A Common Soldier Plays Ball in the Revolution

I just finished reading Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, 1775-1783 edited by Robert C. Bray & Paul E. Bushnell.

This is an annotated, published diary of Jeremiah Greenman’s experiences in the military during the American Revolution. Greenman was born in Newport, RI in 1758 and enlisted in the Rhode Island Continentals at the age of 17. When the British invaded and occupied Newport, Greenman’s family left and settled in a village called Acoaxet in Dartmouth, Mass now in Westport. Greenman made many trips to visit with family in Acoaxet while in military service.

Among Greeman’s adventures in the Revolution was an expedition under Benedict Arnold to Quebec and two stints as a prisoner of war. Also included in his diary are several entries related to playing ball:

(May 1776 In Quebec Prison)
 “we can’t see no Snow but plenty of Ice in our bumprofe / keep o[u]r Selvs ha[r]ty in playin ball in ye yard [illeg.]
 
(April 1782, Philadelphia)
“The fore noon spent in playing wicket ball / Continuing the Remainder of the day in Barracks.”
 
(May-June 1783 Saratoga)
“Nothing happing worthy remarks, implying our selvs in a skettle & ball Alle[y]”
There are no mentions specifically related to baseball. We do not know what he meant by “playing ball in ye yard”. Skettle according to the diary is nine pins. But Greenman’s diary does show us that adults were playing ball games by the time of the Revolution. Although adults were not probably playing ball games as a leisure activity as they were by the mid 19th century but more of a diversion to the sometimes lag of activity that accompanied military life.
Besides the references to ball playing this is a facinating read if you would like to know more about military life during the Revolution. Unfortunatly I could not find a copy of this in the SAILS library catalog. But go to your library anyway and ask for it. They can get a copy for you as well as find other similar published diaries.
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Ball Playing Banned in New Bedford… in 1821

New Bedford Mecury, July 13, 1821

One hundred eighty seven years ago the New Bedford Mercury publish the recently passed by-laws for New Bedford including a ban on ball playing:

Voted, That the following Rules and Regulations be established the By-Laws of this town, viz: —

First, Any person, who shall, after the 1st day of July next play at ball, or fly a kite or run down hill upon a sled, or play any other sport which may incommode peacable citizens and passengers in any street of that part of this town commonly called the Village of Bedford, shall for every such offence, upon convicition of the same forfeit and pay the penalty of fifty cents, with costs of prosecution; the said penality to be applied to the use of the poor of this town.

 

 

 

 

 

This does not mean that it was baseball being played on the streets of New Bedford. It could have been any number of ball games such as football, cricket, trap ball or any of the “old cat” games. It could be baseball but the by-law writters chose not to be specific about the types of ball games banned as Pittsfield did 30 years prior to the New Bedford by-law. Various laws have been passed banning the playing of ball in New England since at least 1762 when the town of Salem ordered that no one would be allowed to play “Foot-Ball, or the Exercise of Bat-and-Ball, or Cricket, within any of the Publick Places, Streets, or Lanes” in town. Closer to home, Providence passed a ban on ball playing in 1823.

I will also point out that in those same 1821 New Bedford by-laws there was already a problem with graffiti:

Fifth. And whereas some evil minded persons are in the habit of disfiguring fences and buildings, by wantonly painting on them, and by writing and drawing obscene words and pictures on them, to the disgrace of this town in the eyes of strangers, and to the disgust of well-disposed citizens: — Therefore, Voted, That any person who shall after the first day of July next, be convicted as aforesaid of any such offence, shall forfeit and pay a penalty of not less than one dollar, nor more than five dollars, for every such offence, with the costs of prosecution; said penalty to be applied as aforesaid.

 

 

 

No doubt that neighborohoods such as Hard Dig were targeted with this law. But did the placement of the by-laws indicate the severity of each problem? Ball playing, kite flying and sledding were listed in the first by-law while graffiti was addressed in the fifth by-law. Number two on the list was blocking the streets with lumber and rubbish. Number three was a speed limit on horses (6 miles per hour) and the fourth delt with carriages blocking the streets. There were a total of 12 by laws altogether. The graffiti penalty had the highest penalty of five dollars along with storing more than 25 lbs. of gun powder in one place and stacking fish for the purporse of making manure. Take a look at the by laws here.