New England Woman Observes Ball Play in Norfolk, Virginia in 1802

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by Tom Altherr, April 2013

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A New Find from Tom Altherr New England Woman Observes Ball Play in Norfolk, Virginia in 1802 Ruth Henshaw, a Massachusetts native, moved to southeast Virginia in 1801. The next spring, while traveling around the Norfolk area, twice she mentioned witnessing ball playing. In her April 25th diary entry, she wrote that on that Sunday she "saw great numbers of people of all ages, ranks and colours, sporting away the day --some playing ball, some riding the wooden horses..., others drinking, smoaking, &c." These activities offended her sabbatarian sensibilities, and she vowed she would not ride out on any more Sundays. But a couple of weeks later, traveling around Norfolk again on a Sabbath, she noted on May 9th "the inhabitants employed as they usually are on Sundays. some taking the air in coaches, some playing at ball, at nine pins, marbles, and every kind of game, even horseracing." Despite her disdain, Henshaw left valuable evidence of the seemingly commonplace status ball play had in her day in the South. Moreover, albeit the ambiguity of the first diary entry, African Americans may have been playing ball, perhaps even with whites. Source: [Ruth Henshaw Bascom], A New England Woman's Perspective on Norfolk, Virginia, 1801-1802: Excerpts from the Diary of Ruth Henshaw Bascom, A.G. Roeber, ed. (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1979), pp. 308-309 and 311.