Sunday, July 12, 2015

Base Ball in (New) Barbados

On Saturday, the Neshanock traveled to historic New Bridge Landing for the third annual day of vintage base ball sponsored by the Bergen County Historical Society.  For the second consecutive year, Flemington played two seven inning matches of 1864 base ball against our old friend Eric Miklich and his Brooklyn Eckford team.  At the time of the American Revolution, New Bridge Landing was a small mill community centered around a bridge across the Hackensack River.  The bridge played a crucial part in the events of late 1776 when on November 20th, the British invaded New Jersey driving before them George Washington and his rapidly shrinking Continental Army.  Timely use of the bridge enabled the Americans to stay ahead of their pursuers and begin the long tortuous retreat across New Jersey which finally ended with the attack on Hessian garrison at Trenton on Christmas night 1776.  The area around New Bridge Landing was built for many things, but base ball wasn't one of them - the space available is so limited that it could take a separate blog post to fully describe the ground rules.  It's perhaps reminiscent of the challenges the early Manhattan clubs faced in finding adequate space.  Challenges that made nearby Elysian Fields look so attractive.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Although a relatively new team, the Eckford and their irrepressible leader are very talented and easily dominated the first contest winning by a 21-2 count.  The combination of only six Neshanock hits and some untimely lapses in the field let the game get out of hand early and stay that way.  Flemington's scoring was summed up in Rene "Mango" Marerro's two run first inning home run.  Another bright spot was two hits by Neshanock newcomer, Greg "Muffin" Wiseburn.  After a brief respite, the two clubs went at it a second time in a much closer contest, but with the Eckford again coming out on top.  Flemington got off to a 3-1 lead in the first inning only to see the Eckford take a 7-3 lead after three innings.  The Neshanock kept Eric and his mates off the scoreboard for the rest of the game, but managed only two more tallies to lose a well played 7-5 match.  "Mango" and Dan "Sledge" Hammer each had two hits in the second game with "Hammer" contributing a double and a triple.

Photo by Mark Granieri

One unique moment in the second game came in the bottom of the third when the Eckford loaded the bases with only one out and Eric Miklich at the plate.  The leader of the Brooklyn club managed first to hit a foul grounder that led to a base runner being put out for trying to advance on a foul ball and then hit a bound out to right field.  In effect Eric hit into a double play but took two swings to do so, one of the most unusual methods of killing your own team's rally that has been seen in a long time.  There was also a moment in the first game when it appeared Eric was not only mistaken about a play, but even admitted his error, although some witnesses (read Eric) dispute that interpretation.  Any day of base ball with Eric Miklich is enjoyable and today was no exception.  Next weekend the Neshanock journey to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the annual vintage base ball festival featuring 18 teams from as far away as Tennessee, playing at a venue so large that five games are played simultaneously.  Historically it's been a great weekend and this should be  no exception.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Historic New Bridge Landing is located in River Edge next to Hackensack where the Zinn family lived for about 70 years from 1850 to at least 1920.  Visiting the area so soon after the arrival of Henry George Zinn on June 25th naturally brought back memories of those historic roots.  Historic enough that the Zinns lived in the area prior to the formation of Hackensack's first base ball club.  That honor appears to belong to the Ionic Club, organized in June of 1866.  It's somewhat surprising, at least to me, that Hackensack didn't have a club before then, but organized base ball seems to have been slow to reach Bergen County despite its proximity to Manhattan and what appears to be significant traffic between the two locales.  In any event, the Ionic patriotically played their first match on July 4, 1866 and received an ungentlemanly 54-5 drubbing (in just five innings) at the hands of the Everett Club.  The local paper tried to pour journalistic salve on the club's wounds by reporting the opponents were a picked nine from the Active and "one or two other city clubs."  Apparently unwilling to allow the new club to salvage even a modicum of respect, the secretary of the Everetts corrected the paper insisting their team was "without exception" made up of club members.

Eric Miklich ready for action or a verbal repartee
Photo by Mark Granieri

Apparently able to put that disaster behind them, the new Hackensack club got back on the field less than two weeks later defeating the Alpha Club of Coytesville (now a section of Fort Lee) by a basketball like score of 68-56 in a game that lasted five hours although there was an hour's rain delay.  Getting more than a little bit ahead of itself, the Bergen County Democrat claimed the victory showed "that all they [the Ionics] need is practice to make them the champions of the county."  Having thus tempted the base ball gods, it's no surprise that the Ionics immediately lost two straight games before hitting their stride in a home and home series against the Star Club of Cresskill.  Playing for a bat and ball, the Hackensack boys won both games, one by a margin of 30 runs and the other by an improbable 53 tallies, scoring 87 times in the process.  Not surprisingly the Ionics scored in every at bat including 15, 17, 18 and 20 run innings.  The scoring was surprisingly balanced up and down the lineup with six Ionics crossing the plate at least 10 times.

Bergen County Democrat - September 7, 1866

Attempts to identify Ionic Club members from the 1870 census, even with first initials, was the usual exercise in frustration, but three positive identifications of young men in their early 20's indicates this was not a junior club.  Interestingly all three were residents, not of Hackensack, but neighboring New Barbados.  From what I've read, New Barbados was originally a township formed in 1710 which covered a huge area of what is now Bergen County.  Gradually sections of the township became separate communities, what was left of New Barbados was absorbed into Hackensack in 1921.  A map from about the time the Ionics began play shows New Barbados as an area south of Hackensack.  Scrolling through the pages of the 1870 New Barbados census produced an added benefit as I also found John Zinn and his wife, Katherine, who immigrated from Germany in 1849.   The search engine had picked up the "Z" as a "G," explaining why prior searches had come up empty.

Centinel of Freedom - June 26, 1810, William Quick was Charles Ebbets great-grandfather

New Barbados always seemed a strange name for a place in northern New Jersey and the explanation opens the door to one of the more unsavory sides of New Jersey history which predictably isn't that well known.  According to James Gigantino, in his book, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1776 to 1865, between 1660 and 1670, planters/farmers on the Caribbean Island of Barbados were effectively driven off the island by a sugar boom.  Some of them made their way to Bergen County where they found good farm land and a large market for their crops in New York City.  Looking to preserve some aspect of their former home, they called the new one New Barbados.  Unfortunately in addition to whatever farm implements they brought with them, the planters also brought their black slaves.

John G. Zinn is the second player from the left, in the second row - the thing on his right hand is a base ball glove

The popular image of slavery is, of course, large southern plantations with hundreds of slaves working the fields.  As Gigantino points out, Bergen County slave holders typically owned far fewer slaves who worked as farm laborers, artisans and other laboring jobs.  By 1790 there were almost 11500 slaves in New Jersey, more than all of New England combined and more proportionately to population than far more larger New York City.  Leading the way within the state was Bergen County with just over 2300 slaves in 1790 which grew to over 2800 a decade later, the last census before the state abolished the institution of slavery in 1804.   One Bergen County slave owner was Charles Ebbets maternal great grandfather, William Quick, who in 1810 offered to sell a 17 year old boy for $200 (about $4000 today). The reason Quick still owned a slave after the passage of the abolition bill is that the law freed only slaves born after July 4, 1804 and then only after 20-25 years of involuntary servitude to the mother's owner.  The process was so drawn out that the disposition of slaves (usually sold rather than freed) was part of estate settlements in Bergen County into the 1840's.

Henry G. Zinn 

When the Ionics took the field in 1866, however, no slave labor was available for Bergen County farms.  In 1870 both 44 year old John Zinn and his 20 year old son (also John) gave their occupations as farm laborers.  Perhaps the decreasing number of slaves in Bergen County in the 1830's and 1840's, made the area more attractive to immigrants especially those with an agrarian background.  At the same time, the elder Zinn reported on the 1870 census that he owned real estate worth $4000 (about $74000 today) and $1000 ($18000 today ) in personal property so they clearly were doing more than scraping out a subsistence existence.  Somehow, seeing their names on the 1870 census as farmer laborers, convinced me that no matter how many base ball clubs there were in Hackensack at the time, these two generations didn't play their new country's game, at least not formally.  But the family was there and the game was there so taking it up was probably only a question of time and my grandfather (and namesake) was a first baseman for the Borden's Milk company team while his son, Henry (young Henry's namesake) went on to be an all Bergen County outfielder in the 1930's.  The connections between our family and base ball remain strong and hopefully that will continue with this new generation of Zinns.

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