The Great Hound Match of 1905

By Travis Shaw

The sport of foxhunting has remarkably deep roots in Northern Virginia. The first hounds were introduced to Virginia just a few decades after Englishmen landed at Jamestown. George Washington learned to love the sport as a young man, hunting with Lord Fairfax across his vast estates in the Northern Virginia piedmont. The Piedmont Fox Hounds–the oldest established hunt in America—was founded by Richard Dulany here in Loudoun County in 1840. During the Civil War, Confederate partisan John Mosby and his men passed their free time chasing foxes. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century, however, that this area achieved nationwide fame as the epicenter of American hunt culture. 

1905 marked the coming of age for organized fox hunting in the United States, and it was all due to a series of magazine articles. Harry Worcester Smith, Master of Fox Hounds for Massachusetts’s Grafton Hunt, wrote into Rider and Driver magazine to argue that American-bred fox hounds should be recognized as a breed distinct from their English antecedents. This argument, however, did not sit well with Alexander Henry Higginson, MFH for the Middlesex Hunt (also of Massachusetts). Higginson claimed there was no such thing as a distinct American hound, and if there was, it would surely be inferior to their British cousins. Their argument played out in the pages of Rider and Driver before a practical solution was proposed. The two men would gather their respective packs and engage in a competition “for love, money, or marbles” to see which hounds would prevail.

In Our Backyard

Alexander Henry Higginson was 29 at the time of the match. Born into a life of privilege, he was a Harvard graduate and a devoted sportsman. His father, Major Henry Higginson, was a veteran of the Civil War who had been wounded at the Battle of Aldie in 1863.  Harry Worcester Smith, 12 years older than Higginson, was a magnate in the textile milling industry. Smith was familiar with the Middleburg area, having hunted there several times as a guest of the Dulany family in the years before the match. Each man chose a judge, and together the judges chose a third, more impartial judge to join them. Smith chose the Master of the Warrenton Hunt, Jim Maddux, while Higginson chose Charles McEachran, Master of the Montreal Hunt. The third judge was Hal Movius, Master of the Pennsylvania-based Brandywine Hunt. 

The location for the match would be the area between Upperville and Middleburg – the birthplace of organized foxhunting in America. In the weeks preceding the match, hundreds of riders, spectators, and journalists arrived to watch the sport. Inns and homes were packed with visitors, and the narrow winding roads were clogged with onlookers. Representatives from hunts across the United States, Canada and Europe were in attendance. The match was set to begin Nov. 1, and the rules were simple – whichever pack caught the most foxes would be the winner. If no foxes were caught, the judges would decide which pack had “done the best work with that object in view.”

Welbourne, home of Richard Dulany, was chosen for the opening ceremonies, and the old founder and master of the Piedmont Fox Hounds himself was there to preside over the competition. For the next two weeks, the opposing packs scoured the southern Loudoun Valley for their wily prey. Higginson and his English hounds preferred the vicinity of Middleburg, while Smith’s group typically met near Oakley outside Upperville, but ranged as far as Oatlands. 

The Great Hound Match, as it came to be called, did not end without incident. One rider nearly drowned in Pantherskin Creek when he and his mount fell into an unseen pool while following Higginson’s pack.  Harry Worcester Smith broke his foot and had to be cut out of his boot. A woman rider broke a tooth in a fall, but courageously remounted and continued pursuit.  Higginson and several of his followers were threatened with arrest after trampling a farmer’s wheat field, and the situation was only diffused by the direct intervention of Richard Dulany. 

Through two weeks of hunting, numerous foxes were chased, but neither Smith’s nor Higginson’s pack killed a single fox. Although most assumed the result would therefore be a draw, the judges deliberated and decided the American hounds “had done the best work with the object of killing the fox in view.” It was a moment of vindication not only for American-bred hounds, but for American foxhunting in general. The Great Hound Match of 1905 marked a watershed moment for the sport and for Northern Virginia’s hunt country. The Upperville-Middeburg area was already building a reputation among foxhunters in 1905, but after the Match, it began to be seen as the heart of Virginia’s, even America’s, hunt culture. Wealthy northern equestrians flocked to the area in ever-increasing numbers, bringing a fresh infusion of capital to an area devastated by the Civil War four decades earlier. The rise of Virginia’s hunt country even made its way into popular culture, as celebrities like Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor flocked to the area. Middleburg even appeared in the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Marnie,” in which foxhunting is an important part of the plot. Hunting continues to draw thousands of visitors to the area today, and the hounds are a popular sight at events such as Middleburg’s annual Christmas parade. American foxhounds also feature prominently at the annual Foxhound Show at Morven Park. More details about the hound match and its legacy can be found in Martha Wolfe’s “The Great Hound Match of 1905.” 

The camaraderie born of the match also led to establishment of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association of North America in 1907–with Harry Worcester Smith serving as the organization’s first president. One of the MFHA’s most important duties was to define and delineate the territories of the nation’s hunt clubs. This boundaries matter became an important issue around southern Loudoun and northern Fauquier counties, where the Piedmont Fox Hounds (1840) was joined by the Blue Ridge Hunt (1888), Loudoun Hunt (1894), and Middleburg Hunt (1906). These homegrown hunts also were joined by the Orange County Hounds (1900), who left their eponymous New York home for Virginia in 1903. All these hunts remain active today. They play a crucial role in the preservation of the Virginia piedmont’s historic rural landscape, encouraging and advocating permanent conservation easements across tens of thousands of acres.


Travis Shaw is director of Education for the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area Association, with nearly two decades of experience in archeology, historic preservation and museum education.  In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. For more information about the organization, go to loudouncoalition.org.

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