Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Camden Club - Who are these guys?

Identification of Civil War era base ball players has its challenges.  The primary sources are newspaper box scores which for the most part list only last names.  For common names that's pretty much useless and even if a name seems somewhat unique, all it takes is two young men with the same surname to irrevocably muddy the waters.  Fortunately for the Camden Club, some surviving box scores have first and middle initials.  Even with that additional help I was still somewhat surprised to be able to identify 15 of the 21 club members listed in 1858 newspaper accounts.

That degree of identification, facilitates a comparison between the Camden Club players and a larger group of northern New Jersey players analyzed by George Kirsch in the 1983 Spring/Summer issue of "New Jersey History."  Perhaps the biggest surprise was how young the Camden players were.  In 1858, their second year of existence, the average age of the south Jersey boys was just under 20 compared to almost 27 for the north Jersey group.  All told 12 of the 15 were 19 or younger with relative gray beards like Nathan Mulliner (31) and Treasurer, Charles Rudderow (30) the oldest members.  At the other end of the spectrum were David Vickers (only 13) and the Camdens most notable product, Weston Fisler at 15.

Age was not the only difference between the two groups.  With only two immigrants (brothers Arthur and Frederick Merry), just over 90% of the Camden Club was native born, slightly higher than the 84% of the north Jersey players.  Not surprisingly given their youth, the young men from Camden owned very little, if any, real property compared to an average of over $8600 for their neighbors to the north.  One similarity was occupation where even as young men in 1860, most of the Camden Club members worked in either white collar jobs or in skilled trades.

A number of the members of the Camden Club went on to bigger and better things.  Base ball wise, as noted in an earlier post, the most successful by far was Weston Fisler.  Equally noteworthy in their own fields were Frederick Merry and Martin Grey.  Merry, who along with brother, Arthur, were the only non-native born Camdens, became a well known architect, helping to design a portion of Philadelphia's Fairmount Park as well as numerous buildings in the New York metropolitan area where he died in 1900.  Already a lawyer in 1860, Martin Grey, son of the publisher of the West Jerseyman, a Camden newspaper, became vice chancellor of New Jersey, dying in 1906 while still in office.

Flag of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment 

Merry was the older brother of Arthur, one of the two Camdens and one of four New Jersey base ball players to make the ultimate sacrifice at Gaines Mill in June of 1862.  More fortunate at Gaines Mill were Frank Knight and Robert Dunham.  Knight,  president of the Camden Club, was a captain commanding Company G of the 3rd New Jersey.  "Caught in a tight spot," Knight tried to surrender, instead was struck in the back with a rifle butt by an unsympathetic Confederate.  Doubtless furious at this unmanly act, the ball player drew his pistol and "shot the ruffian dead."  Although he got out of that scrape, Knight was still taken prisoner because he wouldn't abandon mortally wounded teammate, William Evans.  Subsequently exchanged, Knight became Lieutenant Colonel of the nine-month, 24th New Jersey and left the army for good at the end of the regiment's service.

Frank L. Knight 

Dunham was the treasurer of the Camden Club and a staff officer at Gaines Mill where he barely avoided death or serious injury from a rebel shell.  Dunham stayed in the army for the rest of the war, but for some reason received a dishonorable discharge in August of 1865.  That story is perhaps symbolic of a number of potentially interesting aspects of the Camden Club that merit further research.  It's all part of the fascinating story of 19th Century New Jersey Base Ball, truly A Manly Pastime!

1 comment:

  1. Richard HershbergerJanuary 10, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    "For common names that's pretty much useless and even if a name seems somewhat unique, all it takes is two young men with the same surname to irrevocably muddy the waters."

    Testify, brother! The Olympic Club in the 1850s had a member by the name of Hartman Kuhn. There was at about the same time also a Hartman Kuhn in the Philadelphia Cricket Club. They were cousins.