Academic journal article Base Ball

Sowing Johnny Appleseeds of Doubt

Academic journal article Base Ball

Sowing Johnny Appleseeds of Doubt

Article excerpt

This article includes excerpts from the author's Alexander Cartwright: The Life Behind the Baseball Legend, slated for publication by University of Nebraska Press in spring 2009.

In the early stages of researching Alexander Cartwright's life, I realized that one item above all cried out for further examination: a diary allegedly written by Cartwright during his California Gold Rush expedition in 1849. Crucially, this document had been reported to credit him with spreading America's new game westward from New York to Hawaii as a baseball version of Johnny Appleseed. A copy of this diary was also exhibited by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, the year of its founding, in parallel to its celebration of local hero Abner Doubleday.

Years later, Harold Peterson, in his book The Man Who Invented Baseball, used specific diary entries as the main evidence for his claims for Cartwright's primacy on specific diary entries. However, a close inspection of the diary's existing transcriptions revealed that these had been supplemented to a rather significant extent. possibly with some remembrances from stories heard long ago by Cartwright's descendants. The transcriber himself, Cartwright's grandson, admitted to the reader that he included "all available sources" within his transcriptions. How, then, to separate the original notations from later accretions? The path to a solution was clear: I had to consult the purportedly original diary for myself, which meant a visit to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii.

When I finally reviewed the diary in person I was more perplexed than before. There were no references to baseball whatsoever. My next thought was to wonder if this was indeed Cartwright's original gold rush diary. And, if it was not, then who would author such an item giving Alexander Cartwright credit, and why? Furthermore, if it was Cartwright's original gold rush diary, then why did the typed transcriptions include mentions of baseball when the original did not? My first step to solving this puzzle was to hire someone who was an expert handwriting analyst. The Bishop Museum, for understandable reasons, would not let the diary leave the premises. I needed to locate a handwriting expert in Honolulu, so that is what I did. The true story behind this mysterious document is told for the first time in the pages that follow.

The Newark Overland Company, led by General John Stevens Darcy, departed New Jersey for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 1, 1849.1 The company traveled by train through Baltimore, Cumberland, and Pittsburgh, and then by steamboat down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri.2 Late in the evening on March 18, they reached St. Louis (as reported the next day in the St. Louis Daily Union), and the members of the Newark Overland Company dispersed to find lodgings. The newspaper reported that A. J. Cartwright stayed the night at Planters' House.3

At the time of this writing, four diaries have been uncovered of the men who began their gold rush journey with the Newark Overland Company. Those men were Robert Bond, Cyrus Currier, Charles Glass Gray, and Alexander Joy Cartwright. Piecing together dates from their diaries and from accounts reported in the Newark Daily Advertiser, a timeline of their travels can be reconstructed. When traveling by steamboat on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the company apparently was not always together on the same boat. Bond's diary has him landing in Independence, Missouri, on March 29, while Currier arrived on April 4. Cartwright's and Gray's diary entries do not begin until the actual journey west from Independence launched.

A portion of a letter printed a few weeks later in the Newark Daily Advertiser describing the Darcy party's St. Louis stay gives a sense of the eye-opening excitement the travelers must have been experiencing:

California emigrants arrive daily, and the hotels, there are only two, are crowded. …

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