Benjamin Chew, pr. order
It will be seen that Samuel Nicholas enjoyed the friendship of the leading men in the society of Philadelphia throughout his career. The names of the members of the State in Schuylkill and of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club are significant to anyone who is at all conversant with the history of that city. Chew, Dickinson, Willing, Hollingsworth, Shoemaker, Wharton, Mifflin, Roberts, Morris, Cadwallader, Bache, Hamilton – these are the families that built pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia, making of it the community that was logically chosen as the capital of the infant republic. And these names are still significant in the conservative society of that city today.
Small wonder that Nicholas was fitted for the duties of a marine; with the background of supercargo to China on windjammers, and horsemanship acquired in chasing elusive foxes across the colony of Jersey. It would be rare indeed to find a young gentleman of thirty-two years of age better qualified for the ordeal.
In his youth fox hunting formed the field exercise of some of the wealthy citizens. There was kennel of hounds kept by a man named Butler, for the company. Its situation was then out of town (the northern limit of Philadelphia was Vine St.) on the brow of the hill north of Callowhill near Second St. As population increased, the game decreased, so much so that the establishment had to remove directly across the Delaware River to Gloucester, so as to make their hunts in the Jersey pines. At the same time the company provided for their old huntsman Butler by setting him up, in 1756, with the first public stage for New York. The new kennel was situated near the Gloucester ferry slip, and Samuel Morris was for years the life and head of the club. This is just below modern Camden, founded by Jacob Cooper in 1773, and for years after the Revolution an obscure village.
Horse races were early introduced, and almost from their beginning were held out “Race Street” – so popularly called because of its being the street directly leading out to the race course, cleared for the purpose through forest trees. All genteel horses were pacers; a trotter was deemed a base breed.
Captain Graydon, in his Memoirs, says racing was a great passion in his young days. The race horses, in 1760, were kept at the Widow Nicholas’ stables, which extended down Fourth Street, two-thirds of the way to Chestnut Street, from the rear of her tavern then at the corner of High [Market] Street. This must have been founder’s widowed mother, Mrs. Anthony Nicholas.
To revert to the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club – the membership was composed of Philadelphians and residents of Gloucester County, New Jersey. They frequently visited Woodbury, and lodged their hounds in a stable back of the academy. The club originated from accidental causes. The reciprocities of social intercourse between wealthy city dwellers and those of landed property in the blessed retirement of a country life, laid the foundations of an association of the most delightful character, for society of any degree of elegance was then comparatively limited.
The sportsmen convened in 1766 at the Philadelphia Coffee House, W.E. corner of Front and Market Streets. It was agreed to hunt twice each week, with intermediate days if ordered; but in the course of a year one day a week proved sufficient. In 1769 Samuel Morris permitted his negro slave Natt to serve the club, and his pay furnished him with clothing and eventually purchased his freedom. He was then regularly installed as Knight of the Whip, and became master and commander of all the hounds. This venerable gray-haired African sportsman was allowed £50 per year, a house, a horse, and Jack Still as assistant.
The established hunting uniform in 1774 was a dark brown cloth coatee with lapelled dragoon pockets, white buttons and frocked sleeves, buff waistcoat and breeches, and a black velvet cap. The pack numbered sixteen couple of fleet hounds.
Perhaps the marine’s uniform during the Revolution was influenced somewhat by the hunt club’s livery. At any rate, the outbreak of hostilities suspended any further fox hunting until October, 1780, when a meeting was held at the City Coffee House, with Captain Morris presiding. He claimed 3£,553 as due him, and £187 was collected from each one of nineteen members and $500 from certain “privileged hunters”. These sums were in Continental currency, £6 specie being equal to £187 10s.
Amongst Samuel Nicholas’ friends who later joined were: Joseph Penrose, Nathaniel Lewis, Joseph Pemberton, Alvaro d’Ornellas, Stephen Moylan, that famous Irishman would dragoons were a scourge to the English in the Revolution, Tench Tilghman, Samuel Caldwell, Samuel Howell, John Lardner, Benjamin Tilghman, Samuel Harrison, Isaac Cox, John Dunlap, Thomas Bond, jr., John Wistar.
So soon as the war ended, the club again flourished, and Captain Samuel Morris, already governor of the State in Schuylkill, was annually rechosen president, and so remained head of both organizations until his death. To this day, he is invariably toasted at every social gathering of the State in Schuylkill.
In 1800 there were forty members; in 1818 the master spirit, Captain Charles Ross, died, and the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club was no more. The pack was unkennelled and dispersed, old Jonas Cattell, the guide and whipper-in, and Cupid, the ebony huntsman, sought other employment. The distribution of these fine hounds, chiefly amongst the sporting farmers of West Jersey, has to this day left its mark in their numerous progeny roaming New Jersey.