4th of July Baseball, 1866

John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in July of 1776 that future Americans would celebrate America’s independence “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports…”

The city of New Bedford did just that eighty years later. On July 4, 1866 bands played, the New Bedford Light Artillery fired their guns in salute, songs were sung by the Choir of Misses, the Declaration of Independence was read and the cornerstone of a monument was dedicated. James Bunker Congdon gave a speech that day in which he called the ground on which the monument would stand, “holy ground”.

The monument was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument located in present day Clasky Common Park. In 1866, it was refereed to simply as the Common. The monument was designed by architect George Frederick Meacham, who is known for his design of Boston’s Public Garden and many other works including the Soldiers and Sailors Monument he would build in Fairhaven two years later.

Locating quality granite and the time it took to inscribe the stone, including such phrases as “struggle with Slavery and Treason…” delayed the full monument from being ready for the festivities on that July 4th. Someone was thoughtful enough to place a copper box that was filled with a written history of the monument, a roll of the names of the New Bedford men that died in the Civil War, poems, newspapers, photographs and other items, under the cornerstone. After the cornerstone was placed upon the slate and mortar that protected the box, the mayor gave a speech in which he talked about the fallen in the late Civil War that now “sleep a sweet, an eternal piece”.

“They are dead”, he clarified and then stated that he hoped “peace, independence and liberty” would last forever.

Memorial Day excercises, the Common, New Bedford MA [undated]. Courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum

Memorial Day Exercises, the Common, New Bedford, MA [undated]. Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

In the afternoon, the mood lightened and just as John Adams predicted, games were played. Earlier that year the Wamsutta Base Ball Club was organized. The club included such member as Charles W. Clifford who had played for the Bay State Base Ball Club and Otis Pierce that had played for the Ironsides Base Ball Club, just two of the many baseball clubs that played in New Bedford before the Civil War.

In the summer of 1866, competition from other teams was scarce. Though there had been several clubs playing in and around New Bedford before the war, it is likely that the war brought ball playing to a stop as many young men went off to war. So the newly formed Wamsutta club played a game between members of its own club. A common practice at the time, clubs would typically play informal games among themselves and more serious “match games” against other clubs.

Since this game was purely for fun and amusement, the Wamsutta club divided itself in to two teams, single men vs. married men and it would seem that everyone on the club would get to play… at the same time since the usual baseball rules would not apply. Both teams seemed to have fielded 18 players per side with multiple players playing each of the outfield corner positions. The single men had three right fielders and four left fielders as Preserved Bullock and Thomas Knowles split time as the third left fielder, playing 6 and 3 innings respectively.

The married men did the same with William A. Church and W. C. Taber, Jr. splitting time as the third right fielder. The team captains, Otis Pierce for the single men and Savillion Van Campen for the married men apparently didn’t play in the field but batted lead off for their teams. A sort of early use of a designated hitter; batting but not fielding.

This may not have been the first time the Wamsutta club played. The Republican Standard noted that based on “previous play” it was thought that the single men would win by 25 runs. The single men did win the game by a score of 56 to 46.

Rachel Howland. Courtesy the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Rachel Howland. Courtesy the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Among the attendees of the festivities that day on the common were 122 grammar boys who were there to inaugurate the organization they had started, the Howland Grammar School Association named after their strongest supporter, Rachel Howland. The purpose of forming the society was for “the prevention of profanity and vulgarity”. Several weeks later they would start their own baseball club called the Acushnet Base Ball Club, most likely because they were inspired by the game they had watched that day.

Unfortunately, news accounts did not give many details about that 4th of July game but apparently it had made an impact on more than just the grammar school boys. Two weeks later the Republican Standard noted the establishment of a number of clubs; the Star Club who would play on a open field on Hawthorne Street and the Young America Club and New England Club who would play on the common. Many more clubs would be formed that year and the years to come beginning a golden age era of baseball in New Bedford.

Metacomet vs. Acushnet, 1869

I’m going to give local baseball history research another go after a few years hiatus. I had been working on local history stories for a time at southcoasthistory.wordpress.com but that got pushed aside as more important life events presented themselves as they do.

I had let the url scvbb.org go and then had second thoughts about it. It was too late to renew it as someone took it apparently to sell it. Since this is just a hobby I figured I could wait it out. Who else would want scvbb.org? Chances are, nobody. Out of curiosity the other day I checked and found it available.

I have a closet full of research I’ve been hanging on to, considering now and then to get rid of it to make room in a constantly shrinking house. I could never bring myself to do it.

So, I thought I would dig out some articles from the closet to see what I could find.

I came across an article from the New Bedford Republican Standard on July 15, 1869. I found a report of a game between the Acushnet Base Ball Club and the Metacomet Base Ball Club, both of New Bedford. They played the game on the ball grounds of the Wamsutta Base Ball Club with the Metacomet club beating Acushent 21-18.

The box score looks familiar to a modern club at first. There is the last name of each team member in the order they hit followed by the position they played. However, instead of AB, R, H, RBI… etc, we see O and R; Outs and Runs. Pretty typical box score of the time.

Box score Acushent vs. Metacomet. Republican Standard, July 15, 1869

Box score Acushent vs. Metacomet. Republican Standard, July 15, 1869

Bowman, the first baseman of the Acushnet club had a bad day. He made seven outs and didn’t score any runs. On the Metacomet club, Caswell the first baseman and Edgerton the shortstop scored four runs each and only made two outs apiece. Just below the line score fly catches are recorded with Edgerton leading both teams with four.

If you think today’s games are long, this game was played in 3 hours, 20 minutes. By comparison, the recent game between the Red Sox and Blue Jays on June 13, 2015 was played in 3 hours and 26 minutes. To be fair, the Acushent and Metacomet teams didn’t wear gloves.

The Metacomet club was a tough club to beat in 1869 as the Republican Standard notes that they had played nine match games at that point, winning all the games. On July 5th, they had beaten the Shamrock club of Fall River scoring 30 runs.

The game against Acushnet seemed to be another win in the books for Metacomet, but on July 22 the Republican Standard reported that the Acushnet club “denies the truth of the report of the game…” The Acushnet club claimed that the “9th innings” was not completed due to darkness. The game was a draw at 18 runs each.

Unfortunately, there was no follow up to this charge published and regular win loss records or standings were not published either. The two clubs were mentioned playing each other again on July 21, with that game resulting in a tie with 19 runs for each club. If they couldn’t be beat at least they could be tied.

On September 6, the two clubs met again and this time it was a close game with Metacomet beating Acushnet 25 to 24. The Republican Standard reported that with the win, the Metacomet Base Ball Club “is entitled to the championship of the junior clubs of they city”.

Letter From Fort Monroe

Fortress Monroe, Old Point Comfort, & Hygeia Hotel, Va. in 1861 & 1862, Library of Congress

I found this letter below published on May 5, 1861 in the Boston Daily Advertiser. As it notes, it was originally published in the New Bedford Standard. Unfortunately, the author of the letter as well as the recipient was not published. The letter writer describes passing time at the fort and in the last paragraph he talks about the playing of baseball. It is clear that he is familiar with the game, most likely having played himself or had seen the Ironsides or one of the many other clubs playing in New Bedford before the war.

[Correspondence of the New Bedford Standard.]

Fort Monroe, Tuesday Eve., April 30. [1861]

Friend N–  : I am now resting from the labors of the day smoking my pipe, and having an opportunity to directly mail a letter, I address to you. Today I have been very busy in taking account of Massachusetts stores sent to our Regiment from Philadelphia, and I have just now finished making out the invoices and receipts for the stores. Everything is kept by double entry here, inasmuch as we have to make two invoices and tow receipts for every item that passes through our hands. It stands me in hand to do it correctly for am personally responsible for everything I handle.

Not much is going on here since Sunday, except Sunday night, when an alarm was given from the “Cumberland,” and the Regulars were aroused and stationed at the guns. The Volunteers were not called up. Last evening, about 10 o’clock, a brass field piece, stationed at the gate, was discharged, which was a signal for every one to be at his post. A grand rush was made. The Guards were the first company in line – beating the Regulars. At an alarm like this, our Regiment take a position to command the north gate of the fort, while the Fourth Regiment are stationed at the south gate, and the regulars man the guns on the parapet. The excitement was high for a few moments, but soon subsided, and the men returned to quarters. Every man jumped to his equipments and gun, and there were no laggards I assure you. It was a good liking to try the spirit of the men, and it afforded additional proof of the desire to stand by the glorious Stars and Stripes. I almost forgot to say that the alarm was caused by the appearance in the offing of a large steamer, which acted rater queer for a while and then sailed away.

The men are employed in rather queer business sometimes, when not on guard, for instance this afternoon while I was on the wharf with my gang of men, George Sears came down driving a donkey cart, carting ammunition, and fresh beef. T. C. Allen, jr., was employed the same way, while A. Upjohn was bore teamer. Sometimes they roll beef and port, and then you will see them attached under some shade tree, devouring an Evening Standard two weeks old, or washing their clothes and drying them in the sun, of which we have a plenty, and we are all turning as black as Creoles. Mornings a portion of the Braintree company, Fourth Regiment, may be seen playing base ball, and a mighty smart game they play, it would do you good to see them. The band here is some – 25 members with any quantity of drummers. Every morning they come out at the parade of the guard for the day. This morning they made the air ring with the well known notes of Dixie.

Fort Monroe is located in Hampton Virginia and during the Civil War was still controlled by the Union despite Virginia’s succession from the U.S. I believe I have been able to identify the men he describes carting the ammunition and fresh beef. They were all enlisted in Company L, Massachusetts 3rd Infantry Regiment.

On April 13, 1861, two days after the battle at Fort Sumtner, the 3rd regiment was summoned to Boston. The regiment left Boston on April 18 and arrived at Fort Monroe on the 20th. The regiment returned to Boston on July 19. Company L may not have joined the regiment until after April 23 as that is the date the three men noted in the account above enlisted in the company.

George Sears was listed as being employed as a clerk at the time of his enlistment and a druggist in the 1860 federal census. He reenlisted in Company E of the 3rd Regiment in September of 1862. He was married to a woman named Caroline and had a daughter about three years old named Carrie at the time of his enlistment with Company L.

T. C. Allen, Jr. was most likely Thomas C. Allen, Jr. employed as a merchant/trader. He was living at home at the time of his enlistment. He mustered out on July 22, 1861. I’m not sure what his fate is after that. I did find a Thomas Allen about the same age that died of Brights disease in 1880.

A. Upjohn may have been Aaron Upjohn, Jr. He was a clerk with Buckminster & Macy, a dry goods business on Pleasant Street. Upjohn reenlisted in the navy twice after his time with Company L. Mr. Upjohn has a baseball connection as well. He played on the Bristol County Base Ball Club in 1858 and played right field as a member of the Wamsutta Base Ball Club in 1866.

The Standard Ball Player

On a recent cloudy day I wandered in to one of the amazing antique malls in New Bedford.  Looking for nothing in particular I stumbled across this:

My first thought was that it was baseball related. “Ball player” usually means a baseball player. Right?  But why would it be on a sign? The tag on the sign said it was a 19th century sign. Perhaps the phrase stood for something else. Was it the name of a store that player pianos in New Bedford?

The sign is in very good shape. It is clearly hand painted and the pencil lines can still be seen that the artist used to stencil in the lettering evenly.

My gut (or my hope) told me that it is a baseball related sign. So I snapped the pic and headed home to do a little research. My gut was right. While I wasn’t able to find out a whole lot I did discover that the Standard Ball Player referred to a 6’ x 10’ mechanical scoreboard that hung on the side of a building just before to World War I. These were in the days before baseball fans could follow a game on the radio (and obviously television). But this wasn’t just a scoreboard. The board displayed a layout of a ball field. It was an actual recreation of a game in which an operator would receive the latest action of a game via ticker tape and then used a magnet to move a small iron ball from the pitcher’s mound to a bat at home plate. The operator would then move the ball to the area of the field where the ball was hit. This happened for each pitch of the game, including balls and strikes. The operation of this scoreboard was usually reserved for the World Series. The blog, Old Picture of the Day features one of these scoreboards in use in Washington D.C during the 1917 World Series:

The inventor of this contraption was William Ashley, an electrician for the New Bedford Standard newspaper. The board was first used for the 1915 World Series between the Red Sox and Phillies. The sign hung on Market Street on the Standard building. Mr. Ashley went on to produce other boards for football and horse racing and in 1917 he incorporated the Standard Ball Player Corporation.

Now the sign for Mr. Ashley’s business of his unique scoreboards sits in a local antique mall. While the sign is not as old as the price tag indicates it certainly is a fascinating piece of local history. And for $400 you can own it.

Near tragedy in Mattapoisett, 1875

Research has been rather slow lately.  I have been thinking about the possibility of expanding the scope of this blog to include writings about baseball history in general. I have many research findings set aside for possible future projects. It is taking over what little storage I have at home. Perhaps a new blog would be in order.  One that I have enough material to update on a regular basis. Perhaps.

In the meantime, I have discovered this disastrous account of a baseball accident reported in the Lowell Daily Citizen on June 21, 1875:

In 1875, baseball was played with very little protective gear. Fielder’s gloves did not come in to use until a decade later and head protection was certainly unheard of. Most ball fields were open fields and probably did not have much in the way of fencing surrounding the playing field that would have protected fans from foul balls and in this case, the occasional run away bat.

I have been unable to locate a follow up story reporting the fate of young Willis Burbank. I did a little research to see what I could find about him. He was born about 1862  to Joseph and Sarah (Price) Burbank. Joseph was a ship carpenter and most likely employed by one of the ship yards in Mattapoisett.

Willis had three siblings; George, Mary and William. William died on December 31, 1850 of neurosyphilis at the age of 5. George was born about 1854. Records for him are scarce but it appears he died sometime before 1870.

Mary seems to have escaped the dangers of childhood. In 1878 she would marry William Branch Nelson of Mattapoisett.  I wasn’t able to locate Mary’s fate but her husband died of septicemia in 1893. By 1900 she was living with her 13 year old daughter, Sarah. In November of 1912, Sarah married George Hiller in Mattapoisett. They would go on to have five children, Nelson, Mary, Richard and Emerson. I’ll stop here with the genealogy on Mary (genealogy is an addiction for me). Let’s get back to to injured Willis.

Evidently Willis’ injury was not as bad as his physician feared. While I wasn’t able to identify any additional details about his injury I found that by 1880 he was working as a sailor out of Mattapoisett. He gave up a career on the seas, married Cora Haskell in 1898, and pursued a retail career in woolen goods and umbrellas. Willis and Cora do not appear to have had children. Wills lived well beyond what his doctor feared on that near tragic day in 1875. While I have not been able to determine Willis’ fate, I found that by 1930 he was living in Roxbury with his wife and a nurse while still actively engaged in business.

Speaking of Rabbit…

The Whaling Museum is opening up a new exhibit in July. The photo exhibit, “Standard Times Collection, 1895-1925″,  is from a collection of dry-plate glass negatives which were used by photographers of the paper’s forerunner, the New Bedford Standard.

The Whaling Museum is asking for votes on your favorite images (read their blog for more details) at the their Flickr page. There are 44 images displayed of which they are looking to use around 30. Among those images happens to be one of Rabbit Maranville (pictured above)! Choosing to cut any one of these fantastic images is going to be a very difficult decision. But if you vote for any of them be sure to include Rabbit Maranville.


The South Coast has had its share of well known ball players grace its soil over the years from Moonlight Graham to Mo Vaughn. There also have been the occasional Hall of Famer to pass through these parts.

Walter “Rabbit” Maranville was one of those players. His major league career began in 1912 and lasted 23 seasons in which he batted .258 with 28 home runs. Okay, so he played about half of his career during the dead ball era. Still not exactly Hall of Fame numbers. His highest average was .295 in 1922 for Pittsburgh.

His Hall of Fame selection in 1954 was the result of his glove work. Primarily a short stop, his fielding average was .956. He committed 711 errors in 15,380 chances. Which I believe comes out to only about a 5% chance that he would make an error when the ball has hit to him.

Maranville spent the 1911 and 1912 seasons with the New Bedford Whalers of the New England League. He was hitting .283 when the Boston Braves purchased his contract for $1,000 sending him on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Incidentally, it was while he was in New Beford that he acquired his nickname “Rabbit”. As he tells the story that he was having dinner with a local family. One of the daughters, Margaret Harrington, asked if he could get tickets for her and her younger sister so that they could see him play. He obliged by leaving the tickets at the ball park for them. After the game he returned to the Harrington house for dinner and was greeted by Margaret who apparently saw him play:

‘Hello Rabbit.’

‘Where do you get that Rabbit stuff?’ Maranville responded.

‘My little seven-year-old sister (Skeeter) named you that because you hop and bound around like one.'”

However, it has been suggested that he had other features that gave him the nickname:

For an interesting story related to Rabbit and the 1914 Boston Braves caps pictured below, check out the Baseball Reasearch blog.

For more information about Rabbit Maranville check out his bio on the SABR Baseball Biography Project and check out his stats at on Base Ball Reference and the Baseball Almanac. You can also read about him in the book Run, Rabbit Run: The Hilarious and Mostly True Tales of Rabbit Maranville by Harold Seymour. Get it at your local library!