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 188.8.131.52; 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.
Here is a Brian Turner doubleheader, following yesterday’s post from a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Brian works at Smith College and is conducting research on ballplaying in the Colonial, Federalist, and New Republic eras. His past baseball publications include The Hurrah Game: Baseball in Northamption 1823–1953 (co-authored with John Bowman: Historic Northampton, 2002) and articles in The National Pastime and Base Ball.
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 1755.6, reflects that it is the sixth entry for the year 1755, which was a very good year for developments in baseball, especially in England (Bray, Kidgell). As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see:
Item 1755.6, “The Bat and Ball”: A Distinct Game or a Generic Term?
Early American sources often refer to “playing ball” or “ball-playing” or “games of ball.” When one reads such references, or that boys played games with bat and ball, the terms appear to be generic. Relatively few sources unambiguously refer to a game called “bat and ball,” but such references do exist.
Evidence suggests that, as with so many American pastimes, “bat and ball” originated in England. The Field Book: Sports and Past Times of the British Isles (1833) observes, “The game of club-ball, plebian brother to cricket, appears to have been no other than the present well-known bat-and-ball, which with similar laws and customs in the playing of it, was doubtless anterior to trap-ball.”
A colonial reference comes from the Reverend Gideon Hawley, in a letter written in 1794, in which he recalled his mission to the Native Americans in upstate New York between 1753 and 1756. He kept a diary, it seems, for in his letter he named days and dates: on the “27th, Lord’s Day,” he attended a “Dutch meeting . . . [a]t the nearest houses between fort Hunter and Schoharry.” The 27th falls on a Sunday in April 1755, so that is probably the year: “Those who are in meeting behave devoutly. . . . But without, they . . . have been playing bat and ball . . . around the house of God.” Had Hawley, writing in 1794, recreated his diary entries verbatim, this sighting might qualify as primary evidence. But he may also have applied “bat and ball” forty years after the fact, influenced by his decades as a minister in Mashpee, Massachusetts. A look at the original diary, if it exists, would be required to judge the quality of his observations.
One reference to “bat and ball” that qualifies as primary evidence appears in the diary of Benjamin Glazier, ship’s carpenter. In 1758, Glazier recorded that “Captain Gerrish’s Company” played “bat and ball” near Fort Ticonderoga. Glazier, an Ipswich man, a coastal town some 15 miles north of Salem, deployed a term also used in Salem. Salem, not Boston, was where references to “Bat & Ball” first appeared in newspapers. The game, if it was a distinct game, was explicitly banned in 1762, implying that it had been played earlier. This may be primary evidence, but it is not unambiguously a distinct baseball-like game.
The 1791 diary of Reverend William Bentley of Salem puts flesh on the bones of “bat and ball”: In May, he observed that young boys played “the Bat & Ball [emphasis added] and the Game of Rickets.” Bentley described the implements of “Bat & Ball”: “The Ball is made of rags covered with leather in quarters & covered with double twine, sewed in knots over the whole. The Bat is from 2 to 3 feet long, round on the back side but flatted considerably on the face, & round on the end for a better stroke.” Especially telling is the “flatted . . . face,” together with the “round . . . end.” A cricket bat, at least in England after the 1760s, would be “flatted” on both sides.
In his diary entry, Bentley returns to another season for playing “Bat & Ball”: “The Snow & ice determine the use of Skates & Sleds. . . . The Bat & Ball as the weather begins to cool.” The seasons that Bentley specified, spring and autumn, provide a counterweight to an assertion by the folklorist William Wells Newell in his description of hockey: “The game is much played on the ice. . . . The name of ‘Bat and Ball,’ also given to this sport, indicates that in many districts this was the usual way of playing ball with the bat.” Playing bat and ball on ice is too good an idea not to have been tried, and Newell may have been right that in some places such a game was called “Bat and Ball.” But Reverend Bentley’s contemporaneous account specified that “Bat & Ball” was a game played in the spring and autumn. And the “bat and ball” sightings, immediately below, tend to confirm Bentley’s observations.
Decades later—in Maine, an enclave of Massachusetts until1820—the Eastport Sentinel twice refers to “the game of Bat and Ball.” One Sentinel report, in 1827, reprinted from the Portland Christian Mirror, recalls “the game of Bat and Ball” played during the 1790s. In the latter, the writer describes how children, mimicking adult militia, used their wooden rifles as bats. The use of “the,” in each instance, implies a game distinct from others; the article reprinted from a Portland paper shows that “the” was not one writer’s usage. Bentley, too, used “the” in his diary.
The isolation of some New England communities preserved English forms, according to Alfred L. Elwyn’s Glossary of Supposed Americanisms (1859). When Elwyn composed his entry for “ball,” his example was “bat and ball” played in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he was born in 1804. “The one we call ‘bat and ball’ may be an imperfect form of cricket, though we played this [cricket] in the same or nearly the same manner as in England, which would make it probable that the ‘bat and ball’ was a game of Yankee invention.”
At this point we have contemporaneous references to the game of “bat and ball” from northernmost Maine (Eastport) to central Maine (Portland) to Salem, ranging from 1791–1827. And we also have Elwyn’s detailed reminiscence—in the service of philology—placing “the bat and ball” in Portsmouth, halfway between Boston and Portland. Elwyn provides this description:
[S]ides were chosen, not limited to any particular number, though seldom more than six or eight. . . . The individual . . . first chosen, of the side that was in, took the bat position at a certain assigned spot. One of his adversaries stood at a given distance in front of him to throw the ball, and another behind him to throw back the ball if it were not struck, or to catch it. . . . After the ball was struck, the striker was to run; stones were placed some thirty or forty feet apart, in a circle, and he was to touch each one of them, till he got back to the front from which he started. If the ball was caught by any of the opposite party who were in the field, or if not caught, was thrown at and hit the boy who was trying to get back to his starting place, their party was in; and the boy who caught the ball, or hit his opponent, took the bat. A good deal of fun and excitement consisted in the ball not having been struck to a sufficient distance to admit of the striker running round before the ball was in the hands of his adversaries. If his successor struck it, he must run, and take his chance, evading the ball as well as he could by falling down or dodging it. While at the goals he could not be touched; only in the intervals between them.
Given that Elwyn set out to compile, categorize, and analyze words and phrases that had survived in original English form, we can hope that he paid at least as much attention to the accuracy of his description of “bat and ball.” Using stones for bases fits Carver’s 1834 description of “base or goal ball.” Elwyn also specifies that an inning was “one out, all out,” a feature of the Massachusetts game codified in 1858. Elwyn’s description is useful, although written forty years after the fact.
How long did it take for bat and ball—the name, the game—to travel from Portsmouth to Boston? Samuel Gray Ward, writing to his father in 1831, observed, “There are a great many boys all the time on the Common now playing bat and ball.” Here we have the term, but do we have the game? The same holds true nine years later, in 1840, when a former Bostonian wrote in the Honolulu Polynesian:
One evidence of the increasing civilization in this place, and not the least gratifying, is to see the ardor with which the native youth of both sexes engage in the same old games which used to warm our blood not long since. There’s good old bat and ball, just the same as when [we] ran from the school house to the “Common” to exercise our skill that way.
Before 1854, J. Pierpont Morgan attended Boston English School and “in between school and work, played ‘bat and ball’ on Boston Common.” Henry L Satterlee, writing in 1939 about the future financier’s ballplaying—and perhaps mindful of the debate over origins that accompanied the opening of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown—asserts that “bat and ball” was the precursor to baseball. Satterlee’s claim that “bat and ball” gave birth to baseball is rather too bold. “Bat and ball” was an uncle—the eccentric one.
The evidence presented here clarifies that “bat and ball” was, in different places and at different times, regarded as a distinct game. For all its encroachments upon the New England coastline, “bat and ball” did not travel far into the interior. In the 1840s and thereafter, central Massachusetts communities referred to “round ball” as a baseball-like game. Farther west, into the Connecticut River valley, Northampton’s 1791 ban specified only “bat ball.” Pittsfield’s famous 1791 ban on “base ball,” along with cricket, wicket, and “bat ball,” included neither “bat and ball” nor “round ball.”
Whether “round ball,” “bat ball,” and “bat and ball” were similar games using different names, or so different as to be distinct, is a subject that deserves further study; equally deserving, too, is the extent to which any of these games influenced the Massachusetts game.
1. Protoball 1755.6: Hawley, G. 1753. Rev. Gideon Hawley’s Journal(p. 1041).
2. Sports and Pastimes of the British Isles (1833) (p. 140).
3. Protoball 1753.1 cites the year that the journal begins.
4. Hawley 1753, 1041.
5. Protoball 1753.1 mentions that the journal resides in the collection of Tom Heitz. Hawley also wrote a letter in 1794, donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society, in which he used the journal.
6. “French and Indian War Diary of Benjamin Glazier of Ipswich, 1758–1760” (1950). Essex Institute, Historical Collections, vol. 86. Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.
7. Protoball 1762.2.
8. Bentley, W. 1905. The Diary of William Bentley, D.D. (vol. 1) (p. 254). Bentley described “violent” running as Rickets’ distinguishing characteristic. In baseball-like games, running is episodic, and in cricket, confined to the crease between wickets. Based on Bentley’s “violent” running, it would seem that Rickets was a type of field hockey.
9. Ibid., 253–254.
10. Newell, W. 1883. Games & Songs of American Children (p. 184).
11. Eastport Sentinel: 1822 and 1827.
12. Ibid., 1827. This article, among others, was compiled in a book, Essays on Peace and War (1828), attributed to “Philanthropos.”
13. Elwyn, A. 1859. Glossary of Supposed Americanisms (p. 18).
14. Ibid., 18–19.
15. Samuel Gray Ward papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
16. Protoball 1840.38. One wonders what Alexander Cartwright would have thought upon arriving in Honolulu with the New York rules and Knickerbocker ball in hand, only to find New England’s version of the game being played by indigenous people.
17. Carosso, V., and R. Carosso. 1987. The Morgans: Private International Bankers, 1854–1913 (p. 41).
18. Satterlee, H. 1939. J. Pierpont Morgan: An Intimate Portrait (p. 66).
19. Trumbull, J. 1902. History of Northampton (vol. 2) (p. 529).
20. Smith, J., ed. 1869. The History of Pittsfield (Berkshire County), Massachusetts, From the Year 1734 to the Year 1800 (pp. 446–447). Pittsfield was settled late, 1752. For decades politically powerful claimants from New York and Massachusetts squabbled over the land. In the end families made their way east from Hudson River communities, north from Connecticut, and west from Westfield and Northampton. The heterogeneity of Pittsfield, the result of its later settlement, may account for the large number of games the selectmen felt obliged to ban. According to this hypothesis, Northampton’s ban would reflect its much earlier settlement, 1654, and the cultural homogeneity of its more settled population.
The article below, by Brian Turner, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Brian works at Smith College and is conducting research on ballplaying in the Colonial, Federalist, and New Republic eras. His past baseball publications include The Hurrah Game: Baseball in Northamption 1823–1953 (co-authored with John Bowman: Historic Northampton, 2002) and articles in The National Pastime and Base Ball.
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 1726.2, reflects that it is the second entry for the year 1726. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see:
Item 1726.2, Ballplaying and Boston Common: A Town Playground for Boys . . .
. . . and Men
Sam. Hirst got up betime in the morning, and took Ben Swett with him and went into the (Boston) Common to play at Wicket.
Since 1634, Boston Common has been celebrated as “the outdoor stage on which many characteristic dramas of local life have been enacted.” One such drama—cited in Protoball 1856.20 and 1858.35—was the duel between the Massachusetts version of baseball and that of New York. In 1856 the Olympic Club of Boston conducted “trial” matches of the Massachusetts game on the Common; in 1858, the Common hosted the first New England match by New York rules. Those games, unambiguously baseball, were the culmination of two centuries of Boston ball-play.
Protoball 1700c.2 refers to much earlier games played on the Common. Two histories present identical assertions, but neither gives a source: Mary Farwell Ayer (1903) and Samuel Barber (1916) write that in the late 1600s and early 1700s the “favorite games” were “wicket and flinging the bullet [bullit, in Barber’s version, probably the original spelling].” (The latter involved throwing cannonballs. We know less about 17th century wicket.) Protoball 1700c.2 to Protoball 1858.35, therefore, encompass Boston ballplaying from “wicket” to the New York game.
Evidence that wicket was played in Boston before 1700 comes from Cotton Mather’s autobiographical manuscript Paterna. Born in 1663, Mather recalled that he began preaching “at an Age wherein I See Many Lads playing at their marbles or Wickets in the street.” Mather’s remembrance places “Wickets” as early as the mid–1670s. The name wicket could refer to the stumps in cricket, or arise from a meaning well known at the time, i.e., a small opening in a fortified gate, large enough to duck through. The term was often used as a metaphor to convey the narrowness of the opening through which one might enter heaven’s gate. We don’t see Wickets (or Wicket) again until fifty years later. In his 1726 diary, in an entry that qualifies as primary evidence, Samuel Sewall expressed displeasure when his grandson, then 20, skipped morning prayers “to play at Wicket on the Common.”
H. L. Mencken defined Puritanism as the “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Historians have painted a more nuanced portrait of colonial attitudes toward pleasure and recreation, which, in moderation, had their place. If ball-play broke the Sabbath, however, a Reverend or a Magistrate brought out his diary to take note; such disapproving voices have dominated the historical record. One need not be a Puritan to regard life in New England as a struggle: Winters were long; summers short. A Boston man who stood watch on Beacon Hill in the 1630s would have gazed east upon the Atlantic and west into wilderness. His emotions cannot be known, but exhilaration and terror would have been reasonable. Would he have scouted for “a place leavel enough to play ball”? Not yet, I suspect. A ceaseless labor awaited him, from which no one was exempt, not even his children.
Some children were fortunate enough to go to school. In 1635, the Public Latin School opened on the north side of School Street. Where students played then isn’t clear, but the Common beckoned. As the conditions of life improved, and grandfathers and fathers pushed back the wilderness, children had more of a chance to play. Of schoolboys in the 1700s, Edward Ellsworth Brown wrote, “In the few hours that could be given to out-door sports, they had skating and coasting in winter, and in summer swimming, and a variety of games, including some with bat and ball.” More schools started, more schoolboys flooded onto the Common as classes let out. In time, Boston Latin’s “playground was that corner of Boston Common lying between the path from West Street to the Old Elm, and Park Street and Beacon Street.”
As long as anyone could remember, “Boston Common was the playground of the Boston School Boys.” In 1831, the young Samuel Gray Ward observed, “There are a great many boys all the time on the Common now playing bat and ball.” In 1840, a former Bostonian recalled in the Honolulu Polynesian, “There’s good old bat and ball, just the same as when [we] ran from the school house to the ‘Common’ to exercise our skill that way….” Between 1851 and 1854, J. Pierpont Morgan attended Boston English School and “in between school and work, played ‘bat and ball’ on Boston Common.” Boyhood play gave rise to nostalgia, which resulted in positive accounts of ballplaying that offset news of boys crushed beneath the wheels of a wagon during a game of ball or adult men struck down by “surfeit, playing ball.”
Thomas Wentworth Higginson and James DeWolf Lovett, from Cambridge and Boston respectively, celebrated their sporting days. During the early 1830s Higginson was fitted for Harvard in the private school of William Wells, an Englishman. “Athletic sports, as well as the humanities, were warmly encouraged by Mr. Wells, and the afternoons spent in cricket, football, and skating on Fresh Pond….” The cricket recalled by Higginson, Harvard Class of 1841, “was the same then played by boys on Boston Common … very unlike what is now called cricket. Balls, bats, and wickets were all larger than in the proper English game; the bats especially being much longer, twice as heavy, and three-cornered instead of flat….”
Higginson was many things: an abolitionist, Civil War officer, women’s rights advocate, and author of many books and articles. James DeWolf Lovett, by contrast, was first and foremost a sportsman who wrote one book, Old Boston Boys and the Games They Played (1906). Lovett’s descriptions have a substance previous accounts lack, partly because society no longer looked down upon a sportsman’s enthusiasms: “The ready-made ball of those days, for sale, was either a mushy, pulpy feeling thing, with a soft cotton quilting over it which wore out in a few days; or else a rubber one, solid or hollow, as one preferred; but all equally unfit for batting purposes.” Clearly, this ball could be used for hitting the runner without risk of injury. That such a ball was available in stores implies that customers purchased them for games familiar and popular.
Lovett was restless with the “mushy” ball, so his father made him a lively one: “The balls my father taught me to make were made of tightly wound yarn, with a bit of rubber at the core, quilted with good, rough twine, and would last a long time; and when needed new jackets could be put upon them….” His father made him “a little bat of black walnut. I can see it now; it had a round handle for about a foot and gradually widened out into two flat sides, being perhaps an inch and a half thick.” Lovett expressed impatience with the batting that resulted: “This mode of back-striking was carried so far that bats not more than twelve or fifteen inches long with a flat surface were used, and instead of making any attempt to strike with it, this bat was merely held at a sharp angle and the ball allowed to glance off it, over the catcher’s head.”22
The Common was Lovett’s playground. “A lot of mechanics, firemen, etc. of the West End occasionally used to meet on the Common for a game.” The conditions there suited some games but not others. “The Common was an impossible place for cricket, the hard baked ground making a good wicket or crease out of the question…. I and others drifted into baseball.” Later, after his baseball career ended, Lovett joined the Longwood Cricket Club.
Even before Lovett made the transition to the New York game, he yearned for another style of play: “the black walnut bat … broke; but by this time I had outgrown it and wanted one like the others in use, that is, round and not square.” When he did play the New York game, his ball club, the Lowells, called the Common its home field.
In the end, the Massachusetts game, like Boston itself, was eclipsed by New York. But Boston games have their story to tell and much to tell historians of baseball.
1. Protoball 1726.2: “Diary of Samuel Sewall,” in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol.
7, ser. 5 (p. 372).
2. DeWolfe, M. 1910. Boston Common: Scenes from Four Centuries (p. 7).
3. Protoball 1856.20. A letter to a newspaper, cited in this Protoball entry, evokes “round ball” as precursor of the Massachusetts game. Many Protoball “round ball” entries come from Henry Sargent, based on his letters to the Mills Commission in 1905. The earliest reference to “round ball” remains Robin Carver’s Book of Sports: “It is sometimes called ‘round ball.’ But I believe that ‘base’ or ‘goal ball’ are the names generally adopted in our country” (Protoball 1834.1). Carver no doubt had cause to mention “round ball,” yet he presents the name gingerly, as if unsure of its general usage.
4. Protoball 1858.35. A telling sidelight to the advent of the New York rules in Massachusetts comes from James DeWolf Lovett’s Old Boston Boys and the Games They Played (1906). In addition to the Tri-Mountains of Boston, four other Massachusetts clubs played the New York game in 1858 (p. 42). The apostate cities were Westfield (Atwater), Springfield (Pioneer), and Northampton (Union and Nonotuck),
roughly 90 miles west of Boston. Why such a cluster of clubs using New York rules? The answer, in part, is that these cities dated to the 1600s, when the earliest settlers followed the seacoast and rafted up the Connecticut River long before attempting the state’s interior wilderness. By 1858, of course, river travel was less common. But railways followed the path of least resistance, along the Connecticut River. Hence, New York rules came to western Massachusetts almost as soon as they came to Boston.
5. Ayer, M. 1903. Boston Common in Colonial and Provincial Days (p. 8). Barber, S. 1916. Boston Common: A Diary of Notable Events, Incidents, and Neighboring Occurences (p. 47).
6. Mather, C. (ed. R. Bosco). 1976. Paterna (p. 25).
7. Protoball 1726.2.
8. Mather and Sewall participated in the 1692 Salem witch trials.
9. Altherr, T. 2000. “‘A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball’: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic,” Nine (p. 15). Altherr’s title comes from Henry Dearborn’s journal, written in 1779.
10. Brown, E. 1905. The Making of Our Middle Schools (p. 138).
11. Abbot, E. 1902. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. 57 (p. 300).
12. Barber 1916, 238–239. The quote is from Curtis Guild’s address to the Sixth Reunion of the “Old Boston School Boys” (1885).
13. Samuel Gray Ward papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
14. Protoball 1840.38.
15. Carosso, V., and R. Carosso. 1987. The Morgans: Private International Bankers, 1854–1913 (p. 41).
16. “Deaths,” New York Spectator: Sept. 11, 1811.
17. Wells, as it turns out, was the grandfather of William Wells Newell, who compiled Games & Songs of American Children (1883). Indeed, at the time Newell published his book of games, he lived in the same rambling structure in Cambridge that had once housed his grandfather’s school.
18. Higginson, M. 1914. Thomas Wentworth Higginson: The Story of His Life (p. 15).
19. Protoball 1840c.39. I invite readers to imagine a three-cornered bat. I can’t picture anything other than a triangular post-like object, certainly not the shovel or spoon-like bat of Berkshires-style wicket.
20. Lovett, J. 1906. Boston Boys and the Games They Played (p. 133).
21. Ibid., 134.
22. Ibid., 132.
23. Ibid., 137.
24. Ibid., 72–73. Lovett also reported playing “Tip-cat” on Boston Common in the 1850s, though his description is limited to the specific feat of “Charlie Troupe … a fine player of the old ‘Massachusetts’ game of baseball…. With the three strokes which were allowed in this game, I have seen a cat … sent from the Spruce Street path on the Common over the Public Garden fence” (46–47).
25. Ibid., 137.
The article below, by Richard Hershberger, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Richard has, in a few short years, become a leading fact-finder in our field, as he pursues his personal goal of understanding the social and organizational history of U.S. baseball from the 18th century to 1880. His recent articles in Base Ball include one on Philadelphia Town Ball (2007) and one on baseball and rounders (2009).
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 1821.5, reflects that it is the fifth entry for the year 1821. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934
Item 1821.5, New York Mansion Converted to Venue Suitable for Ballplaying: An Early Sighting of Baseball Clubs?
The grounds of Kensington House are spacious and well adapted to the playing of the noble game of cricket, base, trap-ball, quoits and other amusements; and all the apparatus necessary for the above games will be furnished to clubs and parties.
In June 1821, an ad ran in some New York papers announcing that “William Niblo has taken the superb mansion formerly known as Mount Vernon, which he has furnished in a handsome style for the reception of boarders and visitors.” The mansion, now open as Kensington House, accommodated dinners and tea parties and clubs . . . and, notably, ballplaying as noted above.
This mention of ballplaying is, however, deceptive: seemingly simple and straightforward, yet pregnant with implications about who was playing early baseball and on what occasions.
Early baseball played by adults presents the problem of when they had the opportunity. Accounts typically place it on special communal occasions such as barn raisings or annual holidays. There is little doubt but that these account for most adult play, but the advertisement for the Kensington House shows another opportunity: at resorts.
Kensington House was situated on what had once been the estate of Colonel William Stephens Smith, the son-in-law of President John Adams. It was located on Manhattan about two hundred yards from the East River. The site is now 60th Street, near the west end of the Queensboro Bridge. The former carriage house of the estate survives on 61st Street as the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden. The subject of the advertisement seems to have been the estate mansion, which burnt down in 1826.
In 1821 this was a country retreat several miles north of the edge of development. The mansion was set up as a resort for day trips. The advertisement suggested a ride up Third Avenue, but it was also accessible by boat. The proprietor also arranged a coach holding up to 14 passengers at 25 cents each to make the trip twice daily from Pine Street, in what is now the Wall Street financial district.
The resort was intended for the moneyed classes, promising that “dinner and tea parties, clubs and societies, can be furnished with all the delicacies of the season, at a short notice,” with private rooms fitted up for “select family and friendly parties.” Completing the parties were “Wines and Liquors . . . of the choicest quality.”
This advertisement is of interest to baseball history because of the promise of spacious grounds suitable for various games and the provision of the necessary equipment. But was baseball one of these games? The actual reference is to “the noble game of cricket, base, trap-ball, quoits and other amusements.” Early citations of “base” sometimes mean baseball, but not always. They can also refer to prisoner’s base, a form of tag unrelated to baseball. In this case, however, we can be confident that “base” does indeed refer to baseball. It is sandwiched between two other games involving a bat and ball: a natural fit for baseball, but odd for prisoner’s base. More definitively, prisoner’s base does not require any equipment, which would make the promise of its provision superfluous.
We can also be confident that this was not merely a diversion for the visitors’ children. Cricket and quoits (a form of ring toss) were well established adult activities. John Marshall, the Chief Justice of the United States at the time, is known to have been an active quoits player. It would be odd to place a children’s diversion in such a list.
This item is strikingly similar to Protoball 1822.3, which is an advertisement in Philadelphia’s Saturday Evening Post for a similar establishment on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, in what is now west Philadelphia. This too was a resort destination situated in the countryside within day-trip distance of the city. Along with the promise of good food and drink, it offered “accommodation for quoit and cricket and other ball clubs.” Clearly Kensington House was not an isolated phenomenon.
We can conclude then that in the early 1820s, men of some means, sufficient to undertake the time and expense of a day trip at countryside resort, sought recreation. Ballplaying, including baseball, was a suitable and desirable activity for such occasions.
An even more intriguing hint is that the equipment for these amusements was offered to “clubs and parties.” In 1823 a group of young men playing baseball stated that they were “an organized association.” The obvious interpretation is that they were a club organized to play baseball, making them the earliest known such organization. Might the mention here of “clubs and parties” be a hint of yet earlier baseball clubs? Perhaps, but this is not at all clear. The establishment was generally open for “clubs and societies.” It could well be that a club organized for some other purpose might choose from time to time to indulge in a game of baseball as a part of an outing. This would also explain why they would need to have equipment furnished, since presumably a baseball club would have already possessed the necessary apparatus. This Philadelphia counterpart, with its invitation to “quoit and cricket and other ball clubs,” is a stronger candidate.
The Kensington House also hints at the future relationship between baseball and the stage. The same specialty newspapers reported on both. As baseball grew as a spectacle for paying customers, it was often promoted by theatrical managers. Baseball and the theater complemented one another as summer and winter occupations, in much the way that in some parts of the country today one can find combination bicycle and ski shops.
This relationship would come much later than 1821, but it is foreshadowed by the identity of the Kensington House’s proprietor, William Niblo. He was an Irish immigrant known in 1821 principally as the owner of a popular coffee house, the Bank Coffee House. It was the terminus of the passenger coach running to Kensington House, and also served as ticket office. Niblo’s later fame stems from the 1830s, when he opened a theater, Niblo’s Garden. He went on to be a leading theatrical manager for some twenty years.
The Kensington House enterprise seems not to have been a commercial success. The transportation network was not up to the task. For example, a great celebration was planned for the Fourth of July. The coach was insufficient for the expected turnout, so Niblo engaged a steamboat to bring patrons from the Fulton Street wharf. The boat was damaged before the occasion and was laid up for repairs until late in the evening of the Fourth. A “grand military parade” in September, with two regiments of artillery marching to an encampment at the Kensington House, was more successful, perhaps because the principals did not require transport. In any event, the venture drops out of sight after 1821. In 1823 the coach was part of a stage line running to Manhattanville, near the modern site of Columbia University (and two miles from Yankee Stadium). The mansion was occupied as a school when it burned down in 1826.
Although the Kensington House was not successful, baseball continued as a resort activity. It was, for instance, spotted at Cape Island, New Jersey (modern Cape May), in 1840 (Protoball 1840.16). The tradition continues to this day.
1. The New-York Evening Post: June 1821.
2. The New-York Evening Post: June 4, 1821.
4. Mott, H. 1916. “Dyde’s Tavern,” Americana 11.4, 416–426.
5. Altherr, T. 2009. “Base Is Not Always Baseball: Prisoner’s Base from the 13th to the 20th Centuries,” Base Ball 3.1(p. 74).
6. See accompanying essay by George Thompson (Item 1823.1, this issue).
7. “An Old New-Yorker Dead,” New York Times: Aug. 22, 1878.
8. Mott 1916.
The article below, by Priscilla Astifan, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Priscilla is the leading authority on early ballplaying in Rochester, NY. She has published a five-part series on the subject in the Rochester Historical Quarterly, and has co-authored a Base Ball article on predecessor games in Western New York. She is currently working on a full monograph on the story of baseball’s rise in the Rochester area.
Her 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 1825.1, reflects that it is the first entry for the year 1825. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
Item 1825.1, Thurlow Weed and the Growth of Baseball in Rochester, New York
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.–The Autobiography of Thurlow Weed
When I first wrote about 19th century Rochester baseball nearly twenty years ago, the 1825 team recalled by local newspaper editor Thurlow Weed was considered proof that Abner Doubleday did not suddenly invent the game in a Cooperstown meadow in 1839. Twenty years later, many more discoveries illuminate the mysteries of the early game. Yet, the evolution ofbRochesterbbaseball continues to make important contributions to our knowledge of the early game.
Thurlow Weed, who later became a significant 19th-century American politician, mentioned the club in his 1883 autobiography, published one year after his death at 85. Weed listed the club’s best players as attorneys Addison Gardner and Frederick Whittelsey, businessmen James K. Livingston, Samuel L. Selden, and Thomas Kempshall, Drs. George Marvin, Frederick Backus, and A.G. Smith, and others.
Urged to seek his fortune here by his friend Addison Gardner, Weed and his wife and family moved to Rochester from the Syracuse area in November 1822. Born in a poor family and largely self-taught, Weed had worked at a wide variety of menial tasks, including his voluntary service in the War of 1812, since the age of eight. More recently his work as a journeyman printer and occasional newspaper editor had enabled him to develop his skills and to make significant friends in a number of New York state communities, including Cooperstown. There, according to baseball historian Randall Brown, Weed worked on a rival newspaper of Ulysses Doubleday, father of Abner. He also met his wife, Catherine.
Weed’s “Rochesterville,” which quickly became the nation’s first inland boomtown after the completion of the Erie Canal one year after his arrival, would have afforded the prosperity and leisure to enable a group of adult men to seek exercise through regular play of a favorite game of their school days. Weed gave no description of the game. But novelist Samuel Hopkins Adams referred to the same club in his 1855 Grandfather Stories, which recounted tales that had captivated him and his four cousins after his family moved to Rochester when he was five years old. According to Hopkins Adams, his grandfather Myron Adams, a graduate of Hamilton College and a retired farmer, was a member of the Weed club in 1827. Through his grandfather’s reflective comments and criticisms during a Rochester Hop Bitters game, Hopkins Adams included a description of the Weed game. Whether Hopkins Adams, age 84 when he wrote Grandfather Tales, actually used a description given by his grandfather and/or received assistance from contemporary baseball historians Will Irwin and Robert Henderson remains unknown. Clearly his details resemble those of the varied games of old-fashioned baseball, similar to the Massachusetts game, brought to the Rochester region from New England or the eastern seaboard and played in the War of 1812. Hopkins Adams described 12–14 players on a side; a stationary pitcher, catcher, and basemen; mobile outfielders; and outs made by plugging the runner or catching the batted ball. During a July 1955 Cooperstown terrace party, given to honor his recently published book, Hopkins Adams responded to his book’s conflict with the Cooperstown origin story by quoting from an 1839 Rochester newspaper account.
Only one mention of Rochester baseball has yet been discovered in Rochester newspapers before May 4, 1857, when the Rochester Union and Advertiser reported that boys were arrested for playing the game and breaking the Sabbath. A March 20, 1837, feature in the Rochester Republican laments the lost springtime of the writer’s youth and the excitement of a “game at base, foot, or wicket ball.”
On June 28, 1841, however, the Republican announced that the Amateur Wicket Ball Players, of the nearby town of Chili, proposed a match with 20 players per club and a three-inning game on July 15. A letter published in The National Police Gazette in 1846 suggests that wicket was then played daily in Rochester. A July 22, 1858, Advertiser account of a citizen’s ball play mentioned that the majority preferred wicket. Lastly, a 1903 Rochester Post Express memoir claimed that “wickets” was the immediate predecessor of baseball in Rochester and “the boys who excelled at that became the best baseball players.”
Organized New York baseball may have quietly arrived in Rochester as early as 1855. In May 1858, however, it came with a fervor. Four senior clubs (21 and over)—the Flour City, University (of Rochester), Live Oak, and Genesee Valley—were organized that month and others increasingly followed. On October 29 the Advertiser dramatically presumed “there are nearly a thousand, ranging in caliber from the two-and-a half foot urchin to the big six-footer.
Between 1858 and 1861, as many as three Rochester newspapers continued to chronicle the city’s enthusiastic response to organized baseball, which involved senior, junior, and neighborhood clubs that wholeheartedly accepted the new game. The press faithfully reported their activities, including the first local championships and intercity matches. Also included were Rochester’s contributions of the nation’s first two pieces of published baseball music, games on ice skates, and a pre-presidential-election game. Increasingly detailed box scores and colorful reporting showcased Rochester baseball’s first pitching duels, while three innovative local pitchers bent the rules and contributed to the game’s evolution from an offensive to a defensive sport. Local newspapers also detailed Rochester’s significant response to the visiting Brooklyn Excelsiors during the first tour in national baseball history in 1860.
The Civil War limited the local game from 1861–1864, but it by no means eliminated it. TheRochesterpress published numerous accounts of local and regional games involving younger players and others who remained home or returned on furlough. High school and grade school games were published as well as a significant number of camp games. Best of all, perhaps, Rochester newspapers continued to record the conflicts and trials of the evolving game and the public’s response.
In 1868, as the local game grew increasingly scientific, specialized, and commercial, inching ever closer to the city’s first fully professional team in 1877, Thurlow Weed club member Judge Addison Gardner may well have lamented the loss of the less formal and more inclusive game of earlier days. On August 19, Gardner invited Rochester men from a wide variety of occupations to his farm for a recreational game of baseball and an ample picnic hosted by his family. From this pleasant afternoon emerged the Birds and Worms, a popular club that continued to wear their “grotesque and gaudy” uniforms to entertain the public at a number of charity fundraising games with intentionally fumbled plays, humorous antics, and a band that accompanied their hilarious actions.
Today, the Rochester Red Wings, Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, play baseball at Frontier Field in downtown Rochester, a mere parking lot away from Brown Square, where Rochester baseball pioneers played the first National Association games in 1858, and a 10-minute walk from the site of Mumford’s Meadow, where Rochester baseball began nearly two hundred years ago.
1. Weed, T. 1883. Life of Thurlow Weed (p. 203).
2. Brown, R. 2010. “Doubleday Diamonds: or, Digging Up Graves,” Base Ball 4.1.
3. Kennedy, S. Samuel Hopkins Adams and the Business of Writing (pp. 6–8).
4. The Hop Bitters were a professional Rochester baseball club from 1879–1880. Hopkins, A. Grandfather Stories, Baseball in Mumford’s Pasture Lot (pp. 134–135). Henderson, R. Ball Bat and Bishop: the Origin of Ball Games (with an introduction by Will Irwin). Irwin, who was a friend of Hopkins Adams, wrote a series of features for Collier’s magazine in 1909, entitled “Baseball; an Historical Sketch.”
6. Astifan, P., and L. McCray. “Old Fashioned Base Ball in Western New York, 1825–1860,” Base Ball 2.2.
7. Oneonta Star: July 9, 1955.
8. Rochester Union and Advertiser: May 4, 1857.
9. Rochester Republican: Mar. 21, 1837. Randall Brown recently discovered this and graciously shared it.
10. Rochester Republican: June 28, 1841.
11. See “Wicket: a Working Chronology,” at: retrosheet.org/Protoball/Sub. Wicket.htm (accessed December 21, 2010).
12. Rochester Union and Advertiser: July 22, 1858.
13. Rochester Post Express: Mar. 24, 1903 (“Baseball Half a Century Ago”).
15. Rochester Union and Advertiser: Oct. 29, 1858.
16. Rochester Express: Aug. 20, 1868. Astifan, P. 2000. “Baseball in the 19th Century, Part Two,” Rochester History (p. 20).
17. Territo, J. “Mumford’s Meadow,” unpublished essay by local vintage ballplayer at Genesee Country Village and Museum.
Yes, this is shameless promotion for the latest issue of a scholarly journal that too few folks have ever read. But, boy, it’s really good, and I am hoping that one day it finds a larger audience, in part through my occasional postings to Our Game of a story from a back number. Base Ball has published twice annually for six years now, and the articles have been of astoundingly high quality, considering that payment to the authors consists of self-satisfaction and glory among their choice group of peers. I don’t like to run material from a current issue because the publisher suspects (rightly, I’m thinking) that this would cannibalize sales. In the great paradox of the web (and all ventures, I suppose), you can’t reasonably hope to sell what you have given away. Anyway, violating past practice and perhaps common sense, here’s my Editor’s Note to the Fall 2012 opus–a.k.a Volume Six, Number 2–on sale today from McFarland at http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/customers/journals/base-ball-a-journal-of-the-early-game/.
Why can the infant in the kindergarten-class name the place on the Atlantic shore where the Pilgrim Fathers first landed, and remain in ignorance of the place where early base ball was first played? Why can any school boy recite a dozen battles of the Revolution or Civil War, and yet become indignant when you inquire as to a single famous base ball game? Why can the youngster in knickerbockers tell who discovered the electric telegraph, and yet not know of the man who discovered curve pitching? Yea, verily, why is it that the high school youth declaimeth at length about the Crusades of medieval times, and still knoweth aught of the tours of the Washington Nationals or the Cincinnati Red Stockings? Why can the average university graduate discourse learnedly upon radiant energy, ether waves, or the nebular hypothesis, when he can’t tell the difference between a base hit and a foul ball? Why is not the history of the national sport of a people of as much importance as is that of their political development or of their scientific achievements?
Seymour R. Church wrote those purplish words more than a century ago but his questions retain a genuine if quaintly expressed relevance. What is the value of continued research into early baseball?
To determine, insofar as we are able, what really happened—that’s the answer. Distant events may have gone unrecorded, or dimly referenced in tangential materials, requiring fresh eyes to tease out the facts; or they have been encased in legend, spun out by journalists ancient or modern, with agendas to fit.
In academic circles, more than half a century after publication of the first volume of the Seymours’ history, the scholarship of play still is regarded as less important than the study of work or war or politics. Yet the remarkable increase in research into the early game over the past decade has produced not only landmark works that bust myths and reestablish the real story, but also hundreds of university courses in baseball history. It may not be excessive to believe that this journal, since its first number in Spring 2007, has been instrumental in that movement.
As we conclude our sixth year of semiannual publication, we offer some new approaches. Where previously we had encouraged writers to cap their contributions at seven thousand words or so, now we have begun to be less hidebound on this point. There are fewer essays in this number than in most previous issues of Base Ball, but they are longer and, if not better, every bit as good. We have continued in our trend toward ever more illustration, as our favored period of baseball is rich in unfamiliar gems. And we have embarked upon what promises to be an enduringly good idea: to offer prepublication excerpts from forthcoming notable books.
We present several new authors, too, in addition to some of our stalwarts. We break new ground in research and interpretation in each and every article herein, yet we mustn’t pat ourselves on the back for what is, after all, our reason for being.
On the lost-and-found front, we acknowledged the lamentable loss, previously, of our book review editor and now, upon deep consideration, we close down that problematic department. We have found a new editor for the journal, who was at once both lost and found, as John Thorn succeeds Peter Morris who had recently succeeded John Thorn.
Glad to be back, the “new” editor vows to maintain the quality that readers of this journal have come to expect. He furthermore vows to reimagine Base Ball in its next incarnation—as a considerably fattened annual, with even greater pictorial riches and new features.
Back to the issue at hand: In his lead article, George Boziwick searches for the real Katie Casey of “Take Me Out the Ball Game” and finds her in the arms of the song’s lyricist. Bob Tholkes reviews the 1862 season in its sesquicentennial and reminds us of the legend—and the true story—of Excelsior hero Jim Creighton. Steve Steinberg focuses on a little recalled figure, Horace Fogel, who was a firecracker in his day and worthy of more attention in ours.
Bruce Allardice does nothing short of a rewrite of baseball history in the South, an inexplicably neglected subject. David Arcidiacono goes where others have feared to tread, discussing the origins of the curveball and the doubtful veracity of one purported “inventor,” Fred Goldsmith. Steven A. King proposes that “baseball’s worst trade”—of a washed-up Amos Rusie for a coltish Christy Mathewson—may not have been a trade at all.
And departing editor Peter Morris keeps his hand in by way of a collaboration with the estimable Bill Ryczek and yours truly in some biographical spelunking. Our brief lives of some lesser known Knickerbockers will provide a taste of what will come for other clubs in the forthcoming McFarland book, Base Ball Founders.
Twenty years ago I rediscovered Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams with the publication of my article “The True Father of Baseball” in the debut issue of the Elysian Fields Quarterly. I expanded upon this offering several times over the ensuing years, notably in Total Baseball; it appears in its latest incarnation at the SABR Biproject site: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/14ec7492. I also wrote about Adams and his key innovations–setting the basepaths at ninety feet and inventing the position of shortstop–in my most recent book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game. I have spoken about Adams at the Smithsonian.
What I have not done, however, is to present to my readers the complete article that started my enduring fascination with this character. I stumbled upon it in the late 1980s in a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown and retyped it on site with the aid of a lightweight electronic typewriter (I had not brought my “portable,” or rather luggable, Kaypro computer with me). This fundamentally important story appeared in The Sporting News, February 29, 1896.
DR. D.L. ADAMS.
MEMOIRS OF THE FATHER OF BASE BALL.
He Resides in New Haven, and Retains an Interest in the Game.
NEW HAVEN, Conn., February 24–SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE–In a pleasant home on quiet Edwards street, lives Dr. Daniel L. Adams, who indoubtedly, more than any other man in the country, is entitled to be called the Father of Base Ball. His brother-in-law, William S. Briggs of Keene, N.H., makes this claim for him, and the facts bear it out.
Dr. Adams was born in Mt. Vernon, N.H., Nov. 11, 1814. He was, therefore, 81 years old last November, but one would not think so to look at him. He is exceedingly well preserved, and his active step and unimpaired eyesight and hearing go far to prove the value of an active interest in athletics in early life. The doctor was one of the first men to belong to an organized base ball club, and quickly took the lead in all matters connected with the growth and character of the National game.
A representative of THE SPORTING NEWS learning that Dr. Adams could tell some interesting reminiscences of the old-time games, called upon him recently and found him very willing to talk about his favorite subject.
“I graduated from Yale College in 1835,” said he, “and from the Harvard Medical School in 1838, after which I became a practicing physician in New York city. I was always interested in athletics while in college and afterward, and soon after going to New York I began to play base ball just for exercise, with a number of other young medical men.
“Before that there had been a club called the New York Base Ball Club, but it had no very definite organization and did not last long. Some of the younger members of that club got together and formed the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, September 24, 1845[actually September 23]. The players included merchants, lawyers, Union Bank clerks, insurance clerks and others who were at liberty after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. They went into it just for exercise and enjoyment, and I think they used to get a good deal more solid fun out of it than the players in the big games do nowadays.
“About a month after the organization of this club, several of us medical fellows joined it, myself among the number. The following year I was made President and served as long as I was willing to retain the office. Our playground was the ‘Elysian Fields’ in Hoboken, a beautiful spot at that time, overlooking the Hudson, and reached by a pleasant path along the cliff. It was a famous place in those days, but is now cut up railroad tracks. Mr. Stevens’ ‘castle’ stands far from the site.
PRACTICED ON ‘ELYSIAN FIELDS’
“Twice a week we went over to the ‘Elysian Fields’ for practice. Once there we were free from all restraint, and throwing off our coats we played until it was too dark to see any longer. I was a left-handed batter, and sometimes used to get the ball into the river. People began to take an interest in the game presently, and sometimes we had as many as a hundred spectators watching the practice. The rules at that time were very crude. The pitching was all underhand, and the catcher usually stood back and caught the ball on the bound.
“Our players were not very enthusiastic at first, and did not always turn out well on practice days. There was then no rivalry, as no other club was formed until 1850, and during these five years base ball had a desperate struggle for existence. I frequently went to Hoboken to find only two or three members present, and we were often obliged to take our exercise in the form of ‘old cat,’ ‘one’ or ‘two’ as the case might be. As captain, I had to employ all my rhetoric to induce attendance, and often thought it useless to continue the effort, but my love for the game, and the happy hours spent at the ‘Elysian Fields’ led me to persevere. During the summer months many of our members were out of town, thus leaving a very short playing season.
“I used to play shortstop, and I believe I was the first to occupy that place, as it had formerly been left uncovered. At different times I have, however, played in every position except that of pitcher. We had a splendid catcher in the person of Charles S. Debost, who would be a credit to the position even to-day, I am sure. He was a good batter also, and a famous player in his day.
“We had a great deal of trouble in getting balls made, and for six or seven years I made all the balls myself, not only for our club but also for other clubs when they were organized. I went all over New York to find someone who would undertake this work, but no one could be induced to try it for love or money. Finally I found a Scotch saddler who was able to show me a good way to cover the balls with horsehide, such as was used for whip lashes. I used to make the stuffing out of three or four ounces of rubber cuttings, wound with yarn and then covered with the leather. Those balls were, of course, a great deal softer than the balls now in use. It was not until some time after 1850 that a shoemaker was found who was willing to make them for us. This was the beginning of base ball manufacturing. There is now, I believe, a factory in Philadelphia where 1,000 people are employed in this one industry.
HARD GETTING BATS
“It was equally difficult to get good bats made, for no one knew any more about making bats than balls. The bats had to be turned under my personal supervision, the workman stopping occasionally for me to ascertain when the right diameter and taper was secured. I was often obliged to try three or four turners to find one with suitable wood, or one willing to do the work. In fact, base ball playing for the first six or seven years of its existence was the pursuit of pleasures under difficulties.
“The first professional English cricket team that came to this country used to practice near us, and they used to come over and watch our game occasionally. They rather turned up their noses at it, and thought it tame sport, until we invited them to try it. Then they found it was not so easy as it looked to hit the ball. Upon this discovery, they began to find fault with the ball, and so our crack pitcher took their own hard cricket ball, and gave them every opportunity but they had no better success.
“The first club to be organized after the Knickerbockers was the Gotham Club, and its members became our special rivals. I remember one game of 12 innings which finally ended in a tie, with a score of 12 to 12. Soon other clubs began to form in rapid succession, until there were quite a number in various places. It was then possible to have matches of no mean size. There was one series of three matches between members from all the New York clubs and all the Brooklyn clubs. Out Knickerbocker catcher, Debost, played in them all, and New York won two out of the three. At one of these matches I acted as umpire. There were thousands of people present, but no admission was charged.
“The Gotham Club was organized in 1850 and the Eagle in 1852. The playing rules remained very crude up to this time, but in 1853 the three clubs united in a revision of the rules and regulations. At the close of 1856 there were 12 clubs in existence, and it was decided to hold a convention of delegates from all of these for the purpose of establishing a permanent code of rules by which all should be governed. A call was therefore issued, signed by the officers of the Knickerbocker Club as the senior organization, and the result was the assembling of the first convention of base ball players in May, 1857. I was elected presiding officer. In March of the next year the second convention was held, and at this meeting the annual convention was declared a permanent organization, and with the requisite constitution and by-laws became the National Association of Base Ball Players.
HE WAS CHAIRMAN
“I was chairman of the Committee on Rules and Regulations from the start and so long as I retained membership. I presented the first draft of rules, prepared after much careful study of the matter, and it was in the main adopted. The distance between bases I fixed at 30 yards–the only previous determination of distance being ‘the bases shall be from home to second base 42 paces; from first to third base 42 paces equi-distant’–which was rather vague. In every meeting of the National Association while a member, I advocated the ‘fly-game’–that is, not to allow first-bound catches–but I was always defeated on the vote. The change was made, however, soon after I left, as I predicted in my last speech on the subject before the convention.” The distance from home to pitcher’s base I made 45 feet. Many of the old rules, such as those defining a foul, remain substantially the same to-day, while others are changed and, of course, many new ones added. I resigned in 1862, but not before thousands were present to witness matches, and any number of outside players standing ready to take a hand on regular playing days. But we pioneers never expected the game to be universal as it had now become.
“I have no idea of the number of clubs at present nor the number of players at present, nor the number of persons employed in making base ball material, but it is an important industry. Newspapers are now obliged to report games and could not afford to neglect it.
“William F. Caldwell [Cauldwell], still living, I think, was a newspaper man who took great interest in ball playing at that time. His paper was the New York Sunday Mercury, and it used to be all he could do to help the game in its columns. He was one of the first to report the matches and was generally a member of the base ball committees, though he did not belong to our club.
“The Knickerbocker Club had an exixtence of about 30 years, and my connection with it lasted about half that time. An old book of rules issued by the club in 1854, gives the officers and members at the same time as follows:
“President, Fraley C. Niebuhr; Vice President, Alex. H. Drummond; Secretary, James W. Davis; Treasurer, George A. Brown. Directors, Daniel L. Adams, W.F. Ladd, Charles S. Debost: Honorary Members, James Lee, Esq., Abraham Tucker, Esq., Edward W. Tallman, Esq. Active Members, Duncan F. Curry, Charles B. Birney, Ebeneezer E. Dupignac, Jr., Fraley C. Niebuhr, James Moncrief, Daniel L. Adams, William L. Tallmann, Charles S. Debost, Henry S. Anthony, Alex. H. Drummond, George Ireland Jr., Benjamin C. Lee, Benjamin K. Brotherson, George A. Brown, William F. Ladd, John Murray, Jr., Richard F. Stevens, Thos. W. Dick, Jr., John Boyle, William H. Grenelle, John Clancy, James W. Davis, George W. Devoe, G. Colden Tracy, William B. Eager Jr., Otto W. Parisen, Edgar F. Lasak, Frank W. Tyron, Edwin F. Frong, Albert H. Winslow, Louis F. Wadsworth, William F. McCutchen, Samuel E. Kissam, Gershom Lockwood, Henry C. Ellis.”
“Many others were members at one time or another. Besides those named in the list I remember two brothers named O’Brien, who were brokers and afterward became very wealthy. There was also a man named Morgan, who was very successful in business. Henry T. Anthony is the photographic supply dealer, who is well-known all over the country, through his large New York establishment. Duncan F. Curry was an insurance man, and James Moncrief became, I think, a judge of the Superior Court.
“The best pitcher then developed was not a member of the Knickerbocker Club, but of the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn. His name was Creighton, and he won considerable note in his day.
“James W. Davis, a broker, and secretary of our club, is still living. He ought to go down to history as the first base ball fiend. Indeed, we used to call him a fiend in the old days because of his enthusiasm. He was an outfielder. We had a flag on which were the words ‘Knickerbocker Base Ball Club,’ and I understand that he has been given orders that when he dies he is to be wrapped in that flag. But most of the old players of the Knickerbocker Club have already ‘come home.'” –Old Timer
Henry Chadwick, the only writer ever to earn a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame alongside the players, executives, and other pioneers, launched The Base Ball Players’ Chronicle on June 6, 1867. It ran for about a year, though it was renamed as The American Chronicle of Sports and Pastimes midway. The article below ran in this publication early in its brief history, on July 18, 1867. Although forty years later his rounders theory of baseball’s origin would be dismissed by the Mills Commission in its headlong rush to identify a single inventor, Old Chad’s views remain of interest today. David Block, in his masterful Baseball Before We Knew It, has effectively challenged Chadwick’s belief that rounders preceded baseball, historically or nominally.
THE ANCIENT HISTORY OF BASE BALL.
In the old days of the gallant Edward the Third, in the first half of the fourteenth century, there came into fashion, among the youths and children of England, a game called “barres,” or bars, which consisted in running from one bar or barrier to another. It grew to be so popular that it at last became a nuisance, so that the barons of England, as they went to the Parliament House, were annoyed by the bands of children engaged in playing it. They were at last obliged to pass an act of Parliament which declared, in the quaint Norman French of the period, that nul enfaunt ne autres ne jue a barres in the avenues which led to Westminster Palace. The name of this game was subsequently corrupted to “base,” and two hundred years after Edward’s day, Spenser, in his “Faery Queen,” alluded to it as follows:
So ran they all as they had been at bace, They being chased that did others chace.
And Shakespeare, in his “Cymbeline,” shows that he was familiar with its character, for he makes one of his characters say:
He with two stripling lads more like to run
The country base, than to omit such slaughter.
Even now men frequently indulge in this pastime, and so late as 1770 there was a celebrated game of “bars” or “base” played in London, in the field behind Montague House, which has since been transformed into the British Museum. It was played between a select party of persons from Derbyshire and another from Cheshire, and was witnessed by all London. Derbyshire won, and a great quantity of money changed hands on the occasion. In the process of time, from a peculiarity in the method of playing it, and to distinguish it from other games which had sprung out of it, it was called “prisoner’s base,” and as such still affords amusement to the children of England and America. The skill in this game consisted simply in running with agility and swiftness, in such a way as not to be caught by the opposing party, from one “bar” or “base” to another. After a while somebody thought of uniting with it the game of ball, and thus formed the game of “rounders,” “round ball,” or “base ball.” “Rounders” took its name from the fact that the players were obliged to run round a sort of circle of bases. The method of playing it is thus described in an English work:
The game is played by first fixing five spots, called “bases,” at equal distances of fifteen or twenty yards, forming a pentagon, and marked by a stone or hole. In the centre of this is another place, called the “seat,'” where the “feeder'”stands to give or toss the ball to the one who has the bat … called the “home,” or ‘house.” Two sides are chosen as in football, one of which goes in while the other is out, this being decided by tossing up the ball and scrambling for it, or by heads and tails, or any other fair mode. There should not be less than ten or twelve players in all, and twenty-four or thirty are not too many. The inside begin by standing at the ‘home,’ one of them taking the bat, while the feeder, who is one of the out party, standing at his “seat,” tosses (not throws) a ball at his knees, or thereabouts, after calling play. The rest of the out party are distributed over the field, round the outside of the pentagon.
When the ball is thus given, the batsman’s object is to hit it far and low over the field; and he is put out at once–first, if he fails to strike it; secondly, it he tips it and it falls behind him; thirdly, if it is caught before it falls to the ground, or after a single trap or rebound; or fourthly, if he is struck on the body after leaving the base, and while not standing at another base. The in-player may refuse to strike for three balls consecutively; but if he attempts and fails, or if he does not strike at the fourth ball, he is out.
The score is made by the in party as follows: Each player, after striking the ball, runs from his base to another, or to a second, third, fourth, or even all around, according to the distance he has hit the ball, and scores one for each base he touches; and if while running between the bases he is hit by the ball, he is put out. If the ball falls among nettles or other cover of the same kind, ‘lost ball’ may be cried by the out party, and four only can be scored. After one of the in party has hit the ball and dropped the bat, another takes his place, and, on receiving the ball as before, he strikes it or fails as the case may be. If the latter, he is put out: but the previous striker, or strikers, if they are standing at their bases, are not affected by his failure. If the latter, he drops his bat like his predecessor, and runs round the pentagon also like him, being preceded by the previous strikers, and all being liable to be put out by a blow from the ball. The feeder is allowed to feign a toss of the ball, in the hope of touching some one of the players, who are very apt to leave their bases before the hit, in the hope of scoring an extra one by the manoeuvre. When only one of the sides is left in, the others being all put out, he may call for ‘three fair hits for the rounder,’ which are intended to give him and his side another innings if he can effect the following feat: The outs, with the feeder, stand as usual, the rest of the striker’s side besides himself taking no part. The feeder then tosses the ball as usual, which the striker may refuse as often as he pleases: but if he strikes at it, he must endeavor to run completely round the pentagon once out of three times, he being allowed three attempts to do it in. If he is struck on the body, or caught, or if he falls in getting around, he and his party are finally out, and the other side go in again for another innings, but have not afterwards another such chance of redeeming their play. The out field are disposed on the same principle as at cricket, part for slight trips, and the remainder for long balls, and catch, stop or return them just as in that game.
This game of rounders first began to be played in England in the seventeenth century, and was the favorite ball game in the provinces until it was generally superseded by cricket at the close at the last century. It is still, however, occasionally practiced in remote localities. It was brought to our country by the early emigrants, and was called here “base ball” or “round ball.” Sometimes the name of “town ball” was given to it, because matches were often played by parties representing different towns. But, so far as we know, the old English title of “rounders” was never used in America. The reason of this is that so many of our old New England settlers came from the eastern counties of England, where the term “rounders” appears never to have been used. In Moor’s Suffolk Words he mentions among the ball games “base ball,” while in the dialect glossaries of the northern and western counties no such word is to be found.
English “base ball,” or “rounders,” was a mild and simple amusement compared with the American sport which has grown out of it. Even the hardy girls and women of England sometimes played it. Blaine, an English writer, says: “There are few of us, of either sex, but have engaged in base ball since our majority.” Think of American ladies playing base ball! Yet the English “rounders” contained all the elements of our National game. All that it needed was systematizing and an authoritative code of rules. This it did not obtain until after 1840–and not completely until 1845. Previous to that date base ball was played with great differences in various parts of the country. Sometimes as many as six or seven bases were used; and very frequently lengthy disputes arose among the players as to the right method of conducting the game. It is a little noticeable that in laying down rules for base ball there is not one technical term that has been borrowed from cricket–a game long since reduced to a science. Of course the two sports, being both games of ball, necessarily have many terms in common, but there is not a base ball phrase which can be recognized as originating among cricketers.
On the other hand, it is quite probable that cricket owed many of its peculiar words, such as “field,” “fieldsman,” “run,” and “bat,” to the older “rounders.” In relation to the word “base,” we may say that, in addition to the origin which we have given–namely, that it comes from a corruption of “bars” in the game styled “prison bars,” or “prisoners’ bars”–there is another somewhat plausible derivation. It has been suggested that as the object of each side in the game of “bars” was to keep the other party at bay, the places where they were so kept, that is the “bases,” were styled “bays,” of which “base” is a corruption. But this whole subject needs elucidation, and a careful study of the rural sports of the mother country would undoubtedly throw much light upon the history of base ball.
African Americans had played baseball near Madison Square in the 1840s and by 1859, they had formed three clubs in the Brooklyn area: the Unknown of Weeksville, the Henson of Jamaica, and the Monitor of Brooklyn; these would be followed by the Uniques and the Union, both of Williamsburgh. In Rochester, in 1859, Frederick Douglass Jr., son of the great abolitionist orator, played baseball with the integrated Charter Oak Juniors. A somewhat later all-black club in Albany was the Bachelors; the Excelsior, the Pythian, and L’Overture formed in Philadelphia. When young Douglass moved to Washington, he helped to form another baseball club, the Alerts.
In July 1867, the Pythians agreed to take on two Washington clubs, the Alerts and the Mutuals, in home-and-home series. The white Athletics offered their grounds for the Philadelphia matches and were broadly supportive of the Pythians. “Fred. Douglass Sees a Colored Game,” reported the Clipper on July 13:
The announcement that the Pythian, of Philadelphia, would play the Alert, of Washington, D. C. (both colored organizations) on the 15th inst., attracted quite a concourse of spectators on the grounds of the Athletic. The game progressed finely until the beginning of the fifth innings, when a heavy shower of rain set in, compelling the umpire, Mr. E. H. Hayhurst, of the Athletic, to call the game. The score stood at the end of the fourth innings: Alert 21, Pythian 16. Mr. Frederick Douglass was present and viewed the game from the reporters’ stand. His son is a member of the Alert.
The 1867 season was a triumph, as African-American clubs proliferated and on October 25 the Uniques and Monitors, both Brooklyn clubs, met in a contest for the “championship of colored clubs.” The Pythians felt confident that their club could gain official recognition from the Pennsylvania State Association of Base Ball Players, a subsidiary of the National Association, at a convention in Harrisburg in the middle of October. The Athletics agreed to sponsor their application. As Pythian secretary Jacob White Jr. later reported:
Whilst the Committee on Credentials were making up their report, the delegates clustered together in small groups to discuss what action should be taken. Sec. Domer stated although he, Mr. Hayhurst, and the President were in favor of our acceptance, still the majority of the delegates were opposed to it, and they would advise me to withdraw my application, as they thought it were better for us to withdraw than to have it on record that we were black balled.
Instructed to “fight if there was a chance,” White finally relented, as “there seemed no chance for any thing but being black balled.” The Pythian Club then tried to gain admission to the National Association at the annual meeting held in Philadelphia at the Chestnut Street Theater on December 11 and 12. The Ball Players’ Chronicle of December 19, 1867 commented that the report of the Nominating Committee, through its acting chairman, Mr. James Whyte Davis of the Knickerbockers, recommended the exclusion of African-American clubs from representation in the Association:
After the roll call the reading of the minutes of the last Convention came up in order; but as they included all the reports of the committees, the reading was, on motion, dispensed with. The reports of officers being next in order, the Recording Secretary reported verbally that he had attended to a voluminous correspondence on subjects appertaining to his office, and had written 379 letters in reply during the year. The subject of the order by the President changing Rule 10, last season, then came up. The President made an explanation of the case, stating that he had been convinced, by representations made to him by the chairman of the Committee on Rules, that the rule as printed was erroneous, and he had therefore ordered its correction. A long and rather personal discussion was about to ensue, when the Convention, taking the same view of it that the President did, by a majority vote, decided to close the discussion. This done with, the report of the Nominating Committee, through the acting chairman, Mr. James W. Davis, was presented, the feature of it being the recommendation to exclude colored clubs from representation in the Association, the object being to keep out of the Convention the discussion of any subject having a political bearing, as this undoubtedly had. The following is the REPORT OF THE NOMINATING COMMITTEE.
To the National Association of Base Ball Players:
The Nominating Committee beg leave respectfully to report:
First–That eight State Associations, representing 237 clubs, have applied for admission, and your committee recommend they be elected members, waiving such irregularities as are named in schedule No. 1 attached to this report.
Second–That they have elected eight clubs probationary members, according to Art. III, sec. 5 of the Constitution, and report favorably upon their election by the Convention, waiving such irregularities as are noted in schedule No. 2.
Third–That they report favorably upon the admission of twenty-eight clubs whose applications are correct as named in schedule No. 3.
Fourth–That they recommend the admission of eight clubs whose applications are more or less irregular, particulars of which can be found in schedule No. 4.
Fifth–That they find two memoranda received from the Recording Secretary (no doubt intended as applications from the Excelsior of Philadelphia and Crescent of —–), which are too informal to be noticed by your committee.
Sixth–Your committee would beg to add, that it has been quite impossible for them to ascertain the condition, character, and standing of all the clubs, in different parts of the country, as required by the Constitution, and can only assume that the applications made are based upon good faith. It is not presumed by your committee that any club who have applied are composed of persons of color, or any portion of them; and the recommendations of your committee in this report are based upon this view, and they unanimously report against the admission of any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons.
In seeking to keep out of the convention the discussion of any subject having a political bearing, the game’s color line had been drawn. The committee further proclaimed, “If colored clubs were admitted there would be in all probability some division of feeling, whereas, by excluding them no injury could result to anyone.”
The 1870 New York State Base Ball Association meetings added a final insult: The rules for admission of new clubs were amended so as to bar clubs composed of gentlemen of color, which prompted the Clipper to write, “we would suggest that the colored clubs of New York and Philadelphia at once take measures to organize a National Association of their own.”