale copy and totals 56 pages bound in muslin. The Derrydale edition of Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club Near Philadelphia, is larger than the original and bound in pink paper over boards.

Left, Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club Near Philadelphia, by William Milnor, Jr. published by Judah Dobson in 1830. Right, the 1927 edition, privately printed for Ernest Gee by The Derrydale Press.

You can find both the 1830 and 1927 editions of Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club at the National Sporting Library & Museum’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room!

Michelle joined NSLM in September 2019 as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian. She is responsible for managing the John & Martha Daniels Reading Room and the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Books Room.  Michelle holds a MLIS from Simmons College in Boston and earned her BA in History from Smith College. Before coming to the National Sporting Library & Museum, Michelle spent 12 years at the Central Intelligence Agency. A native of California, Michelle misses the ocean and the mountains, but enjoys being a local tourist and visiting Washington D.C. and surrounding areas.

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