According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), by the end of the 18th century, English immigrants who had settled in New York spent their free time playing cricket, and managed to popularize the sport up and down the East Coast colonies.
USA Cricket - A Brief History
In a 1889 book titled “Cricket” by AG Steel with contributions by WG Grace, Andrew Lang and others, Mr. Lang gives some clues about how cricket came into being and how it spread beyond England. He says “crice” was Anglo-Saxon for a staff, hence cricket, just as “crosso” a Bishop’s crosier, may be at the bottom of lacrosse. Andrew Lang wrote that British adventurers and explorers took cricket wherever they went.
Especially interesting is the 1675 letter that Henry Onage wrote from the Royal Oak, her Majesty’s ship at Aleppe. Henry, who was the Chaplain writes that the ship’s crew and officers had fun at “duck hunting, fishing, shooting, handball, krickett, and then a noble dinner, with greats plenty of all sorts of wine, punch, and lemonade.” Back in those days, wickets were just two forked sticks with a single straight piece going across.
Early in 18th century, English literature had numerous references to cricket. Lord Chesterfield asks his son “to excel all boys at cricket.” Kent was always good at cricket and there is evidence of a 1711 match against All England.
The navy, in fact, had an important role in spreading the game of cricket throughout the colonial empire. As historian Bowen states, “Recreation had to be found for troops and sailors: cricket was an ideal source of it, and the very activity it demanded must often have been welcome to shipboard mariners."
Cricket comes to America
Without a doubt, the early sailors to America brought cricket along and the colonists played cricket. Exactly when the first ball was bowled is hard to estimate. By 1705, the colonists were already playing the game in Georgia, Virginia and North and South Carolina. In fact, the Guinness book of "Cricket Firsts" says the first mention of cricket in America dates from 1709. It is entirely plausible that the game was played on the continent some years before 1705.
By the end of the 18th century, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA*), English immigrants who had settled in New York spent their free time playing cricket, and managed to popularize the sport up and down the East Coast colonies. Up the coast in Boston, cricket was also played by English immigrants, notably those who considered themselves as gentry.
April 25, 1709: Cricket on James River Plantation
William Byrd II studied in England at the Felsted School and returned to America in 1704. He was the founder of Richmond and provided the land where the city was laid out in 1737. He lived in Virginia on his Westover Estate, a plantation on the banks of James River. In a secret diary written in short-hand that he kept between 1709 and 1712 (The Secret Diaries of William Byrd of Westover), he refers to an early morning game with family and friends played on the front lawn. The entry was made on April 25, 1709.
He noted: "I rose at 6 o'clock and read a chapter in Hebrew. About 10 o'clock Dr. Blair, and Major and Captain Harrison came to see us. After I had given them a glass of sack we played cricket. I ate boiled beef for my dinner. Then we played at shooting with arrows and went to cricket again till dark." The Byrd Park in Richmond is named after William Byrd II.
1737: After 1709, the next mention of cricket in America was in 1737, this time on Oglethorpe's colony and William Stephens’ colony in Georgia. This was noted by Lester in his book titled ‘A Century of Philadelphia Cricket.’
According to Lester, William Stephens, a planter living in Georgia wrote in 1737 that “Many of our townsmen, freeholders, inmates and servants were assembled in the principal square at cricket and divers other athletick sports.” Stephens was educated at Winchester and Cambridge before taking up plantations in the American colonies. So it may be assumed that he picked it up outside Georgia.
1739: An advertisement in a New York newspaper appeared asking for more players for a match.
April 29, 1751: First recorded match in New York
The first recorded American cricket match was in New York in 1751, on the site of what is today the Fulton Fish Market in Manhattan. A record of this match was preserved by Alfred H Wright of New York, an enthusiastic collector of cricket literature in the 19th century. Not only that, he himself was a cricketer who features prominently in the history of American cricket.
The New York Weekly Gazette and Post Boy reported that a match between New York XI and London XI was played according to the ‘London method' probably a reference to the 1744 Code of the game which was stricter than the rules governing the contemporary game in England. The match was won by the New Yorkers, the scores being 80 and 86 against 43 and 47. Both XIs were drawn from residents of New York.
1753: The British General Braddock marched on Fort Duquesne (later to be renamed Pittsburgh). So confident was Braddock about defeating the French and Indian, that he brought heavy rollers with him so he can make a cricket pitch. The resulting massacre - in which Braddock died - was the first time the supposedly invincible British had been defeated on American soil. With the British went the cricket pitch too but one American officer at Fort Duquesne apparently enjoyed the game, as we will find out later. His name was George Washington.
1754: The rules of the game on this side of the Atlantic were certainly formalized in 1754, when Benjamin Franklin brought back from England a copy of the 1744 Laws, cricket’s official rule book which was referred to until now as ‘London Method’. This gave cricket a 100 year lead before the first book of baseball rules was published. Certainly, cricket was played in Baltimore in 1754.
1759: Historical records do not divulge when cricket was first played in Canada, but it is generally assumed that the game was introduced into the country by British soldiers following the historic battle at the Plains of Abraham near Quebec City, between the armies of General Wolfe and General Montcalm in 1759. Records are said to exist of cricket being played by the Royal Navy and the British army, starting from the mid 1700s.
May 20, 1767: Earliest recorded cricket in Hartford
The Connecticut Courant published a cricket challenge to be held by the Grand Bridge in Hartford. The challenge was signed by William Pratt. The match was played on election day between two sides representing the ‘north’ and ‘south’ of the bridge.
1776: Cricket came up in the debate at the Independence Hall over what to call the new nation's head of state: John Adams disapproved—and noted futilely—that "there are presidents of fire brigades and cricket clubs." As J Alfred Reeves (President of Philadelphia’s British Officer’s Cricket Club) once said, the game of cricket was in the States before we were States.
May 4, 1778: George Washington and cricket
Having survived the battle at Fort Duquesne in 1753 (see Timeline year 1753), George Washington rose up the ranks and was now commander of the American forces who were rebelling against the army of King George. The same King whose father was hit on the head with a cricket ball and died a few years later of that injury.
Having survived a savage winter in Valley Forge, George Washington rebuilt his army's shattered morale with courts martial, drills, theatrical entertainments and cricket.
George Washington even played the game himself.
"This day His Excellency dined with General Nox" wrote first lieutenant George Ewing in his diary, "and after dinner did us the honor to play at Wicket with us." Wicket was a type of informal cricket prevalent across America.
A festival match to commemorate an anniversary of the occasion was organized near Wayne's Woods below the Memorial Arch in the summer of 1993.
1779: A cricket club existed and cricket was regularly played in Greenwich on Manhattan.
1780: Cricketers used to meet at the Ferry House Tavern between Fulton St and Elm St in Brooklyn on Mondays. Tom Melville wrote in his ‘Tented Field’ that these matches may have been organized by the Brooklyn Club besides the Jewish burial grounds.
The Ferry House Tavern appears to have been the favorite spot for the British soldiers who were stationed in New York at that time. And the pitch by the Jewish burial grounds appears to have been the favored pitch for cricket for over 50 years until 1838.
1782: According to Lt. Feltman, cricket was played in South Carolina before this year.
1783: Treaty of Paris recognizes the sovereignty of United States.
1784: The date that marked the Laws of cricket as revised at the Star and Garter. In 1788, the MCC published the Laws of the Noble Game of Cricket. These laws still govern the sport today.
1785: The earliest record of a Canadian civilian match is a reference to a game played in 1785 at Ile-Ste-Helene, near Montreal.
1785: Massachusetts clergymen played cricket throughout the year according to Tom Melville’s ‘Tented Field.’
April 19, 1786: Wanted! Cricketers in New York
In 1786, an advertisement for cricket equipment appeared in the New York Independent Journal, and newspaper reports of that time mentioned "young gentlemen" and "men of fashion" taking up the sport.
1793: The earliest known portrayal depicting cricket is the same one that also depicts Dartmouth College. It is an engraving that appeared in the Massachusetts Magazine for February 1793. The copper engraving is signed by J. Dunham, delineator and S. Hill, sculpt (the engraver). Accompanying the engraving in the Massachusetts Magazine is a short description of Dartmouth College that included the following: 'The new College [predecessor of Dartmouth Hall], which is represented in the plate, is an elegant wooden building, 150 feet by 50, and three stories high. It was erected in 1786, and since finished; and contains 36 rooms for students, beside two rooms for the library and apparatus. Its situation is elevated, healthful and pleasant, commanding an extensive prospect to the west.'
In addition to Dartmouth, there is evidence that cricket was played at Harvard in the late 18th century and it is generally believed that the two prestigious schools played cricket matches as the century drew to a close although there is no concrete evidence to support such a belief.
Cricket continues in Dartmouth today. Click here for full story.
1795: Cricket played in Richmond, Virginia. Organized matches were played under the playing rules of the club there.
1797: 1797 marked the first known account of women’s cricket in Great Britain, where 11 married women of Bury beat 11 unmarried women by 80 runs.
1798: Jane Austen writes about baseball and cricket in Northanger Abbey.
1800: By the time the century drew to a close, cricket’s popularity was soaring. The Britishness of the game was a problem and the American Revolution had an impact on cricket - just like it did on all things British including tea and taxes.
A Dreamcricket.com compilation of USA cricket history.
* Dreamcricket.com is a member of SGMA.