Academic journal article Base Ball

Broken Windows: Spring Field, Massachusetts

Academic journal article Base Ball

Broken Windows: Spring Field, Massachusetts

Article excerpt

Inspired by Pittsfield's "broken-windows bylaw," John Thorn proposes that baseball's "Garden of Eden"1 may lie along the border of Massachusetts and New York.2 As a western Massachusetts native, I enjoy contemplating the possibility that baseball emerged here, even if the honor must be shared with New York. As a researcher, I wonder how to test the idea.

When I found a broken-windows bylaw in Springfield, 1663/4, nearly a century before Pittsfield's founding, I looked for the sports named. To my regret, only the generic term "sports" appeared. Even so, I decided to look into the matter further, since, at different degrees of separation, every community in western Massachusetts descends from Springfield.3 I expected to find little to nothing about baseball, and in this I was not disappointed. But I did find evidence that sports very much mattered to the early pioneers of western Massachusetts.

When William Pynchon came to the Connecticut River Valley in 1636, the spot he had chosen for his fur-trading outpost was isolated from Boston by almost 100 miles of forest. Many historians assume Pynchon sailed down Long Island Sound and up the Connecticut River. After disembarking below the rapids at Enfield, beyond which seafaring ships could not go, his party trudged north to "Agawam," as the English called the floodplains where Native Americans hunted, fished, and farmed. For over a decade Pynchon's plantation stood at the very frontier of British America, becoming known as Springfield, after Pynchon's village in Chelmsford, Essex.4

Among the primary sources for studying Springfield are the Pynchon account books, beginning 1651, and the Pynchon court record, beginning 1639. From these, as Stephen Innes demonstrates in Labor in a New Land (1983), a portrait emerges of a community engaged in single-minded commercial pursuit, relatively tolerant of local natives, and marked by social tension enacted in the theater of the Pynchon court, held in the town's "ordinary," a tavern. These resources, and Springfield's small population, about 90 households in 1663/4,5 enable us to identify families, the lots they occupied, and their children. For when it comes to considering "sport" near the Meeting House, it helps to identify Springfield's children by name and by age.

David Hackett Fischer, in Albion's Seed (1989), argues that the culture of colonial Massachusetts, including sports, arose from antecedents in England, East Anglia above all. Fischer's thesis has merit, even if he sprints through the specifics.6 East Anglian sports of the 17th century included camping (a type of football), bandy (field hockey), and all manner of cat and ball games known by various names. Fischer extends his survey into southeastern England, the counties of Surrey, Sussex, and Kent, where cricket and stool- ball were played.

In his full-court press to prove his thesis, Fischer passes over a significant group from England's West Country (Devonshire, Somerset, and Dorset) who made up much of Springfield's population. Bernard Bailyn estimates that West Countrymen made up 46 percent of the Springfield, Simsbury, and Windsor area, whereas East Anglia men such as William Pynchon, Springfield's founder and most powerful resident, made up only 19 percent.7

Demography matters, as baseball fans know, since you can't tell the players without a scorecard. The "players," here, would be Springfield men involved in reconsidering and revising a document that sheds light on 17th century American sports. Here's the first version:

The Select men considering great damage done to the glas windowes of the meeting house by childrenes playing about the meeting house. They doe Order that if any persons children or others Shalbe found playing at any sports about the meeting whereby the glass windowes thereof may be endamaged Such persons shalbe liable to a fine of 12d [pence] a peece for each tyme they shalbe found so playing, wch fine is to be paid wthin 3 days after such default: & if the Governo[rs] of any youth that Soe offend shall refuse to pay the said fine such youths shalbe liable to be whipt by the Constable before 3 or more of the Select men who shall determine the number of stripes to be inflicted & if any other Persons Soe offending shall refuse to pay the said fine as aforesaid they shalbe liable to the like punishme[nt] aforesaid & all such fynes shall goe one halfe to the informers & the other halfe to the Select men for the use of the Town in bearing publik charges. …

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