Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in the third of three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001. The second part was published yesterday at: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/01/29/a-place-leavel-enough-to-play-ball-part-2/
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic (continued)
Thomas L. Altherr
At the turn of the century, baseball-type games continued to provoke clashes in cities, towns, and villages. Some of their governments responded with prohibitions on such games, much as did the province of New Hampshire for Christmas Day in 1771. At its town meeting in March, 1795, Portsmouth, New Hampshire attempted to abolish cricket and any games played with a ball. The ordinance read as follows:
VOTED III, That if any person or persons shall after the thirty-first day of May next, within the compact part of the town of Portsmouth, . . . play at cricket or any game wherein a ball is used, . . . he, she, or they, so offending, on conviction thereof shall forfeit and pay to the overseers of the porr of said town for the time being, for each and every offence, a sum not exceeding three dollars and thirty cents, nor less than fifty cents, and costs of prosecution,….
By the 1830s, however, players consumed egg-nog “between intervals of base-ball playing” on nearby Shapleigh’s Island and taunted the temperance forces. Down the coast, Newburyport, Massachusetts passed a similar restriction in 1797, adding soccer to its list of offending games: “12th. Voted and ordered, that if any person shall play at foot-ball, cricket or any other play or game with a ball or balls in any of the streets, lanes, or, alleys of this town, such person shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding one dollar nor less than twenty-five cents.” In 1805 the town of Portland, Maine promulgated a more detailed prohibition entitled “A By Law to check the practice of playing at Bat and Ball in the Streets”: “. . . [N]o person shall play at the game of bat and ball, or shall strike any ball with a bat or other machine in the streets, lanes, or squares of the town, on penalty of Fifty Cents for each offense.” By 1828, however, a Portland newspaper referred to boys playing at “bat-and-ball.” Twelve years earlier and fifty miles inland, Worcester, Massachusetts considered outlawing playing ball because of numerous complaints.
At a legal meeting May 6, 1816:
To see if the said Inhabitants will adopt any mode, or make such regulations as will in future prevent the playing Ball and Hoops in the public Streets in said Town, a practice so frequent and dangerous, that has occasioned many great and repeated complaints.
Note that the town council characterized ball playing as frequent. Troy, New York restricted baseball-type games in 1816: “[N]o person or persons shall play ball, beat, knock or drive any ball or hoop, in, through or along any street or alley in the first, second, third or fourth wards of said city; and every person who shall violate either of the prohibitions . . . shall, for each and every such offence, forfeit and pay the penalty of ten dollars.” Down the Hudson, New York City outlawed ball play in the Park, Battery, and Bowling-Green in 1817. The crowning irony to all of this came a month later in, of all places, Cooperstown, when that village promulgated an ordinance forbidding the playing of ball in the center of town fully twenty-three years before Abner Doubleday supposedly drew up his diamond and rules! The June, 1816 ordinance read as follows: “Be it ordained, That no person shall play at Ball in Second or West street, in this village, under a penalty of one dollar, for each and every offence.” Tom Heitz has suggested that the one dollar fine was equivalent to the cost of replacing a window in those days, so perhaps the law was setting up an insurance program of sorts to cover breakage and had little hope of completely discouraging players from playing.
Still boys and men continued to play ball. Keene, New Hampshire farmer Abner Sanger noted in his journal entry for April 27, 1782: “Caleb Washburn, young Benjamin Hall, Tom Wells, the younger and El play ball before my barn.” Ball games were familiar enough in northern New England that Vermonter Levi Allen could write to his brother Ira from Quebec on July 7, 1787: “Three times is Out at wicket, next year if Something is not done I will retire to the Green Mountains . . . “ The games went on at the private academies. At the turn of the century ball-playing at Exeter Academy was commonplace, according to a historian of that school: “The only games seem to have been old-fashioned ‘bat and ball,’ which, in the spring, was played on the grounds around the Academy building, and football. The former differed widely from the modern game of base ball, which was introduced later. The old game had fewer rules, and was played with a soft leather ball.” Note, however, the author’s characterization of the game as old-fashioned, implying a longevity of familiarity. In 1836 Albert Ware Paine recalled playing in Bangor, Maine in the 1810s and 1820s: “But a day seems to have elapsed since meeting with our neighboring boys, we took delight in flying our kite and prancing our horses on the green or engaged ourselves in the more active sports of ‘playing ball’ or ‘goal.’” New York City octogenarian Charles Haswell reminisced that if “a base-ball was required, the boy of 1816 founded it with a bit of cork, or, if he were singularly fortunate, with some shreds of india-rubber; then it was wound with yarn from a ravelled stocking, and some feminine member of his family covered it with patches from a soiled glove.” By the late 1830s, Buffalo, New York boys were even using fish noses for the ball cores, according to Samuel L. Welch: ” . .. the fish I bought as a small boy at that time, at one cent per pound, mainly to gets its noses for cores for our balls, to make them bound, to play the present National Game,” he wrote in 1891.
Sometimes memoirists mentioned baseball only to say that they avoided the game or regretted what they considered a waste of time and industry. Thus Wilmington, Delaware ship captain John Hamilton wrote about his boyhood in the 1790s that reading about foreign countries “took precedence [over] Kites, Marbles, Balls, Shinny Sticks, and all other Boyish Sports.” Similarly, Cannon’s Ferry, Delaware doctor William Morgan remarked about his adolescence in the 1790s, “My sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth yeares were spent in youthfull folley. Fidling, frolicking, ball playing and hunting as far as I could be spared by my father from his employ. These are called inocent amusements and ware not caried very far by me.” Sometimes, however, ball games led to further adventures. Jonathan Mason, Jr, a Boston merchant, remembered a special game of ball on the Boston Commons in the 1790s or early 1800s:
Another early remembrance of the common besets me. one morning, the day after what was called the Negro election, Benj Green, Martin Brimmer, George E Head, Franklin Dexter and myself were playing ball on the common before breakfast: and the ball fell into a hole where one of the booth’s stakes had been driven the day before, which was filled up with paper, rubbage etc. putting the hand down something jingled and we found several dollars in silver which had probably been put there for safety and the owner becoming intoxicated late in the day had gone off and forgotten them. I can’t recollect that we advertised them. We were small boys then all of us, and I was the youngest.
And even though he claimed he had never heard the word “baseball” in the 1820s, Middletown, Connecticut resident John Howard Redfield remembered that baseball-type games were pervasive:
The remainder of Election week was given more or less to relaxation and amusement. This period usually coincided with the vacation, or gap between the winter and summer terms of school. Ball was the chief amusement, and if weather permitted (and my impression is that it generally did permit) the open green about the meeting-house and the school-house was constantly occupied by the players, little boys, big boys, and even men (for such we considered the biggest boys who condescended to join the game), . . . These grown-up players usually devoted themselves to a game called “wicket,” in which the ball was impelled along the ground by a wide, peculiarly-shaped bat, over, under, or through a wicket, made by a slender stick resting on two supports. I never heard of baseball in those days.
Clearly, as these prohibitions, depictions in children’s books, and remembrances indicate, baseball and its predecessors were entrenched in the young republic’s athletic repertoire by 1820.
Other evidence hints that the games had spread to the South and to Canada. John Drayton, a South Carolina politician and historian, referred to ball playing in his state about 1802: “[A]musements are few; consisting of dancing, horse racing, ball playing, and rifle shooting.” Another South Carolinian, Charles Fraser, recalled, in 1854, how vibrant were the sports of his childhood in Charleston in the early art of the century: “The manly sports of ball, shinee, jumping, running, wrestling, and swimming, are now laid aside as unworthy of modern refinement. But they were as common among the elder boys of my time, as marbles, tops and kites were among the little ones.” Ely Playter, a York, Ontario tavernkeeper, may have meant baseball or a baseball-type game when he wrote in his diary for April 13, 1803: “I went to Town . . . walk’d out and joined a number of men jumping & playing Ball, perceived a Mr. Joseph Randall to be the most active . . . “ Incipient commercialism may also have been invading the games. The New York Evening Post for September 20, 1811 contained an advertisement for “Trap Ball, Quoits, Cricket, &c.” at Dyde’s Military Ground.
The most bizarre bit of evidence of baseball’s spread may have occurred in conjunction with a tragic incident just after the close of the War of 1812. The British were still housing numerous American prisoners at Dartmoor Prison in England, awaiting repatriation arrangements. Needless to say, tempers ran high, and the British officers occasionally tormented the Americans. As had other prisoners-of-war before them, some of the Americans whiled away their incarceration by playing baseball. For example, American prisoners-of-war back in North America at Cornwall, Ontario mixed ball with their boxing. Wrote one prisoner, “The men remained in the gaol yard and fought several times and in fact played [ball --the editor mistakenly translated the word as "hell"] all day.” Similarly one prisoner, Benjamin Waterhouse, recalled the Americans at Dartmoor were in “high spirits and good humour” about going home and reflected it in their play: “I distinctly remember that the prisoners appeared to enjoy their amusements, such as playing ball and the like, beyond what I had before observed.” The previous June, the British commander had opened the yards on the south side of the enclosure, which, according to prisoner Charles Andrews, “would admit of many amusements which that of No. 4 would not, such as playing ball, &c.”
On April 6, 1815, some of the prisoners were at such play. As inmate Nathaniel Pierce recalled, ” . . . first part of this day the Prisoners divirting themselves Gambling playing Ball &c.” During the afternoon, however, things went awry. A batter hit the ball over one of the interior walls and the British sentries would not allow the players to retrieve it. As prisoner Andrews later wrote, ” . . . some boys who were playing ball in No. 7 yard, knocked their ball over into the barrack-yard, and on the sentry in that yard refusing to throw it back to them, they picked a hole in the wall to get in after it.” Another inmate, Joseph Valpey, Jr., described the scenario in more detail:
On the 6th day of April 1815 as a small party of prisoners were amusing themselves at a game at ball, some of the number striking it with too much violence it went over the wall fronting the prison the Centinals on the opposite side of the same were requested to heave the ball back, but refused, on which the party threataned to brake through and regain the ball and immediately put their threats in execution, a hole was made in the wall sufficently large enough for a man to pass through….
The “Judicial Report of the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison” concluded indeed that ball playing figured in the incident: “It unfortunately happened, that in the afternoon of the 6th of April, some boys who were playing ball in No. 7 yard, knocked their ball over into the barrack yard: on the sentry in that yard refusing to throw it back to them, they picked a hole in the wall to get in after it.”97 The British officers misconstrued this breach of the interior wall as some sort of riot and ordered troops to fire at the ball players. By the end of the melee there were seven dead and thirty-one wounded prisoners. A poem by John Hunter Waddell, which ran in New York and Boston newspapers in June, 1815, referred to the ball playing as commonplace and summed up the tragedy:
Forsooth, there was great fear to dread, he [the British captain]’d search’d and found in wall
A hole was made for boy to creep, and get again a ball,
Which oft was thrown by boys at play, their usual daily sport,
In pastime who at prison wall, did ev’ry day resort;
And frequent would their balls bounce o’er out of the prison yard,
To get again their balls for sport, their pastime and their play,
And so their joy, was oft times spoilt, and ended for the day.
The boys thus baulk’d, and being griev’d to lose their balls and play,
Contriv’d to make a hole to gain, and get their balls again.
By the 1820s, the games were taking on the more organized form of clubs. In his autobiography, New York politician Thurlow Weed claimed to have been a member of a town ball club in Rochester in 1825:
Though an industrious and busy place, its citizens found leisure for rational and healthy recreation. A base-ball club, numbering nearly fifty members, met every afternoon during the ball-playing season. Though the members of the club embraced persons between eighteen and forty, it attracted the young and the old. The ball-ground, containing some eight or ten acres, known as Mumford’s meadow, by the side of the river above the falls, is now a compact part of the city.
Weed went on to list ten of the better players on that club and point out that a couple of them rose to prominence as lawyers in New York City. Although some historians think that the mounting popularity of baseball in the intervening decades may have colored Weed’s memoir, Samuel Hopkins Adams, in the story, “Baseball in Mumford’s Pasture Lot,” in his book, Grandfather Stories, corroborated Weed with a scene in which Grandpa Adams informed his grandson and friends that he had played baseball back in Rochester in 1827. “When I first came here, the Rochester Baseball Club met four afternoons a week. We had fifty members. That was in 1827,” the old man recounted. The club played in “Mumford’s pasture lot, off Lake Avenue.” Furthermore, he told them, “The cream of Rochester’s Third Ward ruffleshirts participated in the pastime,” which was clearly baseball, not town ball, as the old man described the positioning of the fielders and mentioned that it took three outs to retire the batting side.
Yet it would be a mistake to see baseball and baseball-type games as very modern by the 1820s, at least not in the sense that sport historians such as Allen Guttmann have stipulated. Presumably there was an equity in the rules, that each player played under the same conditions, but there may have been exceptions to that. There was certainly no bureaucratization overseeing baseball-type games. There may or may not have been specialization; players most likely played nonspecific positions on the playing field and probably the pitcher, or “feeder,” was not a very important position yet. How much players were experimenting to perfect the rules or methods of playing the game is also unclear. Quantification, at least in the form of statistics that carried over time, was nonexistent, and if there were any “records,” they didn’t make it into any “recordbook.” Local players may have kept up an oral memory of great players and great plays, but it is just as likely that the emphasis was on play, spontaneity, and communal recreation. Baseball and similar games were still folk games, with all their rubbery aspects and irregular patterns. That does not mean, however, that they were any less important to the populace than are modern sports today. Baseball and baseball-type games existed with some degree of frequency, because they filled a cultural hunger for physical play and communal recreation, a yearning of time immemorial. The above sources, and probably others still undiscovered in the record, attest to the American phase of this long process. Henry Dearborn and his fellow soldiers deserve thanks not only for helping to convince the British to lose the war, but for marching four miles that day in April, 1779 “to find a place leavel enough to play ball,” and all the ball-playing students merit our remembrances as well.
Finally though, the origins of the game may have to remain shrouded in mystery. Perhaps, as Harold Seymour wrote, “To ascertain who invented baseball would be equivalent to trying to locate the discoverer of fire.” Perhaps it was an entirely “natural” occurrence. As James D’Wolf Lovett stated, “It seems to be the natural instinct of a boy as soon as he finds the use of his arms, to want to ‘bat’ something.” Possibly the instinct is quite deep-seated and the Freudians and other psychoanalysts can weigh in with theories such as Adrian Stokes’ provocative interpretation that cricket developed as a form of sexual sublimation. Or maybe Kenneth Patchen’s explanation in his poem, “The Origin of Baseball,” comes as close as any:
Someone had been walking in and out
Of the world without coming
To much decision about anything.
The sun seemed too hot most of the time.
There weren’t enough birds around
And the hills had a silly look
When he got on top of one.
The girls in heaven, however, thought
Nothing of asking to see his watch
Like you would want someone to tell
A joke –’Time,’ they’d say, ‘what’s
That mean –time?’, laughing with the edges
Of their white mouths, like a flutter of paper
In a madhouse. And he’d stumble over
General Sherman or Elizabeth B.
Browning, muttering, “Can’t you keep
Your big wings out of the aisle?” But down
Again, there’d be millions of people without
Enough to eat and men with guns just
Standing there shooting each other.
So he wanted to throw something
And he picked up a baseball.
67. By-Laws of the Town of Portsmouth, Passed at their Annual Meeting Held March 25, 1795 (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: John Melcher, 1795), 5-6.
68. Charles W. Brewster, Rambles About Portsmouth, Second Series (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Lewis W. Brewster, 1869), 269.
69. Bye-Laws of Newburyport; Passed by the Town at Regular Meetings, and Approved by the Court of General Justice of the Peace for the County of Essex, Agreeably to a Law of this
Commonwealth (Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1797), 1.
70. The By Laws of the Town of Portland, in the County of Cumberland, Second Ed. (Portland, Maine: John McKown, 1805), 15. Italics in the original source. The 1817 town by-laws still contained this prohibition. “By Law to check the practice of playing at Bat and Ball in the Streets, &c.,” in The By-Laws of the Town of Portland, in the County of Cumberland (Portland, Maine: A. and J. Shirley, 1817), 12.
71. Will Anderson, Was Baseball Really Invented In Maine? (Portland, Maine: pvt. ptg., 1992), .
72. Worcester, Massachusetts Town Records, 6 May 1816, reprinted in Franklin P. Rice, ed., Worcester Town Records, 1801-1816, Vol. X (Worcester, Massachusetts: The Worcester Society of Antiquity, 1891), 337.
73. Laws and Ordinances of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty, of the City of Troy. Passed the Ninth Day of December, 1816 (Troy, New York: Parker and Bliss, 1816), 42.
74. “A Law relative to the Park, Battery, and Bowling-Green,” in Laws and Ordinances Ordained and Established by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of New York (New York: T. and J. Swords, 1817), 118.
75. Cooperstown, New York village ordinance, 13 June 1816, reprinted in the Cooperstown, New York Otsego Herald, n. 1107, 13 June 1816, 3.
76. Tom Heitz, conversations with the author, June and August, 1996.
77. Lois K. Stabler, ed., Very Poor and of a Lo Make: the Journal of Abner Sanger (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall, 1986), 416.
78. Levi Allen to Ira Allen, July 7, 1787, in John J. Duffy, ed., Ethan Allen and His Kin, Correspondence, 1772-1819, 2 vols. (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1998), v. 1, 244.
79. Frank H. Cunningham, Familiar Sketches of the Phillips Exeter Academy and Surroundings (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883), 281.
80. Albert Ware Paine, “Auto-Biography,” reprinted in Lydia Augusta Paine Carter, The Discovery of a Grandmother (Newtonville, Massachusetts: Henry H. Carter, 1920), 240.
81. Charles Haswell, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian 1816 to 1860 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1896), 77.
82. Samuel. L. Welch, Home History. Recollections of Buffalo during the Decade from 1830 to 1840, or Fifty Years Since (Buffalo, New York: Peter Paul and Brother, 1891), 353.
83. John Hamilton, “Some Reminiscences of Wilm’t’n and My Youthful Days –&c., &c.” Delaware History, v. 1, n. 2 (July 1946), 91.
84. Harold B. Hancock, ed., “William Morgan’s Autobiography and Diary [:] Life in Sussex County, 1780-1857,” Delaware History, v. 19, n. 1 (Spring-Summer 1980), 43-44.
85. Jonathan Mason, Jr., “Recollections of a Septuagenarian,” 3 vols., Downs Special Collections, Winterthur Library, Document 30, v. 1, 20-21.
86. Edmund Delaney, ed., Life in the Connecticut River Valley 1800-1840 from the Recollections of John Howard Redfield (Essex, Connecticut: Connecticut River Museum, 1988), 35. Italics in the original source.
87. John Drayton, A View of South-Carolina, As Respects Her Natural and Civil Concerns (Charleston, South Carolina: W. P. Young, 1802), 225.
88. Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston, Lately Published in the Charleston Courier, and Now Revised and Enlarged by the Author (Charleston, South Carolina: John Russell, 1854), 88.
89. [Ely Playter], “Extracts from Ely Playter’s Diary,” April 13, 1803, reprinted in Edith G. Firth, ed., The Town of York 1793-1815: A Collection of Documents of Early Toronto (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1962), 248.
90. New York Evening Post, n. 2867, September 20, 1811, 2.
91. G.M. Fairchild, Jr., ed., Journal of an American Prisoner at Fort Malden and Quebec in the War of 1812 (Quebec: pvt. ptg., 1090), no pagination.
92. [Benjamin Waterhouse], A Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts, Late a Surgeon on Board an American Privateer, Who Was Captured at Sea by the British, in May, Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen, and Was Confined First, at Melville Island, Halifax, then at Chatham, in England, and Last, at Dartmoor Prison (Boston: Rowe and Hooper, 1816), 186.
93. [Charles Andrews], The Prisoners’ Memoirs, or Dartmoor Prison (New York: pvt. ptg. 1815), 92.
94. “Journal of Nathaniel Pierce of Newburyport, Kept at Dartmoor Prison, 1814-1815,” Historical Collections of Essex Institute, v. 73, n. 1 (January 1937), 40.
95. [Andrews], The Prisoners’ Memoirs, or Dartmoor Prison, 110. In another memoir, prisoner Josiah Cobb referred to the ball being thrown over the wall by accident, something that happened somewhat frequently. [Cobb], A Green Hand’s First Cruise, Roughed Out from the Log-Book of Memory, of Twenty-Five Years Standing: Together with a Residence of Five Months in Dartmoor, 2 vols. (Boston: Otis, Broaders, and Company, 1841, v. 2, 213-214. For the testimony of other prisoners, see John Hunter Waddell, Dartmoor Massacre (Pittsfield, Massachusetts: Phinehas Allen, 1815), 6-21.
96. [Joseph Valpey, Jr.], Journal of Joseph Valpey, Jr. of Salem, November, 1813-April, 1815 (Detroit: Michigan Society of Colonial Wars, 1922), 60.
97. “The Judicial Report of the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison,” reprinted in John Melish, Description of Dartmoor Prison, with an Account of the Massacre of the Prisoners (Philadelphia: J. Bioren, 1816), 7.
98. [John Hunter Waddell], The Dartmoor Massacre (Boston?: pvt. ptg., 1815?), 5.
99. Harriet A. Weed, ed., Life of Thurlow Weed, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1883), v. 1, 203. That same year, residents of Hamden, New York placed a challenge in the Delhi, New York Gazette of July 12th to any men of Delaware County to form a team and play a baseball match See Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings, 1-2.
100. Samuel Hopkins Adams, Grandfather Stories (New York: Random House, 1955 ), 146-149.
101. Allen Guttmann, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), chapter 2, and Guttmann, A Whole New Ball Game: An Interpretation of American Sports (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 6.
102. Seymour, “How Baseball Began,” 376.
103. Lovett, Old Boston Boys, 125.
104. Adrian Stokes, “Psycho-analytic Reflections on the Development of Ball Games, Particularly Cricket,” The International Journal of Psycho-analysis, v. 37 (1956), 185-192.
105. Kenneth Patchen, “The Origin of Baseball,” in Patchen, Selected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1957), 15-16.
Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in the second of three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001. The first part was published yesterday at: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/01/28/a-place-leavel-enough-to-play-ball/.
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic (continued)
Thomas L. Altherr
It is unclear whether or not the Revolutionary War accelerated the familiarity of baseball in North America, as the Civil War clearly did eighty some years later. It would be useful to ascertain if prisoners-of-war taught their captors how to play the games and learned from each other during those incarcerations. Similarly, did officers play the games more often than enlisted men, or vice versa? Were the officers’ games more formalized than those of the troops? The sources indicate that both sets of soldiers played, but don’t make any detailed distinctions. What is discernible is that during the war, baseball-type games provided needed recreation for troops within a matrix of other sports. As Montague, Massachusetts farmer Joel Shepard recalled baseball at a bivouac near Albany, New York, late in the war, about 1782: “We passed muster and layed in Albany about six weeks and we fared tolerable well, and not much to doo, but each class had his amusement. The officers would bee a playing at Ball on the comon, their would be an other class piching quaits, an other set a wrestling, . . . “
Like the soldiers, students at the academies and colleges took a shine to the ball games. Students probably played the games, taking advantages of study breaks and lapses in college discipline to pour out onto the common for a match or two. The practice apparently could get quite rowdy. Some colleges attempted to ban the ball games because of potential property damage to windows and buildings. As early as 1764, Yale College tried to restrict hand and foot ball games. The statute, in Latin at first, and in later laws in English, read: “9. If any Scholar fhall play at Hand-Ball, or Foot-Ball, or Bowls in the College-Yard, or throw any Thing against [the] Colege by which the Glass may be endangerd, . . . he shall be punished six Pence, and make good the Damages.” Later renditions changed the monetary amount to eight cents and this restriction carried into the next century with little change. Dartmouth College followed suit with its own ordinance in 1780: “If any student shall play at ball or use any other diversion the College or Hall windows within 6 rods of either he shall be fined two shilling for the first offence 4 for the 2d and so no [on] at the discretion of the President or Tutors–”. In 1784, the University of Pennsylvania acknowledged that the yard was “intended for the exercise and recreation of the youth,” but forbid them to “play ball against any of the walls of the University, whilst the windows are open.” Williams College followed suit in 1805: ” . . . the students in the College and scholars in the Grammar School, shall not be permitted to play at ball, or use any other sport or diversion, in or near the College Edifice, by which the same may be exposed to injury.” Violations would result in fines and possibly dismissal. Bowdoin College added its own prohibition in 1817: “No Student shall, in or near any College building, play at ball, or use any sport or diversion, by which such building may be exposed to injury, on penalty of being fined not exceeding twenty cents, or of being suspended, if the offence be often repeated.”
Students continued to play, however, as Sidney Willard, son of Harvard president Joseph Willard, and himself later a Harvard professor, remembered in two passages in his 1855 memoirs. Referring to the campus Buttery of the 1760s, Willard wrote, “Besides eatables, everything necessary for a student was there sold, and articles used in the play-grounds, as bats, balls, &c.” Then recalling the campus play fields of the last decade of the century, he noted, “Here it was that we wrestled and ran, played at quoits, at cricket, and various games of bat and ball, whose names perhaps are obsolete, and leaped and jumped in rivalry.” Diarist John Rhea Smith recorded at least one baseball game at Princeton College in March, 1786: “A fine day, play baste ball in the campus but am beaten for I miss both catching and striking the ball.” Daniel Webster referred to “playing at ball” during his Dartmouth College years at the turn of the century. Baltimore poet Garrett Barry placed ball play in verse lament about college days, “On Leaving College”:
I’ll fondly trace, with fancy’s aid,
The spot where all our sports were made,
When in our gay…..our infant years,
While strangers yet to pain and tears,
When toil had “lent its turn to play,”
The little train forever gay,
With joy obey’d the pleasing call,
And nimbly urged the flying ball.
On April 11, 1824, Bowdoin College student and future poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote to his father, who was in Washington, about a surge in ball playing on the campus:
This has been a very sickly term in college. However, within the last week, the government, seeing that something must be done to induce the students to exercise, recommended a game of ball every now and then; which communicated such an impulse to our limbs and joints, that there is nothing now heard of, in our leisure hours, but ball, ball, ball. I cannot prophesy with any degree of accuracy concerning the continuance of this rage for play, but the effect is good, since there has been a thorough-going reformation from inactivity and torpitude.
Williams Latham played at Brown in the mid-1820s. On March 22, 1827, he declared, “We had a great play at ball to day noon.” But a couple of weeks later, on April 9, he was complaining about the quality of the play and pitching: “We this morning . . . have been playing ball, But I never have received so much pleasure from it as I have in Bridgewater They do not have more than 6 or 7 on a side, so that a great deal of time is spent runing after the ball, Neither do they throw so fair ball, They are affraid the fellow in the middle will hit it with his bat-stick.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. played at Harvard in 1829. Yale was not to be outdone, as a March, 1837 letter from student Josiah Dwight Whitney, later an eminent geologist in the American West, showed: “It is about the time now for playing ball, and the whole green is covered with students engaged in that fine game: for my part, I could never make a ball player. I can’t see where the ball is coming soon enough to put the ball-club in its way.” Anson Phelps Stokes, who also reprinted the letter in a book on Yale students, dismissed the game as “merely ‘one-old-cat’ or ‘two-old-cat’,” because he believed in the Doubleday origins story. But the game in which Whitney had such trouble placing the bat on the ball, a problem recognizable to us moderns, could have as easily been baseball. Older scholars may have had some interest in the game as well. Connecticut lexicographer and writer Noah Webster may have been referring to a baseball-type game when wrote his journal entry for March 24-25, 1788: “Take a long walk. Play at Nines at Mr Brandons. Very much indisposed.”
Indeed, the sabbath restrictions against ball playing were breaking down. In 1836, a Georgetown University student wrote to a friend, ” . . . the Catholics think it no harm to play Ball, Draughts or play the Fiddle and dance of a Sunday, . . . “ Such was the case apparently even in Rhode Island, according to James B. Angell: “[Sunday] was the day for visiting relatives and friends and largely for fishing and hunting and ball-playing. At least one minister played the game. In his diary, Rev. Thomas Robbins detailed his ball play and that of local boys, while a divinity student at Williams College and during his teaching days. “I exercise considerable, playing ball,” he wrote on April 22, 1796. In February and March, 1797, he noted that the Sheffield, Connecticut boys were playing ball, apparently “smartly” on one occasion. The April 24 entry recorded: “Play ball some. The spring as yet rather backward.” Three years later, at Danbury, Connecticut, on an unseasonably warm January day, Robbins remarked, “My boys play ball freely.” And right around Christmas that same year, in another warm spell, the boys were at it again. For December 27, Robbins wrote: “Boys play at ball till night without the least inconvenience.”
There was some dissent about the moral uses of the game. On August 19, 1785, Thomas Jefferson urged his nephew Peter Carr to avoid ball games and take up hunting as recreation. “Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind,” the future president counseled. Despite Jefferson’s opinion, however, children’s books continued to recommend or at least document baseball-type games for youths. Edgar and Jane, the protagonists of a British children’s book, published in Baltimore in 1806, The Children in the Wood, wandered into a British town where some children “were playing at trap and ball.” In an 1806 book of poems for children, Ann Gilbert described some sort of ball play as common on the village commons:
The Village Green
Then ascends the worsted ball;
High it rises in the air;
Or against the cottage wall,
Up and down it bounces there.
In a sequel volume published the next year, Gilbert included one warning boys about breaking windows during ball play:
MY good little fellow, don’t throw your ball there,
You’ll break neighbour’s windows I know;
On the end of the house there is room and to spare;
Go round, you can have a delightful game there,
Without fearing for where you may throw.
Harry thought he might safely continue his play,
With a little more care than before;
So, forgetful of all that his father could say,
As soon as he saw he was out of the way,
He resolved to have fifty throws more.
Already as far as to forty he rose,
And no mischief happen’d at all;
One more, and one more, he successfully throws,
But when, as he thought, just arriv’d at the close,
In popp’d his unfortunate ball.
Poor Harry stood frighten’d, and turning about,
Was gazing at what he had done;
As the ball had popp’d in, so neighbour popp’d out,
And with a good horsewhip he beat him about,
Till Harry repented his fun.
When little folks think they know better than great,
And what is forbidden them do;
We must always expect to see, sooner or late,
That such wise little fools have a similar fate,
And that one of the fifty goes through.
In an 1807 edition of The Prize for Youthful Obedience, a hermit who had been watching some children playing ball games approved of their play and promised “to provide bats, balls, &c.” at his next visit.” An 1802 volume, Youthful Sports, actually touted cricket as a sport superior to what it called “bat and ball”:
THIS play requires more strength than some boys possess, to manage the ball in a proper manner; it must therefore be left to the more robust lads, who are fitter for such athletic exercises. It must be allowed to be good diversion, and is of such note, that even men very frequently divert themselves with it. Bat and ball is an inferior kind of cricket, and more suitable for little children, who may safely play at it, if they will be careful not to break windows.
Two succeeding children’s recreation manuals in 1810 painted a rosier picture of trap ball. Youthful Amusements recommended it highly:
Without any exception, this is one of the most pleasing sports that youth can exercise themselves in. It strengthens the arms, exercises the legs, and adds pleasure to the mind. If every time the ball be bowled to the trap, the striker be permitted to guess the number of bat’s lengths from the trap, it greatly contributes to teach lads the rule of addition. And should he be so covetous as to overguess the distance, he will, as he deserves to do, forfeit his right to the bat, and give it to another playmate.
Youthful Recreations went even further, offering that it should be the right of every child to have an hour of recreation each day with sports, among bat and ball-type games: “To play with battledore and shuttlecock or with a trap and ball, is good exercise; and if we had it in our power to grant, not only to the children of the affluent, but even such of the poor as are impelled by necessity to pick cotton, card wool, to sit and spin or reel all day, should have at least one hour, morning and evening, for some youthful recreation; and if they could obtain neither battledore nor shuttlecock, trap, bat, nor ball, they should at least play at Hop-Scotch.” The next year, The Book of Games, a look at sports at a British academy, gave a ringing endorsement to trap ball and supplied the most detailed description of it in the period. Remarks on Children’s Play, in 1819, repeated the same comments of the 1810 Youthful Amusements book. By the time The Boy’s Own Book and Robin Carver’s The Book of Sports appeared in 1829 and 1834 respectively, with their descriptions of baseball, the game was probably quite familiar to the youth of the Early Republic.
Part Three, tomorrow.
38. John A. Spear, ed., “Joel Shepard Goes to the War,” New England Quarterly, v. 1, n. 3 (July 1928), 344.
39. Collegii Yalensis, Quod est Novo-Portus Connecticutensium, Statuta, a Præside et Sociis Sancita (New Haven, Connecticut: Benjamin Mecom, 1764), 9; and The Laws of Yale-College, in New-Haven, in Connecticut, Enacted by the President and Fellows (New Haven, Connecticut: Thomas and Samuel Green, 1774), 11.
40. Dartmouth College Laws and Regulations, 1780, Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections MS 782415.
41. RULES for the Good Government and Discipline of the SCHOOL in the UNIVERSITY of PENNSYLVANIA (Philadelphia: Francis Bailey, 1784).
42. The Laws of Williams College (Stockbridge, Massachusetts: H. Willard, 1805), 40.
43. “Of Misdemeanors and Criminal Offences,” in Laws of Bowdoin College (Hallowell, Maine: E. Goodale, 1817), 12.
44. Sidney Willard, Memories of Youth and Manhood, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Bartlett, 1855), v. 1, 31 and 316.
45. John Rhea Smith, 22 March 1786, in “Journal at Nassau Hall,” Princeton Library MSS, AM 12800. Smith’s use of “baste” instead of “base” is quite intriguing, suggesting a linguistic connection to striking the ball rather running to a base. Smith was quite literate and an excellent speller. An examination of the rest of his diary reveals no misspelled words. For more on Smith, see Ruth L. Woodward, “Diary at Nassau Hall: The Diary of John Rhea Smith, 1786,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, v. 46 , n. 3 (1985), 269-291 and v. 47, n. 1 (1985), 48-70.
46. Daniel Webster, Private Correspondence, Fletcher Webster, ed., 2 vols. (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1857), v. 1, 66. See also Vernon Bartlett, The Past of Pastimes (London: Chatto and Windus, 1969), 45.
47. Garrett Barry, “On Leaving College,” in Barry, Poems, On Several Occasions (Baltimore: Cole and I. Bonsal and John Vance and Company, 1807)
48. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Stephen Longfellow, April 11, 1824, in Samuel Longfellow, ed., Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with Extracts from His Journals and Correspondence, 2 vols. (Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1886), v. 1, 51.
49. Williams Latham, “The Diary of Williams Latham, 1823-1827″ (unpublished), quoted in Walter C. Bronson, The History of Brown University, 1764-1914 (Providence: Brown University, 1914), 245. James D’Wolf Lovett remembered that Boston boys in that era didn’t find the shortage of players so problematic. If his crowd couldn’t summon up enough players for town ball or baseball, the boys reverted to playing the simpler games of one old cat, two old cat, three old cat, or whatever configuration fit. Lovett, Old Boston Boys (Boston: Riverside Press, 1906), 127-128.
50. John A. Krout, Annals of American Sport (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1929), 115.
51. Josiah Dwight Whitney to his sister, Elizabeth Whitney, March, 1837, reprinted in Edwin Tenney Brewster, Life and Letters of Josiah Dwight Whitney (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1909), 20; and Anson Phelps Stokes, Memorials of Eminent Yale Men, 2 vols. (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1914), v. 2, 38.
52. [Noah Webster], “Diary,” reprinted in Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford, ed., Notes on the Life of Noah Webster, 2 vols. (New York: pvt. ptg., 1912), v. 1, 227.
53. Georgetown student letter, August 27, 1836, Georgetown University Library, quoted in Betty Spears and Richard Swanson, History of Sport and Physical Activity in the United States,
Second Ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown Company, 1983), 85.
54. James B. Angell, The Reminiscences of James Burrill Angell (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1912), 14.
55. Increase N. Tarbox, ed., Diary of Thomas Robbins, D.D. 1796-1854, 2 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1886, v. 1, 8, 29, 32, 106, and 128.
56. Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785, in Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 23 vols. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1953-), v.8, 407.
57. Clara English, The Children in the Wood, An Instructive Tale (Baltimore: Warner and Hanna, 1806), 29.
58. [Ann Gilbert], Original Poems, for Infant Minds, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Kimber, Conrad, and Company, 1806), v. 2, 120. Gilbert’s verse reappeared in several later editions and other children’s books, and in an 1840 pamphlet, The Village Green, or Sports of Youth (New Haven, Connecticut: S. Babcock), 5, with the word “worsted” changed to “favorite” and with an accompanying woodcut showing four boys playing baseball.
59. [Gilbert], Original Poems, for Infant Minds, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Kimber, Conrad, and Company, 1807), vol, 1, 88-89.
60. The Prize for Youthful Obedience (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1807), Part II, .
61. Youthful Sports, (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1802), 47-48.
62. Youthful Amusements (Philadelphia: Johnson and Warner, 1810), 37 and 40.
63. Youthful Recreations (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1810), no pagination.
64. The Book of Games; or, a History of the Juvenile Sports Practised at Kingston Academy (Philadelphia: Johnson and Warner, 1811), 15-20. The full text reads as follows:
WELL, young men, said the doctor, addressing himself to his two youngest sons, what think you of a game at trap-ball before you go to bed? there is plenty of time, and it is a fine evening for the purpose. Will you not, my dear Thomas, said he, turning to his new guest, accompany them; a little play will do you good after your long ride.
Thomas readily consented, and accompanied the boys into an field, adjoining the house.
“This is our play-place in fine weather,” said George Benson, “and a nice one it is. Well what is the game to-night? Trap-ball I believe my father proposed. Do you play at trap-ball, White?” “No,” replied White, “I know but little about it.”
George Benson. I suppose you know the rules of the game, however, and can join in our party. Who has got the trap?
James Benson. Here it is; but I think I had rather have a game at fives. If you and Price will play at trap-ball, and give White a lesson, Jackson and Seymore, and I, will go the high wall, and have a good game at fives.
George Benson. Very well. Away with you then, and I will hold you both, Price and White. Who has a half-penny, to toss up for the first innings? O, here is one; heads or tails? Tails did you say? Well then I have it, for it is heads. Now, are you ready?
Thomas White. What are we to do? I have forgot what little I have heard of the game; I never played at it but once.
George. Well then I will tell you; you know, of course, that when I hit the trigger, the ball flies up, and that I must then give it a good stroke with the bat. If I strike at the ball and miss my aim, or if, when I have struck it, either you or Price catch it before it has touched the ground, or if I hit the trigger more than twice, without striking the ball, I am out, and one of you take the bat, and come in, as it is called.
White. And we are to try to hit the trap, with the ball, are we not? and you will be out, as soon as we have done so? And do not you reckon one, every time we bowl without being able to hit the trap?
George. Yes, that is the way, we usually play: but I believe sometimes the person who is in, guesses how many bats length off the ball was stopped, and reckons as many as he guesses, if that is less than the real number; but if he guesses more than there really are, he is cast.
White. I do not clearly understand you.
George. Perhaps I do not clearly explain myself. Indeed I have never played the game in that manner: but Seymore says that they always did at the school he used to go to. Suppose now that I am in, and you bowl, and the ball stops there, just where I point, I guess that it is five times the length of the bat from the trap; if you think there are not so many, and order me to measure, should there be only four times, I am out; but if there should happen to be six or eight times, I may reckon them all though I had only guessed five. Now do you understand what I mean; though, it does not signify, as we play the other way?
White. I believe I do. What have you stuck those two sticks in the ground for?
George. To mark the bounds. You know the batsman is out if he does not strike the ball between them, or if it stops short of them; and he reckons one every time the other party miss the trap in throwing the ball. We have three innings a-piece, and he wins who gets most. But as you do not know so much of the game, and as Price is such a little fellow, I will play against you both. Now for it then; but I must take my coat off, for it is so hot. Now I am ready. There catch the ball, boys. Ay, you have missed it.
Price. I thought White would have caught it. Now I will bowl. Oh, it has not hit the trap.
White. Let me bowl this time. There you are out, I think, master George.
George. Upon my word, you bowl well. I am only one. It is your turn to go in now.
White took the bat, but as he was unused to the management of one, he held it very awkwardly, and struck repeatedly at the ball without being able to hit it. George, very good humouredly, shewed him the best method of holding the bat, and let him practise striking the ball several times before they continued their game. When they again began to play, White gave a noble stroke, and sent the ball to such a distance, that George could not, with all his strength, bowl it quite home; and Tom, with great pleasure, counted one.
But the next time he hit it so feebly, that George had no difficulty in bowling him out. It was then Price’s turn to come in, he also counted only one; for the next time, he drove it outside the boundary sticks.
“Ah, I shall beat you both, I dare say,” cried George, good humouredly taking the trap. “There, I think you will not bowl me out this time, White. You have indeed,” continued he, as he threw down the bat. “Why, how wonderfully you do bowl. You must have been used to that, I am sure.”
White. Yes, my father is fond of playing at bowls. We have got a bowling green, and I have often practised.
The peculiar skill which White possessed in bowling, made him a tolerable match for George Benson, and Tom felt no small degree of pleasure, when victory declared in favour of the two novices.
“You have won, I declare,” cried George, as he was bowled out by Thomas, after he had been twice in. “I did not expect to be beat by you, as you said you knew nothing of the game. Shall we go now and see what the fives players are about?”
65. Remarks on Children’s Play (New York: Samuel Wood and Sons, 1819), 32.
66. The Boy’s Own Book (Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1829), 18-19, and Robin Carver, The Book of Sports (Boston: Lily, Wait, Colman, and Holden). For a convenient reprinting of Carver’s section on “Base, or Goal Ball,” see Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings, 3.
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic
Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001.
In his second footnote below, Tom offers: “For a fuller sampling of documentary evidence, see Thomas L. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America: A Documentary History, Volume I, Parts I and II, Early American Sports to 1820 (Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, 1997). The research for that encyclopedia provided the impetus for this article, with the sincere hopes that other baseball historians and scholars will locate additional pre-1839 evidence of baseball and baseball-type games.” Tom has not only applauded the efforts of others, but has continued to blaze his own bright path. His other articles reprinted at Our Game are linked below.
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic
Thomas L. Altherr
In the spring of 1779, Henry Dearborn, a New Hampshire officer, was a member of the American expedition in north centralPennsylvania, heading northwards to attack the Iroquois tribal peoples. In his journal for April 3rd,Dearborn jotted down something quite different than the typical notations of military activities: “all the Officers of the Brigade turn’d out & Play’d a game at ball the first we have had this yeare.–” Two weeks later he entered something equally eye-catching. On April 17th, he wrote: “we are oblige’d to walk 4 miles to day to find a place leavel enough to play ball.” On the face of it, the two journal entries might not seem all that startling, but to baseball historians they should be sort of front-page news. For Henry Dearborn was one of several, if not more, soldiers who played baseball, or an early variant of it, during the Revolutionary War, a good sixty years before another military man, one Abner Doubleday allegedly invented the game in the sleepy east central New York village of Cooperstown.
Dearborn’s two notations, meager as they were, suggest that the game of ball they played was more than whimsical recreation. Tom Heitz, the longtime historian and librarian at the National Baseball Library at the Hall of Fame, has speculated that baseball-type games at this stage were like pulling a hacky-sack out of a backpack and kicking it around or playing frisbee on the college quad. But what if the game was more serious, more important than that? Indeed Dearborn’s writings warrant a second look. First, the earlier one reveals that the men were familiar with the game, having played it before, at least during some previous year. Moreover the remark hints that they were eager to play again, that the weather or other circumstances had delayed their “opening day,” if you will. The second entry also reflects on the place of the game in their lives. Any historian of the Revolution knows that average soldiers, and even some of the officers, despite their well-known heroism, grumbled about carrying out daily duties. In this case, however, the prospect of playing ball was so important that they hoofed it four miles, during a time when a good day’s march might have been fifteen miles, to locate a spot flat enough to get in the game. Clearly this game meant something more to Henry Dearborn and his assemblage.
Although most current Americans probably still believe in the “immaculate conception” theory of baseball’s origins, that one June day in 1839 in Elihu Phinney’s farm field in Cooperstown, Abner Doubleday drew up the rules, laid out the diamond, and taught the villagers his new game, Americans had been playing baseball and its variants long before then. In fact, bat and ball games are actually quite ancient and in spite of Albert Spalding’s fervid wishes, not even particularly American. In his 1947 book, Ball, Bat, and Bishop, Robert Henderson demolished the Cooperstown origins story by pointing to numerous examples of bat and ball-type games in medieval Europe and Great Britain before and during colonization of the Americas. Soon Denver historian Phil Goodstein will place another nail in the coffin with more evidence about the unreliability of the Mills Commission’s “star witness,” Abner Graves, whose unsavory connections in the West were many. Folklorist Erwin Mehl pushed the antiquity of baseball back even further than Henderson would. In a 1948 article, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” Mehl located evidence of ancient bat and ball games not only in western Europe, but also in North Africa, Asia Minor, India, Afghanistan, and northern Scandinavia. “The spectators at an American baseball game, cheering a Ty Cobb or a Babe Ruth, may have had counterparts in the Stone Age,” he surmised. The terminology for baseball may also be quite more ancient than expected. English vicar Robert Crowley, in his 1550s poem “The Scholar’s Lesson,” may have referred to baseball in his advice to pupils on the advantages of healthful recreation:
To shote, to bowle, or caste the barre,
To play tenise, or tosse the ball,
Or to rene base, like men of war,
Shal hurt thy study nought at al.
English professor Robert Moynihan has suggested other examples of the antic linguistic derivations of baseball terms dating to ancient, medieval, and Shakespearean times. Along with other fragmentary evidence such as a hieroglyphic scene of a bat and ball game in ancient Egypt, a 1344 French illustration of nuns and monks lined up for a ball game, a 1400s Flemish painting showing women playing a bat and ball game, eighteenth-century English diary writers’ references to the game, and mention of “baseball” in Jane Austen’s novel, Northanger Abbey, Henderson and Mehl’s writings make it clear that baseball existed long before and outside an American context. So, then, why not the probability of the existence of the game and its variants within the American context?
Problems of definition arise. As O. Paul Mockton pointed out in Pastimes in Time Past, “The very fact that so many early pastimes were all played with balls, causes great confusion, in attempting to investigate the history of these old games. Old historians were very loose in their descriptions of the way the different games were played in mediæval times.” Some of the “ball games” may have been actually soccer or a combination of foot-and-hand ball sports, but in the absence of firm proof, it is just as reasonable to assume that “ball play” among Euroamericans involved a stick and a ball. Indeed, in my research for an encyclopedia of pre-1820 North American primary source sports documents, I found that the sources made distinct references to football, cricket, bandy (a type of field hockey), and fives (a forerunner of modern handball) when they meant those sports. In a couple of instances they referred to “base,” “baste ball,” or “baseball,” leaving the possibility that the term “ball” or “to play ball” referred fairly regularly to baseball-type games.
Certainly Europeans, perhaps mostly the children, but probably even adult men and women, took a swing at a variety of pre-baseball folk games: stool ball, trap ball, catapult ball, which became one o’cat (and two o’cat, three o’cat, etc.), kit-cat, munchets, tip cat, round ball, sting ball, soak ball, burn ball, barn ball, rounders, town ball, and base, or baste, ball, and possibly others called whirl and chermany. Balls were easy to make out of rags and leather and wood and feathers, and bats were paddles or tree branches. Farm fields or the cozier confines of streets and alleys sufficed for the playing field. Bases were trees, chairs (hence “stool ball”), stones, and stakes. Rules were immensely flexible. For example, sources described trap ball as a “simple batting game,” in which a batter hit a ball resting on a stake, much like in modern T-ball, and fielders attempted to catch the ball in order to come to bat themselves, much as in the modern game of work-up. Yet other sources, namely children’s books in the 1810s, depicted trap ball as a much more elaborate game in which batters tried to outhit their opponents over a series of consecutive hits, guess the lengths of their opponent’s hits, or hit or pitch the ball into a special trap. The games then were mostly spontaneous. There were no long, grueling playing seasons nor extended tournaments. But the quality of spontaneity and irregularity did not signify whimsicality. The games held importance for the players and the community. These folk games fit into the interstices of work patterns, ceremonial days, and longer leisure stretches.
The first recorded instance of a baseball-type game in Anglo-America took place in 1621, in, of all places, Plymouth, Massachusetts, on, of all days, Christmas Day. Plymouth may have a spurious claim to being the starting place of “American” history, but it may have a solid claim on the start of baseball in the English colonies. The Separatists, as with many other English Reformation dissenters, did not celebrate Christmas, but rather saw it as just another day. Thus the governor, William Bradford, took a work crew out that morning. The non-Separatist English in the group begged off and Bradford relented, only to find them hard at play, playing stool ball among other sports. Bradford scolded them and recalled the episode in his journal:
One the day called Chrismasday, the Governor caled them out to worke, (as was used,) but the most of this new-company excused them selves and said it wente against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor tould them that if they made it a mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away the rest and left them; but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the barr, & some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports. So he went to them, and took away their implements, and tould them that if they made the keeping a mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in the streets. Since which time nothing has been atempted that way, at least openly.
Bradford and his successors may have had some success in curtailing ball games, but probably never totally suppressed them. The Dutch also played, according to Esther Singleton, in her book, Dutch New York, “all varieties of ball games” in New Netherlands. After the turn of the century, Boston magistrate Samuel Sewall reported games of “wicket” and made one tantalizing reference to trap ball in 1713: “The Rain-water grievously runs into my son Joseph’s Chamber from the N. Window above. As went out to the Barber’s I observ’d the water to run trickling down a great pace from the Coving. I went on the Roof, and found the Spout next Salter’s stop’d, but could not free it with my Stick. Boston went up, and found his pole too big, which I warn’d him of before; came down a Spit, and clear’d the Leaden-throat, by thrusting out a Trap-Ball that stuck there.” Caesar Rodeney, an East Dover, Delaware resident, mentioned playing trap ball, indeed quite well, twice in his journal for August, 1728. On August 24, he scribbled, “Hart and I & James Gordon went to a Trabbal [trap ball} Match In John Willsons old feild I out Plaid them all" and, a week later, he noted, "To Tim Harons: Where James Gordon & I Plaid at Trabbal against John Horon and Th Horon for an anker of Syder We woun We drunk our Syder." Clearly the British were familiar with these games, as evidenced in Irish doctor John Brickell’s comment about a bat and ball game that indigenous people in North Carolina were playing about 1737: “They [indigenous peoples] have another Game which is managed with a Battoon, and very much resembles our Trap-Ball; . . . “ It is tempting to wonder if this was a pre-contact game or the tribal people adapted it from early European Carolinians. Farther north, in Scarborough, Maine, and in later decades, indigenous people played against Euroamericans, according to town historian William Southgate: “The game of ‘base’ was a peculiar favorite with our young townsmen, and the friendly Indians, and the hard beach of ‘Garrison Cove’ afforded a fine ground for it.”
About midcentury, however, the frequency of references to baseball and baseball-type games increased. Three groups in particular, children’s book writers, soldiers, and students, seem to have made the most major contributions to spreading the game. In his study of sport in colonial and Revolutionary era New England, Bruce Daniels contended that ball sports gained less acceptance than other sports such as horseracing, but that due to “soldiers in the militia, mischievous adolescents, and the students at Harvard and Yale,” the games “were on the verge of legitimacy.” Daniels did not refer specifically to baseball and its variants, but mentioned wicket, bowling, shinny, fives, and football. Baseball-type games were definitely in the mix. Future Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush played so much that it caused him to lament all the time spent: “I have been ashemed likewise, in recollecting how much time I wasted when a boy in playing cat and fives….”
Indeed it was a children’s book that gave Americans their first American visual expression of the games of stool ball, baseball, and trap ball. A 1767 revised edition of a 1744 book, A Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly, featured engravings of scenes of boys playing each of the three games and appended the following moral verses below them:
THE Ball once struck with Art and Care,
And drove impetuous through the Air,
Swift round his Course the Gamester flies,
Or his Stool’s taken by Surprise.
RULE of LIFE
Bestow your Alms whene’er you see
An Object in Necessity.
THE Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy.
Thus Britons for Lucre
Fly over the Main;
But, with Pleasure transported,
Return back again.
TOUCH lightly the Trap,
And strike low the Ball;
Let none catch you out,
And you’ll beat them all.
Learn hence, my dear Boy,
To avoid ev’ry Snare,
Contriv’d to involve you
In Sorrow and Care.
It is impossible to gauge just what effect a children’s book had on the growth of baseball-type games, but by 1771 the province of New Hampshire felt compelled to prohibit boys and adolescents playing ball in the streets on Christmas Day for fear of damage to windows. The law, as opposed to William Bradford’s 1621 remonstrances in Plymouth, did not outlaw the game, but rather asked the players to remove to a safer location. Ball playing had apparently become an accepted Christmastide recreation. The New Hampshire law read as follows:
An Act to prevent and punish Disorders usually committed on the twenty-fifth Day of December, commonly called Christmas- Day, the Evening preceding and following said Day, and to prevent other Irregularities committed at other Times. WHEREAS as it often happens that many disorders are occasioned within the town of Portsmouth, . . . by boys and fellows playing with balls in the public streets: . . . And any boys playing with balls in any streets, whereby there is danger of breaking the windows of any building, public or private, may be ordered to remove to any place where there shall be no such danger.
Yet it would be inaccurate to assume that only children, lazy adults, and indigenous people played baseball-type games. Revolutionary War troops were apparently enthusiasts for ball, even walking for miles to find a place level enough to play, as did Henry Dearborn and his compatriots. The Revolutionary War contained, as do most, long stretches of boredom and busywork, camp duty and drill for the troops. They sought out recreation to alleviate this tedium. As long as a game did not involve gambling, which George Washington prohibited and prosecuted, or trample on public safety, soldiers could resort to such exercises. Presumably, as their diaries and memoirs show, baseball was in that category. The level of formality to the games was probably low.
Certainly there were no organized teams nor leagues, but the embryonic pattern for such may have lain behind what soldiers saw played and played themselves at Valley Forge, in the Wyoming valley of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.
The notations were often simple, as in the case of Sharon, Connecticut soldier Simeon Lyman, who recorded his ball playing in New London on September 6, 1775 quite tersely: “Wednesday the 6. We played ball all day.” Even a quick entry, however, is revealing in its information that they played all day. Similarly, Joseph Joslin, Jr., a South Killingly, Connecticut teamster, observed ball playing, on April 21, 1778, while carrying out his duties for the army: “I took care of my oxen & then I went to Capt grinnels after oats and for a load of goods and then S W Some cloudy and I See them play ball . . . “ In like manner, Samuel Shute, a New Jersey lieutenant, jotted down his reference to playing ball in central Pennsylvania sometime between July 9 and 22, 1779: ” . . ., until the 22nd, the time was spent in playing Shinny and Ball.” Incidentally Shute distinguished among various sports, referring elsewhere in his journal to “Bandy Wicket.” He did not confuse baseball with types of field hockey and cricket that the soldiers also played.
Other soldiers made several references to playing. For example, Lieutenant Ebenezer Elmer, a New Jersey officer, chronicled ball playing in New York state, in September, 1776 and in New Jersey, in May, 1777. On September 18, 1776, he wrote: ” . . . The Regiment exercised ‘fore and afternoon, and in the afternoon the Colonel, Parsons, and a number of us played whirl . . . ” Two days later the troops played again and Elmer suffered a jaw injury: “At 9 o’clock, A. M., the Regiment was paraded, and grounded their arms to clear the parade; after which we had a game or two more at whirl; at which Dr. Dunham gave me a severe blow on my mouth which cut my lip, and came near to dislocating my under jaw. . . . ” “In the afternoon again had exercise, . . . Played ball again.” A week later Elmer returned to the theme in his September 28 entry: “We had after exercise a considerable ball play–Colonel, Parsons and all. Parade again at 2 o’clock, but soon dismissed.” Two days later, the ball play resulted in a rhubarb: “The day was so bad and so much labor going on, that we had no exercise, but some ball play–at which some dispute arose among the officers, but was quelled without rising high.” The next spring, Elmer was playing ball again. His diary citation for May 14, 1777 noted: “Played ball, &c., till some time in the afternoon, when I walked up to Mr. DeCamp’s, where I tarried all night.”
Benjamin Gilbert played ball with about the same frequency. Gilbert, a Brookfield, Massachusetts sergeant who ironically settled later near Cooperstown, recounted ball playing in the lower Hudson River valley in the Aprils of 1778 and 1779. On April 28, 1778, he entered in his journal: “In the fore noon the Serjt went Down the hill and plaid Ball.” Two days later, duty hindered his desire to play: “In the Morning I went Down the Hill to play Ball and was Called up immediately to Gather watch coats.” The next April, however, found him hard at play. On April 5, 1779, he wrote: “Our Regt Mustered at 3 oClock after noon. After Muster went to the store and plaid Ball with serjt. Wheeler.” And the next day: “In the after noon the serjt. of our Regt. Went to the Comsy. store to play Ball.” A week later, on the 14th, Gilbert wrote about ball again: “Fair and Clear. In the afternoon we went to the Comissary Store and Plaid Ball.” Three years later, on April 7, 1782, Gilbert noted once again: plaid at Ball severely.” Whatever “severely” meant is anyone’s guess; it may have been a misspelling for “severally.”
Indeed baseball is associated with the heights of patriotism in the war. In 1778, at Valley Forge, after that terrible winter of deprivation, George Ewing, a New Jersey ensign, recorded that the troops played baseball. In what might have been the first written use of the term “base” in North America, Ewing wrote that April: “Attested to my Muster Rolls and delivered them to the Muster Master excersisd in the afternoon in the intervals playd at base . . . “ Even the commander of the whole Continental Army apparently had a penchant for throwing the old horsehide around. Commenting on George Washington’s character while observing him at camp at Fishkill in September, 1779, the newly-arrived secretary to the French legation, François, Comte de Barbé-Marbois, wrote, “To-day he sometimes throws and catches a ball for whole hours with his aides-de-camp.”
The patriots, however, did not have a monopoly on baseball; even loyalists played. Enos Stevens, a Charlestown, New Hampshire loyalist lieutenant serving near New Utrecht on Long Island, mentioned baseball several times in his journal. On May 2, 1778 he penned: “at hom all day play ball sum.” On May 31: “Lords dy. I omit puting down every dy when their is nothing meteriel happens good weather for ball Play.” Apparently Stevens saw ball play, even when the Sabbath prevented it, as more important than “nothing meteriel.” On June 2: “fine plesent weather play ball.” On June 5th: “play ball” And on June 8: “play ball in afternoon.” The next May 3, he recorded “in the after noon [illegible words] play ball.” And in 1781, he returned to the game. On March 22, the entry read: “in the after noon played Wickett.” And a week later, Stevens wrote “playd ball.”
Some of the soldiers and officers observed ball playing while they were prisoners-of-war. Lieutenant Jabez Fitch, a Connecticut officer, witnessed ball playing during his imprisonment in the New York city area in March and April, 1777. On March 14, he wrote: “In the Morning Lt: Blackleach made us a short Visit; this forenoon I went with Capt: Bissell down to Capt: Wells’s Quarters where I procured some paper &c; on our way we lit of a number of our Offrs: who were Zealously Engaged at playing Ball, with whom we staid some time; We came home to our Quarters at about one.” The next day the scene was much the same: “This Forenoon Col. Hart & Majr: Wells came to our Quarters, & we went with them down Street as far as Johanes Lotts, where there was a large number of our Offrs: collected, & spent some Time at playing Ball.” About a month later, on April 12th, Fitch again saw the officers at play: “Toward Night I took a walk with Lt: Brewster down as far as Capt: Johnsons Quarters, where there was a number of our Offrs: Assembled for playing Ball; I came home a little after Sunset.” Some Americans watched or played the game while imprisoned in England. Charles Herbert, a Newburyport, Massachusetts sailor, thus referred to ball playing as a prisoner-of-war in Plymouth, England on April 2, 1777: “Warm, and something pleasant, and the yard begins to be dry again, so that we can return to our former sports; these are ball and quoits, which exercise we make use of to circulate our blood and keep us from things that are worse.” Jonathan Haskins, a Connecticut surgeon who was also in an English prison, witnessed one of the odder occurrences of a baseball-type game. On May 23, 1778, a game of ball took an odd and potentially deadly twist. Haskins wrote in his journal for that day: “23rd. This forenoon as some of the prisoners was playing ball, it by chance happened to lodge in the eave spout. One climbed up to take the ball out, and a sentry without the wall seeing him, fired at him, but did no harm.” Note that it was the prisoners, that is, the Americans who were playing the ball game, not their colonial overlords.
Perhaps the most intriguing evidence about soldiers playing during the Revolution came from the memoirs of Samuel Dewees, a Pennsylvania captain, who in 1781 and 1782 was a teenager guarding the British prisoners-of-war at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Dewees recalled that the Convention Army officers had a passion for ball playing:
These officers were full of cash, and frolicked and gamed much. One amusement in which they indulged much, was playing at ball. A Ball-Alley was fitted up at the Court-House, where some of them were to be seen at almost all hours of the day. When I could beg or buy a couple of old stockings, or two or three old stocking-feet, I would set to work and make a ball. After winding the yarn into a ball, I went to a skin-dressers and got a piece of white leather, with which I covered it. When finished, I carried it to the British officers, who would ‘jump at it’ at a quarter of a dollar. Whilst they remained at Lancaster, I made many balls in this way, and sold them to the British officers, and always received a quarter a-piece.
Dewees’s passage is remarkable for a number of reasons. It suggested that ball playing was quite common and an activity that players could invest with a passionate intensity. Second, skill in making balls was also apparently commonplace, as a fifteen-year-old boy easily knew how to fashion them. And it is astonishing to find out that players were playing with white leather balls as early as 1781 or 1782! Dewees also recorded a brouhaha among the officers during a ball game: “Whilst the game of ball was coming off one day at the Court House, an American officer and a British officer, who were among the spectators, became embroiled in a dispute.”
Part Two, tomorrow.
1. Lloyd A. Brown and Howard H. Peckham, eds., Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn 1775-1783, (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1969 ), 149-150.
2. Baseball historians have generally neglected or glossed over the pre-1845 period of baseball history, giving great emphasis to the developments of the New York Knickerbockers. Dean A. Sullivan, in Early Innings, did provide a few examples of pre-1845 baseball activities, but even that barely suggests the older lineage and frequency of baseball and baseball-type games. See Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995). For a fuller sampling of documentary evidence, see Thomas L. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America: A Documentary History, Volume I, Parts I and II, Early American Sports to 1820 (Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, 1997). The research for that encyclopedia provided the impetus for this article, with the sincere hopes that other baseball historians and scholars will locate additional pre-1839 evidence of baseball and baseball-type games.
3. Tom Heitz, conversations with the author, June and August, 1996.
4. Robert W. Henderson, Ball, Bat, and Bishop (New York: Rockport Press, 1947).
5. Goodstein, a Denver historian who is not particularly a baseball scholar, has uncovered evidence of Graves’ involvement in financial misdealings and shooting a spouse, as well as committals for mental illness, in years prior to his testimony for the Mills Commission. The Mills Commission also ignored testimony that baseball existed before 1839, especially a letter from a man who had played the game in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as a school child in 1830. See also “Origins of Baseball” in Jonathan Fraser Light, ed., The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1997), 530; Harold Seymour, “How Baseball Began,” New York Historical Society Quarterly, v. 40, n. 1 (October 1956), 369-385; and Uriel Simri’s little-known dissertation, “The Religious and Magical Function of Ball Games in Various Cultures,” West Virginia University, 1966.
6. Erwin Mehl, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” Western Folklore, v. 7, n. 2 (April 1948), 145-161 (quotation is from page 161), and Mehl, “Notes on ‘Baseball in the Stone Age’,” Western Folklore, v. 8, n. 2 (April 1949), 152-156.
7. Robert Crowley, “The Scholars Lesson,” in J. M. Cowper, ed., The Select Works of Robert Crowley (London: N. Trubner and Company, 1872), 73.
8. Robert Moynihan, “Shakespeare at Bat, Euclid on the Field,” in Alvin L. Hall, ed., Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and the American Culture (1989) (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler Publishing Company, 1991), 319-323.
9. See Mark Alvarez, The Old Ball Game (Alexandria, Virginia: Redefiniton, 1992), 10-12. See also “Origins of Baseball,” in Light, ed., The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, 528-531.
10. O. Paul Monckton, Pastimes in Times Past (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1913), 52.
11. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America.
12. Ron MCulloch, How Baseball Began (Los Angeles: Warwick Publishing Company, 1995), 4 and 6; and Per Maigaard, “Battingball Games,” Genus, v. 5, n 1-2 (December 1941), 67. An 1866 book on outdoor games also refers to a game called “ball-stock,” which is German in origin and resembles town ball. There is no way of ascertaining, however, from the book, if the game existed before 1839. The Play Ground; or, Out-Door Games for Boys (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1866), 112-113.
13. McCulloch, How Baseball Began, 3. Ann McGovern, in a book targeted for adolescents, If You Lived in Colonial Times (New York: Scholastic Incorporated, 1992 ), stated on page 52, without documentation, “Most of all, boys liked to play ball. They played with a leather ball filled with feathers.”
14. Mehl, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” 147.
15. For an excellent discussion of the place and role of folk games and sports in pre-colonial and colonial English culture, see Nancy Struna, People of Prowess: Sport, Leisure, and Labor in Early Anglo-America (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1996), passim, but especially chapter 1.
16. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harvey Wish, ed. (New York: Capricorn Books, 1962), 82-83.
17. Esther Singleton, Dutch New York (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1909), 290.
18. M. Halsey Thomas, ed., The Diary of Samuel Sewall 1674-1729, Volume II: 1709-1729 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973), 718.
19. Harold B. Hancock, ed., “‘Fare Weather and Good Helth’: The Journal of Caesar Rodeney, 1727-1729,” Delaware History, v. 10. n. 1 (April 1962), 64.
20. John Brickell, The Natural History of North-Carolina (Dublin: James Carson, 1737), 336.
21. William S. Southgate, “The History of Scarborough, from 1633 to 1783,” Collections of the Maine Historical Society, v. 3 (Portland, Maine: Maine Historical Society, 1853), 148-149.
22. Bruce C. Daniels, Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 174.
23. Benjamin Rush to Benjamin Rush Floyd, April 21, 1812, in Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., “Further Letters of Benjamin Rush,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, v. 78, n. 1 (January 1954), 43.
24. A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Amusement and Instruction of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly (London: J. Newbery, 1767), 88, 90, and 91.
25. “An Act to prevent and punish Disorders usually committed on the twenty-fifth Day of December,….,” 23 December 1771, New Hampshire (Colony) Temporary Laws, 1773 (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, [1773-1774]), 53.
26. [Simeon Lyman], “Journal of Simeon Lyman of Sharon Aug. 10 to Dec. 28, 1775,” in ”Orderly Book and Journals Kept by Connecticut Men While Taking Part in the American Revolution 1775-1778,” Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, v. 7 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1899), 117.
27. [Joseph Joslin, Jr.], “Journal of Joseph Joslin Jr. of South Killingly A Teamster in the Continental Service March 1777–August 1778,” in “Orderly Book and Journals Kept by Connecticut Men While Taking part in the American Revolution 1775-1778,” Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, v. 7 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1899), 353-354.
28. [Samuel Shute], “Journal of Lt. Samuel Shute,” in Frederick Cook, ed., Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, reprint of 1885 ed.), 268.
29. [Ebenezer Elmer], “Journal of Lieutenant Ebenezer Elmer, of the Third Regiment of New Jersey Troops in the Continental Service,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, v. 1, n. 1 (1848), 26, 27, 30, and 31, and v. 3, n. 2 (1848), 98.
30. Rebecca D. Symmes, ed., A Citizen-Soldier in the American Revolution: The Diary of Benjamin Gilbert in Massachusetts and New York, (Cooperstown, New York: New York State Historical Association, 1980), 30 and 49; and “Benjamin Gilbert Diaries 1782-1786,” G372, New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, New York.
31. [George Ewing], The Military Journal of George Ewing (1754-1824) a Soldier of Valley Forge (Yonkers, New York: Thomas Ewing, 1928), 35.
32. Eugene Parker Chase, ed., Our Revolutionary Forefathers: The Letters of François, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois during His Residence in the United States as Secretary of the French Legation 1779-1785 (New York: Duffield and Company, 1929), 114.
33. Charles Knowlton Bolton, ed., “A Fragment of the Diary of Lieutenant Enos Stevens, Tory, 1777-1778,” New England Quarterly, v. 11, n. 2 (June 1938), 384-385, but the original, more accurate journal, from which the above notations come, is at the Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, Vermont.
34. William H. W. Sabine, ed., The New-York Diary of Lieutenant Jabez Fitch of the 17th (Connecticut) Regiment from August 22, 1776 to December 15,1777 (New York: pvt. ptg., 1954), 126, 127, and 162.
35. [Charles Herbert], A Relic of the Revolution, Containing a Full and Particular Account of the Sufferings and Privations of All the American Prisoners Captured on the High Seas, and Carried into Plymouth, England, During the Revolution of 1776 (Boston: Charles H. Peirce, 1847), 109.
36. Marion S. Coan, ed., “A Revolutionary Prison Diary[:] The Journal of Dr. Jonathan Haskins,” New England Quarterly, v. 17, n. 2 (June 1944), 308.
37. John Smith Hanna, ed., A History of the Life and Services of Captain Samuel Dewees, A Native of Pennsylvania, and Soldier of the Revolutionary and Last Wars, (Baltimore: Robert Neilson, 1844), 265 and 266.
As promised in my previous post, “Did African American Slaves Play Baseball?” (http://goo.gl/W8lFq), I learned a lot about the long-gone holiday of Pinkster (mourned by oldtimers of the 1840s), and particularly ball play at this time among the slave population, North and South. Caveat lector: if you care only for history as it relates to baseball, you might be well advised to proceed no further.
Robert Henderson opened his classic Ball, Bat and Bishop with these words: “It is the purpose of this book to show that all modern games played with bat and ball descend from one common source: an ancient fertility rite observed by Priest–Kings in the Egypt of the Pyramids.” Moving forward some three millennia, he added:
The testimony of Beleth and Durandus, both eminently qualified witnesses, clearly indicates that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the ball had found a place for itself in the Easter celebrations of the Church.” In fact, Beleth and Durandus had both opposed the practice, seeing it as the intrusion of pagan rites into church rites. “There are some Churches in which it is customary for the Bishops and Archbishops to play in the monasteries with those under them, even to stoop to the game of ball” [Beleth, 1165]. “In certain places in our country, prelates play games with their own clerics on Easter in the cloisters, or in the Episcopal Palaces, even so far as to descend to the game of ball” [Durandus, 1286].
What does this have to with bat and ball and the fertility rites of spring, you ask? Not to put too fine a point on it, but the bat and ball are symbolic male and female forms. Like the dance (ballet) and the ballad, the game of ball (all derived from ballare, the Greek for ball), was regarded as sublimated sex. The Oxford English Dictionary records usages of the word “game” to mean amorous sport or lechery as early as 1230; to illustrate a perhaps more familiar instance, Shakespeare wrote, in Troilus and Cressida in 1606, “Set them downe For sluttish spoyles of opportunitie; and daughters of the game.” In recent memory, a television advertiser touted its hair coloring product as a way for graying men to “get back in the game.” Early prohibitions, especially against games involving bats or balls, tended to the extreme: in England ca. 1635, Richard Allen’s preaching at Ditcheat convinced a parishioner that “a maypole was an idol, and setting up of him [!] was idolatrie” and that ‘it was a greater sin for a man to play at Bowles on the Sabboath daie, then [sic] to lie with another mans wiffe on a weeke daie.” In this context, I invite you to think of ball play–even baseball–at Pinkster as a longing for freedom.
The Pentecostal Dutch holiday of Pinkster (Pinksterfeest or Pinxter, a sort of azalea flower) was celebrated on the day after Whitsunday (seven weeks after Easter, and thus the gateway to summer). In New York City Pinkster Monday was celebrated in City Hall Park and at Chatham Square, but in Albany it was a week-long Saturnalian revel for slaves of the prominent old Dutch households. In 1800 Gorham A. Worth wrote: “Albany was indeed Dutch, in all its moods and tenses; thoroughly and inveterately Dutch. The buildings were Dutch – Dutch in style, in position, attitude and aspect. The people were Dutch, the horses were Dutch, and even the dogs were Dutch.” This, from “A Glimpse of an Old Dutch Town,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1881:
New-Year’s Day was devoted to the universal interchange of visits. Every door was thrown wide open, and a warm welcome extended to friend and stranger. It was a breach of etiquette to omit any acquaintance in these annual calls, when old friendships were renewed, and family differences amicably settled. And here came the famous New-Year cake. The Paas eggs were the feature of Easter. The Pinkster festivities commenced on the Monday after Whitsunday, and now began the fun for the negroes, for Pinkster was the carnival of the African race. The venerable “King of the Blacks” was “Charley of Pinkster Hill,” so called because he was the principal actor in the festivities. [Pinkster Hill was another name for Albany's Capitol Hill.] Charles originally came from Africa, having in his infancy been brought from Angolo, in the Guinea Gulf; and when but a boy he became the purchased slave of one of the most ancient and respectable merchant princes of the olden time, Volckert P. Douw, of Wolvenhoeck. Charles’s costume as king was that of a British brigadier—ample broadcloth scarlet coat, with wide flaps, almost reaching to his heels, and gayly ornamented everywhere with broad tracings of bright gold-lace. His small-clothes were of yellow buckskin, fresh and new, with stockings blue, and burnished silver buckles to his well-blacked shoe. And when we add the three-cornered cocked hat, trimmed also with gold-lace, and which so gracefully sat upon his noble globular pate, we complete this rude sketch of the Pinkster king.
Both he and his followers were covered with Pinkster blummies—the wild azalea, or swamp-apple. The procession started from “young massa’s house” (82 State Street; where now stands the large seedstore of Knickerbocker and Price), and went up State Street to Bleecker Hill, on the crown of which was the Bleecker Burying-ground. In front of the king always marched Dick Simpson and Pete Halenbeck, the latter the Beau Brummel of his time. The last parade was in 1822. The king died two years later. During Pinkster–day the negroes made merry with games and feasting, all paying homage to the king, who was held in awe and reverence as an African prince. In the evening there was a grand dance, led by Charles and some sable beauty, to the music of Pete Halenbeck’s fiddle.
On the day following Pinkster (Pentecost or Whitmanday) the Negroes of Albany held revels on Pinkster Hill, the approximate site of the present State Capitol. Gradually the celebration extended far into the week until in April of 1811, the Common Council of Albany passed rules aimed at “boisterous rioting and drunkenness”—rules which were the knell of the Pinkster holidays with their African folk dances and beating on the Guinea Drum, as it was called in the Albany Centinel of June 17, 1803:
a log of about four feet in length, and twelve or fourteen feet in diameter, burnt out at one end … and covered with a sheep skin. On this one thumps with his fists a kind of barbarous ill composed, or uncomposed, air, which is accompanied with a harsh sort of grunting , a bawling and mumbling, which on any other occasion than Pinkster, would disgrace a savage.
While clucking about the savagery of the slave celebrations to come, the writer attests to a poignant truth. “This reminds the citizens,” the Centinel continued, “of the approaching anniversary, wakes into anxious expectation juvenile curiosity, and kindles the latent spark of love for his native country and native dance, in the bosom of the African. In the mean time, preparations are going forward on the [Pinkster] hill, which the ensuing week is to become the theatre of action.”
Also from 1803, an Albany pamphlet offered an ode “Most Respectfully Dedicated To CAROLUS AFRICANUS, REX: Thus Rendered in English: KING CHARLES, Capital-General and Commander in Chief of the
A Pinkster Song
When leave the fig tree putteth out,
When calves and lambs for mothers cry,
When toads begin to hop about,
We know of truth that summer’s nigh.
So after Pos [Pas, or Easter] when hens do cluck,
When gawky goblins peep and feed,
And boys get fewer eggs to suck,
We know that Pinkster comes indeed. [...]
Rise then, each son of Pinkster, rise,
Snatch fleeting pleasure as it flies.
See Nature spreads her carpet gay,
For you to dance your care away.
“Care! what have we with care to do?
“Masters! Care was made for you.
“Behold rich free-men-see dull care
“Oft make their bodies lean and spare. [...]
Ill-omen’d stars! malignant shone,
When Demons dragg’d thee from thy throne!
Afric with all her gold was poor,
When thou vast wafted from her shore.
Ah! when will Heaven, in justice drest,
Avenge the wrongs of the opprest!
Or will Heaven’s Lord in vengeance swear,
Tyrants shall never enter there!
But-hush-now Charles the King harangues,
A hundred fiddles cease their twangs.
“Harken, ye sons of Ham, to me;
“This day our Bosses make us free;
“Now all the common on the hill,
“Is ours, to do what e’er we will.
“And let us by our conduct show,
“We thank them as we ought to do.
“While Demo hot and fiery Fed,
“Boast who for freedom most have bled;
“Let us, each woman, man and boy,
“Strive, who call freedom most enjoy;
“While on hot politics they sup,
“And mostly drink a bitter cup;
“Let us with grateful hearts agree
“Not to abuse our liberty.
“Tho’ lordlings proud may domineer,
“And at our humble revelsjeer,
“Tho’ torn from friends beyond the waves,
“Tho’ fate has doom’d us to be slaves,
“Yet on this day, let’s taste and see
“How sweet a thing is Liberty,
“What tho’ for freedom we may sigh
“Many long years until we die,
“Yet nobly let us still endure
“The ills and wrongs we cannot cure.
“Tho’ hard and humble be our lot,
“The rich man’s spleen we envy not.
“While we have health, whence pleasure springs,
“And peace to purchase fiddle-strings,
“Let’s with united voice agree
“To hail this happy jubilee.
“Behold for as green lawns are spread
“O’er graves of British heroes dead.
“Behold for us the vernal field,
“A thousand blooming pleasures yield.
“Zephyrs which play on bosoms fair,
“Will wonton on our woolly hair;
“While every bird on every tree,
“Proclaims our happy jubilee:
“Let us be jovial be as they,
“All on this holy holiday.”
Thus spake King Charles, when all the crowd,
Roused full strong, long and loud,
And thank’d kind Heaven on bended knee,
For this, their short-lived liberty. [...]
As we near the date of issuance of Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee report, capping nearly two years of digging and gathering, we have, it appears, come a bit closer to answering the question posed in the title of this post. Master sleuths of early ball play have provided us with references to ball play by African Americans in bondage, but without clear evidence as to whether baseball was one of the games they played. Randall Brown and Dale Somers offered instances of antebellum baseball play by freedmen; Tom Altherr uncovered early citations for slave ball play. But only recently has a report emerged, at last, of slaves playing baseball—and it was not in the South, but in New York State in about 1820.
First, some background. In the most recent issue of the journal Base Ball, Bruce Allardice published a fine article on the prevalence of baseball in the South prior to the Civil War, supplying a nice corrective to the hoary myth that Northern soldiers introduced their Confederate counterparts to the game. As to African Americans in the South, Allardice offered:
According to Dale Somers [in The Rise of Sports in New Orleans, 1850–1900, citing the New Orleans Picayune of Dec. 21, 1869], black employees of the elite Pickwick and Boston Clubs of New Orleans formed baseball teams in the late 1860s, and took as team names the names of the social clubs they worked for. The Pickwick played the (white) Lone Star club in late 1869, perhaps the first interracial game in Southern baseball history. These and other teams played regularly throughout the 1870s and 1880s, often against white teams. Blacks in Atlanta had already formed a club in 1867. A newspaper reported that the “negroes of Atlanta” had formed a club “dressed in red pants and sky-blue jackets.” In Houston, Texas, in 1868 a “colored” team, the oddly named Six Shooter Jims, challenged other “colored” teams in Texas to match games.
Thanks largely to Tom Altherr, the Early Baseball Milestones section of MLB’s Memory Lab site (http://mlb.mlb.com/memorylab/chronology/index.jsp?sub_section=africanamericans) contains citations of African American ballplay as early as 1773: “We present as a growing Evil, the frequent assembling of Negroes in the Town [Beaufort, SC] on Sundays, and playing games of Trap-ball and Fives, which is not taken proper notice of by Magistrates, Constables, and other Parish Officers.” Tom Gilbert and Altherr noted that in the North-Carolina Minerva of March 11, 1797, a punishment of 15 lashes was specified for “negroes, that shall make a noise or assemble in a riotous manner in any of the streets [of Fayetteville] on the Sabbath day; or that may be seen playing ball on that day.”
In the 1850s schoolteacher Emily Burke observed, in Pleasure and Pain: Reminiscences of Georgia in the 1840s:
The slaves had finished the tasks that had been assigned to them in the morning and were now enjoying holiday recreations. Some were trundling the hoop, some were playing ball, some were dancing at the sound of the fiddle . . . In this manner the Sabbath is usually spent on a Southern plantation.
We have this, from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (Boston, 1845):
My term of actual service to Mr. Edward Covey ended on Christmas Day, 1833. The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day are allowed as holidays, and accordingly we were not required to perform any labor more than to feed and take care of the stock. This time we regarded as our own, by the grace of our masters, and we therefore used or abused it nearly as we pleased. Those of us who had families at a distance were generally allowed to spend the whole six days in their society. This time, however, was spent in various ways. The sober, staid, thinking, and industrious of our number would employ themselves in making corn brooms, mats, horse collars, and baskets; and another class of us would spend the time in hunting opossums, hares, and coons. But by far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as ball playing, wrestling, running foot races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whiskey: and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters. A slave who would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them. It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas.
Randall Brown, in Blood and Base Ball (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/29/blood-and-base-ball-part-2/), provided proof of freedmen in Brooklyn forming baseball clubs as early as 1858, with the pioneer “Unknown Base Ball Club” contesting with the Henson Club of Jamaica in the following year.
Despite these wonderful finds, however, we still had nothing connecting slaves with a game that they—or we, as students of the early game—could term baseball. By this we mean, simply, a game of bat and ball played with bases that must be traversed in the round to score a run. The existence of foul territory, the number of outs to the inning, the number of men to the side—these are all niceties of the evolving game but they do not define it. Baseball was played at Princeton College in 1786, at Pittsfield, MA in 1791, in New York City in 1823, in Philadelphia in 1831—no matter that the playing rules associated with each of these dates are largely unknown and are certain to have differed.
Last year Randall Brown shared with me a fantastic bit of news that I might have been expected to have found first, inasmuch as the source was the Daily Freeman, an extant paper of Kingston, NY, my residence until just two years ago. Not only did the Freeman, in its issue of August 19, 1881, reference early African American baseball (New York was, in 1827, one of the last of the Northern states to abolish slavery), but at a site just a stone’s throw from my offices. The headline read:
A Colored Resident. Henry Rosecranse Columbus, Jr. Some Incidents in the Life of an Old Resident of Kingston. Born a Slave, He Lives to Become Wealthy and an Example to His Race.
This fellow was born in 1804, according to the Freeman; or 1801, according to the Federal Census. While I will offer up, in my next post, a bit more about African Americans’ ball play and their largely vanished Spring holiday of Pinkster (the Monday after Whitsunday), here is the startling interview:
Few men perhaps in their station of life have been more widely known in this county than Henry Rosecranse Columbus Jr., the colored barber of John street. Mr. Rosecranse was born a slave in the year 1804, in the Kingston Hotel building on Crown street, then known as the “Coffee House,” the proprietor of which was Levi Johnston, and he has proved himself during his life to be one of the best examples to the colored men who have lived during the present century, and he has a record for honesty and uprightness in dealing that few men can boast of. He has shown that a man even of a humble station of life can win his way by steady application to his trade and attending to his own business, and become the owner of lands and money in “goodly quantity.”
His barber shop on John street is little changed from what it was nearly half a century ago, and the furniture and pictures smack of times long gone by. Ancient portraits of battles of the Mexican war and the revolution hang upon the wall; quaint pictures of New York city are seen, and General Scott stands with soldierly bearing by the side of his horse in a big frame, while John Morrissey hangs over the doorway as he appeared when he was a young man and fought with Sullivan. An engraving of Samsonville as it appeared when owned by General Samson in his prosperous days, with High Point in close proximity, can also be seen. In one part of the room is an old advertisement of charges, made undoubtedly when the shop was in its palmy days.
Mr. Rosecranse only keeps his shop open nowadays in order to have something to occupy his time so he will not get rusty. A few old customers still visit him and talk over old days, while he is taking off an itching beard or trimming down a shaggy coat of hair, but there are men in prosperous condition living in other counties, and some in the far West, who, whenever they visit the city always call on Mr. Rosecranse to shake hands with him and bring again to recollection circumstances that transpired forty or fifty years ago, and find out how this man or that woman is, whether dead or living, and in what circumstances they might have been, for Mr. Rosecranse carries a sort of statistical record in his head of half the families of the county, and in genealogy, he is considered equal to the big family Bible.
Mr. Rosecranse’s father was Thomas Rosecranse, and he was named after him, while the “Columbus” was added as a sort of affix to denote that he was once a servant of the Tappen family, one of whom bore that name. The mother of Mr. Rosecranse was a slave of the mother of Peter Masten, and was afterwards bought by George Tappen. She lived for years with one of the most aristocratic families in Kingston, and in her day waited upon many great men, among them being “Matty” Van Buren, as he was familiarly called, who often came here visiting.
When a boy Mr. Rosecranse worked for Levi Johnson, who then kept the hotel on Crown street, and went with him to New York city when he moved there. Returning in a couple of years, he worked for Jonathan Ostrander, father of James E. Ostrander, who lived in the old stone house on Green street, now known as the Industrial Home.
Soon after this Mr. Rosecranse started to learn his trade of barbering with Thomas Harley, a colored man, a famous barber in his day, father of Hanson G. Harley, who now runs the barber shop on Fair street. Thomas Harley at that time had a shop in the hotel known as the Folter place, afterward called the Ulster County House, and which stood on the site of the present Argus building. In two years he had learned the trade sufficiently to accept a position as barber and waiter with Pardee, then proprietor of the present Kingston Hotel on Crown street.
Reporter—“When did you take your position at Pardee’s?
Mr. Rosecranse—“Well, it was at the time of the big snow storm, you remember that, don’t you?” The reporter said, “O, no, I guess not; I have no recollection of that time.” Mr. Rosecranse continued, saying, “It was over forty years ago. It was a big snow storm, the biggest we ever had. The streets were blocked with snow so the men had to be called out to break the way, and I remember helping shovel the snow away from the house of the lady who afterwards married William H. Romeyn, Esq.
Mr. Rosecranse inquired of the reporter if he remembered the accident that happened while firing cannon on the death of Governor Clinton [in 1812].
Reporter—“Yes, I have heard of it, but give us the circumstances.”
“There was several of them firing the cannon; one held his finger over the vent, and while Henry Ray was ramming in the charge and Gilbert Dillon and Jesse Hamilton were near to him, the man who held the vent must have taken his finger off, for it went off, and it blew Ray all to pieces, so we had to look around and pick his bones up. Gilbert Dillon was lamed for life, and Jesse Hamilton was cut across the face and carries the scar to this day.” The accident occurred on Wall street opposite the Young property.
Mr. Rosecranse evidently believes in the good times of a half a century ago. He said, “We used to have a great deal better time than that you do now. We didn’t have a big city with lamps and curb stones and paved walks, and had to go round through the mud, but we had more holidays. There was the Pinkster holiday, the Great Holiday for the colored men. They used to meet at Black Horse Tavern (the building still stands on the lower end of Wall street) and shoot for turkeys. Then the colored men raced horses on Peter Sharpe’s lane. They used to come a great many of them with horses of their bosses, and run them. (This lane was where Albany avenue now runs, and the race ground was from Kiefer’s to the lane that runs in to the house of William M. Hayes). The bosses used to come and bet on the horses, and they had a great deal of fun. After the races they used to play ball for egg nog.”
Reporter—“Was it base ball as now played?”
Mr. Rosecranse—“Something like it, only the ball wasn’t near so hard, and we used to have much more fun playing.” He further said a great game of those days was wicket.
He remembered general training days, and was full of anecdotes of the officers and others who were prominent on such occasions. He said they used to train sometimes in one place and sometimes another, and the different regiments wore different uniforms, each having its own particular colored uniform.
Mr. Rosecranse during his life has worked steadily at his trade, and has amassed quite a fortune, owning a number of buildings on John street, besides other evidences of wealth. He is hale and hearty, carrying his three score and seventeen years so lightly that another twenty years seemingly would hardly make him appear older than other men at sixty.
Here is something of a cheat sheet to learning about baseball’s beginnings. The linked selections below are those of Larry McCray, a member of Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee and the founder of the invaluable Protoball project. Larry was also the editor of the special origins number of the journal Base Ball, source of most of the articles linked below.
With this last of the articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period that appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball., a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. The article below, by yours truly, is a truncated version of a story told in my 2011 book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden.
This and the other articles from Base Ball appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones; for example, the article below, indexed as 1843.6, reflects that it is the sixth entry for the year 1853.
Item 1843.6, Magnolia Ball Club Predates Knickerbocker
NEW YORK MAGNOLIA BALL CLUB – Vive la Knickerbocker. – A meeting of the members of the above club will take place this (Thursday) afternoon, 2nd instant, at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken [N.J.]. It is earnestly requested that every member will be present, willing and eager to do his duty. Play will commence precisely as one o’clock. Chowder at 4 o’clock.
Among the organized groups that played baseball before the Knickerbockers were the Gotham, New York, Eagle, Brooklyn, Olympic, and Magnolia clubs. The last named came into view only recently, as a ball club composed not of white-collar sorts with shorter workdays and gentlemanly airs but sporting-life characters, from ward heelers to billiard-room operators and bigamists. Why did the game’s earliest writers forget to include this club in its histories? One might venture to guess that the Magnolias were too unseemly a bunch to have been covered by a fig leaf, so they were simply written out of the Genesis story.
In 2007, rummaging through the classified advertisement section of the New York Herald of November 2, 1843, looking for who knows what, I was astonished to find a notice for a baseball club unrecorded in the annals of the game. Moreover, the notice made clear that this city-based club played its games across the North River at the Elysian Fields, almost two full years before the formation of the “pioneer” Knickerbockers and their lease of playing grounds at Hoboken. That diminutive ad, which also ran in the New York Sun, read in full:
NEW YORK MAGNOLIA BALL CLUB – Vive la Knickerbocker. – A meeting of the members of the above club will take place this (Thursday) afternoon, 2nd instant, at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken. It is earnestly requested that every member will be present, willing and eager to do his duty. Play will commence precisely at one o’clock. Chowder at 4 o’clock.
JOHN McKIBBIN, Jr., President.
JOSEPH CARLISLE, Vice President
ANDREW LESTER, Sec.
The coding at the bottom signaled that the ad was to appear one time only (1t), with that occasion being game day, November 2 (n2). While this may strike modern eyes as a late month for a baseball game, the baseball season of this era typically ran to the very end of November, in part because August, with its fevers and contagions, was regarded as unsuitable for exertion. The mention of chowder signaled the almost sacramental union of those assembled, their like minds symbolized by their partaking of food from a single pot. The chowder was a fixture of political rallies, too; the city’s first target company (archery or rifle), arising from the butcher stalls at the west-side Washington Market, was the Washington Market Chowder Club of 1818. “Chowder was the national soup,” wrote Herbert Asbury, “and in those times chowder was to be more eaten than drunk, for it was not the anaemic liquid which now sloshes so despairingly in restaurant bowls, but a thick and substantial mixture, compounded of eels, fish, clams, lobster, chicken, duck, and all kinds of tempting ingredients. No social function was complete without a great dish of chowder….”
Of the officers named in the ad, the Irish-born president, 29-year-old John McKibbin Jr., was a U.S. inspector—a patronage position perhaps obtained through the good offices of his father, who in an aldermanic stroke of fortune in 1835 had been named the city’s first Superintendent of Pavements. Seven years after calling the Magnolia Ball Club to muster and chowder, the younger McKibbin found himself a resident of Sing Sing, convicted of bigamy.
The vice president and actual leader of the club, Joseph Carlisle, was the 26-year-old proprietor of the Magnolia Lunch and Saloon at 74 Chambers Street, corner of Broadway, offering “the best of Wines, Liquors, Segars, and every other requisite.” Why was this northern eatery named for a flower symbolic of the South? Perhaps to signal to the sporting crowd that this was a “full-service” house of the sort pleasing to Southerners in New York on business, and to the gamblers who left New Orleans after it banned gambling in 1835. The Magnolia Lunch advertised in New Orleans as well as in New York.
In the rampant sporting culture of the day, Carlisle was an up-and-comer who went on to run, in addition to the Magnolia Lunch, the Fountain at 167 Walker Street near the Bowery, the Ivy Green in Hoboken, and an unnamed sporting house at 89 Centre Street opposite the Tombs, the city’s Egyptianate prison, where all the while he double-dipped as a jailer. The Magnolia Ball Club secretary, Andrew Lester, was a 27-year-old billiard-room proprietor and Tammany Democrat, linked with Isaiah Rynders’ Empire Club, the pugilistic arm of the party (which gave its name to the Empire Base Ball Club in 1854), enforcing discipline on the rank and file and striking fear into undecided voters.
All three Magnolia officers had impeccable working-class, sporting, ruffian, and political associations of the sort that historians have until now presumed to emerge only with the unruly Brooklyn clubs of the mid-1850s, notably the Atlantics. Indeed, the Magnolia Ball Club was precisely the sort of poison for which the gentlemanly Knickerbocker Base Ball Club was created as an antidote…two years later.
As soon as I saw the Magnolia Ball Club ad in the Herald I recalled that some months earlier, historian David Block had pointed me to a puzzling image, one he thought might be suitable to illustrate a scholarly journal article on town ball. Offered as Lot 1600 in a Leland’s auction of December 2002, the item was described as a
signed copper plate engraving of the quality of paper money. The card itself is a heavy stock with a silver mirror finish. This invitation to the “1st Annual Ball of the Magnolia Ball Club” measures 5 x 3.25 [inches]. The image is magnificent. It shows the plantation like Magnolia Club with its main building and a yacht flying the “M” flag. …Magnolia is an area in southern New Jersey and the site of many stately plantations not unlike the one graphically illustrated we see pictured here.
In a Eureka moment, I realized that I knew for certain what that plantation-like building was. It was the Colonnade, at the Elysian Fields, also known as the Colonnade Hotel or McCarty’s Hotel, whose proprietor provided the Knickerbockers and other clubs of the 1840s with many a lavish dinner, either after their exertions on the ball field or in a season-ending banquet.
Engraver William Fairthorne may have been a member of the Magnolia Ball Club; we are unlikely ever to know. The verisimilitude of his art might make one think so; he was, as far as may be claimed at this writing, the first man ever to have depicted men playing ball; and if we may judge by the textual record of the early game, he appears to have gotten things largely right. (Of course the vignette could not display all the features of the game, and thus does not address plugging, or the existence of foul ground.)
The auction-house description erred in calling the Magnolia card an invitation. It was in fact, as further digging in the Herald revealed, a ticket—providing admission to a ball that would be held on February 8, 1844. It cost a dollar and, given its enamel-coated card stock and its commissioned rather than stock imagery, was intended to be saved as a memento of the event. The baseball scene on the card reveals three bases with stakes, eight men in the field, a pitcher with an underarm delivery, possibly base-stealing, and a top-hatted waiter bearing a tray of refreshments from the Colonnade. Some of the members of the “in” side are arrayed behind a long table; others are seated upon it. The pitcher delivers the ball. A runner heads from first to second base. This is, from all appearances, the original Knickerbocker game, and that of the New York Base Ball Club, and that of the Gothams of the 1830s (shortstop was a position not manned until 1849–1850).
This ticket is the first depiction of men playing baseball in America, and it may also be, depending upon one’s taxonomic convictions, the first baseball card. It is also the earliest visual artifact of the New York Game of baseball. But the greater significance of the card is the new understanding that its underlying story affords of how baseball really began in New York, what spin the workingman’s culture of that day may have imparted to baseball’s growth, and why the story may have been kept under wraps all these years.
1. Associated with this ball club is an engraved invitation to its first annual ball, which has the first depiction of men playing baseball, and shows underhand pitching and stakes for bases. New York Herald (classified ads section): Nov. 2, 1843. For much more on the find and its implications: thornpricks.blogspot.com/2007/11/really-good-find-more-magnolia-blossoms.html.
2. Asbury, H. 1930. Ye Olde Fire Laddies (p. 103).Thornton, R. 1912. An American Glossary: Being an Attempt to Illustrate Certain Americanisms, Etc. (Vol. 1) (p. 173). As to the Washington Market Chowder Club, see “The Military Spirit in New York—The Target Companies on Thanksgiving Day,” New York Weekly Herald: Dec. 14, 1850, p. 397; also, The Subterranean: Oct. 25, 1845, p. 2 (“Three different parties of whole-souled fellows are going to express their gratitude to Heaven for its manifold blessings, to-morrow, by playing ball and eating chowder.”).
3. 1850 Federal census and Subterranean: Dec. 20, 1845; classified ad for 1845 Holiday Ball of the “Original Empire Club,” at Tammany Hall, Tuesday, Dec. 30.
4. When Carlisle and partner Silas Chickering purchased the saloon in 1842 they advertised this fact, suggestively, in the New Orleans Daily Picayune of July 16: “New York Advertisement. MAGNOLIA LUNCH. CHICKERING & CARLISLE beg leave to inform their New Orleans and other friends that they have purchased that old and favorite resort of Southerners, The Magnolia Lunch, on the corner of Chambers street and Broadway, where they will be always ready to furnish them with every delicacy which the New York market affords. N.B. handsomely furnished private rooms for parties.”
6. Classified advertisement, Feb. 6–8, 1844, New York Herald. The addescribes the actual event for which the Magnolia card provided admission. It read: “THE FIRST ANNUAL BALLof the New York Magnolia Ball Club will take place at National Hall, Canal st. on Friday evening, Feb. 9th, inst. The Club pledge themselves that no expense or exertions shall be spared to render this (their first) Ball worthy the patronage of their friends. The Ball Room will be splendidly decorated with the insignia of the Club. Brown’s celebrated Band is engaged for the occasion. Tickets $1, to be had of the undersigned, and at the bar of National Hall. JOSEPH CARLISLE, Chairman. PETER H. GRAHAM, Secretary. f6 4t*cc.” That Carlisle would be the ball’s chairman comes as no surprise, but the new name appearing above, that of Peter H. Graham, may point to a fresh area of inquiry. Speeding eight years forward, we come across three notices in the Herald about the reorganization of the Unionist Whigs, no longer known as the Knickerbockers. Silas Chickering, Carlisle’s partner in the Magnolia Lunch, is cited as a former president of the group and the two secretaries are Peter H. Graham and…Louis F. Wadsworth, the formidable first baseman and mysterious outcast from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.
I’m in Nashville this week for Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, but wanted to toss at least one post up before my return home and the resumption of a regular schedule. Seeing so many fresh faces at the job fair I thought about their high hopes upon their recent graduations from college.
A baseball match between Amherst and Williams, at a neutral site in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on July 1, 1859, is the first collegiate baseball game. It was played on a lot in front of the Young Ladies Institute by Massachusetts Game rules, which is by no means a disqualifier, as that game was indeed baseball. The first collegiate ball game under New York rules occurred several months later on November 3, when the Rose Hill Baseball Club of Fordham, which was then called St. John’s College, defeated St. Francis Xavier College 33-11.
A surviving broadside, an “extra edition” of the “Amherst Express,” gave more or less equal treatment to the game of baseball on July and chess on the following day: “Muscle and Mind.” The Pittsfield Sun of July 7, 1859 reported:
THE BALL AND CHESS GAMES BETWEEN THE STUDENTS OF AMHERST AND WILLIAMS COLLEGES–The match games of Ball and Chess between Amherst and Williams Colleges, which had been talked about for some time, came off in this town last week–the Ball game on Friday and the Chess game on Saturday. The weather on Friday being delightful, a large number of ladies and gentlemen were gathered on the grounds, east of the Maplewood Institute, to witness the exciting affair. From Amherst there were present but few students except the players and chess champions, the authorities of the College not having granted a holiday to the students generally, but from Williams, where the Faculty were more liberal, nearly all the students were in attendance, and some of them were accompanied by ladies from Williamstown. The field when the friendly contest took place, reminded us of what “General Training” was in vogue. The game commenced at about 11 A.M., and was not concluded until past 3 P.M.
The players were as follows:–On the part of Williams–H.S. Anderson, Captain; Players, H.F.C. Nichols, R.E. Beecher, John E. Bush, J.H. Knox, S.W. Pratt, 2d., A.J. Quick, B.F. Hastings, J.L. Mitchell, C.E. Simmons, G.P. Blagden, H.B. Fitch, G.A. Parker; Umpire, C.R. Taft.
On the part of Amherst–J.F. Claflin, Captain; Players, E.W. Pierce, S.J. Storrs, F.E. Tower, M.B. Cushman, J.A. Evans, E.M. Fenn, H.D. Hyde (thrower–one of the best we have ever seen), J.A. Leach, II., H.C. Roome, H. Gridley, J.L. Pratt, P. Thompson; Umpire, L.R. Smith; Recorder of Score, A. Maddock.
William R. Plunkett, Esq., President of the Pittsfield Club, was chosen arbiter or referee, and it is somewhat remarkable, that his services were required to decide every point, the Umpires not being able to agree upon any question proposed for their decision.
It is due to the students of Williams to say, that previous to the reception of the challenge from Amherst, there was no organized Ball club at that institution, while at Amherst there has long been a famous Club.
Amherst had the first innings, and 25 rounds were played and recorded. The results of each player and each club appear in the following table; the Amherst players winning a victory with a score twice that of their rivals [73 to 32]….
At the close of the contest the Pittsfield Base Ball Club gave a dinner to the two College Clubs at the U.S. Hotel, Mr. Henton having provided an excellent Dinner for the occasion. Toasts and speeches followed the repast, and all who participated had “a glorious time,” as we are assured.
The match game of Chess was played on Saturday, and occupied from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., resulting in the triumph of Amherst. At the 49th move Williams resigned, and Amherst was pronounced the winner. A large number of amateurs were present in an adjoining room.
The names of the Amherst players were–Messrs. J.F. Claflin, A. Maddock and A.G. Biscoe; Umpire, F.A. Williams. Williams–Messrs. E.E.K. Royce, E.S. Bowsterr, Henry Anstice; Umpire, E.B. Parsons. Referee, Geo. B. Hunt of Canaan, Ct.
A centennial reenactment of this game took place in May 1959, and a sesquicentennial game was played in May 2009. Here is a detailed account of the contest by Lauriston Bullard in Baseball Magazine from 1915:
THE score was: Amherst, 73, and Williams, 32. The game was played at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, July 1, 1859. There were 26 innings. When the winning team got back to their college town they found that their fellow-students had tired of waiting and gone to bed without learning the result of the contest. But they speedily climbed out of bed again; they rang bells and built bonfires, and spent a good part of the night cheering the victorious players. The next day when the team came home they were driven through the streets and made the target of congratulatory speeches on the campus by the members of the faculty. A large banner was borne before them with the score and the balls which had been used in the game.
Those balls are now hanging in the Amherst College trophy room, with this inscription: ”The veritable balls used in the first game of intercollegiate baseball ever played, July 1, 1859. Amherst vs. Williams, won by Amherst.”
But why is not the score included in the inscription? Is it possible that a total of 105 runs in four hours of ball playing is not held to be quite creditable these days? Such a score would not look well, surely, in a Harvard-Yale or a Williams-Amherst game to-day, nor in a game between two teams of knickerbockered youngsters from the primary schools.
Baseball was an infant game 50 years ago, if these players were not infants. Queer balls they were that figured in that game. Each team furnished one. The Williams ball was about seven inches in circumference; it weighed about two ounces, and it was covered with leather of a light color, so that the batters might have no difficulty in seeing it. The Amherst ball was a little heavier, but a trifle smaller; it was made by a North Brookfield man, and was considered a work of art.
There were 13 men on a side, also, in that game. The challenge was sent by Amherst some weeks in advance of the date finally adopted for the match. The rules were adopted after rather prolonged negotiations between representatives of the two colleges. These delegates met for conference, and at last adjusted their debatable questions by mail. It was settled that each party should use its own ball, that the ball must always be caught on the fly, and that the limit of the game should be understood to be 65 runs by one party or the other. It seems to have been a contest whose limit was to be the time required for one college to get that large number of runs, not a stipulated number of innings.
But neither college had a regular ball team in those days. The men who did the playing were “chosen by ballot from the students at large.” Nothing was known of the present trying-out system, by which a team is selected by a coach and a baseball committee, nor was there any daily practice in the colleges half a century ago. One strange fact is that all Williams College, including the faculty, was present at Pittsfield to see the game, while Amherst sent only the players and substitutes—17 men in all. Pittsfield had a baseball club at that time and a baseball ground and when the hour for the game, which was 11 o’clock in the morning, arrived all Williamstown seemed to be there, old men and young, girls and their mothers and grandmothers, the proprietors of female schools and their
pupils, and they stood five and six deep all around the big field. There was no such thing as rooting in that primitive era, but there was as much enthusiasm to the square inch as ever gets loose at a big game in this advanced age.
The teams are said to have presented what would be an amusing spectacle today. There was a little attempt at likeness of dress. The Williams men were dressed in a sort of uniform and wore belts with the college name. But the Amherst fellows were distinguished only
by a blue ribbon worn on the breast.
This is the order in which the teams batted that day[at left, below]. Amherst’s “thrower”—so they called the pitcher—was Hyde, and there were stories afloat on the field that he “was a professional blacksmith who had been hired for the occasion.” One bystander is reported to have said that he must have been a strong-armed blacksmith, for “nobody else could possibly throw for three and a half hours as this man did.”
Amherst went to bat first. At the end of the second round the score stood 9 to 1 in favor of Williams. The Williams spectators yelled and clapped and cheered somewhat after the style of the present-day concerted college yell. Amherst fought desperately and evened things up at the end of the third round. When the fourth was finished Amherst was ahead and stayed in the lead throughout the remainder of that long game. How long a game it must have been one can understand when he figures out the number of hair-raising innings a first-class club might reel off in almost four hours of steady playing nowadays. The spectators were keyed to high tension through the whole of that time, although it is said that Amherst was the better in all departments of the game. Every man played as if the reputation of the college rested on his work. There was no kicking, every decision of the umpires being accepted without protest.
There were some queer rules and terms in that historic game. A man could be put out between bases by spotting him with the ball. The batter could knock the ball in any direction, so there were “side strikes” and “back knocks.” No gloves were worn and, of course, there were no masks or chest protectors.
The great thing that counted for Amherst is said to have been the perfect discipline of the team. It seems that every Amherst player had bound himself to obey every command of the captain, whatever the result might be. It is stated that the Amherst captain governed his men with great skill and that his team made only six errors. The Amherst catching was good, for no balls “were allowed to pass the catcher which were within reach and very few were allowed to drop which he touched. He missed but one ticked ball in the whole game, which was a remarkable feat when the striking was as quick and strong as that of Williams.”
Of the Amherst men who had part in that game there are now living but two besides their umpire. Marshal Cushman is in Washington in the Patent Office. F. E. Tower is a clergyman in Poughkeepsie, N. Y. The umpire, L. R. Smith, was at one time an Alabama judge and
later a United States senator. Amherst’s pitcher was for a long time a Boston lawyer and became an influential benefactor and trustee of his college. The captain, J. T. Claflin, was once president of Tougaloo University.
Thoreau’s Diary Entry, and Other Tiny Clues as to Who Played Early Ball, and on What Occasions (Especially Holidays)
The article below, by Larry McCray, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball for which Larry served as guest editor. He is the founder of the invaluable Protoball Project, a website where many of the early game’s top scholars have shared their finds. He is also a panelist on Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee, which I chair.
His article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1830c.2, reflects that it is the first entry for the approximate year 1830. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
Item 1830c.2, Thoreau’s Diary Entry, and Other Tiny Clues as to Who Played Early Ball, and on What Occasions (Especially Holidays)
April 10. Thursday. Fast Day. . . . I associate this day, when I can remember it, with games of base-ball played over beyond the hills in the russet fields toward Sleepy Hollow, where the snow was just melted and dried up.
Henry David Thoreau’s 1856 journal entry is typical of the quality of evidence that is available to those of us who want to understand the evolution of American ballplaying. It is clear enough that the Bard of Walden remembers seeing ballgames played in the past, and that he linked such games with Fast Day, a religious observance in New England from the late 17th century to the late 19th century. The specific years he is recollecting (our guess is c. 1830, when Thoreau was in his teens), the age range of the players, and the rules of the games he saw, are wide open to speculation. It is a dim but tantalizing glimpse of the full story of ballplaying in eastern Massachusetts six generations ago.
But such skimpy anecdotes are all we have, and if we wish to form, or to verify, general notions about baseball’s early evolution, they will have to do, for now. Among the interesting scholarly generalizations that one may encounter are these two:
1. Prior to the Knickerbockers, American ballplaying was largely confined to children.
2. Because of the lack of leisure time, a lot of the ballplaying occurred either in schoolyards, on holidays, or at social occasions, like barn-raisings.
This essay entails an attempt to test these two conjectures against the evidence for the period 1770–1830 as compiled in version 11 of the Protoball Chronology.
The Protoball Chronology now contains over 200 fairly specific references to ballplaying from 1770–1830, including the Thoreau journal entry. Most of these appear to refer to games included in the “baseball family,” but about one-quarter of them describe cricket and wicket play. Well over half of these “baseball” accountsdo not specify the name of the actual game played, but employ terms like “playing at ball” and “a game of ball,” and we need to remember that such terms may possibly have denoted ballgames that are outside the baseball family.
For about 150 of the references to baseball-type games, it is possible to form an educated opinion as to whether the games’ players were juveniles (preteens), youths (early/mid-teens), or adults.
We find that while over one-third of these accounts involved adult play, and about one-third involved youths, far fewer than one-third involved younger children. For the first half of this period (1770–1800) adult ballplaying actually accounts for about one-half the total of US ballplaying references, owing to the frequency of accounts of military play during the Revolutionary War.
While there will be interesting region-to-region variation that readers may wish to investigate further, the body of evidence that researchers have contributed to Protoball, inexact as it might be, seems hard to square with the traditional idea that adult play was rare before 1845 and the rise of the New York game.
The settings for early US ballplaying
Thoreau’s account is clearly an instance of holiday play. Many other Protoball entries refer to play in schools and colleges. Some appear to refer to what we might today call ordinary local pickup games, where the venue might be a street, open area, or town common.
For about one-half of the collected references, neither the occasion nor the venue for play is indicated. However, that leaves about 100 of the 1770–1830 references to baseball-type games for which one can determine the game’s setting, as tabulated below:
US Ballplaying References, 1770–1830, for Which the Setting Can Be Inferred
|Age Group||Local Play
Source: Version 11, Protoball Chronology
Caveat: For many references, the setting is inferred from context, but is not explicit in available text.
Reminding the reader that this exercise is nothing like an exact science, and merely uses the available heap of anecdotal accounts collected through 2010, we can see some possible patterns that may be worth further consideration:
- Adult play in US towns, and in military settings, was not rare.
- Holiday play is found, but is not particularly frequent.
- Special social events were not common ballplaying venues.
- Ballplaying at colleges was fairly common before 1830.
Holiday play to 1830 and beyond
About one reference in ten was to holiday play—but which holidays were closely associated with baseball in the pre-professional era? The full Chronology, which extends through 1862, includes more than thirty entries that, like Thoreau’s, mention holiday play.
The holiday that appears to have the strongest association with ballplaying is Fast Day, the New England tradition. The earliest of the 14 references to Fast Day play appears in an autobiography covering the 1820s, which slyly reports that although Fast Day ballplaying was then unlawful under Connecticut code, certain “wicked boys” would find a secluded place to play anyway. An 1883 history of Phillips Exeter Academy observes that “old residents will readily recall with what regularity Fast Day used to be devoted to the base ball of the period.” In one Massachusetts town, separate games were traditionally organized for boys and for men. In 1862, two Civil War regiments from Massachusetts made a point on Fast Day of playing ball in their Maryland and Virginia camps. As reflected in Thoreau’s observation that snow had recently covered the playing area, multiple accounts state that Fast Day, an April observance, was really a celebration of “opening day” for local ballplayers, as it marked the first time that year that the local Common was open to ballplaying.
July Fourth and political holidays account for 10 ballplaying references. In 1861, The Clipper reported that all the local clubs were active to mark the national birthday, “that day, like Thanksgiving, being a ball playing day.” Thirty-five years earlier, celebrants in little Troy, Michigan had marked the county’s 50th birthday with “A fusillade, patriotic readings, a dinner of pork and beans . . . and a game of base-ball.”Election Day was associated with “the old annual ball game” in Barre, Massachusetts in the 1840s, and even earlier, communities in Western Massachusetts would arrange town vs. town matches of wicket.
In some areas, Thanksgiving seems to have marked the end of the playing season. In 1855, “every vacant field on the out skirts [of New York] was filled with Base Ball clubs on that ‘raw and cold’ Thanksgiving Day, and the Continental and Putnam clubs pledged to play a special day-long match to 63 aces (“let’s play three?”). In New Bedford, it was reported that 1,000 spectators watched the season-closing game, and ceremonies, on Thanksgiving Day of 1858.
But in at least five years we know of, November still wasn’t the end of ballplaying. In Plymouth, Mass., in 1621, in New Hampshire in 1771, in Mystic, Conn., in 1816, in New York in 1851, and in South Carolina in 1862, balls were flying on Christmas Day.
4. While American use of the term “baste-ball” dates back to 1786, and “base-ball” to the Pittsfield prohibition of 1791, through the year 1830 we have only five confirmed contemporary uses of such labels in our knowledge base. That is why we must rely on accounts that use other, more general, phrasings for the type of ballplaying that is described.
5. In general, these references are consistent with what we would consider ordinary pickup games, but it is of course possible that their actual setting (e.g., college, holiday celebration) was simply omitted from the account. Five of the accounts in this category indicate that such games were regular local occurrences.
6. Holidays that were occasions for ballplaying in these 11 Protoball entries were Sundays, Fast Day, July 4, Christmas, Election Day, and the celebration of a new session of the Connecticut Legislature. A compilation of 33 entries though 1862 citing holiday play is found at: retrosheet.org/Protoball/Sub.Holidays.htm
7. The two cases of social settings were a church-raising get-together (Protoball 1820.24) and play at “base” as advertised by a New York tavern (Protoball 1821.5; see also Hershberger essay 1821.5 in this journal).
11. See Protoball 1840s.30.
12. See Protoball 1862.14 and 1862.19.
13. See Protoball 1861.6.
14. See Protoball 1826.2.
15. See Protoball 1845.22 and 1820s.25.
16. See Protoball 1855.28. They only made it through 12 innings, and to a 36–31 score.
17. See Protoball 1858.45.
The article below, by Harry Lewis, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Lewis, a former Dean of Harvard College, has traced the history of college sports from the colonial days in his book on American higher education, Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education (Perseus/Public Affairs, 2006).
His article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1781.2, reflects that it is the second entry for the year 1781. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see:
Item 1781.2, Protoball at Harvard: from Pastime to Contest
The Freshmen shall furnish Batts, Balls, and FootBalls, for the use of the students, to be kept at the Buttery.
Early Harvard records refer more often to football than to baseball and its forebears. What early Harvard baseball references exist, however, illuminate the story of college sports.
Certain kinds of athletic activity were never discouraged at Harvard, even in Puritan times. One Harvard father advised his son in 1670, “Recreate your Self a little, and so to your work afresh,” as long as the recreation be “not violent.” Starting in the late 1700s at least, Harvard students played bat-and-ball games for such recreational purposes, though formalized baseball would appear at Harvard only in 1858.
The earliest report of bats and balls at Harvard is in the diary of Sidney Willard. His father graduated from Harvard in 1765 and then became steward of the Buttery, which, as Sidney explains, “was in part a sort of appendage to Commons. . . . Besides eatables, everything necessary for a student was there sold, and articles used in the play-grounds, as bats, balls, &c.”
This early reference is a long way from direct experience; Sidney is writing about his father’s youth ninety years earlier. But a direct confirmation of bat-and-ball games at Harvard appears in what we would, today, call the minutes of faculty meetings. Among the entries for the year 1781 is a list of “The antient [sic] Customs of Harvard College, established by the Government of it” (i.e., by the faculty). These are ground rules for inter-student behavior: Freshmen should doff their hats; freshmen must “consider all other classes their seniors,” but “no freshman shall be detained by a senior when not actually employed on some suitable errand”; and so on. Rule 16 states: “The Freshmen shall furnish Batts, Balls, and FootBalls, for the use of the students, to be kept at the Buttery.”
Does this suggest bat-and-ball games at Harvard long before Willard’s father served as Butler? Perhaps. But this record is from 16 years after the father’s graduation, and in a college, that can be long enough to make past events seem ancient.
What kind of game was played with this equipment? We have few clues. Writing of his own undergraduate years, 1797–1801, Sidney Willard writes, “. . . we wrestled and ran, played at quoits, at cricket, and at various games of bat and ball, whose names perhaps are obsolete, and leaped and jumped in rivalry.” So the bat-and-ball games were surely not cricket and may have been no more formalized than running. Willard also describes his realization, as a child, that his eyesight was too poor to follow the considerable trajectory of a hit ball. “I could not distinguish different birds, or see them at the same distance as other boys did . . . and on the play-ground [they] would watch and seize the ball, when beaten to an unusual distance, before I could trace it.” Willard was born in 1780, so this childhood memory is from around 1790–1795.
Scrutinizing 19th century records, baseball researchers encounter problems of creative memory. Once it became the national game, men recalled playing “baseball” early in the century, though they had not recorded any games at the time. The great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, for example, is described in several late–19th century sources (but not in his biographies) as having played baseball at Harvard. The ultimate source of this legend may be a baseball history published in 1891. “There seems to be no doubt,” writes the editor with groundless confidence, “that baseball was played in the United States as early at least as the beginning of this century. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was graduated from Harvard in 1829, said, a few years ago, that baseball was one of the sports of his college days.”
Alas, this is merely what Holmes is said to have said as an old man. Perhaps more reliable are the recollections of George F. Hoar, sometime senator from Massachusetts. Writing of his boyhood in Concord (he was born in 1826, so these memories are from around 1835–1840), Hoar recalls playing “various games of ball. These games of ball were much less scientific and difficult than the modern games. Chief were four-old-cat, three-old-cat, two-old-cat, and base.” Of his Harvard years (1842–1846) he notes that while football was the main sport for students, “There was a little attempt to start the English game of cricket and occasionally, in the spring, an old-fashioned, simple game which we called base was played.”
Whatever they may have been called, bat-and-ball games were not a serious form of rivalry at Harvard early in the 19th century. The blood sport was football. John Langdon Sibley, for two decades Librarian of Harvard College, kept a remarkable diary from 1846–1882. On August 31, 1846, he described the annual freshman–sophomore football contest, which took place on the evening of the first day of classes. “This is the general sport among students till cold weather,” wrote Sibley. “In the spring there is no playing of football, but ‘bat & ball’ & cricket.”
A member of the class of 1841, writing in 1879, remembered that “The college games at that period were foot-ball, cricket, and, to a limited extent, base-ball.” Of the latter two, he noted that “the games passing under these names were simpler than now,” and were “played almost always separately by the classes,” as opposed to the brutal football contest that the faculty eventually banned. Similarly, a member of the class of 1855, writing more than half a century later, recalled that “In those days, substantially all the students played football and baseball, while some played cricket and four-old-cat.”
The earliest contemporaneous reference to baseball as such seems to be the June 1858 Harvard Magazine, in which an alumnus notes that “almost any evening or pleasant Saturday . . . a shirt-sleeved multitude from every Class are playing at base or cricket. . . .” By this time the game was well developed in New York; the first convention had taken place in January 1857. As the New York Herald then reported, the game was “played at most of the New England schools.” But none of the Harvard references to bat-and-ball games prior to the fall of 1858 mentions rules or a score, or indeed anybody winning or losing.
Within five years that picture changed dramatically. Harvard athletic histories commonly date the beginning of New York rules baseball at Harvard to 1862. The Harvard Book, an exhaustive compendium of Harvardiana published in 1875, explains that “the New York game was brought to Cambridge from Phillips Exeter Academy” by Harvard freshmen George A. Flagg and Frank Wright. In the first game, the Harvard ’66 nine beat Brown ’65, 27–17 at Providence on June 27, 1863. This account is repeated in the original H Book of Harvard Athletics, the university’s sports bible and almanac.
In fact, organized baseball had reached Harvard more than four years earlier. A team from the Lawrence Scientific School—Harvard’s engineering school of the time, a poor cousin to the College—organized itself in the fall of 1858, placing it among the earliest New York Rules clubs. The Constitution, dated November 3, is written in a stitched notebook in a hand of which John Hancock might have been proud. “This Association shall be called the ‘Lawrence Base Ball Club,’” it proclaimed in large, swirling letters; the games were to be played “in strict accordance with the rules adopted by the ‘National Association of Base Ball Players,’ held at New York; March 10th, 1858.” As though to preclude any threat posed by the Massachusetts game, the Constitution further stipulated that “in no case shall any other game be played by this Club.” It went on to give the business practices of the club, the schedule of play, and the dimensions and composition of the balls and bats. The original members bore names then typical of Harvard—Putnam, Gould, Washburn, Morrow, etc.—with two striking exceptions: Primitivo Casares (a Mexican) and Eulogio Delgado (a Peruvian).
The Club’s first game on November 8, 1858, was between teams captained by Gould and Washburn (Gould’s team won, 27–9). The scorecards of this and three more games played over the next 10 days were scrupulously reproduced, inning by inning and player by player. The notebook is otherwise empty. A member of the original team later stated that games were occasionally played on the Cambridge Common against a Law School team.
In preparation for the first game, Putnam reported that he was going to have to skip church on Sunday and “read in the Bible” instead, so he could meet up with Delgado, who “being the best writer in our Club is going to copy off our Constitution.” Putnam’s son reported that the Club continued for a few more years, but dissolved when many members left for military service. Men who in 1858 had been teammates in “healthful exercise and amusement,” as the Club’s Constitution declared, died as soldiers in opposing armies.
After the Exeter boys replanted the seed in 1862, the game quickly became the rage at Harvard. John Sibley, whose diary noted perfunctorily the playing of “bat & ball” at Harvard in 1846, two decades later described a dramatically new world:
Great excitement & enthusiasm awakened within two or three years through the country about baseball playing. Numerous clubs have been organized. Last week a club from Holliston came to play the Harvard students on the College Delta. Last week the Harvard Club met the Boston boys organization under the name “Lowell Club” & were beaten on Boston Common. Today both clubs played on the Jarvis Field in Cambridge—thousands of persons, among whom were college officers and ladies, were present. The Harvards were victorious. I could hardly imagine there could have been such intense & universal enthusiasm as there was on & for both sides. Every throw or knock or catch or miss of the ball was the occasion of special notice by the crowd. And the congratulations, poundings, embracings, & exultations at the final result partook of the uncontrolled ardor & jollity of little children’s joyousness & simplicity. The female spectators became so enthusiastic as to be at the highest state of nervous excitement. The challenge is for two games out of three. The prize, which is transferable, is a silver ball which passes from club to club as they are victorious. The third trial will [be] more exciting th[an] either of the last two.
1. Presidents, Professors, & Tutors Book, began January 27, 1775, pp. 257–260. Harvard University Archives, UA 18.104.22.168; vol. 4, 1781.
2. Thomas Shepard Jr., “A letter from the Revd Mr Thos Shepard to His Son [at] His Admission into the College,” c. 1670, in Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, vol. 14, Transactions 1911–1913 (Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1913), p. 104.
3. Willard, S. 1855. Memories of Youth and Manhood (p. 31).
4. Presidents, Professors, & Tutors Book.
5. Willard 1855, 316.
6. Ibid., 236.
7. See, e.g., “Early Baseball Days,” Washington Post: Apr. 11, 1896.
8. “A Complete History of Baseball, from Its Earliest Days to the Present Period,” The New York Clipper Annual for 1891 (p. 17).
9. Hoar, G. 1903. Autobiography of Seventy Years (p. 52).
10. Ibid., 120.
11. John Langdon Sibley’s diary, Harvard University Archives (hul.harvard.edu/huarc/refshelf/Sibley.htm).
12. “Harvard Athletic Exercises Thirty Years Ago,” Harvard Advocate 17.9, June 12, 1879, pp. 130–131.
13. “E. H. Abbott, Secretary of Harvard Class of 1855,” Harvard Graduates Magazine 18 (1909–1910), p. 738. The context is a note on the life of the eminent natural historian Louis Agassiz, written on the occasion of his death. Abbott notes that Agassiz was interested only in rowing.
14. “Mens Sana,” Harvard Magazine 4.5 (June 1858), pp. 200–206.
15. “Our National Sports,” New York Herald: Jan. 23, 1857, p. 8, col. B.
16. For the story of the Lawrence Base Ball Club, see: Seymour, H. 1990. Baseball, The People’s Game (vol. 3 p. 133).
17. The Harvard Book; a series of historical, biographical, and descriptive sketches by various authors, 1875, p. 269.
18. The teams included members of a single class year at each college. Harvard had first invited Yale, which declined because it had no team.
19. Reid, W. 1923. “Baseball at Harvard,” in The H Book of Harvard Athletics 1852–1922, ed. J. Blanchard (p. 150).
20. The List of Students of the Lawrence Scientific School, 1847–1901 (p. 29) shows one Primitivo Casares y Galera, S.B. 1861, died 1866, in Merida, Yucatan. The same list, on p. 24, shows one José Eulogio Delgado, S.B. 1858, of Lima, Peru, “Chief Engineer, Oriental R. R. Co.”
21. The columns are the innings and the rows are the players, as in a modern scorecard. But the players are listed in positional rather than batting order, so the columns have gaps. Washburn’s team has 12 players, designated C, P, 1B, 2B, 3B, and 1F through 7F; evidently there were substitutions. 2B batted only once, for example. The players on Gould’s team are designated P, C, 1B, 2B, 3B, and 1F through 5F, with 5F not batting until the sixth inning. The notations in the entries are either “c.o.,” “ab.,” or the numeral “1,” the latter evidently indicating a run since the sum of each row matches the run total in the right-hand column. Where a team batted around, a single entry may include more than one of these notations.
22. “The Lawrence Base Ball Club,” The Harvard Graduates Magazine 25, Mar. 1917, pp. 346–350.
23. “Letter from Eben Putnam to the Editor of the Harvard Graduates Magazine,” dated Mar. 4, 1916. Records of the Lawrence Base Ball Club, Harvard University Archives, HUD 9600.
24. The last of those recorded as signing the Constitution, F.H. Atkins, did so on September 22, 1859.
25. Col. Francis Washburn was mortally wounded in the bloody battle to control the bridge over the Appomattox River at High Bridge, Va., on April 6, 1865, in the last days of the war; he died at Worcester, Mass., on April 22. Elijah Graham Morrow, a captain in the army of the Confederacy, was killed at Gettysburg in 1863. List of Students.
26. So called because the team had been founded by John Lowell, Harvard Class of 1943.
27. Sibley diary, May 24, 1867. Jarvis Field is the northerly part of the area now occupied by the Law and Engineering Schools. South of Jarvis lay Holmes Field, so called because the estate of he elder Oliver Wendell Holmes was located there until it was razed to construct Austin Hall. These fields were used for both football and baseball, until play moved across the river to Soldiers Field in the late 19th century.