Friday, 12 September 2014

William Paca's "Sleeve Buttons"

Dusty, dog-eared reports that seem to sit unloved on office bookcases can bring to light a wealth of fascinating information; the William Paca cuff-link is a good case in point. Though this artefact has been known to us for some time, and even exhibited, it is revealing to revisit it and deepen our understanding of William Paca and late-eighteenth-century Annapolitan society as a whole. This brass cuff-link (or sleeve button as they were called in the 18th century) was recovered from the archaeological excavations of the William Paca garden in the 1960s. From pottery fragments in the same archaeological layer, we can date this sleeve button to the time when William Paca lived in Prince George’s Street meaning that this sleeve button was almost certainly worn by William Paca himself. Although the design has lost its clarity over the centuries, we can still make out the image of a running fox and the word “tallio”. This gives the sleeve button a novelty appearance and shows that during his free time, William Paca was a keen foxhunter (as well as a snappy dresser) . William Paca was not the only colonial to own such a cufflink. The same design was incredibly popular in eighteenth century America and identical sleeve buttons have also been found at Williamsburg and Ferry Farm, George Washington’s childhood home.[1] The use of accessories to express a love of a particular sport is still practiced by many Americans today. Think of the modern baseball cap. Originally an essential and purely practical element of the outfit, the baseball cap (like Paca’s cufflink) now carries various baseball related designs intended to mark the user out as an enthusiast. The men of the 18th century would have used their sleeve buttons to show that they were a fan of foxhunting much in the same way.

Figure 1:  Brass ‘tallio’ cufflink. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Museum Purchase.

Hunting in Colonial America

The motif and lettering gives us a clear indication that the owner enjoyed foxhunting. “Tallio”,  a quaint misspelling of Tally-Ho, demonstrates that the vernacular of the British hunting gentry was easily transferred to America where the sport continued to be practiced. The British citizens of colonial America wished to continue the leisurely pursuits of their homeland.

Who participated in American foxhunts? In Britain, hunting was a marker of high society. Due to the Game Laws Act of 1671 which ruled that one’s land had to be worth upwards of £100 per annum to participate, hunting in Britain was restricted to the landed gentry.[2] The right to foxhunt was less restricted in colonial America. However, only the Anglo-American landed elite would have had enough leisure time and have owned enough hounds and horses to be able to run their own pack. Though slaves and servants did not hunt the foxes on horseback, they still participated in the sport as huntsmen who controlled the hounds.[3] 

American fox-hunting in the colonial period did not generally consist of organized clubs. Instead, men would hunt in informal packs.[4] An exception to this was the Gloucester Fox-hunting Club, probably the first formally organized club of this kind in America. Formed in 1766 in a Philadelphia Coffee house, this club was full of important men such as Benjamin Chase who each paid a subscription fee of £5 for the maintenance of foxhound kennels.[5] William Paca himself probably hunted in private, informal packs with men of his station, perhaps on their plantations. His interest in hunting is clear from his sleeve button. It is also known that he had a keen interest in horse sports as he was a member of the Maryland Jockey Club.[6] Its members in 1783 included other Annapolitan elites such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton.[7] Charles Carroll was known for his love of foxhunting; perhaps the two neighbors and signers spent a few afternoons hunting together.

Many of William Paca’s contemporaries expressed in writing their fondness for the sport. George Washington in particular records diligently in his diary the pleasant and sometimes frustrating hours he spent indulging his hobby. In September of 1768 he laments that he “Went fox hunting in the Neck. Started and run a fox or foxes three hours and then lost”.[8] John Adams, at a Sons of Liberty meeting in 1769 records in his diary that they watched a Mimickry of “The Hunting of the Bitch Fox” indicating that it was an accepted part of the culture of the Anglo-American elite.[9]

Figure 2: Fairfax Fox-hunting with Washington. Engraver Henry Bryan Hall (after Felix F.O.C. Darcey). in: Irving, W. (1855) The Life of George Washington.

Maryland: The home of American fox-hunting?

Colonial Maryland had a special association with fox-hunting and it is apparent that its residents had a particular fondness for the sport. Maryland, like other the other prominent hunting colonies, Virginia and Delaware, was free from a puritanical influence which condemned sport.[10] Foxhunting could therefore flourish free from any moral condemnation. It was in Maryland that the sport first came to America. An English settler to Queen Anne’s County brought his pack of foxhounds and held the first fox-hunt on record in America around 1650.[11] It was also in Maryland in 1730, on the Eastern Shore that a few tobacco planters, talking wistfully of the red foxes of ‘merrie England’, decided to import eight red foxes from Liverpool to hunt in place of Maryland’s native gray.[12]

An apocryphal tale of Charles Carroll of Carrollton demonstrates the distinct sense of pride that Marylanders had in their sport. The story goes that Charles Carroll claimed that “fox-hunting was the grandest sport ever invented by man and [was] sanctioned by an all-wise providence”.[13] In response, Light-Horse Harry Lee commented that “tis hell if your nag is slow and your hounds poor”.[14] Charles Carroll immediately responded, with an unabashed sense of state pride, “I refer to fox-hunting in Maryland, sir”.[15]

Fox-hunting held a special place in the heart of Marylanders in the colonial period, so much so that it altered the lawmaking process. The 1765 Dog Bill which imposed a tax on owning more than two necessary dogs faced so much outcry and opposition that it was later amended to include the exception that

the keeping of Fox Hounds for destroying of Foxes is usefull and Necessary and that therefore they should be Allowed to be kept Tax free.[16]

Considering all this, one can imagine William Paca riding out on his prize horse, wearing his Tallio sleeve buttons and spending an enjoyable afternoon hunting.


Black, J. (2005) A Subject for Taste. Hambledon and London.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Museum Purchase [] Last Accessed: 09/04/2014

Culver, F. (1922) Blooded Horses of Colonial Days: Classic horse matches made in America before the Revolution. Kessinger Publishing.

Fine, N. (2010) “Tally-ho Back”Foxhunting in North America and the MFHA. Centennial View. MFHA Foundation.

Founders.archives (2014a). Washington Papers. Online [] Last accessed: 09/04/2014
Founders.archives (2014b). Adams Papers. Online [] Last accessed: 09/04/2014

Schemmer, C. (2011). Scanning pieces of past. Online 
[] Last accessed: 09/04/2014

Hiss, H. (1897) The Beginnings of Fox-hunting in America. Outing Magazine.

Maryland State Archives (2014). Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, 1766-1768 vol. 61. Online [] Last accessed: 09/04/2014

Stewart, S. (1971) A Historical Survey of Foxhunting in the United States, 1650-1970. Ma Thesis. Denton, Texas.

South, S. (1969) The Paca House: A Historical Archaeology Study. Contract Archaeology Inc, Alexandria, Va.

[1] Schemmer 2011
[2] Black 2005, 72
[3] Stewart 1971, 47
[4] Stewart 1971, 38
[5] Stewart 1971, 45
[6] Culver 1922, 70
[7] Culver 1922, 70
[8] Founders.archives 2014a
[9] Founders.archives 2014b
[10] Stewart 1971, 40
[11] Hiss 1897, 13
[12] Fine 2010, 3
[13] Hiss 1897, 160
[14] Hiss 1897, 160
[15] Hiss 1897, 160
[16] Maryland State Archives 2014

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