Archive for the ‘ origins ’ Category

Did African American Slaves Play Baseball?

The Colored Volunteers, Song Sheet by C.Magnus, NY

The Colored Volunteers, Song Sheet by C.Magnus, NY

As we near the date of issuance of Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee report, capping nearly two years of digging and gathering, we have, it appears, come a bit closer to answering the question posed in the title of this post. Master sleuths of early ball play have provided us with references to ball play by African Americans in bondage, but without clear evidence as to whether baseball was one of the games they played. Randall Brown and Dale Somers offered instances of antebellum baseball play by freedmen; Tom Altherr uncovered early citations for slave ball play. But only recently has a report emerged, at last, of slaves playing baseball—and it was not in the South, but in New York State in about 1820.

First, some background. In the most recent issue of the journal Base Ball, Bruce Allardice published a fine article on the prevalence of baseball in the South prior to the Civil War, supplying a nice corrective to the hoary myth that Northern soldiers introduced their Confederate counterparts to the game. As to African Americans in the South, Allardice offered:

According to Dale Somers [in The Rise of Sports in New Orleans, 1850–1900, citing the New Orleans Picayune of Dec. 21, 1869], black employees of the elite Pickwick and Boston Clubs of New Orleans formed baseball teams in the late 1860s, and took as team names the names of the social clubs they worked for. The Pickwick played the (white) Lone Star club in late 1869, perhaps the first interracial game in Southern baseball history. These and other teams played regularly throughout the 1870s and 1880s, often against white teams. Blacks in Atlanta had already formed a club in 1867. A newspaper reported that the “negroes of Atlanta” had formed a club “dressed in red pants and sky-blue jackets.” In Houston, Texas, in 1868 a “colored” team, the oddly named Six Shooter Jims, challenged other “colored” teams in Texas to match games.

Thanks largely to Tom Altherr, the Early Baseball Milestones section of MLB’s Memory Lab site ( contains citations of African American ballplay as early as 1773: “We present as a growing Evil, the frequent assembling of Negroes in the Town [Beaufort, SC] on Sundays, and playing games of Trap-ball and Fives, which is not taken proper notice of by Magistrates, Constables, and other Parish Officers.” Tom Gilbert and Altherr noted that in the North-Carolina Minerva  of March 11, 1797, a punishment of 15 lashes was specified for “negroes, that shall make a noise or assemble in a riotous manner in any of the streets [of Fayetteville] on the Sabbath day; or that may be seen playing ball on that day.”

In the 1850s schoolteacher Emily Burke observed, in Pleasure and Pain: Reminiscences of Georgia in the 1840s:

The slaves had finished the tasks that had been assigned to them in the morning and were now enjoying holiday recreations. Some were trundling the hoop, some were playing ball, some were dancing at the sound of the fiddle . . . In this manner the Sabbath is usually spent on a Southern plantation.

We have this, from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (Boston, 1845):

Life of Frederick Douglass, title page

Life of Frederick Douglass, title page

My term of actual service to Mr. Edward Covey ended on Christmas Day, 1833. The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day are allowed as holidays, and accordingly we were not required to perform any labor more than to feed and take care of the stock. This time we regarded as our own, by the grace of our masters, and we therefore used or abused it nearly as we pleased. Those of us who had families at a distance were generally allowed to spend the whole six days in their society. This time, however, was spent in various ways. The sober, staid, thinking, and industrious of our number would employ themselves in making corn brooms, mats, horse collars, and baskets; and another class of us would spend the time in hunting opossums, hares, and coons. But by far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as ball playing, wrestling, running foot races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whiskey: and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters. A slave who would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them. It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas.

Randall Brown, in Blood and Base Ball (, provided proof of freedmen in Brooklyn forming baseball clubs as early as 1858, with the pioneer “Unknown Base Ball Club” contesting with the Henson Club of Jamaica in the following year.

Rochester Colored Baseball Asylum

Rochester Colored Asylum

Despite these wonderful finds, however, we still had nothing connecting slaves with a game that they—or we, as students of the early game—could term baseball. By this we mean, simply, a game of bat and ball played with bases that must be traversed in the round to score a run. The existence of foul territory, the number of outs to the inning, the number of men to the side—these are all niceties of the evolving game but they do not define it. Baseball was played at Princeton College in 1786, at Pittsfield, MA in 1791, in New York City in 1823, in Philadelphia in 1831—no matter that the playing rules associated with each of these dates are largely unknown and are certain to have differed.

Last year Randall Brown shared with me a fantastic bit of news that I might have been expected to have found first, inasmuch as the source was the Daily Freeman, an extant paper of Kingston, NY, my residence until just two years ago. Not only did the Freeman, in its issue of August 19, 1881, reference early African American baseball (New York was, in 1827, one of the last of the Northern states to abolish slavery), but at a site just a stone’s throw from my offices. The headline read:

A Colored Resident. Henry Rosecranse Columbus, Jr. Some Incidents in the Life of an Old Resident of Kingston. Born a Slave, He Lives to Become Wealthy and an Example to His Race.

This fellow was born in 1804, according to the Freeman; or 1801, according to the Federal Census. While I will offer up, in my next post, a bit more about African Americans’ ball play and their largely vanished Spring holiday of Pinkster (the Monday after Whitsunday), here is the startling interview:

Few men perhaps in their station of life have been more widely known in this county than Henry Rosecranse Columbus Jr., the colored barber of John street. Mr. Rosecranse was born a slave in the year 1804, in the Kingston Hotel building on Crown street, then known as the “Coffee House,” the proprietor of which was Levi Johnston, and he has proved himself during his life to be one of the best examples to the colored men who have lived during the present century, and he has a record for honesty and uprightness in dealing that few men can boast of. He has shown that a man even of a humble station of life can win his way by steady application to his trade and attending to his own business, and become the owner of lands and money in “goodly quantity.”

Boxing champion John Morrissey

Boxing champion John Morrissey

His barber shop on John street is little changed from what it was nearly half a century ago, and the furniture and pictures smack of times long gone by. Ancient portraits of battles of the Mexican war and the revolution hang upon the wall; quaint pictures of New York city are seen, and General Scott stands with soldierly bearing by the side of his horse in a big frame, while John Morrissey hangs over the doorway as he appeared when he was a young man and fought with Sullivan. An engraving of Samsonville as it appeared when owned by General Samson in his prosperous days, with High Point in close proximity, can also be seen. In one part of the room is an old advertisement of charges, made undoubtedly when the shop was in its palmy days.

Mr. Rosecranse only keeps his shop open nowadays in order to have something to occupy his time so he will not get rusty. A few old customers still visit him and talk over old days, while he is taking off an itching beard or trimming down a shaggy coat of hair, but there are men in prosperous condition living in other counties, and some in the far West, who, whenever they visit the city always call on Mr. Rosecranse to shake hands with him and bring again to recollection circumstances that transpired forty or fifty years ago, and find out how this man or that woman is, whether dead or living, and in what circumstances they might have been, for Mr. Rosecranse carries a sort of statistical record in his head of half the families of the county, and in genealogy, he is considered equal to the big family Bible.

Mr. Rosecranse’s father was Thomas Rosecranse, and he was named after him, while the “Columbus” was added as a sort of affix to denote that he was once a servant of the Tappen family, one of whom bore that name. The mother of Mr. Rosecranse was a slave of the mother of Peter Masten, and was afterwards bought by George Tappen. She lived for years with one of the most aristocratic families in Kingston, and in her day waited upon many great men, among them being “Matty” Van Buren, as he was familiarly called, who often came here visiting.

Corner of Wall Street and John Street, Kingston, NY. Barber shop would have been to left.

Corner of Wall Street and John Street, Kingston, NY. Barber shop would have been to left.

When a boy Mr. Rosecranse worked for Levi Johnson, who then kept the hotel on Crown street, and went with him to New York city when he moved there. Returning in a couple of years, he worked for Jonathan Ostrander, father of James E. Ostrander, who lived in the old stone house on Green street, now known as the Industrial Home.

Soon after this Mr. Rosecranse started to learn his trade of barbering with Thomas Harley, a colored man, a famous barber in his day, father of Hanson G. Harley, who now runs the barber shop on Fair street. Thomas Harley at that time had a shop in the hotel known as the Folter place, afterward called the Ulster County House, and which stood on the site of the present Argus building. In two years he had learned the trade sufficiently to accept a position as barber and waiter with Pardee, then proprietor of the present Kingston Hotel on Crown street.

Reporter—“When did you take your position at Pardee’s?

Mr. Rosecranse—“Well, it was at the time of the big snow storm, you remember that, don’t you?”  The reporter said, “O, no, I guess not; I have no recollection of that time.”  Mr. Rosecranse continued, saying, “It was over forty years ago. It was a big snow storm, the biggest we ever had. The streets were blocked with snow so the men had to be called out to break the way, and I remember helping shovel the snow away from the house of the lady who afterwards married William H. Romeyn, Esq.

Mr. Rosecranse inquired of the reporter if he remembered the accident that happened while firing cannon on the death of Governor Clinton [in 1812].

Reporter—“Yes, I have heard of it, but give us the circumstances.”

George Clinton Monument, Old Dutch Church, Kingston NY

George Clinton Monument, Old Dutch Church, Kingston NY

“There was several of them firing the cannon; one held his finger over the vent, and while Henry Ray was ramming in the charge and Gilbert Dillon and Jesse Hamilton were near to him, the man who held the vent must have taken his finger off, for it went off, and it blew Ray all to pieces, so we had to look around and pick his bones up. Gilbert Dillon was lamed for life, and Jesse Hamilton was cut across the face and carries the scar to this day.”  The accident occurred on Wall street opposite the Young property.

Mr. Rosecranse evidently believes in the good times of a half a century ago. He said, “We used to have a great deal better time than that you do now. We didn’t have a big city with lamps and curb stones and paved walks, and had to go round through the mud, but we had more holidays. There was the Pinkster holiday, the Great Holiday for the colored men. They used to meet at Black Horse Tavern (the building still stands on the lower end of Wall street) and shoot for turkeys. Then the colored men raced horses on Peter Sharpe’s lane. They used to come a great many of them with horses of their bosses, and run them. (This lane was where Albany avenue now runs, and the race ground was from Kiefer’s to the lane that runs in to the house of William M. Hayes). The bosses used to come and bet on the horses, and they had a great deal of fun. After the races they used to play ball for egg nog.”

Reporter—“Was it base ball as now played?”

Mr. Rosecranse—“Something like it, only the ball wasn’t near so hard, and we used to have much more fun playing.” He further said a great game of those days was wicket.

He remembered general training days, and was full of anecdotes of the officers and others who were prominent on such occasions. He said they used to train sometimes in one place and sometimes another, and the different regiments wore different uniforms, each having its own particular colored uniform.

Mr. Rosecranse during his life has worked steadily at his trade, and has amassed quite a fortune, owning a number of buildings on John street, besides other evidences of wealth. He is hale and hearty, carrying his three score and seventeen years so lightly that another twenty years seemingly would hardly make him appear older than other men at sixty.


A Few Dozen Prominent Baseball Milestones

Peck and Snyder Atlantic BBC_1869Here is something of a cheat sheet to learning about baseball’s beginnings. The linked selections below are those of Larry McCray, a member of Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee and the founder of the invaluable Protoball project. Larry was also the editor of the special origins number of the journal Base Ball, source of most of the articles linked below.

1609.1 Polish Origins of Baseball Perceived in Jamestown VA Settlement

1621.1 Some Pilgrims “Openly” Play “Stoole Ball” on Christmas Morning: Governor Clamps Down

1672c.2 Francis Willughby’s “Book of Games” Surveys Folkways: First Stoolball Rules Appear

1725c.1 Wicket Played on Boston Common

1744.1 First Laws of Cricket Are Written in England

1744.2 Newbery’s Little Pretty Pocket-Book Refers to “Base-Ball,” “Stooleball, ” “Trap-Ball,” Cricket

1755.6 NYS Traveler Notes Dutch Boys Playing “Bat and Ball”

1781.2 “Antient” Harvard Custom: Freshmen Furnish the Bats, Balls

1791.1 “Bafeball” Among Games Banned in Pittsfield MA – also Cricket, Wicket

1796.1 Gutsmuths describes [in German, yet] “Englische Base-Ball”

1805.4 NY Gentlemen Play Game of “Bace:” Score Is Gymnastics 41, Sons of Diagoras 34.

1821.5 NY Mansion Converted to Venue Suitable for Base, Cricket, Trap-Ball

1823.1 National Advocate Reports “Base Ball” Game in NYC

1829.2 Round Ball Played in MA

1833c.12 America’s First Interclub Ballgame, in Philadelphia

1837.1 A Founder of the Gothams Remembers “First Ball Organization in the US”

1843.6 Magnolia Ball Club Summoned to Elysian Fields Game

1845.1 Knicks Adopt Playing Rules on September 23

1845.2 Knicks Play First Recorded [Intramural] Games by the New Rules

1845.5 Brooklyn and New York to Go Again in Hoboken

1845.16 Brooklyn 22, New York 1: The First-Ever “Modern” Interclub Match?

1853.5 Knicks, Gothams Play Season Opener on July 1 and July 5

1855.31 Competitive Base Ball Suddenly Fills NY Metropolitan Area

1856.4 Fifty-Three Games Played, All in New York City Area.

1857.1 Rules Modified to Specify Nine Innings, 90-Foot Base Paths, Nine-Player Teams

1857.5 The Tide Starts Turning in New England – Trimountain Club Adopts NY Game

1857.22 Atlantic Club Becomes Base Ball Champ?

1857.29 Six-Player Town-ball Teams Play for Gold in Philly

1857.31 Rounders “Now Almost Entirely Displaced by Cricket”: English Scholar

1858.2 New York All-Stars Beat Brooklyn All-Stars, 2 Games to 1; First Admission Fees Are Charged

1858.6 Clipper Calls for Truly National Base Ball Convention

1858.10 Four-day Attendance of 40,000 Souls Watch Famous Roundball Game in Worcester

1858.21 Times Editorial: “We Hail the New Fashion with Delight”

1858.40 Cricket Plays Catch-up; Plans a National Convention

1859.2 Elusive Intercollegiate Game [the First Played by NY Rules] Pits Xavier and Fordham

1859.6 The First Known African-American Game, Is Played July 4 and/or November 15; see also:

1859.14 New York Tribune Compares the NY “Baby” Game and NE Game

1859.22 Worcester High School in MA Has First Interscholastic Base Ball Club

1859.24 CT State Wicket Championship Attracts 4000

1859.32 Morning Express Opposes Bound Rule, Tag-up Rule: Wants More Runs!

1859.35 Base Ball Community Eyes Use of Central Park

1860.6 Chadwick’s Beadle’s Appears, and the Baseball Literature Is Launched

1860.7 Excelsiors Conduct Undefeated Western NY Road Trip. . .”First Tour Ever? First $500 Player Ever?

1860.46 First International Game Played by New York Rules

1860.60 Atlantics vs. Excelsiors: The Thorny Idea of Onfield Supremacy

1861.37 Modern Base Ball Played Widely at Outset of War

1862.2 The Death of Jim Creighton at 21

1862.3 US Cricket Enters Steeper Decline

1863.1 Ballplaying Peaks in the Civil War Camps

Magnolia Ball Club Predates Knickerbocker

Magnolia Base Ball Club Invitation

Magnolia Base Ball Club Invitation

With this last of the articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period that appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball., a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. The article below, by yours truly, is a truncated version of a story told in my 2011 book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden.

This and the other articles from Base Ball  appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones; for example, the article below, indexed as 1843.6, reflects that it is the sixth entry for the year 1853.

Item 1843.6, Magnolia Ball Club Predates Knickerbocker 

John Thorn

NEW YORK MAGNOLIA BALL CLUB – Vive la Knickerbocker. – A meeting of the members of the above club will take place this (Thursday) afternoon, 2nd instant, at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken [N.J.]. It is earnestly requested that every member will be present, willing and eager to do his duty. Play will commence precisely as one o’clock. Chowder at 4 o’clock.[1]

Among the organized groups that played baseball before the Knickerbockers were the Gotham, New York, Eagle, Brooklyn, Olympic, and Magnolia clubs. The last named came into view only recently, as a ball club composed not of white-collar sorts with shorter workdays and gentlemanly airs but sporting-life characters, from ward heelers to billiard-room operators and bigamists. Why did the game’s earliest writers forget to include this club in its histories? One might venture to guess that the Magnolias were too unseemly a bunch to have been covered by a fig leaf, so they were simply written out of the Genesis story.

In 2007, rummaging through the classified advertisement section of the New York Herald of November 2, 1843, looking for who knows what, I was astonished to find a notice for a baseball club unrecorded in the annals of the game. Moreover, the notice made clear that this city-based club played its games across the North River at the Elysian Fields, almost two full years before the formation of the “pioneer” Knickerbockers and their lease of playing grounds at Hoboken. That diminutive ad, which also ran in the New York Sun, read in full:Nov 2, 1843 Herald, Magnolia Ball Club

NEW YORK MAGNOLIA BALL CLUB – Vive la Knickerbocker. – A meeting of the members of the above club will take place this (Thursday) afternoon, 2nd instant, at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken. It is earnestly requested that every member will be present, willing and eager to do his duty. Play will commence precisely at one o’clock. Chowder at 4 o’clock.

JOHN McKIBBIN, Jr., President.
n2 1t*m

The coding at the bottom signaled that the ad was to appear one time only (1t), with that occasion being game day, November 2 (n2). While this may strike modern eyes as a late month for a baseball game, the baseball season of this era typically ran to the very end of November, in part because August, with its fevers and contagions, was regarded as unsuitable for exertion. The mention of chowder signaled the almost sacramental union of those assembled, their like minds symbolized by their partaking of food from a single pot. The chowder was a fixture of political rallies, too; the city’s first target company (archery or rifle), arising from the butcher stalls at the west-side Washington Market, was the Washington Market Chowder Club of 1818. “Chowder was the national soup,” wrote Herbert Asbury, “and in those times chowder was to be more eaten than drunk, for it was not the anaemic liquid which now sloshes so  despairingly in restaurant bowls, but a thick and substantial mixture, compounded of eels, fish, clams, lobster, chicken, duck, and all kinds of tempting ingredients. No social function was complete without a great dish of chowder….”[2]

1818 Washington Market Chowder_bOf the officers named in the ad, the Irish-born president, 29-year-old John McKibbin Jr., was a U.S. inspector—a patronage position perhaps obtained through the good offices of his father, who in an aldermanic stroke of fortune in 1835 had been named the city’s first Superintendent of Pavements. Seven years after calling the Magnolia Ball Club to muster and chowder, the younger McKibbin found himself a resident of Sing Sing, convicted of bigamy.[3]

The vice president and actual leader of the club, Joseph Carlisle, was the 26-year-old proprietor of the Magnolia Lunch and Saloon at 74 Chambers Street, corner of Broadway, offering “the best of Wines, Liquors, Segars, and every other requisite.” Why was this northern eatery named for a flower symbolic of the South? Perhaps to signal to the sporting crowd that this was a “full-service” house of the sort pleasing to Southerners in New York on business, and to the gamblers who left New Orleans after it banned gambling in 1835. The Magnolia Lunch advertised in New Orleans as well as in New York.[4]

In the rampant sporting culture of the day, Carlisle was an up-and-comer who went on to run, in addition to the Magnolia Lunch, the Fountain at 167 Walker Street near the Bowery, the Ivy Green in Hoboken, and an unnamed sporting house at 89 Centre Street opposite the Tombs, the city’s Egyptianate prison, where all the while he double-dipped as a jailer. The Magnolia Ball Club secretary, Andrew Lester, was a 27-year-old billiard-room proprietor and Tammany Democrat, linked with Isaiah Rynders’ Empire Club, the pugilistic arm of the party (which gave its name to the Empire Base Ball Club in 1854), enforcing discipline on the rank and file and striking fear into undecided voters.

All three Magnolia officers had impeccable working-class, sporting, ruffian, and political associations of the sort that historians have until now presumed to emerge only with the unruly Brooklyn clubs of the mid-1850s, notably the Atlantics. Indeed, the Magnolia Ball Club was precisely the sort of poison for which the gentlemanly Knickerbocker Base Ball Club was created as an antidote…two years later.

As soon as I saw the Magnolia Ball Club ad in the Herald I recalled that some months earlier, historian David Block had pointed me to a puzzling image, one he thought might be suitable to illustrate a scholarly journal article on town ball. Offered as Lot 1600 in a Leland’s auction of December 2002, the item was described as a

signed copper plate engraving of the quality of paper money. The card itself is a heavy stock with a silver mirror finish. This invitation to the “1st Annual Ball of the Magnolia Ball Club” measures 5 x 3.25 [inches]. The image is magnificent. It shows the plantation like Magnolia Club with its main building and a yacht flying the “M” flag. …Magnolia is an area in southern New Jersey and the site of many stately plantations not unlike the one graphically illustrated we see pictured here.[5]

In a Eureka moment, I realized that I knew for certain what that plantation-like building was. It was the Colonnade, at the Elysian Fields, also known as the Colonnade Hotel or McCarty’s Hotel, whose proprietor provided the Knickerbockers and other clubs of the 1840s with many a lavish dinner, either after their exertions on the ball field or in a season-ending banquet.

Colonnade Hotel (Stevens Famly Pavilion) in 1830s

Colonnade Hotel (Stevens Famly Pavilion) in 1830s

Engraver William Fairthorne may have been a member of the Magnolia Ball Club; we are unlikely ever to know. The verisimilitude of his art might make one think so; he was, as far as may be claimed at this writing, the first man ever to have depicted men playing ball; and if we may judge by the textual record of the early game, he appears to have gotten things largely right. (Of course the vignette could not display all the features of the game, and thus does not address plugging, or the existence of foul ground.)

The auction-house description erred in calling the Magnolia card an invitation. It was in fact, as further digging in the Herald revealed, a ticket—providing admission to a ball that would be held on February 8, 1844.[6] It cost a dollar and, given its enamel-coated card stock and its commissioned rather than stock imagery, was intended to be saved as a memento of the event. The baseball scene on the card reveals three bases with stakes, eight men in the field, a pitcher with an underarm delivery, possibly base-stealing, and a top-hatted waiter bearing a tray of refreshments from the Colonnade. Some of the members of the “in” side are arrayed behind a long table; others are seated upon it. The pitcher delivers the ball. A runner heads from first to second base. This is, from all appearances, the original Knickerbocker game, and that of the New York Base Ball Club, and that of the Gothams of the 1830s (shortstop was a position not manned until 1849–1850).

Feb 8, 1844, Herald, First Annual Ball

Feb 8, 1844, Herald, First Annual Ball

This ticket is the first depiction of men playing baseball in America, and it may also be, depending upon one’s taxonomic convictions, the first baseball card. It is also the earliest visual artifact of the New York Game of baseball. But the greater significance of the card is the new understanding that its underlying story affords of how baseball really began in New York, what spin the workingman’s culture of that day may have imparted to baseball’s growth, and why the story may have been kept under wraps all these years.

1. Associated with this ball club is an engraved invitation to its first annual ball, which has the first depiction of men playing baseball, and shows underhand pitching and stakes for bases. New York Herald (classified ads section): Nov. 2, 1843. For much more on the find and its implications:

2. Asbury, H. 1930. Ye Olde Fire Laddies (p. 103).Thornton, R. 1912. An American Glossary: Being an Attempt to Illustrate Certain Americanisms, Etc. (Vol. 1) (p. 173). As to the Washington Market Chowder Club, see “The Military Spirit in New York—The Target Companies on Thanksgiving Day,” New York Weekly Herald: Dec. 14, 1850, p. 397; also, The Subterranean: Oct. 25, 1845, p. 2 (“Three different parties of whole-souled fellows are going to express their gratitude to Heaven for its manifold blessings, to-morrow, by playing ball and eating chowder.”).

3. 1850 Federal census and Subterranean: Dec. 20, 1845; classified ad for 1845 Holiday Ball of the “Original Empire Club,” at Tammany Hall, Tuesday, Dec. 30.

4. When Carlisle and partner Silas Chickering purchased the saloon in 1842 they advertised this fact, suggestively, in the New Orleans Daily Picayune of July 16: “New York Advertisement. MAGNOLIA LUNCH. CHICKERING & CARLISLE beg leave to inform their New Orleans and other friends that they have purchased that old and favorite resort of Southerners, The Magnolia Lunch, on the corner of Chambers street and Broadway, where they will be always ready to furnish them with every delicacy which the New York market affords.  N.B. handsomely furnished private rooms for parties.”


6. Classified advertisement, Feb. 6–8, 1844, New York Herald. The addescribes the actual event for which the Magnolia card provided admission. It read: “THE FIRST ANNUAL BALLof the New York Magnolia Ball Club will take place at National Hall, Canal st. on Friday evening, Feb. 9th, inst. The Club pledge themselves that no expense or exertions shall be spared to render this (their first) Ball worthy the patronage of their friends. The Ball Room will be splendidly decorated with the insignia of the Club. Brown’s celebrated Band is engaged for the occasion. Tickets $1, to be had of the undersigned, and at the bar of National Hall. JOSEPH CARLISLE, Chairman. PETER H. GRAHAM, Secretary. f6 4t*cc.” That Carlisle would be the ball’s chairman comes as no surprise, but the new name appearing above, that of Peter H. Graham, may point to a fresh area of inquiry. Speeding eight years forward, we come across three notices in the Herald about the reorganization of the Unionist Whigs, no longer known as the Knickerbockers. Silas Chickering, Carlisle’s partner in the Magnolia Lunch, is cited as a former president of the group and the two secretaries are Peter H. Graham and…Louis F. Wadsworth, the formidable first baseman and mysterious outcast from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.

The First Intercollegiate Ball Game, 1859

Muscle and Mind, Amherst vs Williams

Muscle and Mind, Amherst vs Williams

I’m in Nashville this week for Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, but wanted to toss at least one post up before my return home and the resumption of a regular schedule. Seeing so many fresh faces at the job fair I thought about their high hopes upon their recent graduations from college.

A baseball match between Amherst and Williams, at a neutral site in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on July 1, 1859, is the first collegiate baseball game. It was played on a lot in front of the Young Ladies Institute by Massachusetts Game rules, which is by no means a disqualifier, as that game was indeed baseball.  The first collegiate ball game under New York rules occurred several months later on November 3, when the Rose Hill Baseball Club of Fordham, which was then called St. John’s, defeated St. Francis Xavier preparatory school, 33-11.

A surviving broadside, an “extra edition” of the “Amherst Express,” gave more or less equal treatment to the game of baseball on July and chess on the following day: “Muscle and Mind.” The Pittsfield Sun of July 7, 1859 reported:

Young Ladies Institute, Pittsfield

Young Ladies Institute, Pittsfield

THE BALL AND CHESS GAMES BETWEEN THE STUDENTS OF AMHERST AND WILLIAMS COLLEGES–The match games of Ball and Chess between Amherst and Williams Colleges, which had been talked about for some time, came off in this town last week–the Ball game on Friday and the Chess game on Saturday. The weather on Friday being delightful, a large number of ladies and gentlemen were gathered on the grounds, east of the Maplewood Institute, to witness the exciting affair. From Amherst there were present but few students except the players and chess champions, the authorities of the College not having granted a holiday to the students generally, but from Williams, where the Faculty were more liberal, nearly all the students were in attendance, and some of them were accompanied by ladies from Williamstown. The field when the friendly contest took place, reminded us of what “General Training” was in vogue.  The game commenced at about 11 A.M., and was not concluded until past 3 P.M.

The players were as follows:–On the part of Williams–H.S. Anderson, Captain; Players, H.F.C. Nichols, R.E. Beecher, John E. Bush, J.H. Knox, S.W. Pratt, 2d., A.J. Quick, B.F. Hastings, J.L. Mitchell, C.E. Simmons, G.P. Blagden, H.B. Fitch, G.A. Parker; Umpire, C.R. Taft.

Baseballs used in 1st game / Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

Baseballs used in 1st game / Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

On the part of Amherst–J.F. Claflin, Captain; Players, E.W. Pierce, S.J. Storrs, F.E. Tower, M.B. Cushman, J.A. Evans, E.M. Fenn, H.D. Hyde (thrower–one of the best we have ever seen), J.A. Leach, II., H.C. Roome, H. Gridley, J.L. Pratt, P. Thompson; Umpire, L.R. Smith; Recorder of Score, A. Maddock.

William R. Plunkett, Esq., President of the Pittsfield Club, was chosen arbiter or referee, and it is somewhat remarkable, that his services were required to decide every point, the Umpires not being able to agree upon any question proposed for their decision.

It is due to the students of Williams to say, that previous to the reception of the challenge from Amherst, there was no organized Ball club at that institution, while at Amherst there has long been a famous Club.

Amherst had the first innings, and 25 rounds were played and recorded.  The results of each player and each club appear in the following table; the Amherst players winning a victory with a score twice that of their rivals [73 to 32]….

At the close of the contest the Pittsfield Base Ball Club gave a dinner to the two College Clubs at the U.S. Hotel, Mr. Henton having provided an excellent Dinner for the occasion.  Toasts and speeches followed the repast, and all who participated had “a glorious time,” as we are assured.

The match game of Chess was played on Saturday, and occupied from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., resulting in the triumph of Amherst.  At the 49th move Williams resigned, and Amherst was pronounced the winner.  A large number of amateurs were present in an adjoining room.

The names of the Amherst players were–Messrs. J.F. Claflin, A. Maddock and A.G. Biscoe; Umpire, F.A. Williams.  Williams–Messrs. E.E.K. Royce, E.S. Bowsterr, Henry Anstice; Umpire, E.B. Parsons. Referee, Geo. B. Hunt of Canaan, Ct.

A centennial reenactment of this game took place in May 1959, and a sesquicentennial game was played in May 2009. Here is a detailed account of the contest by Lauriston Bullard in Baseball Magazine from 1915:

THE score was: Amherst, 73, and Williams, 32. The game was played at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, July 1, 1859. There were 26 innings. When the winning team got back to their college town they found that their fellow-students had tired of waiting and gone to bed without learning the result of the contest. But they speedily climbed out of bed again; they rang bells and built bonfires, and spent a good part of the night cheering the victorious players. The next day when the team came home they were driven through the streets and made the target of congratulatory speeches on the campus by the members of the faculty. A large banner was borne before them with the score and the balls which had been used in the game.

Those balls are now hanging in the Amherst College trophy room, with this inscription: ”The veritable balls used in the first game of intercollegiate baseball ever played, July 1, 1859. Amherst vs. Williams, won by Amherst.”

But why is not the score included in the inscription? Is it possible that a total of 105 runs in four hours of ball playing is not held to be quite creditable these days? Such a score would not look well, surely, in a Harvard-Yale or a Williams-Amherst game to-day, nor in a game between two teams of knickerbockered youngsters from the primary schools.

Baseball was an infant game 50 years ago, if these players were not infants. Queer balls they were that figured in that game. Each team furnished one. The Williams ball was about seven inches in circumference; it weighed about two ounces, and it was covered with leather of a light color, so that the batters might have no difficulty in seeing it. The Amherst ball was a little heavier, but a trifle smaller; it was made by a North Brookfield man, and was considered a work of art.

There were 13 men on a side, also, in that game. The challenge was sent by Amherst some weeks in advance of the date finally adopted for the match. The rules were adopted after rather prolonged negotiations between representatives of the two colleges. These delegates met for conference, and at last adjusted their debatable questions by mail. It was settled that each party should use its own ball, that the ball must always be caught on the fly, and that the limit of the game should be understood to be 65 runs by one party or the other. It seems to have been a contest whose limit was to be the time required for one college to get that large number of runs, not a stipulated number of innings.

But neither college had a regular ball team in those days. The men who did the playing were “chosen by ballot from the students at large.” Nothing was known of the present trying-out system, by which a team is selected by a coach and a baseball committee, nor was there any daily practice in the colleges half a century ago. One strange fact is that all Williams College, including the faculty, was present at Pittsfield to see the game, while Amherst sent only the players and substitutes—17 men in all. Pittsfield had a baseball club at that time and a baseball ground and when the hour for the game, which was 11 o’clock in the morning, arrived all Williamstown seemed to be there, old men and young, girls and their mothers and grandmothers, the proprietors of female schools and their pupils, and they stood five and six deep all around the big field. There was no such thing as rooting in that primitive era, but there was as much enthusiasm to the square inch as ever gets loose at a big game in this advanced age.

The teams are said to have presented what would be an amusing spectacle today. There was a little attempt at likeness of dress. The Williams men were dressed in a sort of uniform and wore belts with the college name. But the Amherst fellows were distinguished only by a blue ribbon worn on the breast.

This is the order in which the teams batted that day[at left, below]. Amherst’s “thrower”—so they called the pitcher—was Hyde, and there were stories afloat on the field that he “was a professional blacksmith who had been hired for the occasion.” One bystander is reported to have said that he must have been a strong-armed blacksmith, for “nobody else could possibly throw for three and a half hours as this man did.”

Amherst Williams Box Score

Amherst Williams Box Score

Amherst went to bat first. At the end of the second round the score stood 9 to 1 in favor of Williams. The Williams spectators yelled and clapped and cheered somewhat after the style of the present-day concerted college yell. Amherst fought desperately and evened things up at the end of the third round. When the fourth was finished Amherst was ahead and stayed in the lead throughout the remainder of that long game. How long a game it must have been one can understand when he figures out the number of hair-raising innings a first-class club might reel off in almost four hours of steady playing nowadays. The spectators were keyed to high tension  through the whole of that time, although it is said that Amherst was the better in all departments of the game. Every man played as if the reputation of the college rested on his work. There was no kicking, every decision of the umpires being accepted without protest.

There were some queer rules and terms in that historic game. A man could be put out between bases by spotting him with the ball. The batter could knock the ball in any direction, so there were “side strikes” and “back knocks.” No gloves were worn and, of course, there were no masks or chest protectors.

The great thing that counted for Amherst is said to have been the perfect discipline of the team. It seems that every Amherst player had bound himself to obey every command of the captain, whatever the result might be. It is stated that the Amherst captain governed his men with great skill and that his team made only six errors. The Amherst catching was good, for no balls “were allowed to pass the catcher which were within reach and very few were allowed to drop which he touched. He missed but one ticked ball in the whole game, which was a remarkable feat when the striking was as quick and strong as that of Williams.”

Of the Amherst men who had part in that game there are now living but two besides their umpire. Marshal Cushman is in Washington in the Patent Office. F. E. Tower is a clergyman in Poughkeepsie, N. Y. The umpire, L. R. Smith, was at one time an Alabama judge and later a United States senator. Amherst’s pitcher was for a long time a Boston lawyer and became an influential benefactor and trustee of his college. The captain, J. T. Claflin, was once president of Tougaloo University.

Thoreau’s Diary Entry, and Other Tiny Clues as to Who Played Early Ball, and on What Occasions (Especially Holidays)

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

The article below, by Larry McCray, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball for which Larry served as guest editorHe 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 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:

Item 1830c.2, Thoreau’s Diary Entry, and Other Tiny Clues as to Who Played Early Ball, and on What Occasions (Especially Holidays) 

Larry McCray     

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.[1]

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.[2]

Ballplayers’ ages

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,”[3] 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,[4] 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.

Fast Day Proclamation March 16, 1776

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[5]
School College Military Holiday Social Event Total
Adults 14 17 9 2 42
Youth 6 6 21 2 35
Juveniles 8 12 20
Total 28 18 21 17 11 2 97

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,[6] but is not particularly frequent.
  • Special social events were not common ballplaying venues.[7]
  • Ballplaying at colleges was fairly common before 1830.[8]

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.

Manuscript journals of Henry David Thoreau

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.[9] 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.”[10]  In one Massachusetts town, separate games were traditionally organized for boys and for men.[11]  In 1862, two Civil War regiments from Massachusetts made a point on Fast Day of playing ball in their Maryland and Virginia camps.[12] 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.”[13] 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.”[14]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.[15]

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?”).[16] In New Bedford, it was reported that 1,000 spectators watched the season-closing game, and ceremonies, on Thanksgiving Day of 1858.[17]

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.


      1. Torrey, B. 1962. Journal of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 2, p. 270.


      3. See item 1621.1 for a recent definition of the “baseball family” of games.

      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:

      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).

      8. See, for instance, Lewis essay on ballplaying at Harvard at 1781.1 above. A compilation of 75 entries citing university play through 1862 is found at:

      9. See Protoball 1820s.14.

      10. See Protoball 1835c.5.

      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.

Protoball at Harvard: from Pastime to Contest

Harvard baseball club, 1866; Harvard University Archives, call # HUPSF Baseball (2).

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 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

Harry Lewis

The Freshmen shall furnish Batts, Balls, and FootBalls, for the use of the students, to be kept at the Buttery.[1]

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.”[2] 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.”[3]

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.[4] 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.”

Harvard-Brown 1870

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.”[5] 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.”[6] 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.[7] The ultimate source of this legend may be a baseball history published in 1891.[8] “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.”[9] 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.”[10]

Harvard BBC logo

Harvard BBC logo

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.”[11]

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.[12] 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.”[13]

Harvard game balls

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. . . .”[14] 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.”[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] In the first game, the Harvard ’66 nine beat Brown ’65, 27–17 at Providence on June 27, 1863.[18] This account is repeated in the original H Book of Harvard Athletics, the university’s sports bible and almanac.[19]

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).[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.”[23] Putnam’s son reported that the Club continued for a few more years,[24] 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.[25]

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:

Lowell Base Ball 1865 and 1866

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”[26] & 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.[27]

        1. Presidents, Professors, & Tutors Book, began January 27, 1775, pp. 257–260. Harvard University Archives, UA; 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 (

        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.

“The Bat and Ball”: A Distinct Game or a Generic Term?

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 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?

Brian Turner

Even at the celebration of the Lord’s supper [the Dutch boys] have been playing bat and ball the whole term around the house of God. [1]

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.”[2]

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,[3]  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.”[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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,[7] 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.”[8] 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.”[9] 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.”[10] 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.”[11] One Sentinel report, in 1827, reprinted from the Portland Christian Mirror, recalls “the game of Bat and Ball” played during the 1790s.[12] 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.”[13]

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.[14]

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.”[15] 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.[16]

Before 1854, J. Pierpont Morgan attended Boston English School and “in between school and work, played ‘bat and ball’ on Boston Common.”[17] 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.[18] 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.”[18] Pittsfield’s famous 1791 ban on “base ball,” along with cricket, wicket, and “bat ball,” included neither “bat and ball” nor “round ball.”[20]

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.

Ballplaying and Boston Common: A Town Playground for Boys . . . and Men

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 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

Brian Turner

Sam. Hirst got up betime in the morning, and took Ben Swett with him and went into the (Boston) Common to play at Wicket.[1]

Since 1634, Boston Common has been celebrated as “the outdoor stage on which many characteristic dramas of local life have been enacted.”[2] 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[3]; in 1858, the Common hosted the first New England match by New York rules.[4] 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].”[5] (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.”[6] 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.”[7]

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;[8] 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”?[9] 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.”[10] 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.”[11]

As long as anyone could remember, “Boston Common was the playground of the Boston School Boys.”[12] 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.”[13] 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….”[14] Between 1851 and 1854, J. Pierpont Morgan attended Boston English School and “in between school and work, played ‘bat and ball’ on Boston Common.”[15] 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.”[16]

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,[17] 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….”[18] 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….”[19]

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.”[20] 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.”[21] 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.”[23] 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.”[24] 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.”[25] 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.


New York Mansion Converted to Venue Suitable for Ballplaying: An Early Sighting of Baseball Clubs?

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 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:

Item 1821.5, New York Mansion Converted to Venue Suitable for Ballplaying: An Early Sighting of Baseball Clubs?

Richard Hershberger

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.[1]

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.”[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.”[6] 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.[7]

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.[8]

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.

        3. Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden “Brief History” ( and “Historic Timeline” (

        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.

Thurlow Weed and the Growth of Baseball in Rochester, New York

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 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:

Item 1825.1, Thurlow Weed and the Growth of Baseball in Rochester, New York

Priscilla Astifan

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.”[9]

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.[10] A letter published in The National Police Gazette in 1846 suggests that wicket was then played daily in Rochester.[11] A July 22, 1858, Advertiser account of a citizen’s ball play mentioned that the majority preferred wicket.[12] 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.”[13]

Organized New York baseball may have quietly arrived in Rochester as early as 1855.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]


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: 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”).

14. Ibid.

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.