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Brian Turner

the first African American to integrate baseball, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the second son of Nelson Askin and Sarah Lloyd. In 1844 Nelson Askin moved to Florence, a mill village in Northampton, Massachusetts, to open a livery. Across the road was the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a utopian community whose ideals and practices ensured an integrated membership. Although the association disbanded in 1846, many members stayed in Florence, including Sojourner Truth and David Ruggles; their influence marked the village as a “sanctuary” for all, regardless of religion, class, or race. But in 1849, when Sarah Askin arrived in Florence with her six children, Nelson had already sold off parts of his property, and shortly thereafter the livery was seized by creditors. By 1850 Nelson had abandoned Sarah From then on Sarah took in washing to support her children who at the earliest ...

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Donald Scott

educator, activist, and baseball pioneer, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to Sara Isabella Cain, a woman from a prosperous mixed-race family, and William T. Catto, a Presbyterian minister. When Catto was about five years old, his father relocated the family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after being “called” to the city by the Presbytery and after some time to the ministry of the First African Presbyterian Church, a historic black church formed by the Reverend John Gloucester, a former slave, in 1807.

As a youngster Catto attended a number of Philadelphia-area public schools, including the Vaux Primary School. By 1854, though, he was enrolled in the newly opened Institute for Colored Youth, the forerunner of historically black Cheyney University, just south of Philadelphia.

William Catto and other black ministers convinced the Quaker administration to focus on classical topics including Latin Greek and mathematics and not just ...

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Larry R. Gerlach

baseball player, was born John Jackson in Fort Plain, New York, the son of John W. Jackson, a barber, and Mary Lansing. By 1860 the family had moved to nearby Cooperstown, where Fowler grew up and, for reasons unknown, began calling himself John W. Fowler. Sol White, Fowler's contemporary and a pioneer historian of black baseball, claimed that Fowler began his playing career in 1869 with the black Mutuals of Washington, D.C. In 1872 he joined the New Castle, Pennsylvania, club, thereby becoming “the first colored ball player of note playing on a white [professional] team.” Though a staple of baseball folklore, White's unsubstantiated claim seems implausible given Fowler's age (fourteen).

Fowler's first documented appearance as a player is with a white team in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in April 1878 After pitching Chelsea to a 2 1 win over the National League champion Boston in an ...

Article

Luke Nichter

Negro Baseball League officer, was a graduate of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Virtually nothing is known of his early or personal life—not where he was born,-nor precisely when, nor his parents' names and occupations, nor if he was ever married himself or had children. It is known that Leland played outfield for three seasons, from 1887 to 1889, with the Chicago Unions. He had actually started his baseball career with the Washington, D.C., Capital Cities in 1887, but when westward expansion of the black teams took place, he moved to Chicago, where he helped to form a total of five teams there.

Information about Negro League teams is in general sketchy, but it is known that from 1887 to 1890 the Chicago Unions operated part time as a weekend enterprise relying on passed hat contributions from the spectators to meet their expenses To attract top ...

Article

Paul A. Frisch

hotel waiter, baseball entrepreneur, and social activist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest of the three children of Sarah Thompson. His father's name and occupation are not recorded.

In 1871 Thompson began his career as a hotel waiter at the Ocean House in Cape May, New Jersey. The last decades of the nineteenth century were a time of increasing de facto and legal racial segregation. Most black nonagricultural workers were engaged in unskilled labor, as they were excluded from more highly paid skilled occupations. The occupation of hotel waiter held a high level of prestige in the black community because such employment was relatively clean, safe, and steady, but more intangibly, because it offered access to a privileged stratum of white society that on occasion presented further opportunities for advancement. By 1878 Thompson had been promoted to head waiter. In October 1884 Thompson joined the Hotel Brotherhood ...

Article

Larry R. Gerlach

baseball player and writer, was born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, the son of Moses Walker, a minister and physician, and Caroline O'Harra. He grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, and in 1879 enrolled in historically integrated Oberlin College after two years in the school's preparatory program. The catcher on Oberlin's first varsity baseball team in 1881, Walker was the first African American to play white intercollegiate baseball. In 1882 and 1883 Walker played baseball and attended law school at the University of Michigan. Though an acclaimed ballplayer at both schools, he graduated from neither.

“Fleet,” as he was popularly known, began his professional baseball career in 1883 with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League. In 1884, when the league champions joined the major league American Association, Walker became the first black major leaguer in history. His younger brother Welday “Weldy” Wilberforce Walker signed ...

Article

Christopher Devine

baseball player and activist, was born Welday Wilberforce Walker in Steubenville, Ohio. He was the fifth of six children born to Moses W. Walker, a physician and minister. He was reared, along with the rest of his siblings, by Caroline (O'Harra) Walker, but Weldy's death certificate lists his mother as Maria Simpson. This information was supplied to the coroner by Walker's nephew Thomas Gibson, who in the early 1920s claimed not to know Weldy's mother's identity. It is unclear whether the change in Gibson's information evidences newfound knowledge, a disclosed Walker family secret, or fiction. Walker's first name likely paid homage to the local pioneer Alexander Welday (although when and why Walker changed its spelling is unknown), and his middle name likely honored the English abolitionist William Wilberforce.

Steubenville where Walker would spend most of his life was a racially progressive town known for ...