Early Baseball Milestones

What are your baseball origins? Where did you play your first game? Baseball traces its roots through the annals of history, well before the founding of Major League Baseball. This chronology, from Protoball (an extensive gathering of early materials documenting the origins of baseball), records the order of events related to the development of baseball starting in 2500 B.C. Enjoy, and share with us your own baseball milestones.

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  • 1477 - List of Banned Games May Include Distant Ancestors of Cricket?


    A Westminster statute, made to curb gambling by rowdy soldiers upon their return from battle, reportedly imposed sanctions for "playing at cloish, ragle, half-bowls, handyn and handoute, quekeborde, and if any person permits even others to play at such games in his house or yard, he is to be imprisoned for three years; as also he who plays at such game, to forfeit ten pounds to the king, and be imprisoned for two years."

    Observations Upon the Statutes, Chiefly the More Ancient, from Magna Charta to the Twenty-first [Year] of James the First, etc. (Daines Barrington, London, 1766), page 335.

    The author adds: "This is, perhaps, the most severe law which has ever been made in any country against gaming, and some of the forbidden sports seem to have been manly exercises, particularly the handing and handoute, which I should suppose to be a kind of cricket, as the term hands is still retained in that game [for what would later be known as innings].

    An1864 writer expands further: "Half-bowls was played with pins and one-half of a sphere of wood, upon the floor of a room. It is said to be still played in Hertfordshire under the name of rolly-polly. Hand-in and hand-out was a ring-game, played by boys and girls, like kissing-ring [footnote 31]." John Harland, A Volume of Court Leet Records of the Manor of Manchester in the Sixteenth Century (Chetham Society, 1864), p 34. Accessed 1/27/10 via Google Books search ("court leet" half-bowls). "Roly-poly" and hand-in/hand-out are sometimes later described as having running/plugging features preserved in cat games and early forms of base ball. Thus, these prohibitions may or may not include games resembling baseball. Query: Can residents of Britain help us understand this ancient text?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1770 - British Soldiers Seek Amusements, Rebels Yawn


    "the presence of large numbers of British troops quartered in the larger towns of the [eastern] seaboard brought the populace into contact with a new attitude toward play. Officers and men, when off duty, like soldiers in all ages, were inveterate seekers of amusement. The dances and balls, masques and pageants, ending in Howe's great extravaganza in Philadelphia, were but one expression of this spirit. Officers set up cricket grounds and were glad of outside competition. . [text refers to cock-fighting in Philadelphia, horseracing and fox hunts on Long Island, bear-baiting in Brooklyn].

    "There is little indication, however, that the British occupation either broke down American prejudices against wasting time in frivolous amusements or promoted American participation and interest in games and sports."

    Krout, John A., The Pageant of America: Annals of American Sport (Oxford U Press, 1929), page 26.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1775 - Soldier in CT "Played Ball All Day"


    "Wednesday the 6. We played ball all day"

    [Lyman, Simeon], "Journal of Simeon Lyman of Sharon August 10 to December 28, 1775," in "Orderly Book and Journals Kept by Connecticut Men While Taking Part in the American Revolution 1775 - 1778," Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, volume 7 [Connecticut Historical Society, 1899, p. 117. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref # 26. Lyman was near New London CT.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1775 - Soldier in MA Played Ball


    Thomas Altherr writes in 2008: "Ephriam [Ephraim? - TA] Tripp, a soldier at Dorchester in 1775, also left a record, albeit brief, of ball playing: 'Camping and played bowl,' he wrote on May 30. 'Bowl' for Tripp meant ball, because elsewhere he referred to cannonballs as 'cannon bowls.' On June 24 he penned: 'We went to git our meney that we shud yak when we past muster com home and played bawl.'" Note: Dorchester MA, presumably? Is it clear whether Tripp was a British soldier? May 1775 was some months before an American army formed.

    E. Tripp, "His book of a journal of the times in the year 1775 from the 19th day," Sterling Memorial Library Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University: "Diaries (Miscellaneous) Collection, Group 18, Box 16, Folder 267. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "Chucking the Old Apple: Recent Discoveries of Pre-1840 North American Ball Games," Base Ball, Volume 2, number 1 (Spring 2008), page 39.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1776 - NJ Officer Plays Ball Throughout His Military Service


    Elmer, Ebenezer, "Journal of Lieutenant Ebenezer Elmer, of the Third Regiment of New Jersey Troops in the Continental Service," Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society [1848], volume 1, number 1, pp. 26, 27, 30, and 31, and volume 3, number 2, pp.98. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref # 29.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1776 - Revolutionary War Officer Plays Cricket, Picks Blueberries


    "The days would follow without incident, one day after another. An officer with a company of Pennsylvania riflemen [in Washington's army] wrote of nothing to do but pick blueberries and play cricket." David McCullough, 1776 (Simon and Schuster, 2005), page 40. McCullough does not give a source for this item. Provided by Priscilla Astifan, 19CBB posting of 8/5/2008 and email of 11/16/2008. McCullough notes that the majority of the army comprised farmers and skilled artisan [ibid, page 34].

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1778 - Teamster Sees Soldiers Play Ball.


    [Joslin, Joseph], "Journal of Joseph Joslin Jr of South Killingly A Teamster in the Continental Service March 1777 - August 1778, in "Orderly Book [sic?] and Journals Kept by Connecticut Men While Taking Part in the American Revolution 1775 - 1778," Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, volume 7 [Connecticut Historical Society, 1899, pp. 353 - 354. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref # 27.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1778 - MA Sergeant Found Some Time and "Plaid Ball"


    Symmes, Rebecca D., ed., A Citizen Soldier in the American Revolution: The Diary of Benjamin Gilbert of Massachusetts and New York [New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, 1980], pp. 30 and 49; and "Benjamin Gilbert Diaries 1782 - 1786," G372, NYS Historical Association Library, Cooperstown. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref # 30.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1778 - Ewing Reports Playing "At Base" and Wicket at Valley Forge - with the Father of his Country


    George Ewing, a Revolutionary War soldier, tells of playing a game of "Base" at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: "Exercisd in the afternoon in the intervals playd at base. Caveat: It is unknown whether this was a ball game, rather than prisoner's base, a form of tag.

    Ewing also wrote: "[May 2d] in the afternoon playd a game at Wicket with a number of Gent of the Arty . . . ." And "This day [May 4, 1778] His Excellency dined with G Nox and after dinner did us the honor to play at Wicket with us."

    Ewing, G., The Military Journal of George Ewing (1754-1824), A Soldier of Valley Forge [Private Printing, Yonkers, 1928], pp 35 ["base"] and 47 [wicket]. Also found at John C. Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. Volume: 11. [U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1931]. page 348. Submitted by John Thorn, 10/12/2004. The text of Ewing's diary is unavailable at Google Books as of 11/17/2008.

    Also note:

    "Q. What did soldiers do for recreation?

    "A: During the winter months the soldiers were mostly concerned with their survival, so recreation was probably not on their minds. As spring came, activities other than drills and marches took place. "Games" would have included a game of bowls played with cannon balls and called "Long Bullets." "Base" was also a game - the ancestor of baseball, so you can imagine how it might be played; and cricket/wicket. George Washington himself was said to have took up the bat in a game of wicket in early May after a dinner with General Knox! . . . Other games included cards and dice . . . gambling in general, although that was frowned upon."

    From the website of Historic Valley Forge; see

    http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/youasked/067.htm, accessed 10/25/02. Note: it is possible that the source of this material is the Ewing entry above, but we're hoping for more details from the Rangers at Valley Forge. In 2010, we're still hoping.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1779 - Lieutenant Reports Playing Ball, and Playing Bandy Wicket


    "Samuel Shute, a New Jersey Lieutenant, jotted down his reference to playing ball in central Pennsylvania sometime between July 9 and July 22, 1779; 'until the 22nd, the time was spent playing shinny and ball' Incidentally, Shute distinguished among various sports, referring elsewhere in his journal to 'Bandy Wicket.' He did not confuse baseball with types of field hockey [bandy] and cricket [wicket] that the soldiers also played." Thomas Altherr. Note: Gomme says that "bandy wicket" was a name for cricket in England. [XXX add cite here]

    [Shute, Samuel], "Journal of Lt. Samuel Shute," in Frederick Cook, ed., Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 [Books for Libraries Press, Freeport NY, reprint of the 1885 edition], p. 268. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref # 28.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1779 - Revolutionary War Soldier H. Dearborn Reports Playing Ball in PA


    Brown, Lloyd, and H. Peckham, eds., Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn 1775 - 1783 [Books for Libraries Press, Freeport NY, 1969 [original edition 1939]], pp 149 - 150. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref # 1.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1781 - Teen Makes White Leather Balls for Officers' Ball-Playing


    Hanna, John S., ed., A History of the Life and Services of Captain Samuel Dewees, A Native of Pennsylvania, and Soldier of the Revolutionary and Last Wars [Robert Neilson, Baltimore, 1844], p. 265- 266. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref #37.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1803 - Cricket Reaches Australia


    "The first mention of cricket in Australia is in the Sydney Gazette of 8 January 1804. 'The late intense weather has been very favourable to the amateurs of cricket who have scarce lost a day for the last month.'"

    Egan, Jack, The Story of Cricket in Australia (ABC Books, 1987), page 6. It is believed that the players included officers and/or men from the Calcutta, which arrived in Sydney in December 1803. (Ibid., page 10.)

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1812 - Soldier Van Smoot's Diary Notes Playing Catch at New Orleans LA


    Peter Van Smoot, an Army private present at the Battle of New Orleans, writes in his diary: "I found a soft ball in my knapsack, that I forgot I had put there and started playing catch with it."

    Note: Citation needed. John Thorn, 6/15/04: "I don't recognize this one"

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1813 - War of 1812 General in OH Said to Play Ball with "Lowest" Soldiers


    General Robert Crooks was in Ohio during the War of 1812 to deal with Indian uprisings. One published letter-writer was not impressed: "These troops despise every species of military discipline and all the maxims of propriety and common sense . . . . Gen. Crooks would frequently play ball and wrestle with the lowest description of common soldiers, his troops were never seen on parade . . . "

    "Extract of a Letter dated Marietta, Feb. 3, 1813," Washingtonian, May 5, 1813. Accessed via subscription search, 4/9/2009.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1815 - US Prisoners in Ontario at End of War of 1812 Play Ball


    Fairchild, G. M., ed., Journal of an American at Fort Malden and Quebec in the War of 1812 [private printing, Quebec, 1090 [sic; 1900?], no pagination. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref # 87.]

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1815 - US Prisoners in England Play Ball - at Some Peril, It Turned Out


    [1] [Waterhouse, Benjamin], A Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts, Late a Surgeon on Board an American Privateer, Who Was Captured at Sea by the British in May, Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen, and Was Confined First, at Melville Island, Halifax, then at Chatham, on England, and Last, at Dartmoor Prison [Rowe and Hooper, Boston, 1816], p. 186. Per Thomas L. Altherr, "A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball," reprinted in David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, ref # 88. [2] "Journal of Nathaniel Pierce of Newburyport [MA], Kept at Dartmoor Prison, 1814 - 1815," Historical Collections of Essex Institute, volume 73, number 1 [January 1937], p. 40. Per Altherr ref # 89. [3] [Andrews, Charles] The Prisoner's Memoirs, or Dartmoor Prison [private printing, NYC, 1852], p.110. Per Altherr ref # 90. [4] Valpey, Joseph], Journal of Joseph Valpey, Jr. of Salem, November 1813- April 1815 [Michigan Society of Colonial Wars, Detroit, 1922], p. 60.

    A ball game reportedly led to the killing of nine US prisoners in April 1815: "On the 6th of April, 1815, as a small party were amusing themselves at a game of ball, some one of the number striking it with too much violence, it flew over the wall fronting the prison and the sentinels on the other side of the same were requested to heave the ball back, but refused; on which the party threatened to break through to regain their ball, and immediately put their threats into execution; a hole was made in the wall sufficiently large for a man to pass thro' - but no one attempted it." 500 British soldiers appeared, and the prisoners were fired upon en masse.

    "Massacre of the 6th of April," American Watchman, June 24, 1815. Accessed via subscription search 2/14/2009.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1818 - "Baseball" at West Point NY?


    "Although playing ball games near the barracks was prohibited, cadets could play 'at football' near Fort Clinton or north of the large boulder neat the site of the present Library. [Benjamin] Latrobe makes curious mention of a game call 'baseball' played in this area. Unfortunately, he did not describe the game. Could it be that cadets in the 1818-1822 period played the game that Abner Doubleday may have modified later to become the present sport?"

    Pappas, George S., To The Point: The United States Military Academy 1802 - 1902 [Praeger, Westport Connecticut, 1993], page 145. Note: Pappas evidently does not give a source for the Latrobe statement. I assume that the 1818-1822 dates correspond to Latrobe's time at West Point.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1830 - Australia's First Recorded Cricket Match Played


    The Sydney Gazette [date not supplied] reported on a match between a military club and the Australia Cricket Club, comprising native-born members. They played at "the Racecourse" at Sydney's Hyde Park, attracted as many as 200 spectators, and set stakes of £20 per side.

    Egan, Jack, The Story of Cricket in Australia (ABC Books, 1987), page 12.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1842 - Duke of Wellington Requires Cricket Ground for Every Military Barrack.


    Wisden's history of cricket [1966]. Note: Way cool, but not very American.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1847 - Soldier Sees January Ball Games at Camp at Saltillo


    Adolph Engelmann, an Illinois volunteer in the Mexican War, January 30, 1847: "During the past week we had much horse racing and the drill ground was fairly often in use for ball games."

    "The Second Illinois in the Mexican War: Mexican War Letters of Adolph Engelmann, 1846-1846," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 26, number 4 [January 1934], page 435. Per Seymour, Harold - Notes in the Seymour Collection at Cornell University, Kroch Library Department of Rare and Manuscript Collections, collection 4809. César González adds that Saltillo is in the northeastern part of Mexico, and that the soldier may have been preparing for the battle of Buena Vista that occurred a few weeks later; email of 12/6/2007.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1847 - Occupation Army Takes Ballgame to Natives In . . . Santa Barbara?


    The New York Volunteer Regiment reached California in April 1847 after the end of the Mexican War, and helped to occupy the province. They laid out a diamond [where State and Cota Streets now meet], made a ball from gutta percha, and used a mesquite stick as a bat. Partly because batted balls found their way into the windowless nearby adobes, there were some problems. "Largely because of the baseball games, the Spanish-speaking people of Santa Barbara came to look upon the New Yorkers as loudmouthed, uncouth hoodlums. . . . the hostilities between Californians and Americanos continued to fester for generations."

    Walter A. Tompkins, "Baseball Began Here in 1847," It Happened in Old Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara National Bank, undated), pages 77-78. Caveat: Angus McFarland has not been able to verify this account as of November 2008.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1848 - Soldiers Play Ball During Western Trip


    "Saturday March the 6th. We drilled as before and through the day we play ball and amuse ourselves the best way we can. It is very cool weather and clothing scarce."

    Smith, Azariah, The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith [Utah State University, Logan UT, 1996], page 78. Submitted by John Thorn, 10/12/2004. Note - We should investigate the nature of the journey and the approximate location if possible.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1851 - Robert E. Lee Promotes Cricket at West Point?


    A twenty-one year old cricket enthusiast visited West Point from England, and remarked on "the beautiful green sward they had and just the place to play cricket. . . . The cadets played no games at all. . . . It was the first time that I had a glimpse of Colonel Robert E. Lee [who was to become Superintendent of West Point]. He was a splendid fellow, most gentlemanly and a soldier every inch. . . .

    "Colonel Lee said he would be greatly obliged to me if I would teach the officers how to play cricket, so we went to the library. . . .Lieutenant Alexander asked for the cricket things. He said, 'Can you tell me, Sir, where the instruments and apparatus are for playing cricket?' The librarian know nothing about them and so our project came to an end." "The Boyhood of Rev. Samuel Robert Calthrop." Compiled by His Daughter, Edith Calthrop Bump. No date given. Accessed 10/31/2008 at http://www-distance.syr.edu/SamCalthropBoyhoodStory.html. Caution: Robvert E. Lee is reported to have become Superintendent of West Point in September 1852; and had been stationed in Baltimore until then; can Calthrop's date be reconciled?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012


Note: ID numbers for milestone entries include the (often approximated) year of the observation, followed by serial number reflecting the order it was added. A date is approximated when an ID is denoted with a "C".