It was only natural, therefore, that Newark, as New Jersey's largest city, would sponsor an expedition and the Newark Overland Company was formed in early 1849. The leader was General John Darcy, prominent Newark physician and political leader. For Shaff, it was an opportunity too good to miss so he signed on as one of the 26 Newark men in the total party of 37.
Newark Daily Advertiser - January 9, 1849
Newark Daily Advertiser - April 27, 1849
No matter how much they enjoyed the game, everyone was relieved on May 1st, when the wagon train got underway. The Newark Overland Company finally arrived in California in July where, as originally planned, the men split up, each to "work on his own hook." Shaff stayed in California for a few years, but returned to Newark by 1854 to work as a bookkeeper. Although he apparently didn't bring back great riches, Shaff had fond memories of base ball and Cartwright's stories of the Knickerbocker Club. Now and then Shaff saw accounts of the club's Elysian Field matches and discussed them with friends, not omitting that he himself had actually played the game out west with one of the club's founding members. Their interest piqued, the young men formed their own base ball club, proudly called it the Newark Club and elected John Shaff, Vice President in gratitude for his encouragement and advice. And so, thanks to Alexander Cartwright (not to mention John Shaff), base ball came to Newark and shortly thereafter the rest of New Jersey.
Pierson's Newark Directory for 1851-52
If the above sounds like an attempt at a creation myth for base ball in New Jersey, it's because that's exactly what it is. A myth, however, which is based on documented facts. Alexander Cartwright was indeed a member of the Newark Overland Company as was John Shaff (Newark Daily Advertiser, April 27, 1849) and they were part of the same "mess" (Alexander Cartwright by Monica Nucciarone, p.185). Shaff did return to Newark and was, in fact, both a founding member and the first Vice President of the Newark Club ( Newark Daily Advertiser, August 11, 1855 ). Furthermore while no proof exists that the men on the Overland Company played base ball, one of Monica Nucciarone's sources believes it is plausible they did so, especially during the long layover in Independence.
Whether any of this was a determining factor in the founding of the Newark Club is unlikely. Had Shaff been the prime mover, he most likely would have been the President, not William Dodd. But his status as a charter member and officer suggests he was more than just a mere follower. Shaff's accidental relationship with a member of the Knickerbockers also illustrates the many different ways a young man from New Jersey could have been exposed to base ball. In addition, it demonstrates that there was more mobility in that society than we tend to believe or at least, I tend to believe. If nothing else I should have learned this from one of my English ancestors where a long gap in his life was ultimately explained by the fact he spent 15 years in the India in the British Army!
Newark Daily Advertiser - August 11, 1855
As New Jersey's first base ball club (or at least the first to play a match), the Newark Club is important and merits detailed investigation. I've managed to identify a fairly high percentage of the charter members which is how I learned of Shaff's California expedition. While finding the specific details of the club's founding is very unlikely, I'm hoping to find enough information about these young men that will shed at least some further light on the story of base ball's beginnings in New Jersey.