Friday, April 5, 2013


The source of the trouble

 "CLUB ORGANIZED, - A base ball club was organized in St. Louis, Mo, on the 1st inst.  It boasts of being the first organization of the kind in that city, but will not, surely, long stand alone.  It numbers already 18 members, officers as follows: President, C. D. Paul; Vice do, J. T. Haggerty; Secretary, C. Thurber; Treasurer, E. R. Paul. They announce their determination to be ready to play matches in about a month.

Source: Under-identified clipping in the Mears collection - The Clipper or the Spirit of the Times - annotated "Sept 1859" in hand. Facsimile provided by Craig Waff, September 2008.
-Entry 1859.39 of the Protoball Chronology

Protoball Chronology entry 1859.39 is problematic.  I've dealt with the problem mostly by ignoring it or rationalizing my disinterest in it by noting Larry McCray's description of the source as "under-identified."  But if we're to have a complete understanding of early baseball in St. Louis, we have to deal with 1859.39 and, to that end, I decided to take a closer look at the thing.

There are three aspects of 1859.39 that have to be looked at if we're to make any sense of the thing.  First, we need to deal with the issue surrounding the sourcing.  Second, we need to analysis the information contained within the source.  Finally, we need to consider the implications of the information gleaned from the source.  Hopefully, by doing this, 1859.39 will cease to be a thorn in my side and become a celebrated part of early St. Louis baseball history.

I. The Source

 I have nothing but the utmost respect for the work done by Larry and his group of diggers at Protoball and, being involved in the project myself, I know how the sausage is made.  I know that Larry isn't going to put something up on the site that isn't properly sourced.  Protoball is one of the best baseball history sites out there and I personally believe that it is the very best.  The integrity of the site can not be questioned.

With that in mind, I took Larry's description of 1859.39 as "under-identified" seriously.  It's always been a big red flag for me.  As a historian and researcher, I try to be meticulous in my sourcing.  You have to document your sources.  It's rule number one.  Document the source not just so that your work can be checked but so that others can find the source and use it or build on it.  A second-hand reference to a primary source is much different than the original source itself.  As a historian, I make judgements based on the sources I see but other people may reach different conclusions and sometimes they may reach better conclusions.  You have to allow others to see the original source so that they can reach their own uninfluenced conclusions.  And when you can't properly document the source, you tell people that, as Larry did with 1859.39.

But it was obvious that there was something there, although I didn't know what it was.  The source was provided by Craig Waff, a fantastic researcher who was well respected within the community of 19th century baseball historians.  I didn't know Craig but I know people who knew him and they all speak highly of him.  If Craig Waff found this and passed it along to Larry then there had to be something to it.  I couldn't be dismissed out of hand.

So where did Craig find this?  The entry at Protoball says that it was found in the Mears Collection and came from either the Clipper or the Spirit of the Times.  The first time I saw 1859.39, I had no idea what the Mears Collection was.  When I decided to get serious about digging into this, I did some research on the collection and found the scrapbooks contained in the collection online.  If you've been reading this site the last month or so, you know that I found the Mears Collection and that it contains an incredible wealth of information.  But the reason I went looking for the Mears Collection in the first place was to check the sourcing for 1859.39 and I was able to confirm that the information was in Volume 1 of the Mears Baseball Scrapbooks, grabbing the picture at the top of the post as proof.

But that was only the first step.  The problem with the Mears scrapbooks is that the sourcing within them is inconsistent.  Sometimes you can tell where the information comes from and sometimes you can only approximate the date.  And that's not good.  For 1859.39 to have any significance, we need to know where exactly it came from.  Waff gave us a general clue that it came from the Clipper or Spirit of the Times and that information is based on the nature of the Mears Collection, which contains the papers of William Rankin and Tim Murnane, but, based simply on the information we have in the chronology entry, we can't be sure what paper it originally appeared in.  This is what Larry meant when he notes that the source is under-identified.           

However, there is one more clue.  There is a hand-written note on the article from the Mears Collection that says "Sept. 1859" and you can see that in the picture above.  This, of course, implies that the article appeared in an issue of either the Clipper of Spirit of the Times in September of 1859.  And that's all the information I needed to run this thing down.

I started with the Clipper.  Fulton History has a nice online collection of 19th century New York newspapers that includes numerous back issues of the Clipper.  The search engine didn't return any information so I decided to browse the individual issues.  I have another, unrelated project I'm working on and I needed to look at back issues of the Clipper from the mid 1850s anyway so I started going through page after page, beginning in 1854.  About 2:30 in the morning, I remembered that I needed to check September 1859 and started looking through that.  And I found what I was looking for in the September 3, 1859 issue:

It was a rough looking copy and there was some damage at the bottom of the page, where the article appeared, but there was no doubt that this was the same article as the one that appeared in the Mears Collection.

So, based on this, we can identify 1859.39 as coming from the New York Clipper of September 3, 1859.  One problem solved.

II. The Information

So we confirmed that 1859.39 originally appeared in the Clipper in September 1859 but what information can we glean from the source.  Let's quickly go through what the source says:

  • "Club Organized. - A base ball club was organized in St. Louis, Mo., on the 1st inst."
This appears to be self-explanatory but there is a little wrinkle that we need to look at.  Obviously, the source relates the organization of a baseball club in St. Louis in 1859 but when exactly in 1859 did this happen?

The club organized on "the 1st inst." and that implies the first of the month.  "Inst." is an abbreviation for instant and refers to the previous first of the month.  With this notice appearing in the September 3rd issue of the Clipper, my immediate thinking was that the club was organized on September 1, 1859.  The notice appears on September 3 and the 1st inst., in relationship to September 3, would be September 1.  However, that's simply not possible.  There is no way that the information got from St. Louis to New York and into the Clipper in two days.  Therefore, "the 1st inst." can not refer to September 1, 1859 and most likely refers to August 1, 1859.  If the club organized on August 1, that's plenty of time for the information to reach New York and find its way into the newspaper.

  • " It boasts of being the first organization of the kind in that city, but will not, surely, long stand alone."
And here it is.  This is the most important piece of information in the notice and what makes 1859.39 so significant.  According to the Clipper, the first baseball club in St. Louis was formed on August 1, 1859.  This directly contradicts the Cyclone thesis - the idea that the Cyclones were the first baseball club in St. Louis - and the testimony of members of the Cyclone Club, several of whom stated that they formed the first baseball club in St. Louis in the summer of 1859.

While there is a great deal of evidence supporting the Cyclone thesis, there is no primary source evidence of their existence prior to 1860.  We have Griswold publishing the rules of the game in the Missouri Democrat in the spring of 1860 and then references to the match between the Cyclones and Morning Stars in July.  If you want to be technical, the earliest reference we have to the Cyclones comes from July 1860.  There is no primary source evidence that notes their existence prior to that.

I've been looking for primary source confirmation of the Cyclone thesis for years and have come up with very little.  I've discovered evidence around the edges - stuff like when Griswold came to St. Louis, when the Missouri Glass Company was formed and Ed Bredell's likely exposure to the game in the East.  All of that supports and strengthens the thesis.  But there is no smoking gun.  I'm looking for an article or notice of the formation of the club and have been unable to find it.

But we have 1859.39 and the formation of an unknown club in St. Louis on August 1, 1859.  Assuming that the club was playing the New York game (a reasonable assumption based on the fact that the notice appeared in the Clipper), then this is the earliest known reference we have to a baseball club in St. Louis.  Not only that, it's the earliest reference we have to baseball in the city.  We can argue the Cyclone thesis all we want but the fact remains that this is the earliest documented baseball club in St. Louis history.  And, it's important to notice, the club itself makes the claim that they are the first baseball club in St. Louis.   

  •  " It numbers already 18 members..."
Eighteen members is the absolute minimum number of members that a baseball club could have.  If they're playing the New York game, they need nine men a side and, therefore, eighteen members to play a game.  It's really not enough guys.  A baseball club of the era really needed about thirty playing members to ensure that enough people showed up on club days to have a game.  It's possible that the Unknown Club added more members after its formation but it's also possible that the club fell apart due to a lack of members.

  • "...officers as follows: President, C. D. Paul; Vice do, J. T. Haggerty; Secretary, C. Thurber; Treasurer, E. R. Paul."
 I've been able to identify three of the four officers of the Unknown Club.

Chas. D. Paul, according to the 1860 census, was born Missouri in 1840 and was living with his father, Edmund W. Paul.  He was working as a printer.

E.R. Paul, according to the same source, was born in Missouri in 1838 and was also living with his father.  He worked as a real estate agent, most likely with his father, who was also a real estate agent.  The 1860 St. Louis directory lists E.R. Paul's occupation as clerk, so he was probably working as a clerk for his father.  One assumes that his first name was Edmund, like the father.

It's obvious, based on the sources, that Charles and Edmund Paul were brothers.   

There is a Charles H. Thurber in the 1860 city directory, working as a clerk in an insurance office and it's likely that this is the C. Thurber of the Unknown Club.  According to the 1860 census, there was a Charles Thurber living in St. Louis, who was born in 1842.  The Missouri Historical Society has some information about Charles H. Thurber that confirms that the Thurber in the city directory is the Thurber in the census.  According to their information about the Charles H. Thurber papers, "Charles H. Thurber was born in 1842 and mustered into the Union Army at the St. Louis Arsenal on 11 July 1861 as a 2nd Lieutenant in Buell’s Battery, Missouri Volunteers.  Throughout 1861 and 1862 he was mustered into various batteries until his battery was transferred to the 1st Missouri Light Artillery, Battery I in August 1862. The battery was part of the Army of the Tennessee and was at the Battle of Shiloh. Eventually Thurber returned to Missouri and was captain of Company L of the 2nd Missouri Light Artillery Battery that participated in forcing General Joseph O Shelby’s retreat from western Missouri. Thurber died in 1891."  I'll post more information on Thurber soon. 

There are numerous J. Haggerty's in the city directory and the census.  Most are blue collar workers, although one is an engineer.  There is one John Haggerty in the census who was 19 and listed his occupation as laborer but I've not as yet made what I believe to be a positive identification. 

  • "They announce their determination to be ready to play matches in about a month."
Who were they going to play?  "Matches" implies games played between clubs but if they're the first baseball club in St. Louis, who would they play a match game against?  Maybe they're talking about intra-club matches.  I don't know.

 III. Implications

I've written before about the need to recognize what we know and separate that from what we think we know.  By this, I mean that we need to recognize what facts we've established through primary source documentation and separate that from the things that we think we know based on secondary sources and deductive reasoning.  It's important to remember that a lot of what I do involves deductive reasoning, intuition and guess work.  There's so many holes in the historical record, especially prior to 1860, that we make a lot of educated guesses about what was happening.  We have to remember that a lot of this is guess work rather than established fact.

1859.39 is an established fact.  An unknown baseball club formed in St. Louis on August 1, 1859.  This unknown club is the earliest documented club that we know of.  Evidence of this club predates the evidence we have regarding the Cyclones, Morning Stars, Empires and Unions.  That's a fact.  That's real.  Unless other evidence presents itself, we have to accept that the Unknown Club is the earliest St. Louis baseball club we have evidence of.

This is extremely significant because it brings the Cyclone thesis into question.  The testimony of the former Cyclones leads us to believe that the club was established in the summer of 1859 but there is no primary source material supporting this.  The Unknown Club was established in the summer of 1859 and we know that for a fact.  It's much easier at this point to make an argument that the Unknown Club was the first baseball club in St. Louis history and that the Cyclones didn't form until 1860.  Occam's razor forces me to this position.

1859.39 and the Unknown Club forces us to re-evaluate the Cyclone thesis, Merritt Griswold's role in introducing the New York game into St. Louis and everything we know about the origins of the game in the city.  It is a significant source and running it down, I believe, is one of the most important things I've done as a researcher.  It brings everything into question.      

And this is not, in any way, a negative thing.  This is something to be celebrated.  I've been trying to find primary source material about St. Louis baseball in 1859 for years, without any success.  Now I have it.  I've proven (with the extraordinary help of Craig Waff and Larry McCray), beyond a doubt, that baseball was being played in St. Louis in 1859 and that the first club formed that year.  Did all of this happen exactly as I expected it to happen?  Absolutely not.  But it's done.  It's an established fact that can never be erased.  That's a fantastic thing.

Now I just have to deal with the fallout and I'll start by posting a restatement and re-evaluation of the Cyclone thesis here in the near future.      


Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the Unknown Club and the Cyclones were one and the same?

Jeffrey Kittel said...

There's no evidence that suggests it. We know who most of the members and officers of the Cyclones were and the members of this unknown club are not mentioned in the sources as being part of the Cyclones.

One of the interesting things about the Unknown Club is that there is no known antebellum StL club that matches any of this information. This isn't the Cyclones, Morning Stars, Empires, Unions, Commercials, etc. There are a couple of other antebellum clubs that we don't have much information for and I need to take a closer look at that but, as of now, I can't identify this club. The officers of the club don't appear in any other sources that I know of. All of the evidence suggests that this is a new, previously unidentified club.

Richard Hershberger said...

You are making a few assumptions that I think are weaker than you suppose. Was this club playing the NY game?

The Clipper was quite free about reporting other forms. It isn't always obvious what from is being referred to. (I suspect it wasn't always obvious to the Clipper editor, for that matter.)

Who would they play match games against? While "match game" usually meant a game between two clubs, this was far from always the case. "Match game" was sometimes applied to divided sides within a club, such as married vs. bachelor or fat vs. thin, and sometimes simply to sides picked for the day. In these instances "match game" was often something of marketing hype to generate interest.

Did this club even exist? The fact is that it was reported in the Clipper. The report could have been a hoax, or (more likely) it could be a puffed up report of an abortive attempt at organizing a club.

At this point I don't see enough evidence to judge. Finding a report in a local paper would be ideal, but is very unlikely. More likely would be finding some of this individuals later being members of one or more clubs, but that wouldn't really tell us much. What we have is suggestive, but not much more; and not dispositive of the Cyclones hypothesis.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I appreciate you weighing in on this, Richard, and you make a lot of good points - some of which I've considered.

The two biggest questions are whether or not the club was playing the NY game and whether or not the club ever played a game at all. There's no evidence one way or the other with regards to whether they were playing baseball according to the rules of the National Association but the club's claim to being "the first organization of the kind" seems to support the idea that they were. We know of baseball clubs in the area (the Alton clubs, the Morning Stars) that were playing local variants prior to 1859 so the simple formation of a club was not unique. Your point about the Clipper is something I hadn't considered as I hadn't seen much reporting on other baseball variants in the paper (although I've really only looked at some issues from 1854-1857 plus September of 1859).

I've given a lot of thought to the idea that the club never really existed or, rather, never actually got on the field. Only having 18 members is a red flag for me. If they were only organized for a short time and never played a match game against another club, it was probably tough for them to get all their members together for a club day. Either they added new members or the club quickly fell apart. Also, I don't remember seeing the names of the Pauls, Thurber or Haggerty involved with one of the known antebellum or Civil War era StL clubs. I'm going to check my notes and see if I just missed it - there are a couple of pioneer era StL clubs that I don't know very much about and one of those could be this unknown club. We'll see.

But it's important for people to understand that the Cyclone thesis is just that - it's a hypothesis based on some evidence and a lot of conjecture. At the moment it can't be proved. I still believe that the Cyclones were the first club in StL to play the NY game but I can't prove it. I'm going to write something up, lay all the evidence out and see where we're at.

At the end of the day, however, 1859.39 is the oldest primary source reference we have to a StL baseball club, regardless of whether or not they played the NY game or they lasted more than a couple of weeks. That's significant in and of itself. And I think it forces me to go back to the Cyclone thesis and make sure everything still adds up. I have no evidence and I have to weigh it against all of the old evidence.