Thursday, February 28, 2013

Newark's African American Base Ball Pioneers

Last month Richard Hershberger kindly shared with me, his list of clubs playing the New York game in 1855 which included nine clubs from New Jersey.  While my research has produced a slightly different list for the Garden State, it's clear that the New York game became pretty popular in New Jersey in 1855.  Richard's list includes four clubs from Newark, the state's largest city - the Newark, Newark Junior, Friendship and Olympic Clubs which are clearly documented in contemporary media accounts.

Not included was the St. John's Club which appears to have special significance beyond New Jersey.  All we know of the St. John's Club comes from the below October 24, 1855 Newark Daily Mercury article describing a rained out match with the Union Club.  Nothing in the brief account documents whether the match was played according to the New York rules so Richard is understandably taking a conservative approach by not including them.   As I've written before, the special significance of this find is that it is the earliest documented evidence of African-Americans organizing to play base ball, not just in New Jersey, but in the United States. From the account, it's not clear if the Union Club is from New Jersey, but the reference to the St. John's Club's grounds at the foot of Orchard Street describes a location used by other Newark clubs.

Newark Daily Mercury - October 24, 1855

Also of interest here is the club name, I've identified something like 150 antebellum New Jersey base ball clubs and not one other one uses a saint's name.  Is this based on a church affiliation or some fraternal organization?  At this point we have no way of knowing.  St. John's Roman Catholic Church, Newark's first Roman Catholic parish dates back to before 1855, but I think/speculate it's unlikely Newark's black population were of that persuasion.  There was also a St. John's Masonic Lodge in Newark at this time, but again I think African-American participation is unlikely.

Another possibility is some kind of connection to St. Philip's Episcopal Church, an African-American congregation founded in Newark in 1847.  The congregation continues today as part of Trinity & St. Philip's Cathedral in Newark and has some church organizations with other saint's names so the church could have sponsored a base ball club with a name other than St. Philip's.

What follows is more than a little speculative, but has some possibilities.  The next reference in the Newark newspapers to another African-American club in the city, is a September 30, 1862 Newark Daily Advertiser article about a match between the Hamilton Club of Newark and the Henson Club of Long Island.  This preceded by a few weeks, a more well known Brooklyn Daily Eagle account of a match between the Unknown and Alert Clubs, two African-American clubs.  Listed in the Eagle box score as the umpire was one, C. Ophate of the Hamilton Club of Newark.

Newark Daily Advertiser - September 30, 1862

When I first saw this reference, I did a census search for Mr. Ophate which came up empty.  Recently, however, it occurred to me that Ophate, might be a misspelling of O'Fake.  Certainly looking at the two names, it's not hard to imagine a harried reporter making such a mistake.  Searching for the O'Fake family in 19th century Newark is much more productive as they were a prominent, middle-class, African American family in the city.  During the 1850's and 1860's, two O'Fake brothers, Peter and John were, among other things, accomplished musicians with a band and a dancing school.  The O'Fakes were also not unknown to Newark's fledgling base ball community as John O'Fake's orchestra payed at the first annual ball of the Newark Club on February 13, 1856.  Also of interest is that both Peter and John were founding members of St. Philip's Church in 1847.

Newark Daily Advertiser - February 14, 1856

But could C. Ophate, the umpire from the 1862 Brooklyn match be C. O'Fake?  It turns out Peter O'Fake, had a son named Charles who born in 1845 who would have been 17 in 1862 so he at least theoretically could have been the umpire in question.  There are far to many unknowns to make even an educated guess, but it is at least possible.  There is also further evidence the O'Fakes had a base ball connection.  Writing to the Newark Sunday Call in 1926 after the death of the last survivor of the Eurkea Club, a correspondent self-styled as "Old Timer' mentioned among other memories of 19th century Newark base ball, that a "young O'Fake," "a very refined colored lad played for the Active Club of Newark."  I haven't seen any evidence of this through the late 1860's, but, if true, it could be evidence of an early integrated club.

Newark Daily Advertiser - June 10, 1856

Again, all of this is speculation arising out of a few brief accounts of African-American clubs in Newark.  Like many aspects of 19th century New Jersey base ball, it's a subject that needs more research and analysis.  One thing which does seem clear though is that African-Americans in Newark didn't waste any time picking up the "new" game.  Interestingly pioneering the organization of a base ball club in Newark may not have been limited to African-Americans.  Based on what I've seen so far, it appears the aforementioned Newark Junior Club was also the first of its kind, again, not just in New Jersey, but in the United States.  In the next few posts, we'll take a look at this other group of base ball pioneers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Jersey vs. Brooklyn in 1861 - Round 3

Our final 1861 New Jersey-Brooklyn match features one of the early game's pre-eminent clubs, the Brooklyn Atlantics, and the far less well known, Liberty Club of New Brunswick.  On the surface it seemed like a clear mismatch, but every member of the Atlantics had good reason to know better.  Founded in 1857, the Liberty began match play the following season with two victories over local New Jersey clubs, followed by two matches with the Atlantic.  Why the central Jersey club took such a quantum leap in class is unknown, but the results couldn't have been a surprise as the Brooklynites took both contests by a combined 85-22 score.

New Brunswick, NJ - Site of the September 27, 1860 Liberty-Atlantic Match

Things changed, however, two years later on September 27, 1860, when the two clubs met again in New Brunswick.  Taking an early lead, the Liberty led 7-4 after five innings only to see the Atlantics rally to go up 11-8 as the match went to the bottom of the seventh.  If the Brooklyn club thought they were back in control, they were very much mistaken as the local club scored four times in both the seventh and eighth to lead 16-11 as Brooklyn came to bat in the top of the ninth.  Looking down the barrel of perhaps the biggest upset of the ante bellum period, the Atlantics rallied to tie the game, but couldn't take the lead.  Fortunately for the Brooklyn club and the base ball status quo, the Liberty also failed to score and the game ended as a 16-16 tie.  Although the Atlantics were missing Pete O'Brien, they otherwise seemed to be at full strength, but the Brooklyn Daily Eagle seemed to attribute the near upset to the absence of O'Brien who the Eagle dubbed "a host to himself."

New Brunswick Daily Fredonian - September 28, 1860

For the rematch, less than a week later, O'Brien was on hand and the Atlantics had their full complement of players including Polkert Boerum, playing for the first time in 1860 due to a sojourn in Europe.  The game was a back and forth affair with the Brooklyn club leading 7-6 going to the bottom of the fifth.  At this point the Atlantics scored five times, led 12-6, and went on to win 15-10.  The Sunday Mercury praised the Liberty's play in defeat, calling it "a very creditable performance against superior playing."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 9, 1860

 The Eagle, on the other hand, seemed more interested in the post game dinner at the Montauk Restaurant near the Fulton Ferry, devoting four times as many print lines to the festivities as to the match itself.  During the evening Murray Van Nuise of the Liberty made the formal presentation o f the ball to the Atlantics.  In response, Mr. Tasse of the Atlantics praised the play of the Liberty and commented that "if you go on mending your play in this way, it will be hard to say who will take the ball next year."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 9, 1860

According to the Eagle account, the dinner broke up in time for the participants to see "the grand democratic procession on their way to the Cooper Institute."  This was, of course, part of the 1860 presidential election, the results of which made the first question for 1861 not "who will take the ball," but would the two teams even play each other.  As noted in earlier posts, the Atlantics played a reduced 1861 schedule of only eight matches, while the Liberty were inactive for most of the season.  Finally at the end of September, the New Brunswick nine defeated the Star Junior Club also of New Brunswick.  It wasn't until almost a month later that a Liberty-Atlantics match was arranged for October 28th at a neutral site in Newark.

Liberty Shortstop, Jarvis Wanser - some some 55 years after the 1861 match

Perhaps because the match was played so late in the season (the latest 1861 match for any of the prominent New York area clubs), it received little media coverage.  The Atlantics did have "some of their fine players" including Pete O'Brien, Dicky Pearce and Charles Smith, but were without pitcher, Mattie O'Brien, and some other regulars.  In the top of the first, it didn't seem like the absences would matter as the Brooklynites scored four times.  That lead lasted all of a 1/2 inning, however, as the Liberty scored five times in the bottom of the inning.  Although the Brooklyn club tied matters in the top of the second, it was all down hill from there as the Liberty scored 13 times over the next five innings and led 18-7 going to the top of the seventh.  A four run Atlantic seventh may have re-kindled some Brooklyn optimism, but the central Jersey club more than matched it with a seven run seventh.  The rout continued in the eighth as the Liberty outscored the Atlantics 5-1 for a 30-12 lead and, mercifully, from the Brooklyn point of view, the match ended there.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - October 31, 1861

Recognizing a rout when they saw one, the Eagle termed it a "thrashing" and a "total defeat" for the Atlantics against a "so called country club."  The Brooklyn paper praised the Liberty for playing the game "in a careful and handsome manner" and "acquitting themselves with credit" both on offense and defense.  The Sunday Mercury which apparently wasn't represented at the match put the upset down to the fact that "base ball is very uncertain" and the absence of the Atlantics' "regular pitcher."  Whatever the explanation it ended a very satisfactory season for New Jersey clubs in matches with the top Brooklyn clubs.  The Newark Club split two matches with the Eckfords and while the Eckfords did defeat the Eureka, the second year Newark team more than held their own in what was really a one-run defeat.  Although the Atlantics did defeat the Newark Club twice, the thrashing administered by the Liberty more than made up for those losses.

The Eagle article about the latter contest mentioned a rematch would take place "in a short time."  In fact, the Liberty didn't play the Atlantics or any other club for the next five years as the Liberty shut down operations for the duration of the war.  Perhaps somewhat ironically the post war Liberty never came close to the performance of the 1860-61 club.  This raises the fascinating, but unanswerable question of what would have happened to the Liberty if the war hadn't intervened.  Perhaps they, and not the Eureka, would have been the premier New Jersey club of the 1860's.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New Jersey vs. Brooklyn in 1861 - Round 2

In between their two matches with the Newark Club, the Eckford made another trip to New Jersey's largest city, this time on September 13, 1861 to take on the Eureka, a relatively new club.  Founded in the winter of 1860, and drawn primarily from the Washington Junior Club, the Eureka were a perfect 5-0 thus far in 1861.  Among their victories were triumphs over the Newark Club, the Harlem Club of New York and another Brooklyn team, the Enterprise.  So although a new club, they were hardly unknown.  In fact, the Sunday Mercury claimed the Eureka had already made a name for themselves in their inaugural season by virtue of an decisive defeat of the Harlem Club.

Like the Newark Club, the members of the Eureka came from different backgrounds than their visitors from Brooklyn.  Not only were the Eureka players primarily in white collar jobs, but two members, Edward Pennington and Steven Plum were descended from Newark's founding families.  Beyond base ball, Plum would amass such a large fortune that by 1900, his occupation was simply listed as capitalist while Pennington would become a lawyer and prominent Republican politician.

All of that was, however, in the future on this September day where "the largest assemblage of spectators" ever "in the good old city of Newark," came together to see what promised to be an enjoyable afternoon of base ball.  They would not be disappointed as even the more experienced eyes of the Sunday Mercury would conclude that the afternoon's work was "the best contested match of the season."  It was from beginning to end a defensive battle with "few misplays," but not much in the way of hitting.

Charles Thomas - Eureka Shortstop and Club Secretary

Although they were the visitors, the Eckford batted second and scored three times in each of the first two innings to take a 6-2 lead.  While the Eureka got a run back in the top of the third, they only scored once over the next three innings which the Brooklyn boys matched for a 7-4 lead heading to the top of the seventh.  The Eureka were not done, however, and in a relative offensive flurry they scored three times to tie the match at seven apiece and then blanked the Eckford in the bottom of the frame.

After the Eckford went out without scoring in the 7th, according to the Mercury, a "tremendous cheering went up from young Newark."  If so, it must have gotten even louder when the Eureka broke the tie  by scoring once in the top of the eighth to take their first lead at 8-7.  Unfortunately for the young Newarkers both on and off the field, the Eureka left two men on when James Linen foul tipped out for the third hand of the inning.  The Eckford made them pay in the bottom of the inning, putting two on, who scored on Josh Snyder's triple.  When Snyder himself scored on a wild pitch, the Brooklynites were hanging on to a 10-8 lead after 8 innings.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - September 14, 1861

When Albert Littlewood led off the ninth with a foul bound out to third, the Eckford may have gotten their hopes up that the Eureka would go quickly and quietly.  They were quickly disabused of that notion as Fred Callaway and Henry Northrop both singled putting the tying runs on first and third with only one out.  Both runners then advanced on a "pass ball" so the Eureka were down only one run with the tying tally on second.  Thinking he saw an opening Northrop tried to steal third and slid around Eckford third baseman, John Grum's tag.  However before Grum returned the ball to the pitcher, Northrop raised his foot from the base "by accident" and was quickly tagged by Grum and called out by umpire Pete O'Brien of the Brooklyn Atlantics.

While the Mercury felt the decision "manifestly just," the crowd responded with "a general hiss."  Now with none on and two out, the last Eureka made out, preserving the Eckford's 10-9 win which became 11-9 when the Brooklyn boys batted in the bottom of the inning and scored an unnecessary run.  In case anyone had missed the point from the beginning of his account, the Mercury writer closed by reminding his readers that the contest was "one of the quickest [one hour, 50 minutes], prettiest and most interesting games of the season."  It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say the game account paid as many compliments to the defeated Eureka than to the victorious Eckfords.

New York Sunday Mercury - September 22, 1861

There was, however, at least one Mercury reader and, presumably, a "hisser" at the match who was not mollified by the kind words.  Calling himself (herself - ?) "fair play," the writer took exception with the characterization of the call on Northrop at third being "manifestly just,"claiming the only way the Eureka runner's foot came off the base was if it was pushed by Grum.  Not in any way satisfied with the officiating of "the invincible Peter" (Mercury's description), "fair play" went on to suggest darkly that gambling might have influenced or even pre-determined the outcome.

New York Sunday Mercury - September 29, 1861

A week later, the Mercury made it clear that it, like Queen Victoria on another occasion, was "not amused." Although the paper had received a "lengthy communication" from the Eckford Club in response to "fair play," the paper felt no response from the club was necessary because they had won the game "fairly."  In the paper's view a response by the Eureka might be "well and good," and Eureka Club secretary Charles Thomas obliged, disclaiming any "knowledge or consent" of the letter and expressing satisfaction with the umpire's decisions.  While "fair play's" actions may have been unmanly, he, no doubt, enjoyed the Newark Club's defeat of the Eckford a few days later and, perhaps, took even more satisfaction with our next and final 1861 New Jersey - Brooklyn match.