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The Oldest Hunt in America is in Middleburg

The Oldest Hunt in America is in Middleburg

Written by Heidi Baumstark | Photos by Joanne Maisano

Have you noticed that local street names, establishments, and entire subdivisions are christened with words that revolve around the region’s reputation as “hunt country?” 

And for good reason. Because the first fox hunt was founded in Loudoun County; not just the first one in Virginia — but the first hunt nationwide. Of all the fox hunts in North America — 145 registered packs — the oldest one in the United States was established in 1840 as Piedmont Fox Hounds right in the Middleburg/Upperville area. It was founded by Col. Richard Henry Dulany (1820-1906) who lived at historic Welbourne, a well-known fixture in premier horse and hunt country, just west of the town of Middleburg. And the Dulany family has much to do with why the area has earned this favored distinction. 

While fox hunting existed in the United States well before 1840, Dulany is credited with establishing the nation’s first organized hunt, now in its 180th season. And he did it as a mere 20-year-old. 

But he didn’t stop there.  A decade later in 1853, he continued his passion for agricultural pursuits by establishing the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. The story goes like this. It was in the early months of 1853 when he spotted a colt stuck in the fence in a snow drift. This scene spurred his desire to raise the level of horse care and improve the overall local breeding stock. Just a few months later in June 1853, the Upperville Colt and Horse Show was held at Grafton Farm (a former Dulany property) and holds the record as the oldest, longest-running horse show in America. Today, tens of thousands come out every June at the same location to witness the competition ranging from local children on their mounts to Olympic horses and riders. 

So, who was Col. Richard Henry Dulany? He was born in 1820 at a property called Old Welbourne, near the village of Unison in Loudoun and close to the Fauquier border. His parents were John Peyton Dulany (1787-1878) and Mary Ann deButts Dulany (1786-1855). John Peyton Dulany’s profession was in the financial industry and farming. 

Typical of the wealthy elite, young Richard was sent to boarding school up north; however, records do not indicate that he completed his studies, instead preferring agricultural pursuits and becoming an avid horseman and prosperous farmer. In 1833, he moved with his parents from Old Welbourne to another property three miles away called, simply, Welbourne, which dates to 1775. It is here at this Welbourne property in Upperville that became the birthplace of the nation’s oldest hunt: Piedmont Fox Hounds (PFH). Both Old Welbourne and Welbourne are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and are registered as Virginia Historic Landmarks. 

Top: Piedmont Fox Hounds at Old Welbourne. Bottom: C. Dulany Morison.

In 1847, Richard married Rebecca Anne Dulany. They lived at Welbourne and had five children, four of whom who lived to adulthood. When the Civil War broke out, Richard served in the Confederate army, survived several wounds, and rose in rank from captain to colonel of the famous Laurel Brigade, 7th Virginia Cavalry. 

Dulany Morison is the great, great, great grandson of Col. Dulany and is carrying on Piedmont’s 180-year-old fox hunting tradition. In 2019 he was elected to their board of trustees. His uncle was the late Nat Morison (great, great grandson of Col. Dulany) who was on PFH’s board for over 30 years and lived at Welbourne until his death in 2019; the property is still in the Dulany family. He regularly opened up his property for social gatherings, dinners, and hunt breakfasts. 

“Though Uncle Nat didn’t fox hunt, he hosted a hunt breakfast every Saturday after Thanksgiving,” Morison says. “No Thanksgiving was complete without seeing the hunt off on Saturday morning at Welbourne. Like Uncle Nat, my father didn’t fox hunt, but they were both admirers from the ground. I remember holding onto my father or uncle; it was so exciting to see all the horses and hounds.” Clearly, Welbourne is significant due to its association with the establishment and continuity of rural Virginia traditions of agriculture and fox hunting. 

Col. Dulany was the Master of Fox Hounds (MFH) for almost 30 years from 1840 through 1872 (minus the four years of the Civil War). Masters succeeding him include his son, Richard (“Dick”) Hunter Dulany (1873-1904). (For a brief stint, Arthur C. Marshall was master from 1904-1905.) Harry Worcester Smith (1905-1907) of Worcester, Massachusetts is credited as the first to hold the master title outside the Dulany family, over 60 years later. Smith is also known for establishing the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) in 1907, which serves as the governing body of organized fox hunting in the U.S. and Canada, promoting and preserving the sport and maintaining proper standards of conduct. MFHA’s headquarters is in the town of Middleburg.

Other surnames of PFH masters include Townsend, Sands, Thomas, Richardson, Randolph, Glascock, Norman, Mellon, and Bedford. Mrs. A.C. Randolph (wife of Dr. Archibald Cary Randolph) appears in the hunt records as the first woman master beginning in 1954 and is often referred to as the “first lady of foxhunting.” During 1955-1958, Mrs. A.C. Randolph (Theodora Ayer Randolph) and Paul Mellon — philanthropist, thoroughbred horse breeder, and son of Andrew W. Mellon who served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury — were joint masters. Over 40 consecutive years, Mrs. Randolph was joint master through 1996. Currently, her grandson, Shelby W. Bonnie, is Piedmont’s joint master along with Arthur A. (“Tad”) Zimmerman and Colvin G. Ryan.

Top: Sydney Pemberton riding side saddle. Bottom: Owner of Old Welbourne, Brad Bondi.

Fox hunting history books reveal more about Piedmont. A small red booklet at the National Sporting Library titled “The Piedmont Fox Hounds 1914” contains the hunt’s constitution and by-laws. Under the heading “Uniform and Colors,” it states the colors are scarlet and “old gold.” It provides more detail, including: “Field—Scarlet coat with old gold collar and waistcoat. The same hunt buttons to be used on coat and waistcoat as adopted in 1905. Evening Coat—Scarlet coat with old gold collar with flat silver buttons on which shall be engraved the letters P.H.”  (The booklet’s last page includes an important charge: “Do not criticise [spelled this way] harshly or unjustly. Gossip not at all.”)

Another historical resource, “Hunting in the United States and Canada,” (1928) explains the symbolism behind the hunt’s button design, which includes a fox’s mask (face) with two brushes (fox tails) underneath, and a “P” (on the left) and “H” (on the right). The book states, “… there is a quaint legend to the effect that somewhere in the dim past the hounds periodically — usually when the moon was full — found and hunted a fox with two brushes!” This is likely a tale, but it accounts for the crossed brushes under the fox’s mask in the design of their button. 

Today, Piedmont remains as dedicated as ever to the preservation of horse, hound, and generous open spaces. 

Since 2015, Jordan M. Hicks has been Piedmont’s huntsman who manages the breeding and training of the hounds at the kennel on Newlin Mill Road; a new kennel was built that year, Piedmont’s 175th anniversary. There are approximately 50 couple (100) of entered hounds, which are American Foxhounds and American Crossbred. 

“They’ve been bred to be biddable, to follow instructions — that’s their job, and they want to please you,” Hicks says. As a professional huntsman, Hicks is responsible for controlling and directing the pack on the hunt field, using a horn to communicate to the whippers-in and hunt followers. 

PFH’s territory includes 95,000 acres in northwestern Fauquier and southwestern Loudoun amid a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, open meadows, forests, streams, and rural routes with old stone walls. About a third of that — over 30,000 — has been protected with permanent conservation easements. To encourage land preservation, a reduced subscription rate is offered to landowners who have put their land in a perpetual conservation easement. According to Jt-MFH Zimmerman, PFH has 85 subscribers, the vast majority of whom are landowners. 

Top: Jordan M. Hicks, Piedmont’s huntsman stands in front of the late Nat Morison’s Welbourne. Bottom: Michelle Nagle, whip for Piedmont. 

Practicing what they preach, Piedmont’s own 90-acre property near Unison is under conservation easement, and corn and soybeans are grown there. “Fox hunting is tied into farming,” Hicks says. “Hay production, corn, beans, cattle — we all work hand in hand. It’s farming — that’s what saves the land.”

PFH’s opening meet is the first Thursday in November at Oakley Farm in Upperville, owned by Jt-MFH Bonnie. Hunts are held three days a week at various landowners’ properties and the season runs through mid-March. Point-to-Point races are held the third weekend in March. Piedmont also has children’s hunts on Labor Day, Columbus Day, and at Christmas time that are intended to instill love of the sport, respect for the land, and ensure the future of foxhunting. Preservation is key to the future of fox hunting.

A spring 2009 issue of Covertside, a MFHA publication, states that the Hunting Habitat Conservation Award was presented to PFH and the Bonnie family for accomplishments in preserving their hunting country. This includes educating the next generation to ensure land conservation remains a top priority. The article states, “…despite intense pressure to develop Loudoun County — a mere twenty miles from Washington, D.C. — the Piedmont Fox Hounds boast arguably the most open, the most lovely, and the biggest galloping fixtures of any in North America.” The article explains how the late Mrs. A.C. Randolph “was one of the early exponents of conservation through easements in the Piedmont country. She had a muscular ally in her neighbor, the late Paul Mellon, an equally zealous conservationist.”

Another key to ensuring that fox hunting continues is teaching the youth. In MFHA’s book, “A Centennial View: Foxhunting in North America Today” (2011), a photo features three generations of a family at Piedmont’s 2006 opening meet: Nancy Dillon, her daughter, Daphne Alcock, and Dillon’s grandchildren Beverly and Haley Alcock. The book states, “Dillon has been hunting with Piedmont for more than 60 years and teaching youngsters the joys of hunting for over 30 of those years.”

Dillon, now 85, lives in Philomont. “I’ve been hunting with Piedmont since I was five years old,” she says. “My dad was friends with Mrs. A.C. Randolph. Back then, they hunted only on Tuesdays and Fridays and we couldn’t get off school. So we could only hunt on holidays.”

In college, Dillon taught her friends how to fox hunt. Then she taught her kids and their friends. And the teaching continues today. “I’ve taught Shelby’s [Bonnie] children to ride. I’m teaching Tad’s [Zimmerman] grandchildren now; they come over every Monday. And the Bondi family [owners of Old Welbourne] comes for riding lessons,” she says.

Nancy Dillon and students.

Over the years, Dillon hunted with Paul Mellon, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Mrs. A.C. Randolph. “I knew Jackie through the hunt and her grandchildren came, too,” she says. “But the saddest part is when farms are sold because the children didn’t grow up loving and working the land. [My] Daddy raised racehorses and we all had to help, baling hay, working on the farm, so I’ve been with horses all my life.” Dillon grew up in an 1800s stone house in Purcellville called Tranquility.

In “The Story of American Foxhunting: From Challenge to Full Cry,” (1940), J. Blan van Urk sums up the fox hunting experience like this: “… fox hunting may be the king of sports, or the sport of kings … I have had some fairly exciting experiences in my life: I have been in a yacht race; I killed a mountain lion; and I heard, unexpectedly, of a fortune being left me; but nothing, for delirious excitement, can approach that gallop, and I shall remember those twenty minutes as long as I live.” Others agree. “You can still stand at Welbourne and the vista is unchanged since the first time they gathered in 1840,” Morison says. “The sense of community is still strong and lives on.”

Heritage, traditions, and respect are what you hope to gain with age. When it comes to the oldest fox hunt in America, Piedmont Fox Hounds has all three. When Dillon was asked what her favorite thing is about fox hunting, her answer was simple. “Just all of it…” Col. Dulany would agree. ML

To learn more about Piedmont Fox Hounds and other hunts, visit

Published in the November 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.

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