Chronology:Base (Prisoner's Base)
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1720c.4 Game of Base was "A Peculiar Favorite"
Base (Prisoner's Base)
"Notwithstanding bloody affrays [in war times] between the English and Indians, they were generally of familiar terms in times of peace, and often mingled together in athletic sports. The game of 'base' was a peculiar favorite with our young townsmen, and the friendly Indians, and the hard beach of 'Garrison Cove' afforded fine ground for it."
W. Southgate, The History of Scarborough, 1633 - 1783, Collections of the Maine Historical Society, Volume III (Portland, 1853), page 148. G-Books search <"bloody affrays like these">, 4/2/2013.
One wishes there was more evidence that this form of "base" was a ball-game, and not a game like tag or capture-the-flag. If "base" was a ball-game, this report of native American play nearly 3 centuries ago is certainly remarkable.
Scarborough Maine is about 8 miles SW of Portland ME (then still a part of Massachusetts).
1750s.3 1857 Writer Reportedly Dates New England Game of "Base" to 1750s
Base (Prisoner's Base)
"Dear Spirit: . . .
"I shall state [here] that which has come under my observation, and also some of my friends, during the last four years of the ball-playing mania . . .
Base ball cannot date back to so far as [cricket], but the game has no doubt, been played in this country for at least one century. Could we only invoke the spirit of some departed veteran of he game, how many items of interest might we be able to place before the reader.
"New England, we believe, has always been the play-ground for our favorite game; and the boys of the various villages still play by the same rules their fathers did before them. We also find that many games are played, differing but little from the well-known game of Base.
" . . . Although I am a resident of State of New York, I hope to do her no wrong by thinking that the New England States were, and are, the ball grounds of this country, and that many of our present players were originally from those States.
"The game of Base, as played there, was as follows: They would take the bat, 'hand over hand,' as the present time, 'whole hand or none.' After the sides were chosen, the bases would be placed so as to form a square, each base about twenty yards from the other. The striker would stand between the first and fourth base, equi-distant from each. The catcher was always expected to take the ball without a bound and it was always thrown by a player who would stand between the second and third bases. A good catcher would take the ball before the bat cold strike it. A hand was out if a man was running the bases should be struck with the ball which was thrown at him while he was running. He was allowed either a pace or a jump to the base which he was striving to reach; or if a ball was caught flying or on first bound. There was no rule to govern the striker as to the direction he should knock the ball, and of course no such thing as foul balls. The whole side had to be put out, and if the last man could strike a ball a sufficient distance to make all the bases, he could take in one of the men who had been put out. The ball was not quite the same as the one in present use, and varied very much in size and weight, it also was softer and more springy.
"The bats were square, flat, or round -- some preferring a flat bat, and striking with it so that th4 edge, or small side, would come in contact with the ball. Another arrangement of bases is, to have the first about two yards from the striker (on this right), the second about fifty down the field, and the third, or home, about five. . . .
"Yours, respectfully, X"
Base Ball Correspondence," Porter's Spirit of the Times, Volume 3, number 8 (October 24, 1857), page 117, column 2. The full text of the October 20 letter from "X" is on the VBBA website, as of 2008, at:
The writer present no evidence as to the earliest dates of known play.
The game described by "X" resembles the MA game as it was to be codified a year later except: [a] "a good catcher would frequently take the ball before the bat cold strike it," [b] the runner "was allowed either a pace or jump to the base which he was striving t reach," [c] the bound rule was in effect, [d] all-out-side-out innings were used, [e] the ball was "softer and more spongy" than 1850's ball, [f] the bats were square, flat, or round," and [g] there was a second field layout, with three bases. [This variation reminds one of cricket, wicket, and "long town or "long-town-ball, except for the impressive 150-foot distance to the second base]."
Can we interpret the baserunning rule allowing "a pace or jump to the base [the runner] was striving to reach?" Plugging didn't count if the runner was close to the next base," perhaps?
1778.4 Ewing Reports Playing "At Base" and Wicket at Valley Forge - with the Father of his Country
Wicket, Base (Prisoner's Base)
[A] 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."
Ewing also wrote: "[May 2d] in the afternoon playd a game at Wicket with a number of Gent of the Arty . . . ." And later . . . "This day [May 4, 1778] His Excellency dined with G Nox and after dinner did us the honor to play at Wicket with us."
"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."
Valley Forge is about 20 miles NE of Philadelphia.
[A] 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. The text of Ewing's diary is unavailable at Google Books as of 11/17/2008.
[B] 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 2013, we're still hoping, but not as avidly.
Caveat: It is unknown whether this was a ball game, rather than prisoner's base, a form of tag played by two teams, and resembling the game "Capture the Flag."
Note: "Long Bullets" evidently involved a competition to throw a ball down a road, seeing who could send the ball furthest along with a given number of throws. Another reference to long bullets is found at http://protoball.org/1830s.20.
Is Ewing's diary available now?
1805.4 Enigmatic Report: NY Gentlemen Play Game of "Bace," and Score is Gymnastics 41, Sons of Diagoras 34.
Base (Prisoner's Base)
"Yesterday afternoon a contest at the game of Bace took place on "the Gymnasium," near Tylers' between the gentlemen of two different clubs for a supper and trimmings . . . . Great skill and activity it is said was displayed on both sides, but after a severe and well maintained contest, Victory, which had at times fluttered a little form one to the other, settled down on the heads of the Gymnastics, who beat the Sons of Diagoras 41 to 34."
New York Evening Post, April 13, 1805, page 3 column 1. Submitted by George Thompson, 8/2/2005.
George Thompson has elaborated on this singular find at George Thompson, "An Enigmatic 1805 "Game of Bace" in New York," Base Ball Journal (Special Issue on Origins), Volume 5, number 1 (Spring 2011), pages 55-57.
Note: So, folks . . . was this a baserunning ball game, some version of prisoner's base (a team tag game resembling our childhood game Capture the Flag) with scoring, or what?
John Thorn [email of 2/27/2008] has supplied a facsimile of the Post report, and also found meeting announcements for the Diagoras in the Daily Advertiser for 4/11 and 4/12/1805.
David Block (see full text in Supplemental Text, below) offers his 2017 thoughts on this entry:
"My opinion on whether that game was baseball or prisoner's base has gone back and forth over the years. As of now I tend to lean 60-40 to baseball. Other than the example from Chapman that John cited, I've never come across a use of the term bace to signify either game. Even if I had it wouldn't mean much as the word "base" has been used freely over the years for both of them. The mention of a score in the 1805 article is significant. Rarely are scores indicated in any of the reports of prisoner's base (prison base, prison bars, etc.) that I've come across. Usually they just indicate one side or the other as winner."
Special credit for anyone who can add to our understanding of this item!
1830c.31 Balk Rule Recalled from Childhood Games in 1847 Newspaper Commentary
Base (Prisoner's Base)
"A Balk is a Base." -- Any one having a remembrance of the ball games of his youth, must recollect that in the game of base if the tosser made a balk to make the individual making the round from his post, the latter had the right to \walk to the next base unscathed. Pity it is that the Hudson folks engaged in the political movement in Columbia County did not remember that "a balk is a base" in the games of children of a larger growth.
[The article proceeds to criticize the partisan tactics of the "Antirenters of Taghkanic" in a local dispute in nearby Columbia County NY.]
"A Balk is a Base," Roundout Freeman, June 5, 1847 (volume II, issue 46), page 2.
Dating this item as "circa 1830" is highly speculative, and turns on the ages of the writer and his intended readers. Arguments for an alternative dating are welcome.
 Rule 19 of the 1845 Knickerbocker Rules sates that "A runner may not be put out in making one base, when a balk is made on the pitcher." David Block in 2005 wrote that the rule "apparently originated with the Knickerbocker club, as there is no mention of it in any earlier accounts of baseball." (Baseball Before We Knew It, page 92.)
 Kingston NY (1850 populations about 10,000) is about 90 miles north of Manhattan on the Hudson River and 20 miles north of Poughkeepsie NY. Columbia County is north of Kingston.
Protoball welcomes further comment on the possible origin of the balk rule.
1831.5 "Cricket, Base, and Long Ball" Played in Worcester MA on Election Day
When the Massachusetts Legislature announced that Election Day would be moved from May to January, a protest was lodged in a newspaper, recalling:
". . then amusements were planned; then were hunting matches and fishing parties made; then was the quoit hurled in the air; then were cricket, base, and long-ball played; then were sports of every kind, appropriate to the season, sought after and enjoyed with particular zest."
'Lection Day, National Aegis (Worcester Massachusetts), June 15, 1831, page 1, as cited in David Block, Polish Workers Play Ball at Jamestown, Virginia, Base Ball, volume 5, number 2 (Spring 2011), page 8. (The National Aegis credits the New York Constellation with the article, but David Block notes that the subject is clearly the lot of Massachusetts children not those in New York City.)
1835.1 Boy's Book of Sports Describes "Base Ball", "Base or Goal Ball"
Boy's Book of Sports: A Description of The Exercises and Pastimes of Youth [New Haven, S. Babcock, 1839], pp. 11-12, per Henderson, ref 21. David Block, in Baseball Before We Knew It, page 197-198, points out that the first edition appeared 4 years before the edition that Henderson cited.
In its section on "base ball," this book depicts bases in the form of a diamond, with a three-strike rule, plugging, and teams that take the field only after all its players are put out. The terms "innings" and "diamond" appear [Block thinks for the first time] and base running is switched to counter-clockwise.
This book also has a description of "Base, or Goal Ball," which described: "gentle tossing" by the pitcher, three-strike outs, a fly rule, counter-clockwise base-running in a circuit of four bases, and the plugging of runners, and all-out-side-out innings.
For Text: David Block carries a page of text, and the field diagram, in Appendix 7, pages 282-283, of Baseball Before We Knew It.
The text for "Base, or Goal Ball" appears in Preston Oren, Baseball (1845-1881) From the Newspaper Accounts (P. Oren, Altadena CA, 1961), pages 2-3.
1835.19 An "Outdoor Professor" is Appreciated by Former Student
Base (Prisoner's Base), Cricket
[Josey Haywood, a classics instructor and "great friend of school boys] "was a species of out-door Professor of Languages at the Academy; under him we were all Philosophers of the Peripatetic sect, walking constantly about the play grounds, and bestowing on Fives, Base, Cricket and Foot Ball the 'irreperabile tempus' due to the wise men of Greece. -- Hence he was quite a troublous fellow to the in-door Professors. They found nothing classical in his 'bacchant ar.' They loved him not, and wished him far away."
Long Island Farmer, and Queens County Advertiser [Jamaica, NY] , December 16, 1835, page 2, column 2.
In the following paragraph, the man is called "Joseph Heywood."
Do we know what was meant by "Foot Ball" in the early 19th Century?
Can we determine what "the Academy" was, and the ages of its students?