History
Commonwealth Foxhounds - Hunting the Northern Neck of Virginia

 

THE HISTORY OF COMMONWEALTH FOXHOUNDS

 

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The Commonwealth Foxhounds was organized in April of 1981 with six members and Mr. Robert M. Hoyer, MFH acquiring hounds and forming a private pack.  The first organized social function of the hunt was a trip to the Foxfield Races that same month.

 

Livery of Virginia Blue and Confederate Grey worn on scarlet was chosen and worn for the first time by Mr. Hoyer on November 30, 1982.  On that day, the first hunt was held over Mr. William B. Boyle's land at Carter's Wharf on the Rappahannock River in Richmond County, Virginia.  Opening Ceremonies consisting of the Blessing of the Hounds (by Dr. Eugene Guazzo, ex-MFH) and sharing of the stirrup cup preceded the day's hunt.  Following the hunt, a traditional breakfast prepared by Mrs. Scott Widmeyer was held at Ingleside Plantation, home of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Flemer, Jr.

 

The next two years were lean for the Hunt as there was great difficulty acquiring territory from landowners accustomed to the bounty paid by deer and waterfowl hunters.  Membership hovered around eight subscribers and four hunt countries throughout 1983.  Just before the 1984 season, the Hunt added five subscribers, nearly doubling the membership and an encouraged Master continued to carry the horn.  Still, the lack of interest in horses and a lack of knowledge of foxhunting, combined with landowner's refusals to permit horses on their property was inhibiting growth of both the Hunt's subscriptions and hunt country.  Soon, however, landowners began to learn that the foxhunters' courtesy and respect for the land and crops was an actual benefit to them and began to consent to their hunting.

 

In 1984, a hunt button was designed.  At Woodpecker Farm in Caroline County on April 11th, Mr. Joseph P. Dempsey presented to Mr. Hoyer the first set of buttons to be worn by a member of Commonwealth Foxhounds.  The design consisted of a fox mask inside a French hunting horn.

 

In the spring and summer of 1985, the Hunt's activities attracted attention and subscribers.  As subscriptions grew, so did the Hunt's reputation.  Commonwealth subscribers have spread from Richmond to Northern Virginia and to the state of Maryland.  In July of 1985, the Hunt sponsored a dinner dance at Mount Stuart Plantation in King George County.  Over 100 people attended for an evening of social fun and dancing (as well as swimming) that lasted well into the morning hours.  The 1985 hunt season officially began with 35 subscribers, and the Opening Hunt at Ingleside Plantation saw a large field which included Dr. Guazzo, ex-MFH, who once again donned the robes for the Blessing of the Hounds.  Since then, CFH has maintained a membership of around 35 to 40 subscribers.  The hunting season begins with staff cub hunting in September and continues with open cub hunting for several weeks in October.  At the beginning of November, the formal hunting season begins with the Opening Meet at Ingleside Plantation; and hunting continues throughout the fall and winter with two meets per week.  The season closes around mid-March with the Closing Hunt and breakfast at Woodpecker Farm.  Since 1988, CFH has held its annual hunter pace at fixtures such as Ingleside Plantation, Cedar Hill, and Woodpecker Farm.  In 1992, CFH held its first Junior Meets, which met with great success.

 

In the spring of 1994, Commonwealth Foxhounds applied for registration with the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA).  Registration is the first step in becoming an MFHA-recognized hunt.  Once a hunt is registered, the hunt goes through a formal approval process with includes kennel inspections; a determination that the hunt is meeting certain criteria pertaining to hunting, hound breeding, and fixtures that are set forth by MFHA rules; and a waiting period of at least one year.  At that point in time, the hunt is eligible to apply for recognition.  Registered and recognized hunts are invited to participate in many hound shows, and members may compete in Hunter Trial and Hunter Pace divisions that are specifically for horses that are regularly hunted with a recognized hunt.  In addition, many horse shows, both local and rated, offer divisions for field hunters, and members of registered and/or recognized hunts may also participate in those events.

 

Commonwealth has established itself as a club in the true sense.  By providing its subscribers with a common interest, it has brought together both riders and those who do not ride horses to share the sport of foxhunting and its social graces, charm, and good life.

 

THE HISTORY OF FOXHUNTING IN THE NORTHERN NECK

The history of the Northern Neck goes back to King Charles II of England, who, while in exile in France, granted to John, First Lord Culpeper and six others the portion of Virginia lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers.  The owners of the patent were to possess with the proprietary all the rights of an English country baron.  This patent effectively removed the Northern Neck portion from the remaining portion of Virginia, which was a royal colony owned by the Crown.  The boundaries of the proprietary were in dispute for the next hundred years.  The final survey which resolved the boundary dispute was completed by Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas Jefferson) and Robert Brooke.  By this time, the proprietary had come under control of the Lords Fairfax through marriage.

The earliest surviving records of foxhunting by what is now known as an organized hunt, maintained for a group of foxhunters rather than for a single owner, are of the pack organized by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax.  By the time of Fairfax's inheritance, most of the eastern portion of the Northern Neck had been granted, and Thomas decided to settle in the Shenandoah Valley.  It was during this period that George Washington, while on a  surveying crew for Fairfax, shared his interest in foxhunting with Thomas.  In 1767, after inheriting Mount Vernon, Washington established his own pack of hounds which he maintained until the outbreak of the American Revolution.  Afterwards, he reestablished his pack, using French hounds given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette.  Washington's diaries, which he kept meticulously, are full of stories about foxhunting and remain the best surviving record of American foxhunting during the eighteenth century. 

Foxhunting was most likely conducted in the Northern Neck because of the likes of Fairfax, Jefferson, and Washington.  The horsemanship of the latter two was highly regarded.  The sport came to a halt at the end of the War Between the States.  Under the terms of surrender, former Confederates were prohibited from congregating in mounted groups of more than two people.  Thus began the sport of night foxhunting on foot.  This form of foxhunting has been practiced in the Northern Neck since the War.

During the 1920's and 1930's, several gentlemen formed packs of hounds which they put together as the Fredericksburg Hunt.  The history of its existence is sketchy, but it is known to have had an active group of members, a clubhouse, and kennels which were donated to Mary Washington College when the hunt disbanded in the late 1940's.  In addition, there are written accounts of foxhunting at Elmwood (one of CFH's fixtures) in Essex County during the early decades of the 1900's.  However, it was not until 1982 that the sport of riding to the hounds on horseback returned to the Northern Neck with the formation of Commonwealth Foxhounds.