"baseball"n 1823

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Jun 4 20:43:44 UTC 2001

        I recently found in a New York City newspaper the earliest
known American reference to baseball and the first occurence of the
word "base ball" in the U. S.  It is to be published in the forthcoming
issue of the Society for American Baseball Research’s “National
Pastime”, which I believe is in the mail, or about to be mailed.
     “I was last Saturday much pleased in witnessing a company of
active young men playing the manly and athletic game of "base ball" at
the Retreat in Broadway (Jones').  I am informed they are an organized
association, and that a very interesting game will be played on
Saturday next at the above place, to commence at half past 3 o'clock,
P. M.  Any person fond of witnessing this game may avail himself of
seeing it played with consummate skill and wonderful dexterity.  It is
surprising, and to be regretted that the young men of our city do not
engage more in this manual sport; it is innocent amusement, and healthy
exercise, attended with but little expense, and has no demoralizing
     National Advocate, April 25, 1823, p. 2, col. 4.

       “Jones’ Retreat” was on the west side of Broadway between what
nowadays is Washington Place and Eighth Street.
        The previous earliest reference is from 1825, and appeared in a
newspaper from a rural village, Delhi, New York.  (The nearest town is
Oneonta.)  It is the first item given in Dean A. Sullivan’s book “Early
Innings” and was published in the New York Times on June 3, 1991.  This
reference referred to the game as "bass-ball".
        One of the interesting points in the new reference is that the
ball players had taken formal steps to organize themselves as a team.
Taken together, the 1823 reference and the one from 1825 show that a
game called baseball was already being played in the mid-1820s in
rather widely separated and very different locales.  Neither passage
gives any clue as to the way the game was played, but from the
statement “it is innocent amusement, and healthy exercise, attended
with but little expense, and has no demoralizing tendency” we can
clearly see that it must have been ancestral to the present-day game.
        As it happens, I live about half a block from Jones’ Retreat.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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