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1750s.2 Town Ball and Cat Played in NC Lowlands?
One biographer has estimated: "Of formalized games, choices for males [in NC] appear to have been 'town-ball, bull-pen,' 'cat,' and 'prisoner's base,' whatever exhibitions of dexterity they may have involved" Chalmers G. Davidson, Piedmont Partisan: The Life and Times of Brigadier-General William Lee Davidson (Davidson College, Davidson NC, 1951), page 20. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "Chucking the Old Apple: Recent Discoveries of Pre-1840 North American Ball Games," Base Ball, Volume 2, number 1 (Spring 2008), page 32.
Caution: This is a very early claim for town ball, preceding even New England references to roundball or like games. It would be useful to examine C. Davidson's sources. Note: Can we determine what region of NC is under discussion? Text of the biography is unavailable via Google Books as of 11/15/2008. Prisoner's base is not a ball game, and bull-pen is not a safe-haven game.
1790s.4 Southern Pols Calhoun and Crawford: Ballplaying Schoolmates?
"These two illustrious statesmen [southern leaders John C. Calhoun and William H. Crawford], who had played town ball and marbles and gathered nuts together . . . were never again to view each other except in bonds of bitterness."
J. E. D. Shipp, Giant Days: or the Life and Times of William H. Crawford [Southern Printers, 1909], page 167. Caveat: Crawford was ten years older than Calhoun, so it seems unlikely that they were close in school. Both leaders had attended Waddell's school [in GA] but that school opened in 1804 [see #1804.1] when Crawford was 32 years old, so their common school must have preceded their time at Waddell's.
1804.1 SC School Opens, Students Play Town Ball and Bull Pen
At Moses Waddell's "famous academy" established in Wilkington in 1804, "instead of playing baseball or football, boys took their recreation in running jumping, wrestling, playing town ball and bull pen."
Meriwether, Colyer, History of Higher Education in South Carolina[Washington GPO, 1889], chapter II, page 39. Per Seymour, Harold - Notes in the Seymour Collection at Cornell University, Kroch Library Department of Rare and Manuscript Collections, collection 4809. Note: The terminology in this source appears more current than 1804, and it would be wise to consider whether it accurately depicts 1804 events. In addition, Seymour's note does not make clear whether the play described occurred at the time of the establishment of the academy, or later in its history.
1819.6 Ball Games Recalled in Southwestern WI
At the close of the Civil War, a dispute on the actual age Joseph Crele, who claimed to be 139 years old, reached Milwaukee newprint: "Beouchard . . . says he has known Crele for 40 years. In 1819, at Prarie du Chien, Crele was one of the most active participants in the games of base ball, town ball foot races, horse races, &c, and yet at that time, by the claim made for him, he must have been 93 years old."
MilwaukeeDaily Sentinel, April 4, 1865. As posted to the 19CBB listserve by Dennis Pajot, December 11, 2009. Prarie du Chien is about 90 miles west of Madison WI, on the Mississippi River. Note: it is interesting that Beouchard recalls two distinct games [and/or two distinct names of games] being played.
1820s.5 Town Ball Recalled in Eastern IL
"In the early times, fifty or sixty years ago, when the modern games of croquet and base-ball were unknown, the people used to amuse themselves with marbles, "town-ball" - which was base-ball in a rude state - and other simple pastimes of a like character. Col. Mayo says, the first amusement he remembers in the county was a game of town-ball, on the day of the public sale of lots in Paris, in which many of the "young men of the period engaged."
The History of Edgar County, Illinois (Wm. LeBaron, Chicago, 1879), page 273. Contributed January 31, 2010, by Jeff Kittel. Paris IL is near the Indiana border, and about 80 miles west of Indianapolis.
1820s.23 Town Ball Came to Central IL in the 1820s.
"This game [bullpen, the local favorite] was, in time, abandoned for a game called "town ball;" the present base ball being town ball reduced to a science."
The History of Menard and Mason Counties, Illinois (Baskin and Company, Chicago, 1879), page 252. Contributed by Jeff Kittel, January 31, 2010. Jeff notes that the author was in this passage describing educational conditions in the early 1820s. The two counties are just north of Springfield IL.
1829.1 Philadelphians Play Ball
A group of Philadelphians who may eventually organize as the Olympic Ball Club begin playing town ball in Philadelphia, PA, but are prohibited from doing so within the city limits by ordinances dating to Colonial times. A site in Camden, New Jersey is used to avoid breaking the laws in Philadelphia. Caution: this unsourced item, retained from the original chronology of 70 items, has been seriously questioned by a researcher familiar with Philadelphia ballplaying. This group may correspond to the eighteen ropemakers whose ball play is cited in “A Word Fitly Spoken,” published in The American Sunday School Magazine of January 1830, pp. 3-5.
1829.5 Town Ball Takes Off in Philadelphia?
A group of young rope makers is reported to have played a game of ball in 1829 at 18th and Race Streets.
William Ryczek, Baseball's First Inning (McFarland, 2009), page 114. Ryczek cites a 2006 email from Richard Hershberger as the source of the location of the game. He identifies this game as perhaps the earliest known form of town ball, but Hershberger is unconvinced (see Warning, below).
Citing the makeup of these players as differing from that of early town ball players' reports, and seeing the 1829 account as more of a morality tale than a reliable report, Richard Hershberger (email of 10/31/12) discounts this item as an account of the origins of Philadelphia town ball.
In 1831 two organized groups, which later merged, played town ball: for a succinct history of the origins of Philadelphia town ball, see Richard Hershberger, "A Reconstruction of Philadelphia Town Ball," Base Ball, volume 1 number 2 (Fall 2007), pp 28-29.
Can we find the source of this 1829 account?
1830s.16 Future President Plays Town Ball, Joins Hopping Contests
James Gurley knew Abraham Lincoln from 1834, when Lincoln was 25. In 1866 he gave an informal interview to William Herndon, the late President's biographer and former law partner in Springfield IL. His 1866 recollection:
"We played the old-fashioned game of town ball - jumped - ran - fought and danced. Lincoln played town ball - he hopped well - in 3 hops he would go 40.2 [feet?] on a dead level. . . . He was a good player - could catch a ball." Source - a limited online version of the 1997 book edited by Douglas L Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, Herndon's Informants (U of Illinois Press, 1997 or 1998). Posted to 19CBB on 12/11/2007 by Richard Hershberger. Richard notes that the index to the book promises several other references to Lincoln's ballplaying but [Jan. 2008] reports that the ones he has found are unspecific.. Note: can we chase this book down and collect those references?
The previous Protoball entry listed as #1840s.16: "He [Abraham Lincoln in the 1840s] joined with gusto in outdoor sports foot-races, jumping and hopping contests, town ball, wrestling"
Beveridge, Albert J., Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858. [Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1928]. Volume I, page 298. .The author provides source for this info as: "James Gourley's" statement, later established as 1866. Weik MSS. Per John Thorn, 7/9/04.
1830s.20 In GA, Men Played Fives, Schoolboys Played Base and Town Ball
"Men as well as boys played the competitive games of 'Long Bullets' and 'Fives,' the latter played against a battery built by nailing planks to twenty-foot poles set to make the [p31/32] 'battery' at least fifty feet wide. The school boys played 'base,' 'bull-pen,' 'town ball' and 'shinny' too." Jessie Pearl Rice, J. L. M. Curry: Southerner, Statesman, and Educator (King's Crown Press, New York, 1949), pages 6-7.
Per Thomas L. Altherr, "Chucking the Old Apple: Recent Discoveries of Pre-1840 North American Ball Games," Base Ball, Volume 2, number 1 (Spring 2008), pages 31-32. The full text of the Rice biography is unavailable via Google Books as of 11/15/2008. Long-bullets involved distance throwing. Fives is a team game resembling one-wall hand-ball. Curry's school was in Lincoln County GA, about 30 miles NE of Augusta.
1830s.23 In South-Central Illinois, Teachers Joined in On Town Ball
"The bull pen, town ball, and drop the handkerchief were among the sports indulged in on the school grounds, and the teacher usually joined in with the sports."
A. T. Strange, ed., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, Volume 2 (Munsell, Chicago, 1918), page 792. Contributed by Jeff Kittel, January 31, 2010. Accessed 2/5/10 via Google Books search ("town ball and drop). Jeff's comments: "The author is talking about the history of education in Montgomery County, IL, which is located south of Springfield and NE of St. Louis. It's tough to date this. He speaks of '75 or 80 years ago,' so it's probably the 1830s and 1840s."
1830s.29 PA Schoolboys Recalled as Playing Town Ball and Long Ball
Town Ball, Long Ball
"Here we played town ball, corner ball, sow ball and long ball. Sometimes we would jump, to see how high we could leap; then it was hop, step and jump. Once in a while we played ring, provided the girls would help, and generally they would..."
Samuel Penniman Bates, Jacob Fraise, Warner Beers, History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Containing a History of the County, its Townships, Towns, Villages, Schools, Churches, Industries, Etc; Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men; Biographies; History of Pennsylvania, Statistical and Miscellaneous Matter, etc. (Chicago: Warner, Beers and Company, 1887), page 300.
This observation is attributed to John B. Kaufman, a teacher turned surveyor in Franklin County, PA , reflecting on his childhood spent in a log school house in "50 odd years ago": Kaufman was born in 1827. Find confirmed 10/9/2014 via search of <"john b. kaufman" "long ball">
Franklin County PA is in south central PA, on the Maryland border. Its population in 1830 was about 35,000.
1831.1 A Ball Club Forms in Philadelphia; It Later Adopts Base Ball, and Lasts to 1887
The Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia unites with a group of ball players based in Camden, NJ
Orem writes: "An association of Town Ball players began playing at Camden, New Jersey on Market Street in the Spring of 1831."
Orem says, without citing a source, that "On the first day but four players appeared, so the game was "Cat Ball," called in some parts of New England at the time "Two Old Cat." Later accounts report that the club formed in 1833, although J. M. Ward  also dated the formation of the club to 1831.
Orem notes that "so great was the prejudice of the general public against the game at the time that the players were frequently censured by their friends for indulging in such a childish amusement."
* * *
In January 2017, Richard Hershberger reported (19CBB posting) that after more than five decades, the club disbanded in 1887 -- see Supplemental Text, below.
The Olympic Club played Town Ball until it switched to modern base ball in 1860. See Chronology entry 1860.64.
* * *
For a reconstruction of the rules of Philadelphia town ball, see Hershberger, below. Games were played under the term "town ball" in Cincinnati as well as Philadelphia and a number of southern locations (for an unedited map of 23 locations with references to town ball, conduct an Enhanced Search for <town ball>.
* * *
The club is credited with several firsts in American baserunning games:
 1833: first game played between two established clubs -- see Chronology entry 1833c.12.
 1837: first team to play in uniforms -- see Chronology entry 1837.14.
 1969: First interracial game -- See Chronology entry 1869.3.
* * *
[Orem, Preston D., Baseball (1845-1881) From the Newspaper Accounts(self-published, Altadena CA, 1961), page 4.]
Constitution of the Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia [private printing, 1838]. Parts reprinted in Dean A. Sullivan, Compiler and Editor, Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 [University of Nebraska Press, 1995], pp. 5-8.
Richard Hershberger, "A Reconstruction of Philadelphia Town Ball," Base Ball, Volume 1 number 2 (Fall 2007), pp. 28-43. Online as of 2017 at:
For a little more on the game of town ball, see http://protoball.org/Town_Ball.
The "firsts" tentatively listed above are for the US play of baserunning games other than cricket. Further analysis is needed to confirm or disconfirm its elements.
Protoball would welcome an analysis of the US history of town ball and its variants.
It seems plausible that town ball was being played years earlier in the Philadelphia. Newspaper accounts refer to cricket "and other ball games" being played locally as as early as 1822. See Chronology entry 1822.3.
Is it accurate to call this a "town ball" club? When was it formed? Dean Sullivan dates it to 1837, while J. M. Ward [Ward's Base Ball Book, page 18] sets 1831 as the date of formation. The constitution was revised in 1837, but the Olympic Club merged with the Camden Town ball Club in 1833, and that event is regarded as the formation date of the Olympics. The story of the Olympics is covered in "Sporting Gossip," by "the Critic" in an unidentified photocopy found at the Giamatti Research Center at the HOF. What appears to be a continuation of this article is also at the HOF. It is "Evolution of Baseball from 1833 Up to the Present Time," by Horace S. Fogel, and appeared in The Philadelphia Daily Evening Telegraph, March 22-23, 1908.
2 Are we certain that the "firsts" listed in this entry predate the initial appearance of the indicated innovations in American cricket?
1833c.12 America's First Interclub Ballgame, in Philadelphia
[A] In Philadelphia PA, the Olympic Club and an unnamed club merged in 1833, but only after they had, apparently, played some games against one another. "Since . . . there weren't any other ball clubs, either formal or informal, anywhere else until at least 1842, this anonymous context would have to stand as the first ball game between two separate, organized club teams anywhere in the United States." The game was a form of town ball.
[B] Richard Hershberger describes the Olympic's opponent as "a loose of collection of friends who had been playing (town ball) together for two years," and considers it a match game in that "both sides had existence outside of that game." He dates one of the games to July 4, 1833, as the Olympic club had been formed to play a game on the holiday.
[A] John Shiffert, Base Ball in Philadelphia (McFarland, 2006), page 17.
[B] Richard Hershberger, "In the Beginning-- Olympics vs. Camden", Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century (SABR, 2013), pp. 1-2.
1834.9 Town Ball, Other Games on Sabbath Subject to Dollar Fine in Springfield IL
"Any person who shall on the Sabbath day play bandy, cricket, cat, town ball, corner ball, over ball, fives, or any other game of ball, within the limits of the Corporation, or shall engage in pitching dollars, or quoits in any public place, shall on conviction thereof, be fined the sum of one dollar."
Illinois Weekly State Journal, June 14, 1834.
Richard Hershberger writes: "If I recall correctly, the earliest known cites for "town ball" are reportedly from 1837, from local ordinances in Canton, IL and Indianapolis, IN. This is a similar ordinance, from Springfield, IL, from 1834."
1835.4 A Ballplayer's Progress: "Bound and Catch," "Barn Ball," "Town Ball"
H. H. Waldo told the Mills Commission: "I commenced playing ball seventy years ago (1835). I was the only one in the game and it was called "Toss up and Catch," or "Bound and Catch." A few years later I played "Barn Ball." Two were in this game, one a thrower against the barn, and catcher on its rebound, unless the batter hit it with a club; if so, and he could run and touch the barn with his bat, and return to the home plate before the ball reached there, he was not out - otherwise he was.
"A few years later the school boys played what was called "Town Ball." That consisted of a catcher, thrower, 1st goal, 2nd goal and home goal. The inner field was diamond shape: the outer field was occupied by the balance of the players, number not limited. The outs were as follows: Three strikes," "Tick and catch," ball caught on the fly, and base runner hit or touched with the ball off from the base. That was sometimes modified by "Over the fence and out." [Note: this places Town Ball at about 1840 or so.]
Letter from H. H. Waldo, Rockford IL, to the Mills Commission, July 7, 1905.
1838.11 On a Day Trip to Camden NJ, Philly Man Documents Olympic Club
"Messrs Editors - Feeling desirous the other day of breathing air somewhat purer [than Philadelphia PA's, I took the ferry to Camden]. I took up a stroll into the bordering woods; it being a lovely day, all nature seemed to be in vegetation. A small distance from the woods, I beheld a party of young men (the majority of whom I afterwards distinguished to be Market street merchants) and who styled themselves the "Olympic Club," a title well answering to its name by the manner in which the party amused itself in the recreant pleasure of town ball, and several other games. In my estimation, there is much benefit to be derived from a club of this nature. Young men who are confined to the daily toils of business, and who can get away . . . should avail themselves of the opportunity to become associated with the "Olympic Club." Signed, H.M.O.
Public Ledger(Philadelphia PA) May 14, 1838. Posted by Richard Hershberger to the 19CBB listserve, April 1, 2009. Subscription search. Richard notes that this becomes the earliest Philly ref to town ball, and pushes back from 1858 the earliest contemporary account of the Olympics. 1838 is also the reported date of the Club's constitution. Note: The writer and editor obviously expected readers to be familiar with town ball, and the name town ball.
1839.1 Graves Letters of 1905 Say that Doubleday Invented Base Ball
[A] Abner Doubleday, who was to become a Civil War notable, is much later (1905) said to have "invented" baseball at Cooperstown, New York, according to the findings of the Mills Commission (1905-1907), a group of baseball magnates appointed by the American and National League Presidents to investigate the origins of baseball. The Commission bases its findings almost entirely on letters received from Abner Graves, a resident of Cooperstown in his childhood. The Commission's findings are soon discredited by historians who proclaim the "Doubleday Invention" to be entirely a myth.
The Doubleday game, according to Graves' offerings, retained the plugging of runners, eleven players per team, and flat bats that were four inches wide. Graves sees the main improvement of the Doubleday game that it limited the size of teams, while town ball permitted "twenty to fifty boys in the field."
Graves believed that Abner Doubleday was 16 or 17 years old when he saw him lay out his improved game [in fact, Doubleday was 20 in 1839, and at West Point]. Graves himself declined to fix a year to the Doubleday plan, suggesting that it might have occurred in 1839, 1840, or 1841. In choosing 1839, the Commission rested its story on the memory of a boy who was then 5 years old.
[B] Mark Pestana provides a scenario of this game, which he considers more likely to have taken place in 1840.
[C] As Pestana does, Hugh MacDougall wonders if Graves was confusing (General) Abner Doubleday with his younger cousin, Abner D. Doubleday, who was closer to Graves' age and was in Cooperstown at the time.
[A] Three Letters from Abner Graves -- two letters to the Mills Commission, April 3, 1905 and November 17, 1905 and one of unknown details. To read them, go here.
[B] Mark Pestana, "The Legendary Doubleday Game", Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century (SABR, 2013), pp. 3-5
[C] Hugh MacDougall, Abner Graves: The Man who Brought Baseball to Cooperstown, 2011.
1840c.17 Town Ball and Ballmaking in OH
"Among the favorite games engaged in my the larger boys, special mention may be made of 'Three Corner Cat,' and of 'Town Ball,' the latter sport being a simple form of what has developed into the national game of baseball. Improvised playing-balls were made, not unusually, by winding strong woolen yarn tightly around a central mass of India-rubber, and covering the compact sphere with soft, tough leather cut to the proper shape by a shoemaker."
W. H. Venable, A Buckeye Boyhood [publisher? Date?], page 126. Seymour, Harold - Notes in the Seymour Collection at Cornell University, Kroch Library Department of Rare and Manuscript Collections, collection 4809.
1840s.41 Town Ball Recalled in Central IL
"Men had the hunt, the chase, the horse-race, foot-race, the jolly meetings at rude elections . . . pitching horseshoes - instead of quoits, town-ball and bull-pen."
James Haines, "Social Life and Scenes in the Early Settlement of Central Illinois," Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1905 (Illinois State Journal Co, Springfield, 1906), page 38. Contributed by Jeff Kittel, January 31, 2010. Accessed 2/9/10 via Google Books search ("quoits, town-ball and"). The author addressed local amusements before 1850.
1840s.42 Town Ball Club Finds Spot in NYC For Playing
"In the early '40s a town ball club arranged to hold its games on a vacant plot across from the Harlem Railroad depot on 27th and Fourth."
Randall Brown, "How Baseball Began," The National Pastime, 2004, page 53. Brown does not give a source. Query: do we know of other references to town ball in New York? Can we find the source for this entry?
1845c.13 Town-ball in IN Later [and Vaguely?] Recalled
"Town-ball is one of the old games from which the scientific but not half so amusing "national game" of base-ball has since evolved. . . . There were no scores, but a catch or a cross-out in town-ball put the whole side out, leaving others to take the bat or "paddle" as it was appropriately called."
Edward Eggleston, "Some Western School-Masters," Scribner's Monthly, March 1879. Submitted by David Nevard, 1/26/2007. David notes that this is mainly a story about boys tarrying at recess, and can be dated 1845-1850. In other games, a "cross-out" denotes the retiring of a runner by throwing the ball across his forward path. Contemporary Georgia townball [see #1840.24 above] often used paddles. Egglestoiin was an Hoosier historian and novelist. Note: "No scores?
1846.9 Town Ball in Rockford IL
"I came West 59 years ago, in 1846, and found "Town Ball" a popular game at all Town meetings. I do not recall an instance of a money bet on the game; but, at Town meeting, the side losing had to buy the ginger bread and cider." [July letter]
"[Town Ball] was so named because it was mostly played at "Town Meetings." It had as many players on a side as chose to play; but the principal players were "Thrower" and "Catcher." There were three bases and a home plate. The players were put out by being touched with ball [sic] or hit with thrown ball, when off the base. You can readily see that the present game [1900's baseball] is an evolution from Town Ball." [April letter]
Letters from H. H. Waldo, Rockford IL, to the Mills Commission, April 8 and July 7, 1905.
1848c.9 Young Benjamin Harrison Plays Town Ball, Baste in OH
[As a teenage student at Farmer's College, near Cincinnati OH, Harrison] "[w]hile closely applying himself to study, always standing fair in his classes, respected by instructors and popular with his associates, prompt in recitation and obedient to rules, nevertheless he found time for amusement and sport, such as snow-balling, town-ball, bull-pen, shinny, and baste, all more familiar to lads in that day than this."
Life and Public Services of Hon. Benjamin Harrison [Sedgewood Publishing Company, 1892], page 53.
1850s.20 Town-ball Played in Ohio with "Lazarus" Rule
Mark Hanna, Repubican Senator from Ohio, 1897-1904
"Town-ball was base-ball in the rough. I recall some distinctive features: If a batter missed a ball and the catcher behind took it, he was 'caught out.' Three 'nips' also put him out. He might be caught out on 'first bounce.' If the ball were thrown across his path while running base, he was out. One peculiar feature was that the last batter on a side might bring his whole side in by successfully running to first base and back six times in succession, touching first base with his bat after batting. This was not often, but sometimes done; and we were apt to hold back our best batter to the last, which we called 'saving up for six-maker.' This phrase became a general proverb for some large undertaking; and to say of one 'he's a six-maker,' meant that he was a tip-top fellow in whatever he undertook, and no higher compliment could be passed. I have no definite recollection of he Senator's special success at ball, his favorite game; in the broad fields of subsequent life he certainly became a 'six maker.'"
Source: Henry C. McCook, The Senator: A Threnody (George W. Jacobs, Philadelphia, 1905), page 208. This passage is excerpted from the annotations to a long poem written in honor the memory of Senator Marcus Hanna of OH. The likely location of the games was in Lisbon, in easternmost OH - about 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh PA.. The verse itself: "Shinny and marbles, flying kite and ball, / Hat-ball and hand-ball and, best loved of all!-/ Town-ball, that fine field sport, that soon/ By natural growth and skilful change, became/ Baseball, by use and popular acclaim/ Our nation's favorite game" [Ibid. page 54]. McCook's note describes hat-ball as a plugging game, and hand-ball as a game for one sides of one, two, or three boys that was played "against a windowless brick gable wall."
Posted to 19CBB on 8/13/2007, by Richard Hershberger, supplemented by 8/14/2007 and 12/19/2008 emails.
Note: were "nips" foul tips?
1850s.30 Town Ball Well Known in Illinois
"Football and baseball, as played today [in 1918], were unknown games. What was known as townball, however, was a popular sport. This was played with a yarn ball covered with leather, or a hollow, inflated rubber ball, both of which were soft and yielding and not likely to inflict injury as is so common today in baseball. Townball was much played in the schoolhouse yard during recess and at the noon hour."
Charles B. Johnson, Illinois in the Fifties (Flanigan-Pearson Co., Champaign IL, 1918), page 79. Contributed by Jeff Kittel, January 31, 2010. Accessed 2/10/10 via Google Books search <"illinois in the fifties">. Jeff notes that, while describing Illinois pastimes generally, the author was from Pocahontas, IL, in southeast IL, about 50 miles east of St. Louis.
1850s.31 Town Ball Played in Southeast MO
"The men found amusement . . . in such humble sports as marbles and pitching horseshoes. There were also certain athletic contests, and it was no uncommon thing for the men of the neighborhood to engage in wrestling and in the jumping match. This was before the day of baseball, but the men had a game, out of which baseball probably developed, which was called 'town ball.'"
Robert S. Douglass, History of Southeast Missouri (Lewis Publishing, 1912), page 441. Contributed by Jeff Kittel, January 31, 2010. Accessed 2/10/10 via Google Books search (douglass southeast).
Douglass is not explicit about the period referenced here, but that it is before the Civil War.
Jeff notes that the author is covering small towns in Southeast MO located away from the Mississippi River and isolated from one another.
1850s.42 Indianans Play Town Ball, Two Old Cat
"There were several games of ball played when the weather wold permit. The first was town ball and was played somewhat after the style of baseball, but without outfielders. The bases were much nearer together than in baseball. There is no question that baseball is an outgrowth of the old town ball.
"Another ball game was called 'Two Old Cat,' in which there was a batter at each end, and when one of them hit they exchanged places, and either could be put out before he reached the other plate. As I remember only four could play at once."
Judge Ivory George Kimball, Recollections from a Busy Life 1843 to 1911 (The Carnahan Press, 1912), page 31. Reported in Originals, volume 4, number 11 (November 2011), page 3.
Finder Tom Altherr asks whether there are other known examples of town ball lacking outfielders. One possibility is that the use of a soft ball and young batsmen combined to make long hits so rare as not needing an outfield.
1850s.43 South Carolina College Students Make Do with Town Ball, "Cat"
"Much of the trouble of the (U. of S. Carolina) professors have have no doubt been obviated if there had been outdoor sports or athletics to relieve pent up animal spirits. A game of ball, perhaps, 'town ball,' or 'cat', was played."
Edwin L. Green, A History of the University of South Carolina (The State Company, 1916), page 242.
The text does not state the exact period that is described in this account.
1850s.48 'Bama Boys Play Town Ball on Campus
"Remembering his days as a student at the University of Alabama in the 1850s, George Little wrote of the penchant for playing town ball: 'Our favorite outdoor game was town ball. This game was played very much like the modern game of baseball but was played with a soft rubber ball. The ball was thrown at the runner and if he was hit between bases he was out.'"
George Little, Memoirs of George Little (Weatherford Printing Company, Tuscaloosa, 1924), age 14. As reported by Tom Altherr, Town Ball at the University of Alabama in the 1850s, Originals, volume 3, number 10 (October 2010), page 2.
1852.7 San Francisco Plaza Again Active, This Time with "Town Ball;"
"For the last two or three evenings the Plaza has been filled with full grown persons engaged very industriously in the game known as 'town ball.' The amusement is very innocent and healthful . . . . The scenes are extremely interesting and amusing, and the place is peculiarly adapted for that purpose."
"Public Play Ground," Alta California, January 14, 1852
On June 11, 2007, John Thorn reported a similar CA find: "A game of "town ball" which was had on the Plaza during the week, reminded us of other days and other scenes. California Dispatch, January 2, 1852.
In the prior year (see item #1851.2) the game at the Plaza had been called base ball in two news accounts, and town ball in none that we now have. Note the account of prior base ball in SF at 1851.2 above. Angus explains that six former members of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in Manhattan were then in SF, and thus the reported games may have been played by modern rules.
Angus adds - email of 1/16/2008 - that this appears to be the last SF-area mention of base ball or town ball until 1859.
1852.8 Adult Town Ball Seen in on a Sunday in IL
"[N]ot a great while ago, [I] saw a number of grown men, on a Sabbath morning, playing town-ball."
"I grieve to say the stores all do business on the Sabbath. We hope, by constantly showing the people their transgression, to break up this [commerce] , the source of so much other sin."
Rev. E. B. Olmsted, The Home Missionary [Office of the American Home Missionary Society] Volume 24, Number 1 [May 1852], page 188.
The location of the game was Cairo, Illinois.
1855c.1 "Massachusetts Run-Around" Recalled
Massachusetts Run-Around, Town Ball
"This [Massachusetts Run-Around] was ever a popular game with us young men, and especially on Town Meeting days when there were great contests held between different districts, or between the married and unmarried men, and was sometimes called Town Ball because of its association with Town Meeting day."
"It was an extremely convenient game because it required as a minimum only four on a side to play it, and yet you could play it equally as well with seven or eight. . . . There were no men on the bases; the batter having to make his bases the best he could, and with perfect freedom to run when and as he chose to, subject all the time to being plugged by the ball from the hand of anyone. It was lively jumping squatting and ducking in all shapes with the runner who was trying to escape being plugged. When he got around without having been hit by the ball, it counted a run. The delivery of the ball was distinctly a throw, not an under-hand delivery as was later the case for Base Ball. The batter was allowed three strikes at the ball. In my younger days it was extremely popular, and indulged in by everyone, young and old."
T. King, letter to the Mills Commission, November 24, 1905; accessed at the Giamatti Center, HOF.
Did King grow up in MA? Do we know why this ref. is dated c1855?
1855c.2 Town Ball Played in South Carolina
A woman in South Carolina remembers: "The first school I attended with other pupils was in 1855. Our teacher was a kind man, Mr. John Chisholm. The schoolhouse was the old Covenanter brick church. We had a long school day. We commenced early in the morning and ended just before sundown. We had an hour's intermission for dinner and recreation. The boys played town ball and shot marbles, and the few girls in school looked on, enjoyed, and applauded the fine plays."
Remarks of Mrs. Cynthia Miller Coleman [born 1/17/1847], Ridgeway, SC, at loc.gov oral history website:
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/wpa/30081905.html, accessed 2/11/10.
Ridgeway SC is in central SC, about 25 miles north of Columbia.
1857.16 Early Use of the Term "Town Ball" in NY Clipper
The article reported a "Game of Town Ball" in Germantown PA.
New YorkClipper, September 19, 1857.
Information posted by David Block to 19CBB 11/1/2002. David writes that this is the earliest "town ball" game account he knows of.
1857.29 Six-Player Town-ball Teams Play for Gold in Philly
"TOWN BALL. - The young men of Philadelphia are determined to keep the ball rolling . . . On Friday, 20th ult. (10/20/1857 we think) the United States Club met on their grounds, corner of 61st and Hazel streets . . . each individual did his utmost to gain the prize, at handsome gold ring, which was eventually awarded to Mr. T. W. Taylor, his score of 26 being the highest." Each team had six players, and the team Taylor played on won, 117 to 82.
New York Clipper (November--as handwritten in clipping collection; no date is given -- 1857).
Do we now know any more about this event? Was it an intramural game? Was a six-player side common in Philadelphia town ball? Was a gold ring a typical prize for winning?
1858.7 Newly Reformed Game of Town Ball Played in Cincinnati OH
Clippings from Cincinnati in 1858 report on the Gymnasts' Town Ball Club match of July 22, 1858: "They played for the first time under their new code of bye laws, which are more stringent than the old rules." The game has five corners [plus a batter's position, making the basepaths a rhombus in general shape], sixty feet apart, meaning 360 feet to score. The fly rule was in effect, and plugging was disallowed, and the rules carefully require that a batsman run every time he hits the ball.
The New York Clipper carried at least four reports of Cincinnati town ball play between June and October of 1858. The earliest is in the edition of June 26, 1858 - Volume 6, number 10, page 76. Coverage suggests that teams of eight players were not uncommon, although teams of 13 and 11 were also reported.
An oddity: in a July intramural contest, batter Bickham claimed 58 runs of his team's 190 total, while the second most productive batsman mate scored 30, and 5 of his 10 teammates scored fewer than 6 runs each. One wonders what rule, or what typo, would lead to that result.
1858.58 First Chicago Club Forms
Base Ball, Town Ball
[A] "A team called the Unions is said to have played in Chicago in 1856, but the earliest newspaper report of a game is found in the Chicago Daily Journal of August 17, 1858, which tells of a match game between the Unions and the Excelsiors to be playing on August 19. A few other games ere mentioned during the same year."
[B] "Though baseball match games had been played in Illinois since the very early 1850's, the first Chicago Club, the Union, was not established until 1856."
[C] "There seems to be some doubt as to when the first baseball club was organized at Chicago, but it has been stated that a club called the Unions played town ball there in 1856."
[D] If these claims are discounted, modern base ball can dated in Chicago in 1858 when a convention of clubs takes place and the Knick rules are published.
[A] Edwina Guilfoil, et. al., Baseball in Old Chicago (Federal Writers' Project of Works Project Administration, 1939), unpaginated page 4.
[B] John R. Husman, "Ohio's First Baseball Game," Presented at the 34th SABR Convention, July 2004.
[C] Alfred Spink, The National Game (Southern Illinois Press, 2000 -- first edition 1910), page 63.
[D] "A Knickerbocker," Base Ball, Chicago Press and Tribune, July 9, 1858.
None of these sources gives a reference to evidence of the 1856 formation of the Union Club, so we here rely on the documented reference to a planned 1858 game.
Jeff Kittel (email of 3/9/2013) notes that there is an August 1857 Chicago Tribune article on a cricket club called the Union Club; perhaps later memories confused the cricket or town ball clubs with a modern-rules base ball club?
Jeff also notes that "[A date of] late 1857/1858 fits the time frame for the spread of the game south and west of Chicago - into Western Iowa by 1858 and St. Louis by 1859, with hints that it's in central Illinois by 1859/60. That spread pattern also fits the economic/cultural spread model that we've kicked around."
Can we find any clear basis for the report of 1856 establishment of modern base ball?
1859.4 Base Ball Club Forms in Augusta GA: Town Ball Played Also/Instead
"Baseball Club formed in Augusta in 1859," unidentified clipping at the Giamatti Research Center, Cooperstown, September 15, 1985. Per Millen note # 42.
"Town Ball. - On the 24th ult., the young men of Augusta, Ga., met on the Parade Ground, and organized themselves in two parties for enjoying a friendly game at this hearty game." They played two innings, and "W.D.'s side scored 43, squeezing the peaches on P. B.'s, who managed only 19.
Query: Is there any indication that Association rules were used by the reported club?
From another source: The Daily Chronicle and Sentinal [Augusta?] in 1860 reported that the Base Ball Club of Augusta had formed the previous year. It reported on this "noble and manly game" as played on November 7, 1860"
"There were 6 innings. Doughty's side made 32 rounds; Russell's side made 20 rounds."
The New York Clipper (date and page omitted; date inferred from scrapbook placement). Facsimile from page 25 (column 3, third story) of a Mears Collection scrapbook.
From an unidentified clipping marked [in hand] "September 15, 1985 Augusta GA," in the Origins file at the Giamatti Center of the Hall of Fame.
1860.13 Town Ball Hangs on in Philadelphia
The New York Clipper of August 11, 1860, page 132, carries accounts of two July town ball games in Philadelphia PA,  one involving the Olympics and  another involving two second-team elevens.
New York Clipper August 11, 1860, page 132
Richard Hershberger comments: "This is interesting on several counts. This is firm evidence that that the Olympics did not completely give up town ball the previous May , as is usually reported. It also shows that not only were there at least two other clubs playing town ball, but that there was enough interest for them to field second teams." Richard Hershberger posting to 19CBB, 1/31/2008.
1860.20 Lincoln Awaits Nomination, Plays Town Ball?
"During the settling on the convention Lincoln had been trying, in one way and another, to keep down the excitement . . . playing billiard a little, town ball a little, and story-telling a little."
A story circulated that he was playing ball when he learning of his nomination: "When the news of Lincoln's nomination reached Springfield, his friends were greatly excited, and hastened to inform 'Old Abe' of it. He could not be found at his office or at home, but after some minutes the messenger discovered him out in a field with a parcel of boys, having a pleasant game of town-ball. All his comrades immediately threw up their hats and commenced to hurrah. Abe grinned considerably, scratched his head and said 'Go on boys; don't let such nonsense spoil a good game.' The boys did go on with their bawling, but not with the game of ball. They got out an old rusty cannon and made it ring, while the [illeg.: Rail Splitter?] went home to think on his chances."
Henry C. Whitney, Lincoln the Citizen [Current Literature Publishing, 1907], page 292.
"How Lincoln Received the Nomination," [San Francisco CA] Daily Evening Bulletin vol.10 number 60 (Saturday, June 16, 1860), page 2 column 3.
Richard Hershberger and others doubt the veracity of this story. He says [email of 1/30/2008] that one other account of that day says that Abe played hand-ball, and there is mention of this being the only athletic game that Abe was ever seen to indulge in.
A political cartoon of the day showed Lincoln playing ball with other candidates. It can be viewed at http://www.scvbb.org/images/image7/.
Thanks to Kyle DeCicco-Carey for the link.
1860.35 All-Out-Side-Out Town Ball Played in Indiana
"Town Ball at Evansville, Ind. - A match of Town Ball was contested between the married and single members of the Evansville [IN] Town Ball Club, on the 26th ult. [5-inning box score is presented.] The correspondent, to whom we are indebted for the above report, says that the rules and regulations of the game of town ball, vary a great deal. There, an innings is not concluded until all are out . . . The club, it is thought, will adopt base ball rules, such as are played in the East."
New York Clipper, facsimile from the Mears Collection (date omitted from scrapbook source, confirmed as June 9, 1860
Evansville is in southernmost IN, near the Kentucky border.
1860.53 Organized Town Ball in St. Louis
"Town Ball. - All the Deputy Sheriff's, Marshall's and some of the clerks at the Court House went out on Franklin Avenue, in Leffingwell Avenue, yesterday afternoon, and had a spirited game of old town ball. We are glad to know that this pleasant game has been revived this season. A regular club has been organized, and will meet once a week during the season."
St. Louis Daily Bulletin, Friday, May 4, 1860.
1861c.3 Lincoln and Baseball: The Presidential Years
Town Ball, Base Ball
[A] "We boys, for hours at a time, played "town ball" [at my grandfather's estate in Silver Spring, MD] on the vast lawn, and Mr. [Abe] Lincoln would join ardently in the sport. I remember vividly how he ran with the children; how long were his strides, and how far his coat-tails stuck out behind, and how we tried to hit him with the ball, as he ran the bases."
[B] "Years after the Civil War, Winfield Scott Larner of Washington remembered attending a game played on an old Washington circus lot in 1862...Lincoln, followed by his son Tad...made his way up to where he could see the game...On departing Lincoln and Tad accepted three loud cheers from the crowd."
[A] Recollection [c.1890?] of Frank P. Blair III in Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 2 (Lincoln Memorial Association, New York, 1900), page 88.
[B] The Evening Star (Washington, D. C.), July 12, 1914. Quoted in American Baseball: From Gentleman's Sport to the Commissioner System (university of Oklahoma Press, 1966), p.11.
Blair, whose grandfather was Lincoln's Postmaster General, lived in Silver Spring, MD, just outside Washington. Blair was born in 1858 or 1859.
1861.20 Confederate Soldier's Diary Reports on Town Ball Playing, 1861-1863
December 1861 (Texas?): "There is nothing unusual transpiring in Camp. The boys are passing the time playing Town-Ball."
January 1862 (Texas?): "All rocking along finely, Boys playing Town-Ball"
March 1863 (USA prison camp, IL?): The Rebels have at last found something to employ both mind and body; as the parade ground has dried up considerably in the past few days, Town Ball is in full blast, and it is a blessing for the men."
March 1863 (USA prison camp, IL?): "Raining this morning, which will interfere with ball playing, but the manufacture of rings 'goes bravely on,' and I might say receives a fresh impetus by the failure of the 'Town-ball' business."
W. W. Heartsill, Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army: A Journal Kept by W. W. Heartsill: Day-by-Day, of the W. P. Lane (Texas) Rangers, from April 19th 1861 to May 20th 1865. Submitted by Jeff Kittel, 5/12/09. Available online at The American Civil War: Letters and Diaries Database, at http://solomon.cwld.alexanderstreet.com/. PBall file: CW10.
Heartsill joined Lane's Texas Rangers early in the War at age 21. He was taken prisoner in Arkansas in early 1862, and exchanged for Union prisoners in April 1863. He then joined Bragg's Army in Tennessee, and was assigned to a unit put in charge of a Texas prison camp of Union soldiers. There are no references to ballplaying after 1863.
manufacture of rings?
1866.5 Modern Game Compared to Traditional Town Ball in IL
Base Ball, Town Ball
"Base Ball resembles our old-fashioned favorite game of Town Ball sufficiently to naturalize it very quickly. It is governed by somewhat elaborate rules, but the practice is quite simple. Nine persons on a side, including the Captains, play it. Four bases are placed ninety feet apart, in the figure of a diamond. The Batsman, Ball Pitcher, and one Catcher, take the same position as in Town Ball. Of the outside, besides the Pitcher and Catcher, one is posted at each base, one near the Pitcher, called the â€œShort Stop,â€â€”whose duty is the same as the others in the fieldâ€”to stop the ball. The Innings take the bat in rotation, as in Town Ball,â€”and are called by the Scorer. The ball is pitched, not thrown to themâ€”a distance of fifty feet. The Batsman is permitted to strike at three â€œfairâ€ balls, without danger of being put out by a catch, but hit or miss, must run at the third â€œfairâ€ ball. He may "tip" or hit a foul.
The full article, with commentary from finder Richard Hershberger, is found below in the Supplemental Text section.
Illinois State Journal, May 10, 1866.
() Any idea why this morsel hadn't turned up before 2014?
() By 1860, the modern game seems well-established in Chicago -- was it still unfamiliar elsewhere in IL as late as 1866?
() The writer seems unfamiliar with the modern force-out rule; wasn't that introduced prior in base ball prior to 1866?
() Is it possible that the absence of a comment about the modern no-plugging rule means that local town ball already used a no-plugging rule?
() Many throwback articles mention that the new ball is harder than traditional balls. Could local town ball have already employed hard balls?