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Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 11 2008 at 4:33 PM
Jon Canfield  (Login canjond)

I thought this was a short and interesting article...

LONDON (AP) -- Baseball is as American as ... tea and crumpets?

That may be case, according to a diary uncovered in southern England last year but only now being made public.

Julian Pooley, the manager of the Surrey History Centre, said Thursday he has authenticated a reference to baseball in a diary by English lawyer William Bray dating back to 1755 -- about 50 years before what was previously believed to have been the first known reference to what became the American pastime.

"I know his handwriting very well," Pooley told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, adding he believed the game wasn't very common at the time. "He printed it to show it was new to him. He doesn't mention baseball again. It was something that seemed special."

Bray wrote that he played the game with both men and women on the day after Easter, a traditional holiday in England.

"He was about 18 or 19 (at the time of the diary entry)," Pooley said. "He was a very social man. He enjoyed sports."

The entry reads:

"Easter Monday 31 March 1755

"Went to Stoke Ch. This morning. After Dinner Went to Miss Jeale's to play at Base Ball with her, the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford & H. Parsons & Jelly. Drank Tea and stayed till 8."

Baseball has long been thought to have been an American invention, with roots in the British games of rounders and cricket.

The first recorded competitive baseball game took place in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1846 between the Alexander Cartwright's Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York and the New York Nine. The first professional team played in 1869 and the first professional league started two years later.

Bray, who died in 1832, kept a diary for much of his life and wrote a history of Surrey. He also transcribed and published the diary and writings of English writer John Evelyn.

Pooley said he first became aware of Bray's reference in July 2007 after local historian Tricia St. John Barry notified Major League Baseball to say she found a notation of the game that predated their own findings.

"She said, `... I've got a reference in a diary I found in the shed,"' Pooley said.

Pooley said St. John Barry only told MLB about the diary after researchers came to England last year working on a movie by Major League Baseball Advanced Media called "Base Ball Discovered," which examines the origins of the sport.

"She didn't realize its significance (before that)," Pooley said.

The movie is to be shown next week at the Baseball Film Festival in Cooperstown, New York, the home of the sport's Hall of Fame.

"While filming our documentary in England, we met Tricia, who responded to a BBC piece on our film crew being in country, looking at the roots of baseball," said on its Web site. "This discovery places William Bray in a new role of importance and provides insight into baseball's beginnings."

The Surrey History Centre said there is a reference to baseball that came earlier than Bray's, but it appears in a fictional book by John Newberry called "A Little Pretty Pocket-Book." Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey" also refers to baseball. It was written in 1798 but not published until 1817.

"It is a game steeped in history and now Surrey County Council's History Centre and an inquisitive local historian have provided the earliest manuscript proof that the game the Americans gave to the world came from England," said Helyn Clack, an executive member for safer and stronger communities at Surrey County Council.

A copy of the diary is to go on display at Surrey History Centre on Saturday.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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(Login ali_lapoint)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 11 2008, 4:37 PM 

the "play at" and the capital letters make it sound like a place more than a game or activity.


(Login barrysloate)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 11 2008, 5:39 PM 

I heard about this find last year from David Block, who uncovered it on one of his trips to England. David is better known as the author of "Baseball Before We Knew It", a superb study of the origins of the game.

He found it almost entirely by accident. He travelled several hours from London to the countryside based on a phone conversation with the owner of the diary. When he arrived at the woman's house, she couldn't find it. He returned back to London later that day without having seen it.

Then the day before he was to return to the states, she contacted him again and said she found it. He made the same long trip again and this time he was rewarded.


Robert Klevens
(Login prestigecollectibles)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 11 2008, 5:46 PM 

(Login kehfee)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 11 2008, 6:49 PM 

The phrase "play at Base Ball" is actually a correct term in english. Its not a place. That is a specific mention of playing base ball. As to what base ball was in 1755 is anyones guess.


(Login barrysloate)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 11 2008, 6:55 PM 

Baseball played in 1755 would somewhat resemble the game we play today, but would be more basic with only a handful of rules. It would of course be played with a bat and a ball, and hopefully have runners circling bases, but not much else.

(Login dereb5)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 11 2008, 11:32 PM 

Same name doesn't mean the same game. After all, there are two different sports named football.

I've often heard from credible folks the theory that baseball was developed from several English kids games, so I do not dismiss the idea that the game is English in origin. I just don't think the word 'base ball' written in a 1700s document constitutes proof. If there was description of how this game was played, then we could assess.

(Login benjulmag)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 12 2008, 12:21 AM 

Interesting topic, Jon, and thanks for raising it. This 1755 diary entry is the earliest journal entry of which I am aware to reference base ball.

In regard to what the article adds to our historical knowledge of the origins of baseball, however, the answer would be very little. A Little Pretty Pocket Book, first published in England in 1744 specifically refers to a game called "Base-Ball" and provides an illustration. A book of sports first published in Germany in 1796 has a 7-page chapter detailing in great specificity the rules of "English base ball", and includes a diagram. The importance the article puts on the baseball reference being a journal entry seems misleading, because the Little Pretty Pocket Book and the German book of sports are not books of fiction but instead descriptions of known children's games. So it would not seem surprising that someone who kept a diary and who actually played one of these games would write about it.

As has been quite correctly pointed out, just calling something baseball tells little about what was played, except that the game probably included a bat, a ball and safe havens. Baseball as we know it today -- fair/foul territory, 90 feet between the bases (referred to at the time as 42 paces) played on a diamond field with the pitchers mound somewhere between second and home, and a set lineup -- were the rules by which the newly chartered Knickerbockers played in 1845. Almost certainly, though, this Knickerbocker version of baseball was being played prior to 1845 not only by the Knicks themselves but also by other clubs.

(Login ali_lapoint)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 12 2008, 1:28 AM 

i'm fairly certain that for all of time man has played a game that involved a stick and ball, just as man has most likely always played a game with our feet and a ball. but that doesn't make that game baseball, soccer, football or otherwise.

(Login dereb5)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 12 2008, 1:37 AM 

I agree with you Ali. I listened to Andean mountain folk music and Russian Balalaika folk music, and it amazed me similar there were.

And today's musical recommendation is (wild stuff):


(Login martyogelvie)

Re: Reference to "base ball" Found in 1755 English Diary

September 12 2008, 10:32 AM 

I found the news facinating.  I don't think it dimishes America's impact on the game, it just adds more history to the game..  I suspect that the game referred to in the diary holds little resemblence to America's past time even from 100 years ago..



(Login proofer2)

Base Ball

September 12 2008, 5:48 PM 

There goes our heritage!

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