Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Some Thoughts On Ball-Playing In The Illinois Country, Part Three

I've been talking over the last two days about the idea of looking at the early history of ball-playing in the Midwest within the context of the history of the Illinois Country as well as the idea that the French brought the first European ball games to the Midwest in the 18th century. I've also lamented the fact that I can not speak, read or write French and that I could use a French translator (please send your resume to thisgameofgames@gmail.com). Today, I want to look briefly at the history of the Illinois Country under Anglo-American rule and, more importantly, the impact that Anglo-American settlers had on ball-playing in the region.

After the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years' War, if you prefer), the English took control of the Illinois Country east of the Mississippi. The English, rather shortsightedly, closed the area to European settlement with the Proclamation of 1763 and in 1787, during the Revolution, George Rogers Clark led 175 soldiers into the Illinois Country and captured Fort Massac, Cahokia, Kaskaskia and Vincennes, securing the area for the Americans. With the Louisiana Purchase, the western part of the Illinois Country was added to the United States in 1804.

The result of all of this chaos during the last half of the 18th century was a discouragement of European settlement in the Illinois Country. The French/Creole population declined in the eastern part of the country, many resettling across the Mississippi in St. Louis and there was little Anglo-American settlement in the area prior to 1800, due to discouragement by the English prior to the Revolution and a conflict between Virginia and the Federal government over control of the area after the war. The passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, Illinois becoming a separate territory in 1809 and, finally, a state in 1818 settled the political uncertainty. A stable political situation for the first time in over half a century and the beginning of the public sale of land in 1814 had a significant effect on the number of people coming into the Illinois Country.

The Anglo-American settlement of the Illinois Country occurred in two phases. The first took place at the beginning of the 19th century as Southerners, mostly from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, began to settle in the southern part of the state. The settlement patterns prior to 1820 can be seen in the two maps below.

One can see that settlement followed the rivers of Southern Illinois inland from the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and was largely centered in the American Bottoms area, across the Mississippi from St. Louis, and along the Wabash River on the Illinois/Indiana border.

The earliest references to ball-playing in Illinois come from this period. Interestingly, these references come from a colony of Englishmen who had settled near the Wabash after the War of 1812. The Protoball Chronology has the following:

1818c.5 – English Immigrants from Surrey Take Cricket to IL

“There have been [p.295/p.296] several cricket-matches this summer [of 1819], both at Wanborough and Birk Prarie; the Americans seem much pleased at the sight of the game, as it is new to them.” John Woods, Two Years Residence on th Settlement of the English Prarie, in the Illinois Country (Longman & Co., London, 1822), pp. 295-296.

On page 148 of the book: “On the second of October, there was a game of cricket played at Wanborough by the young men of the settlement; this they called keeping Catherine Hill fair, many of the players being from the neighborhood of Godalming and Guildford.”

In 1818 [page 295]: “some of the young men were gone to a county court at Palmyra, [but] there was no cricket-match, as was intended, only a game of trap-ball.”

The English Prairie settlement was centered around Albion, Illinois in Edwards County. There were some settlers already in Edwards County when the English showed up, mostly Kentuckians, and, understandably, they were not too pleased with their new neighbors.

While looking into the history of the English Prairie colony, I found this:

When I first arrived at Albion, a more disorganized, demoralized state of society never existed: the experiment has been made, the abandonment of Christian institutes and Christian Sabbaths, and living without God in the world has been fairly tried. If those theologians in England who despise the Sabbath and laugh at congregational worship, had been sent to the English settlement in Illinois at the time I arrived, they would, or they ought to have hid their faces for shame. Some of the English played at cricket, the backwoodsmen shot at marks, their favourite sport, and the Sunday revels ended in riot and savage fighting: this was too much even for infidel nerves.

-Letters from the Illinois, 1820-1821

So the earliest references to ball-playing in the Illinois Country, excepting the Gratiot source and references to Native American games, was to cricket and trap-ball, played by Englishmen, between 1818 and 1820.

I'm not sure how significant it is that there are no sources (that I've been able to find) that describe ball-playing among the Southerners who moved to the Illinois Country in this first large wave of Anglo-American settlement. I find it difficult to accept the idea that ball-playing was not a significant part of their culture but that may very well be true. Ball-playing may have been more prevalent in Yankee culture than it was in the culture of Southerners. I just don't know right now.

But I do know that when I start to give up on the Southerners who settled Southern Illinois prior to 1820, I find stuff like this:

In the early times, fifty or sixty years ago, when the modern games of croquet and base-ball were unknown, the people used to amuse themselves with marbles, "town-ball"-which was base-ball in a rude state-and other simple pastimes of a like character. Col. Mayo says, the first amusement he remembers in the county was a game of town-ball, on the day of the public sale of lots in Paris, in which many of the "young men of the period engaged."

-The History of Edgar County, Illinois

Edgar County is just north of Edwards County and at the northern fringe of Southern settlement. The book the reference comes from was published in 1879 and "fifty or sixty years ago" would place the ball-playing in the same time-frame as the Albion references, around 1820 or so.

At the moment, that is the extent of references to ball-playing among the first wave of Anglo-American settlers in the Illinois Country. There are some later references to town-ball and old cat, from the 1830-1850 period, and while they're significant, it's likely that the ball-playing that was taking place in Southern Illinois during that period was influenced by the arrival of the Yankees in central Illinois after 1820 as well as technological advances that increased trade and travel in the region. While I'm not writing off the Southerners as ball-players, there is, so far, not much evidence of them playing ball-games prior to 1820. Much more work needs to be done and there is plenty of research ahead but, as of now, I don't see much of a ball-playing culture among the earliest settlers of Southern Illinois, especially when compared to the Yankees who flooded into central Illinois after 1820.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about this flood of Yankees and the culture of ball-playing that they brought with them during the second stage of the Anglo-American settlement of the Illinois Country. And I apologize for the fact that this now looks like a five-part posting. I had absolutely no idea that this was going to run on for so long but it is what it is.


Steve Pona said...

Great stuff, Jeff. Awesome research and a great read.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Glad you like it.