Tuesday, March 4, 2008

John W. O'Connell

I was browsing through a copy of Irish St. Louis by David Lossos late last night and found a brief note on John W. O'Connell, who according to Al Spink was at the first meeting of the Empire Club on April 16, 1860. Lossos, who runs the fantastic Genealogy in St. Louis website, quotes St. Louis: History of the Fourth City, 1764-1909:

John W. O'Connell was born in the city of Shangarry in County Cork, Ireland, Octoer 7, 1843. His father, William O'Connell, was a farmer's son but, though reared to the occupation of the fields, became a contractor. The year 1848 witnessed his arrival in America, at which time he settled in St. Louis and turned his attention to railroad construction, building a large part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. At the time of the Civil war Mr. O'Connell responded to the call for aid issued by the Confederacy and for seven months did active military duty with the southern army. In 1872 he became one of the organizers of the Knights of Father Matthew. In 1860 he helped to organize the first baseball club west of the Mississippi river, known as the Empire Baseball Club, and the first match game played in St. Louis was on the 27th of July, 1860

Now, as we know, the Empire Club was not the first baseball club in St. Louis and therefore not the first club west of the Mississippi. Certainly, it was one of the first but not the very first. Also, the first match game in St. Louis, to the best of our knowledge, was played on July 8 or 9, 1860 between the Cyclone Club and the Morning Stars (although E. H. Tobias mentions a game between the Empires and the Union on New Years Day, 1860; based on what we know about the two clubs and the development of the game in St. Louis, I find this to be unlikely).

The Knights of Father Matthew, you may be interested to know, was a Catholic temperance organization that was founded in Ireland in the 1830's. The first American chapter of the group was established in St. Louis in 1872. As a German-Irish Catholic, all I can say is that "Catholic temperance" is an oxymoron and the idea of a Catholic temperance organization is the silliest thing I've ever heard of. I'll be sure to lift my next pint to John O'Connell and Father Matthews (whose statue is pictured above).

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