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19th Century Glossarist Describes "Bat and Ball" Rules

Salience Noteworthy
Tags Pre-modern Rules
City/State/Country: Portsmouth, NH, United States
Game Bat-and-Ball
Immediacy of Report Retrospective


When Alfred Elwyn composed his 1859 glossary entry for “ball,” his example was “bat and ball” played in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he was born in 1804.

“The one we call ‘bat and ball’ may be an imperfect form of cricket, though we played this [cricket] in the same or nearly the same manner as in England, which would make it probable that the ‘bat and ball’ was a game of Yankee invention” (p.18).


“[S]ides were chosen, not limited to any particular number, though seldom more than six or eight. . . .The individual . . . first chosen, of the side that was in, took the bat position at a certain assigned spot. One of his adversaries stood at a given distance in front of him to throw the ball, and another behind him to throw back the ball if it were not struck, or to catch it. . . . After the ball was struck, the striker was to run; stones were placed some thirty or forty feet apart, in a circle, and he was to touch each one of them, till he got back to the front from which he started. If the ball was caught by any of the opposite party who were in the field, or if not caught, was thrown at and hit the boy who was trying to get back to his starting place, their party was in; and the boy who caught the ball, or hit his opponent, took the bat. A good deal of fun and excitement consisted in the ball not having been struck to a sufficient distance to admit of the striker running round before the ball was in the hands of his adversaries. If his successor struck it, he must run, and take his chance, evading the ball as well as he could by falling down or dodging it. While at the goals he could not be touched; only in the intervals between them.(p.19)




Alfred L. Elwyn, Glossary of Supposed Americanisms (Philadelphia:  J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1859), pp. 18-20.


Using stones for bases fits Carver’s 1834 description of “base or goal ball.” Elwyn also specifies that an inning was “one out, side out,” a feature of the Massachusetts game later codified in 1858.   And, of course, that old New England favorite, “soaking.”

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Do we have any way to tell the ages of the participants in the recalled game?

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Submitted by Brian Turner
Submission Note Email of 9/1/2014


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