Litchfield and the Old Connecticut Game of Wicket

Dr. D. E. Bostwick, father of noted librarian and author Arthur E. Bostwick, was crossing the village green in Litchfield, Conn. sometime in 1870. A hot liner from a nearby baseball game struck him in the eye, knocking him to the ground. While Dr. Bostwick recovered from the injury, his son Arthur wrote in 1930 that his father “might have been killed by it.”(1) The accident, he believed, may have resulted in the game of baseball being banned on the Litchfield town green.  By the 1870s, baseball had taken hold in America, with sports journals already touting the game as “America’s pastime.” Luckily for the residents of Litchfield, there was always wicket.

Wicket, or wicket ball, was one of a number of bat-and-ball games played by Americans in the era before baseball. New England was the heart of wicket country, with Western Massachusetts and especially Connecticut serving as strongholds of the game. There is little definitive history on the origin of the game. Most historians agree that wicket began as an early form of cricket imported to New England by English settlers sometime in the late seventeenth century. (2) Some speculate that the cricket “savored so much of the English aristocracy” that the settlers of New England gradually changed the game’s features, shaping a primitive version of England’s national pastime into a uniquely American sport. (3) Wicket utilized a larger and lighter ball than cricket, and was played with low-standing wickets of greater width and as many as 30 players a side. So far, no documented variation of cricket played before the mid-eighteenth century (when English players began codifying and regulating cricket play) has contained these traits, leading wicket scholars to surmise that whatever the form of the game that arrived in America, “wicket most likely evolved markedly once it had set down American roots.” (4)

Reward of Merit engraved by John Cheney, c.1821, depicting an early game of wicket. Courtesy of John Thorn, “The Oldest Wicket Game, Newly Found” on Our Game, http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/02/05/the-oldest-wicket-game-newly-found/The earliest recorded games of wicket date from the late-colonial period, although later wicketers recalled the game being a favorite pastime “long prior to the Revolution.” (5) Project Protoball contains numerous entries for the game, the earliest specific mention of wicket being a game played on the Boston Common sometime around 1725. (6) On two occasions in May, 1778, soldiers stationed at Valley Forge recall playing wicket. The latter game involved George Washington himself, who played wicket with his men after dining with General Henry Knox. (7) It is likely that wicket play in the eighteenth century was largely unorganized and played without written rules or officiating. By the 1800s, however, organized wicket clubs and village teams began appearing in New England, though most (if not all) lacked formal club constitutions or officers. While the sport never attained the professional organization of baseball, wicket games were often accompanied by official rules and officiated by up to three umpires or judges. Diaries, memoirs, and newspaper articles also attest to the fact that wicket was a spectator sport: when the wicketers of New Britain, CT, headed to Bristol in 1859 to play for the state championship, the following occurred:

“Interest had also grown in Hartford to such an extent that a special train was made up in that city for the event. The train left Hartford at 7:30 A.M., with one carload of Hartford people and when it reached New Britain, four cars were quickly filled with excited people. Every car was trimmed with flags and bunting and as the train reached the local station about nine o’clock it presented a grand appearance. The visitors had a band with them and the crown that greeted them at the station was a large one. It is estimated that when the game commenced there were fully 4,000 people in and around the grounds.” (8)

Engraving of a wicket match at Dartmouth College. Courtesy of John Thorn.

Wicket was sometimes described as “the Connecticut Game.” In the state, and particularly in Hartford and Litchfield Counties, wicket was played with “practically unabated interest” from the 1760s to at least the mid-nineteenth century. (9) The game, however, was not limited to the state. Wicket also appeared in nearby New York, with games played in Brooklyn, Buffalo, and Rochester. As Connecticut natives and other New Englanders traveled elsewhere, the game followed. Connecticut settlers to the Western Reserve spread the game westward, with wicket games being reported by students at the Western Reserve College in Ohio and the nearby University of Michigan between 1830 and 1850. At Hiram College in Ohio, students in the 1850s played wicket in the street next to the College president’s home. James A. Garfield, a president and professor at Hiram and later President of the United States, was remembered by a student as “one of our best players.” (10) Protoball also contains entries citing wicket in Iowa and Wisconsin and as far away as New Orleans and Hawaii. (11)

While a baseball accident may have prolonged wicket play in Litchfield, the game was largely in decline by the end of the Civil War. In 1845, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club ratified a set of twenty rules to govern how their games would be played. A little over ten years later, a number of amateur clubs (primarily from the New York area) organized into the National Association of Base Ball Players. By 1871, baseball had become a professional game played by professional teams with paid players. The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players spread the rules of baseball across the country, displacing regional ball games like wicket as the favored pastime. (12) Wicket became a “throwback” game, a tradition carried on only occasionally and, for the most part, in a few locations across Connecticut. The game was played “not exactly as a revival, but rather as a matter of local pride and to keep the traditions of the game alive, as well as to give the old wicketers a chance to stretch their muscles.” (13)

For many wicketers, the game’s decline was a great disappointment. In Bristol, for example, a town where “men and boys take to wicket playing as a duck will to water,” some regretted that the younger generation would lack “the opportunity of participating in a recreation so enjoyable.” (14) An early historian of the game, George Dudley Seymour of Bristol felt that young Americans lacked the patience necessary for wicket. Americans required “an intense, snappy game, in which all of the excitement is compressed into an hour or two. Such a game is baseball.” (15) A nine-inning game of baseball could last the length of an afternoon, while a three-inning game of wicket could take most of the day to play. Seymour also extolled on the drawbacks of baseball, a game he felt placed “too much power in the hands of the umpire.” He continued:

“If the degree of excitement is in direct proportion to the number of heroes engaged, a game of wicket should arouse a community to a higher pitch of enthusiasm than baseball. It must be observed, too, that in this country the best men in the community played the game. I do not mean to say that the teams were wholly or even largely comprised of picked men, but every team was pretty sure to include a few of the best men in the community, and these kept the game free from bickerings and rowdyism. The taint of professionalism always attached to baseball was conspicuously absent. I am convinced that wicket was the more wholesome sport, and certainly had the merit of engaging actively a larger number of men than baseball.” (16)

Despite his baseball reservations, Seymour concluded with the following statement about wicket: “On the other hand, it is a less interesting game to watch.”

Photograph showing the Poquonock Drum Corp at a clambake and wicket game played in J. M. Brown’s pasture in Poquonock, July 4, 1890. Two wicket bats, a wicket ball, and the two wickets are visible. Courtesy of the Windsor Historical Society.

Wicket in Litchfield

By all accounts, wicket was a favorite pastime of Litchfield County. Seymour writes that “the towns of Litchfield and New Hartford were great centers for the game,” and that Torrington and nearby Waterbury in New Haven County also “boasted of good players.” (17) Wicket games were held on Litchfield’s town green “every pleasant evening from early summer to late autumn,” and the game is believed to have been popular with students of the Tapping Reeve’s Litchfield Law School. (18)

A wicket rivalry is recorded between the wicket clubs of Wolcottville (now a part of Torrington) and Litchfield. In July 1848 the Litchfield players defeated their nearby rivals 232 – 150 in three innings of wicket play, with the game played on Litchfield’s town green. The Litchfield Republican noted that this was the “first effort to revive ‘BANTAM’ since the Bats and Ball, were buried (literally buried,) 10 years ago, after two severe floggings, by this same Wolcottville.” (19) The same paper noted that the Wolcottville team intended to “test once more their rivalry in ball-playing” by challenging the Litchfield players to a rematch, to be held at the former’s home ground. “No doubt,” it stated, “these athletic games have a tendency to improve young men in health, strength and agility by bringing all the muscular powers into action.” The following month, the Republican reported that the two teams were scheduled to play three games in Wolcottville on a Saturday afternoon, with 25 players to a side. (20)

It is interesting to note that, in most references to wicket play in Litchfield, the town’s team is referred to almost interchangeably as the Litchfield team, the Bantam team, the Bantam Wicket Club, or the Bantam Players. When Litchfield challenged Hartford to a game of wicket sometime in the 1830s, the newspaper used both the “Ball Players of Litchfield” and the “Bantam Players” when describing the match. Hartford won the contest 146 – 126, causing the reporter to note that the Bantam Players “barked up the wrong tree”. (21) In 1848, the allied forces of Wolcottville, New Harford, and Waterbury challenged Litchfield to a match, calling themselves the “Rough and Ready” club. The Republican again listed their opponents as the Bantam Wicket Club. (22) The Rev. Dr. Storrs O. Seymour, an old wicketer from Litchfield, wrote in a 1909 letter that “there used to be many match games played between the ‘Bantam Club’ of Litchfield and the Wolcottville Club.” He goes on to describe one such match:

“The last match game in which I played was one between these two clubs when I was in college, my division officer, who, if I remember rightly, was Dr. Dwight, the late President, having excused me from attending on prayers and recitations that I might come to Litchfield for the purpose of playing. My brother Edward was one of the players and, alas! our club was beaten.” (23)

Connecticut Courant, Volume 70, Issue 3618, Page 3. Courtesy of John Thorn.

Bantam, incorporated as a borough of Litchfield in 1915, was apparently a hotbed of wicket play. In 1852, the Republican reported a game played between the “two branches of Bantam Players,” the “Factory” and the “Up-Town” teams.  In a close three-inning match, the Factory branch won by 30 tallies. (24)

As a schoolboy in New Haven in the 1840s, Henry T. Blake recalled seeing college students play wicket on the New Haven green prior to 1844, as well as later during his time at Yale (Blake is believed to have graduated in 1848). In the late 1840s, baseball’s arrival curtailed wicket play until 1853, when the Rev. Dr. Storrs Ozias Seymour of Litchfield arrived at Yale. (25) Seymour was the son of Origen Storrs Seymour, a Yale graduate and former Litchfield Law School student, and Lucy M. Woodruff, a former student at the Litchfield Female Academy. Alongside other classmates from Litchfield County, Seymour is said to have revived the college’s interest in wicket. Among the list of regular players recalled by Seymour was fellow Litchfield resident George M. Woodruff. Seymour continues:

“It was proposed that a wicket club be formed. This was done, the ball and bats and wicket sticks after the regular pattern were procured and the club began its practice. The time when we played was at noon, after the eleven o’clock recitation and before dinner. Sometimes also Saturday was given up to it. There were a good many of our class who would from time to time join in the game but irregularly. There were not more than a dozen perhaps who were enthusiastic enough to be on hand every day.” (26)

Traditionally, wicket games were contested by two teams with up to thirty players on a side. Lacking such numbers in New Haven, Seymour recalled playing a more casual type of wicket, in which players rarely chose sides. Instead, “when a man was bowled or caught out someone else took the bat, a sort of order being observed, so that all had the chance to bat.” It was after such a game that Seymour was approached by an old man who had been among the spectators. The man stated that he had played wicket in the “old town of Litchfield” with Seymour’s father, Origen Storrs Seymour; his grandfather, Ozias Seymour; and his great-grandfather, Moses Seymour. (27) The man was Asa Bacon, eighty-six years old the time of his conversation with Seymour. Like in other New England towns, Litchfield maintained a tradition wherein the town’s elderly men played a wicket match against the younger men. As a young man Bacon played against Moses Seymour, and as an old man he played against Origen Storrs Seymour.  It seems that the game of wicket “must have been something of a cult in the Seymour family.” (28) Wicket games often featured players of varied ages. The Hartford Courant wrote about a wicket game between Poquonock (Windsor) and Wethersfield-Newington on October 14, 1907 that some players were about 60 years old while others were “just sprouting fuzz on their upper lips.”

Portrait of Moses Seymour by Anson Dickinson, 1825, Collection of the Litchfield Historical Society

With baseball still on the rise, it is likely that wicket play declined in New Haven after Seymour’s graduation. He writes, “so far as I know the game was not continued by any club after the class of ’57 was graduated, and so far as I remember I have not played a game since that year.” (29) Around the same time, the game’s popularity may have waned in Litchfield. In 1859, the baseball team from the Gunnery School in Washington, CT, traveled twice to Litchfield to play a “brawny nine, composed largely of old ‘wicket’ players.” (30)

The Rules of the Game

Lacking any definitive set of rules for the sport, wicket play varied greatly. Some, including Seymour and his Yale classmates, adapted wicket to work with time restrictions and a more limited number of players. Store clerks in Hartford in the early 1850s held shortened games in various locations across the city, with the “best games of all in many respects” being the early morning games played on Main Street and in State House Square.

“It was customary for the first [clerk] who was first awake at 5 o’clock to dress, and make rounds of the square, knocking on the doors and shouting ‘Wicket.’ By 5:30 enough would be out to begin playing, and soon with 15 to 20 on a side the game was in full swing. These games would end about 6:45, in time to open the stores at 7 o’clock.” (31)

Matches between village teams and wicket clubs were lengthier and often more organized, with some teams even agreeing to stipulated rules before the match was to be held. Some rules were set forth in the challenge or invitation sent from one team to another, such as the five rules listed by the Bloomfield (and vicinity) team in their invitation to the players of Hartford in 1841. (32) When asked to serve as a judge at a wicket game in Thomaston in 1865, Harry S. Bartholomew included his reply a list of 19 rules that were adopted for the famous match between Bristol and New Britain in 1859. (33) In July 1874, the Litchfield Wicket Club adopted the following rules and regulations to govern how their matches were played (a copy of which can be found in the research files of the Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library):

Sec. 1 Bounds &c. The wicket bounds shall be eight feet in width, and the wickets seventy feet apart. The wickets shall be six feet in length and shall stand four and one half inches above the ground; the ball not being more than five inches in diameter. The centre-line shall be midway between the wickets: and the tick-marks six feet in front of their wicket.

Sec. 2 Bowling &c. Before delivering the ball the bowler must first step one or both feet over his wicket, the ball must strike the ground before reaching the centre-line and must be within the bounds. Any violation of these rules will be adjudged “no bowl”. Underhand throwing will not be allowed. No tally will be allowed on balls stricken which are not correctly bowled.

Sec. 3 Putting out. In putting out a striker the bowler must stand astride of his wicket and must strike off the wicket from the inside with the ball, which is to be firmly held in one or both hands: When the wicket is thus struck off the batsman is to be adjudged out unless he has placed his bat upon or within the tick-mark, before the wicket is so struck off.

Sec. 4 Batting. The batsman shall not go outside the bounds to strike a ball, and no tally can be allowed on a ball so struck. If he knocks off his own wicket either with his bat or person he shall be out. He must in ticking place his bat upon or within the tick-mark. If he arrives at his tick-mark and fails to put down his bat to the Ground he may be put out by the bowler. If a batsman’s wicket is knocked off by a ball struck by the opposite batsman he shall be out, unless the batsmen shall have crossed each other, in which case the one who struck the ball shall be out: the wicket becoming his after crossing.

Sec. 5 Tallying. No tally can be made on a ball adjudged “no bowl”; and the batsman can be in no way put out by such a ball. To make a tally the batsmen must have crossed each other, and they must place their bats upon or within the tick-marks before making a second tally. If the ball is struck and the striker caught out, a tally shall be allowed if the batsmen have crossed each other before the ball is so caught.

Sec. 6 Shams. Three shams shall be adjudged out; and a ball, properly bowled, striking any part of the body before touching or being touched by the bat shall constitute a sham.

Sec. 7 Fielders. Fielders shall not go inside the bounds until after the ball is struck, and then only for the purpose of catching or fielding the ball. In catching, the ball must be taken on the fly and held firmly in the hands or hand, and not against the body: if the ball bounds in the hands it will not be considered caught and the striker will not be out. A ball is considered as in the bowlers hands when it has been thrown to him and has reached or passed the wicket bounds, whether the bowler has actually secured the ball or not, and no tally can be made after the ball is thus in: if the batsmen have crossed, however, before the ball is in, they may complete the run after it is in, and are liable to be put out by the bowler in so doing.

Sec. 8 The umpire is to be the sole Judge of the game, but in case of inability to observe correctly, he may ask information of players or bystanders and make use of the same at his discretion.

An examination of the extant sets of rules and other descriptions of the game reveal a number of commonalities. Wicket games were most often played over three innings, and usually organized in a best-of series. When the aforementioned Bloomfield team invited Hartford to a wicket contest in 1841, they stipulated a best-of-nine series. The same agreement was in place a year earlier when Hartford played Granville (MA), although after Hartford won five straight games, the remaining four were dropped. (34) An 1849 contest between Westfield and Granville was played in a best-of-five series, with a supper to follow and all bills to be paid by the losing side. (35) A shared meal between players is something of a wicket tradition. In their invitation to the Hartford players in 1841, the “Ball Players of Bloomfield” also stated that the contest would be played for “Dinner and Trimmings.” After the championship match between Bristol and New Britain, the members of the New Britain club stayed for a “customary banquet” at the Kilbourn House, with the match’s two officials and others in attendance. (36)

There are three basic roles in wicket: bowlers, batters, and fielders. The fielding team is represented by two bowlers, one at each wicket, and up to thirty fielders, who are responsible for catching or fielding any ball that is struck by the batters. The primary goal of a bowler was to retire opposing batters by striking off the opposite wicket with the ball. The ball could be delivered by either bowler from either end, implying that bowlers could swap places at any time, although Bartholemew wisely stipulated in his rules that “when the bowler has received the ball, it shall be bowled by him before it is passed to the other bowler.” (37) Most rules indicate that the bowler must always begin his throw behind the closest wicket, and either step completely over the wicket or be astride it before releasing the ball. (38)  Requirements were also set on the number of times the ball had to bounce and how far it could travel before doing so; usually the ball had to touch the ground before the center or centre-line to be judged fair, as well as stay within the bounds. Bowling in wicket was more like a roll than a throw. Some rules required bowlers to keep their arm completely strait and use and underhand cast, although the Litchfield club clearly prohibited underhand throwing. (39)

The batting team is represented by two batters, one at each wicket. The batters primarily serve as defenders of the wicket, attempting to stop any bowl from hitting their wicket and dislodging it. When either batter makes good contact with the ball, both batters attempt to complete a cross (also referred to as a tally or, less often, a run) by running from one end of the alley to the other and touching their bat either behind the tick-mark or, in some accounts, reaching the opposite wicket or even touching the wicket “stumps.” (40) Some accounts state that batters could choose whether or not to attempt a cross after hitting the ball, although an account from the University of Michigan states that “it was necessary to run between the wickets at each strike.” (41) Unlike cricket, wicket batters were not allowed to make crosses when the ball was bowled wide or traveled past the batter without knocking off the wicket (called a “bye” in cricket); crosses were scored only after the ball had been hit. On the rare occasion that a struck ball eludes all thirty fielders and can’t be recovered, some rules even stipulated that lost balls were to count as four crosses (interestingly, the batters were still required to physically run all four crosses, somewhat similar to baseball players running the bases after hitting a home run). (42)

The fielders had two jobs: catch the batter out or assist the bowler in putting the batter out. Most rules indicate that struck balls needed to be caught in the air to register an out, usually with an accompanying clarification like “a ball caught before striking any other object but the catcher is out.” Some rules, however, permitted fielders to catch a ball on the first bound to record an out. (43) The Litchfield Wicket Club had perhaps the most specific rule for fielding, requiring the ball to be held firmly in the catcher’s hands (and not against his body) without being bobbled. Fielders could also throw the ball to one of the bowlers in an attempt to put a batter out. In “putting out” a batter, the bowler must stand astride his wicket or behind it and use the ball to strike off the wicket from the inside. If he can do so before the batter has safely crossed (either by reaching the wicket or placing his bat beyond the tick-mark, depending on what rules are in play), the batter is out. Batters were also out if they knocked off their own wicket while attempting a hit, or if they knocked of the opposite wicket with a struck ball. (44) When a batter was out, the next man in the batting order took his place; by most accounts, three outs were considered a side out and ended that half of the inning.

The Field

Wicket alley according to 1874 rules of the Litchfield Wicket Club.

Most sources use the word “alley” when referring to the layout of a wicket field. The alley could be any smooth surface of hard ground, be it a well-maintained and skinned grass surface or a patch of rolled dirt with the grass removed. (45) Some, like the boys at Hiram College, played the game on cobblestone or dirt streets. In terms of how the game is played, the wicket alley functioned much the same as the pitch in cricket. However, very few accounts make any mention of the size or layout of the rest of the wicket field, although some do mention outfield and infield players. The length of the alley differs from source to source, but it is most commonly listed as being 75 feet long and between 8 and 10 feet wide. The Litchfield Wicket Club played on an alley 70 feet long. Shorter alleys of 60 feet and even 40 feet were used in Rochester and Michigan, respectively. (46) Some descriptions of the game mention the center line or “centre-line,” located at the halfway point of the alley, which was used in deciding whether a ball was properly bowled. Fewer accounts make mention of tick-marks, which some clubs used to demarcate the minimum distance from the wicket that a runner needed to pass in order to record a tally. The Litchfield Wicket Club set the tick-marks at 6 feet.

The length and construction of the wickets also varies between sources, but is discussed in a larger number of accounts than almost any other aspect of the game. Unlike cricket, in which a wicket is formed by three vertical stumps with two bails resting on top, the game of wicket utilizes a single horizontal wicket resting on two vertical uprights. The Litchfield Wicket Club used 6-foot wickets placed 4.5 inches off the ground, but made no formal mention of how they were to be constructed. Edward Hitchcock, a wicket player at Amherst, noted that their wickets were made of two sticks of pine, an inch square and 8 to 10 feet long, placed on wooden blocks. (47) Another account describes the wickets in Bristol as comprised of “two pyramids of wood on top of which is a slender stick about five feet long.” (48) When Bristol went to Brooklyn to challenge the Ansonia Company team, the wickets were described as “two pieces of white wood” about an inch square and six feet long, resting on three-inch blocks. (49) Even the shorter wicket lengths of 4 or 5 feet represented a much wider target for wicket bowlers than for their cricket counterparts.

Members of the Essex Base Ball Club and other teams try their hands at a game of 19th-century wicket. Note the position of the fielder behind the wicket to serve as catcher. Courtesy of the Essex Base Ball Club website.

The fielding side in wicket commonly had 30 players, a number which shows up in many primary source accounts. A bowler was stationed at each end of the alley, behind the wicket. It is likely that two fielders also played behind the wickets as catchers. Games between Hartford and Granville in 1840 and Tolland and Otis-Sandisfield in 1855 stipulated slightly smaller teams of 25 men. (50) When the juniors at Amherst played a team of their classmates in the late 1840s, there was apparently little thought given to maintaining an equal number of players on each side. The juniors fielded just 19 men out of a possible 25-man team against 30 men from a possible 35-man team. William G. Hammond noted that, “as a class, [the juniors] were completely used up.” (51) An account from the Rochester Union and Advertiser in 1903 provides a more detailed description of the fielding positions:

“In wickets there had to be at least eight men, stationed as follows: Two bowlers, two stump keepers or catchers, two outfielders and two infielders or shortstops…” (52)

This description is of particular interest because it both stipulates a drastically smaller number of players on the fielding side and applies the positional terminology of baseball to wicket.

Equipment

A wicket bat and ball in the collection of the Windsor Historical Society. The bat and ball are seen in a photograph of a wicket game and clambake held on July 4, 1890 in Poquonock. Courtesy of the Windsor Historical Society.

In addition to the wickets, the game required little more than two bats and a ball. Extant examples of wicket bats bear strong resemblance to those used in the Irish game of hurling, though numerous colorful descriptions of the bat can be found in primary source accounts. One describes the bat as resembling a “lawn tennis bat except that the part where the net work is on a lawn tennis bat is made of wood.” (53) They have also been described as “something like the halberds of the time of Henry VIII” or “more in the order of a lacrosse bat, although of an entirely different shape.”

One of two wicket bats in the collection of the F. N. Manross Memorial Library, Forestville, CT. Courtesy of the F. N. Manross Memorial Library.

Other observers went as far as to say the bat bore a “strong resemblance to a Fiji war-club” or looked “like a huge smoking pipe but flat on two sides.”(54) The bats ranged from 3 feet to 4 feet long, with a circular or oval end about 8 inches in diameter, and were made from a range of woods, including “well-seasoned” willow, bass, oak, or any “hard, white wood.” (55) By all accounts, wicket bats were heavy. Thomas Day Seymour, a Yale professor who had played the game at Western Reserve College, described the bats as “so heavy that only the strong (and quick) batter dared to wait until the ball was opposite him and then strike. I was always satisfied to steer the ball off to one side.” (56)

 

Wicket balls were considerably larger than those used in either cricket or baseball, some being almost twice the size but “just as light and not so hard.” (57) The Litchfield Wicket Club stipulated that the ball was to be no larger than 4.5 inches, although there is ample evidence of larger balls being used. Balls from 5 to 5.5 inches were popular, with outliers as large as 6 inches and others almost as small as a baseball (3.75 to 4 inches in diameter). (58) One account describes a wicket ball as being “as large as a man’s head, and of peculiar manufacture. Its center was a cube of lead weighing about a pound and a half. About this were tightly wound rubber bands…and the whole sewed in a thick leather covering.” (59) Other balls were made of yarn and covered in “stout leather,” weighing closer to 9 ounces (just over half a pound). (60) Despite numerous accounts of the ball’s lightness, there is evidence that heavier versions may have seen use. Professor Seymour recalled the following:

A wicket ball in the collection of the Windsor Historical Society. Courtesy of the Windsor Historical Society.

 

“The ball was so heavy that most bowlers merely rolled it with such a twist that they could impart; but some bowlers almost threw it. Mark Hanna was such a star player about 1860, and the rule had to be called on his that the ball must touch the ground three times before it struck the wicket.” (61)

In Poquonock, an area in northern Windsor, wicket balls were usually made by the village cobbler. (62) The Wethersfield Wicket Club preferred their balls to be made by one particular man, an old wicketer serving a life sentence at the state prison. He had ” a reputation for making wicket balls that is equal to the fame of the house of Spalding in turning out baseballs.” (63)

 

Conclusion

It’s been almost 150 years since Dr. D. E. Bostwick was struck by a baseball while crossing the green in Litchfield. In that time, baseball has grown into a dominant sport both in America and abroad. Wicket, on the other hand, has almost entirely disappeared. Once played from Hawaii to Connecticut, the game of wicket is now only a pastime of historians and enthusiasts of America’s early ballgames. But while wicket games are rarities in the 21st century, the sport’s history is more accessible than ever. With any luck, village greens around New England may once again host afternoon contests between rival towns, with the losing side, as is tradition, paying for dinner.

 

Special thanks go to John Thorn, Larry McCray, and Brian Sheehy for their assistance with this research and their contributions to the study of early American ballgames. I would also like to thank the Windsor Historical Society and the F. N. Manross Memorial Library for allowing me to photograph wicket items in their collections. Anyone interested in learning more about wicket is encouraged to visit the Project Protoball website as well as John Thorn’s blog Our Game, or can contact the Litchfield Historical Society at curator@litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org

 

Notes

(1) Letter from Arthur E. Bostwick to Col. Samuel H. Fisher, Litchfield, Connecticut, dated September 30, 1930.
(2) Ray Hardman, “Before There Was Baseball, There Was Wicket.” WNPR, October 31, 2013. http://wnpr.org/post/there-was-baseball-there-was-wicket#stream/0.
(3) Frederick Calvin Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket” in Eddy N. Smith, George Benton Smith, and Allena J. Dates, Bristol, Connecticut, In the Olden Time “New Cambridge,” Which Includes Forestville (Hartford: City Printing Company, 1907). Originally published in the Hartford Courant, 1904.
(4) Larry McCray, “State Championship Wicket Game in Connecticut: a Hearty Hurrah for a Doomed Pastime.” Accessed via Our Game, a blog run by John Thorn, the official historian for Major League Baseball. http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/08/17/championship-wicket-game-in-connecticut/. Originally published in a special issue of the journal Base Ball.
(5) George Dudley Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket and Some Old-Time Wicket Players” in Papers and Addresses of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut, Proceedings of the Society, Vol. II (New Haven: The T. M. & T. Press, 1909) pp. 269-303.
(6) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1725C.I. “Wicket Played on Boston Common.” http://protoball.org/1725c.1.
(7) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1778.4. “Ewing Reports Playing ‘At Base’ and Wicket at Valley Forge – with the Father of his County.” http://protoball.org/1778.4.
(8) Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket.”
(9) Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(10) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1857C.34. “Wicket Played at Easter OH College; Future President Excels.” http://protoball.org/1857c.34.
(11) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item Nos. 1844.13, 1855C.10, 1857.27, and 1862.20. http://protoball.org/Chronology:Wicket.
(12) McCray, “State Championship Wicket Game in Connecticut”
(13) Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(14) Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket.”
(15) Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(16) Ibid.
(17) Ibid.
(18) Recollection of Rev. Dr. Storrs O. Seymour, in Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(19) “Those Games of Wicket,” Litchfield Republican, July 6, 1848.
(20) “Wicket Playing,” Litchfield Republican, August 10, 1848.
(21) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1834.6. “In Wicket, It’s Hartford CT 146, Litchfield CT 126.” http://protoball.org/1834.6. Taken from Connecticut Courant, v.70, n.3618, p.3.
(22) “Rough and Ready versus Bantam Wicket Club,” Litchfield Republican, August 1848.
(23) Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(24) “That Game of Wicket,” Litchfield Republican, July 8, 1852.
(25) Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(26) Recollection of Rev. Dr. Storrs O. Seymour, in Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(27) Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(28) Ibid.
(29) Recollection of Rev. Dr. Storrs O. Seymour, in Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(30) Axel Bundgaard, Muscle and Manliness: The Rise of Sport in American Boarding Schools (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), p.41.
(31) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1852C.11. “Hartford Lads Play Early Morning Wicket on Main Street.” http://protoball.org/1852c.11.
(32) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1841.10. “Bloomfield CT Wicket Challenge: ‘One Shamble Shall Be Out.’” http://protoball.org/1841.10.
(33) Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket.”
(34) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item Nos. 1840S.28 and 1841.10. http://protoball.org/Chronology:Wicket.
(35) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1849.14. “Westfield Upsets Granville in Wicket.” http://protoball.org/1849.14.
(36) Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket.”
(37) “Rules of the Game of Wicket” by Harry S. Bartholomew, in Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket.”
(38) The Litchfield Wicket Club rules stipulate that the bowler must have at least one foot over the wicket before releasing the ball, while Bartholomew and other sources say that the bowler must pass fully over the wicket.
(39) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1850S.16. “Wicket Play in Rochester NY.” http://protoball.org/1850s.16.
(40) 1850S.16 makes a mention of batter’s having to “touch the stumps” when crossing. The Litchfield Wicket Club and Bartholomew, among other sources, state that batters had to touch their bats on or behind the tick marks and make no mention of them having to touch the wicket uprights or “stumps” themselves.
(41) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1850C.35. “U. of Michigan Alum Recalls Baseball, Wicket, Old-Cat Games.” http://protoball.org/1850c.35/
(42) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1858.30. Also “Rules of the Game of Wicket” by Harry S. Bartholomew, in Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket.”
(43) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1850S.16. “Wicket Play in Rochester NY.” http://protoball.org/1850s.16.
(44) Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket” and Litchfield Wicket Club, 1874 Rules.
(45) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No.1855C.3. “Demo Game of Wicket, Seen as a CT Game, Later Played in Brooklyn.” http://protoball.org/1855c.3.
(46) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item Nos. 1850C.35 and 1850S.16.
(47) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1846.7. “Amherst Juniors Drop Wicket Game, 77 to 53: says Young Billjamesian.” http://protoball.org/1846.7.
(48) Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket.”
(49) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1855C.3. “Demo Game of Wicket, Seen as a CT Game, Later Played in Brooklyn.” http://protoball.org/1855c.3.
(50) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item Nos. 1840S.28 and 1855.26.
(51) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1846.7. “Amherst Juniors Drop Wicket Game, 77 to 53: says Young Billjamesian.” http://protoball.org/1846.7.
(52) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1850S.16. “Wicket Play in Rochester NY.” http://protoball.org/1850s.16.
(53) Norton, “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket.”
(54) Hartford Courant, October 14, 1907; The News-Weekly, September 30, 1949; and Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1855C.3.
(55) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item Nos. 1830S.5, 1846.7, and 1855C.3.
(56) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1830S.5. “Wicket Played in the Western Reserve [OH].” http://protoball.org/1830s.5.
(57) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1855C.3. “Demo Game of Wicket, Seen as a CT Game, Later Played in Brooklyn.” http://protoball.org/1855c.3.
(58) The News-Weekly, September 30, 1949, and Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item Nos. 1830S.5, 1846.7, and 1857.19.
(59) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1850S.16. “Wicket Play in Rochester NY.” http://protoball.org/1850s.16.
(60) Protoball, Wicket Chronology, Item No. 1846.7. “Amherst Juniors Drop Wicket Game, 77 to 53: says Young Billjamesian.” http://protoball.org/1846.7.
(61) Seymour, “The Old-Time Game of Wicket.”
(62) Hartford Courant, October 14, 1907.
(63) Gary Goldberg-O’Maxfield. “Wethersfield’s Glorious Baseball History.” February 5, 2012. http://wethersfieldhistory.org/articles-from-the-community/wethersfields_glorious_baseball_history/.

 

 

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