November 29th, 2011
This important article first appeared in the journal Base Ball, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2009. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher, McFarland & Co. Randall Brown majored in American Studies at Wesleyan and is still addicted to history. His discovery of an obscure 1887 interview with William Wheaton, the first umpire, led to an article, “How Baseball Began,” in the 2004 issue of The National Pastime. Brown’s articles on local history have appeared in The Staten Island Historian and the Santa Cruz History Journal, and he recently completed the documentary How Base Ball Was Born, featuring the story of Wheaton and the New York Base Ball Club. Part 1 of this article commenced yesterday and may be linked directly at: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/28/blood-and-base-ball/.
In July 1858, the clubs of the National Association of Base Ball Players decided to promote the game by sponsoring a “Grand Base Ball Demonstration,” with the best New York players pitted against the elite of the Brooklyn clubs. The press release announced:
It was resolved to play a grand match on the Fashion Race Course, it being a neutral ground, and sufficiently large. No intoxicating liquors or gambling will be allowed. A nominal charge of 10 cents and fee of 20 cents for 1 horse and 40 for two horse vehicles to be collected. Surplus funds will be equally divided by New York and Brooklyn clubs and by them presented to the widows and orphans funds of the Fire Departments of the two cities.16
The demonstration was a grand success:
At an early hour, the roads leading to the Fashion Course exhibited unusual signs of animation, vehicles of every conceivable description being called into requisition to convey the thousands of spectators to the scene of contest. Many of the Base Ball Clubs had chartered large omnibuses, which were decorated in various ways. Pedestrians could be seen in hundreds and thousands making their way to the battle ground.17
Contingents from the nearby villages of Weeksville and Jamaica were most likely among those walking to the event. Separate accommodations for “colored” passengers on the streetcars and railroad were scarce even on less busy days.
Although the match went to the New York nine, it created a demand for more baseball in Brooklyn. In early August, while negotiations were underway for a rematch, notice of another new club was received by the Clipper and the Eagle. “A Base Ball Club,” noted the latter, “was organized Monday 9th inst. under the title of ‘Unknown Base Ball Club’, with the election of the following officers: Benjamin C. Poole, President, Silas Wright, V.P., J. Nelson Edgar, secretary, John Poole Jr., treasurer.” The Clipper also noted that the members would meet for practice three times a week, from 4:00–8:00 a.m. The club’s address was in the city itself, but the players were mostly residents of Weeksville.18
The various clubs relied on their corresponding secretaries to arrange matches and to keep the press aware of their activities. The April 1859 election of Silas Wright and other officers of the Unknown Club was duly noted in the Eagle, but the rest of the season was marked by silence from the various local papers and sporting journals. Had they learned that Wright, a weigher of grain, and his teammates were “men of color”?19
What if the Unknown Club had wanted to participate in the baseball convention held that spring at Cooper Institute? To join the National Association, a club was required “to present a written application, signed by its President and Secretary, setting forth the name, date of organization, days and place of playing, names of its officers and delegates, and the number of members composing it, which shall be immediately submitted to the Committee on Nominations.” The three-man committee was given the power to blackball applicants and used it freely in the early years.
When the Anglo-African, published by the Hamilton brothers, arrived on the scene in July 1859, the Unknown Club was developing a rivalry with the Henson Club of Jamaica, named for its founder, waiter Robert Henson. On November 15, the Abolitionist paper reported on a match between the two clubs in Jamaica, apparently the second of a home-and-home series, “which resulted in another victory for the Hensons.”21
Like the gentlemen of the Knickerbockers and Gothams, the Queens nine decided to celebrate their victory in style:
It was the intention of the club to give a ball but the prejudice is so strong here at present against colored people that they were denied the use of the hall for that purpose, but after obtaining it (for a banquet) some 2 or 3 young Anglo-Africans bent on having some fun for their money commenced whistling the Tiger Polker and availing themselves of the music, some of the gentlemen took partners and danced till the music ceased for want of an extra pair of bellows to keep it going.
Another club from Williamsburgh, known as the Union Club, challenged the Unknowns during the 1860 season. The two Brooklyn clubs traveled to the Elysian Fields in New Jersey to play their match, an 11–0 triumph for the Unknowns.22
The death of the editor of the weekly Anglo-African led to further obscurity for the Unknowns and Hensons, but they were soon joined by several similar clubs, including the Hamiltons of Newark and the Monitors.
It was not until October 17, 1862, that a reporter from the Brooklyn Eagle sent out to cover a postponed match in Bedford filed a story entitled: “A New Sensation in Base Ball Circles. Sambo as Ballplayer and Dinah as Emulator. Unknown of Weeksville vs. Monitor of Brooklyn.”
Our reporter noticed a crowd assembled on the grounds in the vicinity of the Yukaton Skating Pond, and found a match in progress between the Unknown and Monitor Clubs, both of African descent. Quite a large assemblage encircled the contestants, who were every one as black as the ace of spades. Among the assemblage, we noticed several old and well-known players, who seemed to enjoy the game more heartily than if they had been the players themselves. The dusky contestants enjoyed the game hugely, and to use a common phrase, they “did the thing genteely”. It would have done Beecher, Greeley, or any other of the luminaries of the radical Republican party good to have been present. The playing was quite spirited, and fate decreed a victory for the Unknowns.23
The parents of the first free generation provided education with a vengeance, knowing its value from experience. Having been told by his master that “reading would make him unfit for a slave,” Frederick Douglass taught himself to read on the sly. William T. Catto, born in South Carolina, was allowed to read the Bible and to acquire sufficient mathematical skill to practice the trade of millwright. After buying his release, he studied theology and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Even slave-owner Charles Lee Younger, of Jackson County, Missouri, saw the need to secure liberty with education.
Born in Virginia in 1783, Younger fathered 18 acknowledged children by four women. He married the first two then left the second for a mistress. His last son and daughter resulted from an affair with his mulatto slave, Elizabeth. Having promised to emancipate his lover and her children, he called a lawyer to his deathbed to add a clause providing generously for their upbringing. Son Simpson and daughter Catherine were to live in a free state and, at the age of 12, be sent “to a college of high grade, at which they may receive a classical education.” Despite the objections of his second wife and first mistress, the will was upheld and his former property took up residence in Oberlin, Ohio.24
Reverend Catto left the South about 1840 with his wife and infant son, Octavius. The family settled in Philadelphia, where Catto, an inspiring speaker, became active in the antislavery fight. Like fellow conspirators Robert Purvis, Jacob White, and James Needham, he enrolled his son in the recently established Institute for Colored Youth. Housed in new brick buildings in the heart of the city, the Institute offered one high school and one preparatory school for each sex. Although some graduates pursued degrees in medicine or law, over half of the students became teachers. After graduation, prize pupil Octavius Catto was asked to return as an instructor.25
The Institute for Colored Youth agreed with the Clipper’s opinion that “it would be an addition to every school if each had a cricket or base ball club attached to it as in England.” During Catto’s school days (1854–1858), the sport of choice, as it was for most ballplaying Philadelphians before 1860, was cricket. The wealthy, half-Scottish Purvis family, benefactors of the ICY, were fond of the British pastime, a younger member having played with the local Pythian Cricket Club.26
As his five children—two girls and three boys—grew up in Rochester, Frederick Douglass tried various approaches to schooling. Finding the local colored facilities inadequate, he enrolled his daughter in boarding school, only to learn that she was being taught separately. Private tutors provided a temporary solution while he worked to integrate the city’s public schools. The campaign was successful in 1857, too late to fully benefit 17-year-old Louis and Frederick Jr., a year younger, who were apprentice printers at his newspaper office, but just in time for Charles at age 12. It is likely that he learned baseball as a high school student.
Rochester had been home to baseball clubs since the 1820s, and by the mid-1850s the city’s players were enthusiastically adopting the modern New York game. The elite Live Oak and Flour City clubs even played winter matches on the ice. Printers from the various local papers, idle during afternoon hours, challenged each other on the diamond. There were several old-style private clubs, whose members competed with each other. Frederick Douglass Jr. joined the integrated Charter Oak Juniors, serving as the club’s secretary. In 1859, Charles became a member along with Frank Stewart, a friend of his brother.27
The Douglass brothers were enlisted in the Underground Railroad at early ages. When fugitives arrived at the family home, the boys carried notes to those responsible for the next leg of their journeys to Canada. In December 1856, John Brown, a longtime friend of their father, came to visit. He stayed for the rest of the winter, insisting on paying rent, while he developed plans for a slave uprising. Frederick Douglass stated that he was usually too busy to listen, but his sons were fascinated by the veteran Abolitionist’s tales of fighting in Kansas and his idea of attacking slaveholders from strongholds in the Appalachians.
Brown was ready to act in the fall of 1859. During the months of preparation he stopped in Rochester from time to time, where Charles acted as a courier for the various conspirators. Just before the attack, Frederick Douglass met with his old friend at a hideout near the Maryland border. Abandoning his idea of mountain forts, Brown had fixed on seizing the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. To Douglass, the idea was suicidal and he said so, before heading back to Philadelphia.
When the raid failed, Frederick Douglass was warned that Brown had dropped his name to authorities (as well as that of Joshua Giddings). A sympathetic telegrapher held up an arrest warrant while he took the first train out of Philadelphia, fleeing through Hoboken to avoid New York City, stopping briefly at home before conducting himself to Canada.28
During the first two years of the Civil War, Douglass spoke out in favor of arming his people. He denounced those who “claimed in one breath that Negroes won’t fight, and in the next that if you arm them, they’ll become dangerous.”29
Philadelphians had personal experience in the matter. In 1859, a local colored militia unit had won permission to carry weapons, only to have them taken away “in consequence of the Harper’s Ferry affair.”30
16. Brooklyn Eagle: July 10, 1858.
17. New York Clipper: July 24, 1858.
18. Ibid.: Aug. 18, 1858; Brooklyn Eagle: Aug. 17, 1858.
19. Brooklyn Eagle: Apr. 12, 1859; 1860 US Census, Kings County N.Y. 9th Ward.
20. New York Times: Mar. 10, 1859; New York Clipper: Apr. 1859.
21. Weekly Anglo-African: Nov. 15, 1859.
22. Dixon and Hannigan. 1992. The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History.
23. Brooklyn Eagle: Oct. 17, 1862.
24. Frazier, H. 2004. Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those Who Helped Them (pp. 80–81).
25. Address by O. Catto, “Our Alma Mater,” May 10, 1864.
26. New York Clipper: Nov. 21, 1857.
27. Astifan, P. 2000. “Base Ball in the 19th Century, Part Two,” Rochester History (p. 7).
28. Chicago Defender: Dec. 4, 1920. Quarles, B. 1968. Frederick Douglass (p. 173).
29. Quarles 1968, 177–178.
30. Brooklyn Eagle: Oct. 22, 1859.
[End of Part 2; part 3 tomorrow!]