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Baseball Before Doubleday

July 2024
1min read

I N THE LAST issue Victor Salvatore examined the origins of the myth that Gen. Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. In name at least, the game stretches back far beyond the general’s birth, and across the Atlantic. Herewith, some citations:

1700: Rev. Thomas Wilson of Maidstone, England, recalls in his memoirs: “I have seen Morris-dancing, cudgel-playing, baseball and cricketts, and many other sports on the Lord’s day.”

1744: In A Little Pretty Pocket Book , a rhyming alphabet primer that went through several American editions, the letter B stands for “base-ball”:

The Ball once struck off,

Away flies the Boy

To the next destined Post,

And then Home with Joy.

1748: Mary Lepel, Lady Harvey, describes the family of Frederick, Prince of Wales, as “diverting themselves with baseball, a play all who are or have been schoolboys are well acquainted with.”

1778: George Ewing, a Revolutionary soldier, writes of helping pass bitter winter days in Valley Forge by playing “base.”

1786: A Princeton student confides to his diary: “A fine day, play baste ball in the campus but am beaten for I miss both catching and striking the ball.”

1798: Jane Austen writes in her novel Northanger Abbey , “It was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base-ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country, at the age of fourteen, to books.”

1825: The political boss Thurlow Weed recalls in his autobiography; “Though an industrious and busy place, [Rochester’s] citizens found leisure for rational and healthy recreation. A base-ball club, numbering nearly fifty members, met every afternoon …”

1829: Boy’s Own Book , published in London, gives rules for the game of “rounders”; when the book is republished in Boston under the title Boy’s and Girl’s Book of Sports , these same rules appear under the heading “Base, or Goal Ball.” When the American edition is republished in 1839, the game has become simply “Base Ball.”

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