Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Pioneer School House

The above illustration comes from A History of Edgar County, IllinoisPublished by Wm. Le Baron, Jr., & Co. in 1879, the book appears to have been one in a series of Illinois county histories that were published in the late 1870s.  The Edgar County history is notable because it contains the Jonathan Mayo town ball reference, which, if I've dated it correctly, is a reference to the second oldest known instance of ball-playing in the Illinois Country.

Based on the research that I've done, I believe the game that Mayo witnessed took place in 1822.  The oldest known reference to a ball game in Illinois is the Wanborough cricket and trap ball references from 1819 and 1820.  Since I don't think I've ever written anything about the Wanborough reference, I'll post something about that tomorrow.  But my point here is that the Mayo reference is rather significant and that makes the Edgar County history a fairly important work.

What I really want to point out, however, is this illustration.  It's entitled "A Pioneer School House" and, if you look at it closely, the details reveal something rather fascinating.  On the side of the school house, in the yard behind the boys by the creek, there are three boys.  It appears to me that the boy on the left has a bat in his hand and the middle boy has his arm thrown back, as if in the act of pitching a ball.  This looks to me like some sort of ball game, played by school boys.

I find this significant.  There are numerous accounts of ball games being played by school children in Illinois during the first half of the 19th century.  The most popular ball games were bullpen and town ball, although there are references to other games, such as long town, being played as well.  But it is well established, based on the recollections of people who were children in Illinois during the pioneer era, that bat and ball, safe-haven games were a popular pastime.  And here we find an illustration portraying that.

It should be pointed out that this was not an illustration portraying a contemporary event but, rather, an illustration made specifically for the 1879 book in which it appeared.  It is, essentially, a work of fiction put together by the illustrator to convey an idea about what life was like during the pioneer era in Illinois.  Having said that, the illustration is based on the testimony of people who lived in Illinois during the era and it has to be one of the earliest portrayals of Illinois baseball in existence.     

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