Tagged: Jamestown

Once Upon a Time in America

A while back I asserted there’s no lying in baseball. It warn’t true. If you took all the liars and cheats out of baseball there wouldn’t be enough honest folk left to play with yourself. The game itself, as we know it, is premised on deception. Take what many consider to be the core element of the game, the confrontation between the pitcher and the batter. In the early days of the game the pitcher had to announce his pitch. It didn’t take them long to figure out that the game was much more interesting if the pitcher attempted to fool the batter. You can bet it wasn’t long after that somebody was trying to steal the catcher’s signs.

Like America itself, baseball couldn’t even tell the truth about its origins. Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball anymore than Pilgrims were the first settlers in America. And when that fable was debunked, like compulsive liars they immediately offered another: Alexander Cartwright didn’t invent baseball, either. Indeed there is tantalizing evidence that baseball was played at Jamestown. David Block, in his excellent work Baseball Before We Knew It, recounts how A Polish worker, brought to the settlement for technical assistance, described in his memoirs playing a bat and ball game from Poland, which “even attracted the savages who sat around the field, delighted with this Polish sport.”

The savages—they weren’t quite politically correct in those days—were also adept at bat and ball games of their own. In 1837—two years before Abner Doubleday purportedly invented the game—the novel Female Robinson Crusoe describes Indians (more politically correct) playing a game remarkably like baseball. The Native Americans (almost politically correct) didn’t invent baseball, either. Albert Spalding, the sporting goods magnate who sold the Doubleday myth, was intent on making baseball distinctively American, but the truth is more likely that baseball came to our shores. The Native Peoples (now politically correct) got their ball game from the same place everyone else did.

Their imagination. Some ballyard, huh?

— Michael Norton

Sesqwatch

This weekend marks the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, marked by commemorations,  galas, exhibits, re-enactments, official visits, books, movies, souvenirs and enough half-crocked pseudo history to condemn Jamestown to oblivion for another fifty years. The Queen’s visit was a reprise of the last big bash, in 1957, two years before this grandfather was born. These things need happen every generation. I remember clearly the 200th anniversary of 1776. We buried a time capsule with our John Henry’s for the next generation. I suffixed my name with esq. (Esquire. Bill and Ted were not even yet twinkles in some screenwriter’s eye at that point), hoping future folk had an appreciation of irony and a sense of humor my frowning teacher seemed lacking.

The Jamestown Quadracentennial will pale in comparison to the Civil War Sesquicentennial, approaching four years from now. Once again that great conflict in American history will push Jamestown into the nether reaches of memory.

One of the fundamental motivations for launching The Jamestown Site was in preparation for a long and eagerly awaited study of the Civil War. Jamestown was where it all began. In Jamestown, indentured servitude, used to repay passage to the New World, morphed into chattel slavery. In Jamestown, the seeds of an agricultural economy based on forced labor were sown and took root. In Jamestown, African slaves first arrived in America. The Civil War began in Jamestown.

And the modern game of baseball began in the Civil War.

— Michael Norton

Quick, Hide the Ni**er!

Not that you would know from MLBlogs, where Jackie Robinson Day is observed by parading a Hollywood starlet sporting a sexy top with a Dodger logo to peddle a new clothing line, but fifty years ago this year Number 42 retired from baseball and devoted himself to pursuing civil rights for all Americans.  That same year a young Queen came to America for the first time to participate in the celebration of the 350th anniversary of Jamestown, where slavery originated in this country.  How much has changed in the intervening half century?  From my vantage point here in the Historic Triangle, I have some peculiar observations in Fit for a Queen, my latest post on The Jamestown Site.

You may look differently at what is about to be the vanishing home run record in this Game of Shadows.

Jamestown Discovery

If you are reading this, you are probably a blogger, so you can appreciate the thrill when the first customers come through the door, that moment when you begin to see readers show up in your access logs.  So I hope you’ll relive your moment of exhilaration with me as the first visitors have landed on the shores of my latest endeavor, The Jamestown Site.

It is ironic that it was a sensation not unlike what the natives must have experienced when they glimpsed the foreign ships off the coast of their ancient land.  At first I rubbed my eyes and surmised I was dreaming: there were seven visits reported to a page.  I’ve been working on the site awhile, and was busy with the chores of preparing the site for its official launch on the 400th anniversary of the First Landing of the Jamestown expedition, April 26th.  My recent adversities meant that it wasn’t going to be quite what I’d hoped.  I had even considered abandoning the project.  But I have two years invested.  More significantly, the Jamestown story is simply too compelling, too infinitely interesting, for me to abandon.

Indeed, the story of Jamestown is one of abandonment.  It is odd that Jamestown’s reputed significance is as the first permanent English settlement, considering the unsuitable swamp was within a century or so plowed under as the new Virginians sought higher ground at Williamsburg.  The nation’s founding myth itself was relinquished to the Pilgrims at Plymouth who arrived thirteen years later as part of historical revisionism after the Civil War.  Jamestown, where slaves first arrived in America, was simply erased from the national consciousness.

If it hadn’t been for a fabled love story between a white man and an Indian princess–and a Disney movie that made Pocahontas and John Smith names learned in childhood–Jamestown might have remained buried for another century.

As I said, there is much of interest.  If you are so inclined, visit The Jamestown Site. You will be one of the first. Just remember that, like the original site, it is in the throes of nativity.

— Michael Norton