150 years ago in baseball history – On Wednesday, November 2, 1870, Hartford hosted the third ever Connecticut Base Ball Convention. Hartford’s own Gershom B. Hubbell presided over the meeting. Delegates attended from the most prominent teams in the state. Many of them arrived in Hartford via steamship on the Connecticut River. Ball clubs represented were Yale College, Middletown Mansfields, Stratford, New Britain, Essex, Meriden and others from Hartford including Trinity College.
The New York style game of “base ball” rose to prominence in Hartford during the summer of 1860. The first club to organize was the Independent Base Ball Club. Local merchants, W. O. Sherman and Charles A. Griswold served as President and Vice President. A few years later on June 13, 1862 a new team was formed in Bushnell Park named the Charter Oak Base Ball Club. The club was named after an unusually large White Oak tree and a symbol of American freedom from the Revolutionary War called the Charter Oak. Membership was limited to the club was 40 men. Game days in the park were Monday, Wednesday and Friday. According to the Hartford Courant, the club’s mission was to “establish on a scientific basis the health-giving and scientific game of base ball, and to promote good fellowship among its players.”
The Charter Oaks were founded by its President, Gershom B. Hubbell, a native of Bridgeport, a telegrapher at the American Telegraph on Main Street, Hartford and later, superintendent of Western Union’s Hartford office. Other elected officers of the club included: James B. Burbank, Vice President; Charles A. Jewell, Secretary and Treasurer; Thomas Hollister, G. F. Hills and E. H. Lane, Directors. James Burbank was a clerk; Charles Jewell, was a clerk at his father’s hide and leather business, Pliny Jewell & Sons; Enos A. Lane, 20, was also a clerk at George S. Lincoln Company, iron founders of Hartford; George F. Hills, aged 25, a teller at the State Bank; and Thomas A. Hollister, aged 30, who returned from New York as an apprentice bookbinder. All of the founders, except Burbank, made Hartford their permanent home.
The Charter Oaks fielded a “first nine,” a “second nine” and a “muffin team,” as was customary for “base ball” clubs in the early era. Practices and friendly inter-squad games were held in Bushnell Park. The uniform of the club was blue pants, with a white hat and a white shirt. On July 17, 1862 the “first nine” were picked. They were the Bunce twins—Frederick and Henry Lee, who both became Hartford bank presidents, Henry Yergason, Dickinson, Burbank, Branch, Hills, Hollister and Gershom Hubbell. In 1863, the team disbanded due to the start of the American Civil War and the ensuing military draft.
The Charter Oaks reorganized in the summer of 1864 and achieved greatness on the diamond. The ball club defeated local teams like Trinity College, the Hartford Mechanics and nines from Middletown, Norwich, Collinsville, and Waterbury. The Oaks later recruited a Trinity student, Cy Blackwell to take over pitching duties. In the fall of 1864, Blackwell and the Oaks out-dueled New Haven’s Yale College by a score of 44 to 32. A rematch was later cancelled due to snowy weather.
By 1865, “base ball” soared in popularity as soldiers returned home from the Civil War. Thousands of spectators witnessed the Oaks win a great majority of games along the banks of Park River in Hartford’s Bushnell Park. In addition to local teams, the Oaks “first nine” competed against the game’s first professional clubs in an era when there was no difference between professional and amateur. The Philadelphia Athletics, the Atlantics of Brooklyn, the Unions of Morrisania, the Eons of Portland, Maine, the Lowells of Lowell, Massachusetts, the Eurekas of Newark, New Jersey were among the best of Charter Oak challengers to visit Hartford.
The Charter Oak Base Ball Club also scheduled away games, otherwise known as “base ball excursions.” In Worcester, Massachussets, on July 31, 1865, the Charter Oaks were thoroughly defeated by Harvard by a score of 35 to 13. Nevertheless, the Oaks obtained a winning record against in-state rivals that season. As a result, they were honored as champions of Connecticut and given a miniature wooden bat with inscribed silver emblems by a supporter of the club, J. G. Belden. The bat was said to be made from the original Charter Oak tree destroyed in a storm nine years earlier.
In 1866, the Charter Oaks retained their state championship title in a three game series against the Norwich Chesters. The final game took place at Hamilton Park (later known as Howard Avenue Grounds) in New Haven, Connecticut. Hubbell, Jewell, the Bunce twins and the rest of the Oaks dominated the Norwich club, winning 39 to 22. A second consecutive state championship padded the Oaks’ well-regarded club. When the season was through, Hubbell represented the Charter Oaks at the annual “National Base Ball Convention” where the game, its rules and its clubs made efforts to standardize and coordinate base ball operations.
By 1867, Hubbell and the Bunce twins made appearances in every game the Oaks ever played. In late summer, the Pequots of New London managed to defeat the Charter Oaks and take hold of the state championship title. After the season, the first base ball convention of Connecticut was hosted in Hartford at Central Hall on Central Row. In attendance were representatives from each of the state’s major base ball clubs. The meeting formed the Connecticut Base Ball Players Association in which organization Gershom B. Hubbell played a lead role. He hosted two more base ball conventions in Hartford. By the 1870 convention, the Charter Oaks were history but they had put Hartford on the baseball map.
The Charter Oaks and Gershom B. Hubbell led the early development of baseball in Hartford. Four years after the Oaks disbanded, Hartford’s first professional team was established. The Hartford Base Ball Club colloquially known as the Hartford Dark Blues were inaugural members of the National League. Former Charter Oaks captain, Hubbell was selected as the club’s President.
In addition to pioneering baseball in Hartford, Hubbell was also a three-term City Council member of Hartford’s 7th Ward, an expert electrician and a championship pool player. He is credited with introducing the first telephones to Bell Telephone Company and with starting the first telephone exchange in Hartford. Hubbell owned a local billiards hall on Pearl Street during the late 1860’s called Charter Oak Billiard Hall.
Before the days of the Hartford Dark Blues, a delegation of dignitaries and students from China arrived in the Charter Oak City for a prolonged stay. The Chinese government commissioned the students to undergo a Western education in order to develop future ambassadors of the Qing Dynasty. However China did not expect the young students to become Americanized, to forget how to speak Mandarin and to gain an attachment to the game of baseball. Hartford’s guests were a part of the pioneering Chinese Educational Mission (CEM) guided by a man from China who was educated in America. Yung Wing, also known by his Mandarin title, “Rong Hong” was the first Chinese person to graduate from an American university when in 1854, he earned his diploma at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.
Initially, Yung Wing was born in 1828 and raised in the prefecture city of Zhuhai near Macao. In his formative years Yung attended the Morrison School in Macao, the first Christian missionary school in China that was founded by another Yale graduate, Reverend Samuel Robbins Brown. In 1847 Yung was offered an opportunity to study in America when Reverend Brown needed to return home due to ill health. Yung accepted the invitation, traveled across the world and was enrolled at Monson Academy in Monson, Massachusetts until 1849. During this time he became a convert to Christianity and accustomed to a New England way of life. In 1852 while studying at Yale, Yung Wing became an American citizen.
After Yale, Yung Wing returned to China. He was determined to bring Chinese students to the United States so they too could experience a Western education. In 1863 the Qing court began debating the idea of sending students to study abroad. Meanwhile Yung Wing was promoted up the ranks of the Chinese government and became an important envoy to the United States. He was sent to America to purchase on multiple occasions to acquire machinery and equip the city of Shanghai with modern manufacturing arsenals. He was then called upon to serve as lead interpreter to negotiate the 1868 Burlingame Treaty providing rights for Americans and Chinese people while visiting abroad. Yung Wing was also key to negotiations with France following the Tianjin Massacre of 1870.
Eventually, Yung Wing became a Viceroy of the fifth rank, and he used his influence to appeal for the Western education of Chinese boys to develop future leaders and ambassadors of China. His persistence paid off when in 1871 the Emperor of China approved the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States. Yung Wing went ahead of other Chinese officials and students in order to establish the CEM in New England. He vetted American families who would open their homes to young Chinese students and would eventually set up CEM headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut. The first group of thirty students sailed to America in 1872, and rode a series of trains to reach Hartford.
The first group of students from China were 30 boys ranging in age from 10 to 14. They arrived in Hartford in 1872. A second detachment of students arrived from China in 1873, followed by a third and fourth in 1874 and 1875. The students lived with host families in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where they were immersed in the English language and American customs. CEM students attended local schools, including West Middle School and Hartford Public High School. They would go on to study at secondary schools throughout New England in preparation for college.
A majority of Chinese Educational Mission students hailed from Guangdong Province, while others came from Fujian Province, Shanghai, and various coastal locations of China. They arrived in Hartford wearing traditional Chinese garb but soon adopted an American style of attire after experiencing ridicule from peers. The students also improved speaking English at the expense of their Mandarin communication skills. They assimilated to a new culture, including going to church on Sunday, eating American cuisine and playing baseball, a game spreading rapidly in popularity throughout the United States at that time.
In 1874, the Chinese Education Mission constructed a headquarters, at 352 Collins Street in Hartford, where in the summer, many of the boys lived and studied Chinese classics and culture. Summertime also brought about more outdoor leisure and more time to play baseball. A team of at least nine players was formed and called the Celestials (also referred to as the Orientals). In 1875, while directing the CEM, Yung Wing married Mary Louise Kellogg, the daughter of a prominent doctor in Hartford. Mary Kellog and Yung Wing were married by a close friend, sponsor and first pastor of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Reverend Joseph Hopkins Twichell.
The marriage of Yung Wing and Mary Kellogg was the talk of Hartford at the time. They would have two children named Morrison Brown Yung and Bartlett Golden Yung. Not long after the birth of his sons, Yung Wing found himself in a predicament over the fate of the Chinese Educational Mission. Other CEM commissioners with traditional viewpoints wrote in secret to the Chinese Court denouncing the students for becoming too Americanized. These negative reports, funding concerns and a United States breach of the Burlingame Treaty prompted China to announce the end of the mission.
However Yung Wing and his Hartford-based circle of influence fought back. The closest friend of Rev. Joseph H. Twichell and an avid CEM supporter happened to be Samuel Clemens, better known as the famed author Mark Twain. Twain took the initiative to write a letter to former United States President Ulysses S. Grant whom China respected. Twain’s letter urged former President Grant to appeal China’s decision ending the CEM. Grant made the appeal and as a result, the CEM was temporarily allowed to continue.
Despite the unpredictable future of the mission, integration of Chinese students into New England society thrived. By the spring of 1881, the CEM was so effective that many of its students were enrolled at colleges and preparatory schools. In fact, Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Academy Andover both featured a Chinese student on their baseball teams. Other students adapted to American culture by forming political clubs or joining religious organizations. CEM students were also well-versed in specialized fields such as telegraphy, machining, medicine, law, government and international studies.
Eventually though the Chinese government ordered the students back to China on June 8, 1881, six years earlier than originally planned. By August, one hundred CEM students were making their way back to China along with Yung Wing. The Chinese cohort stopped in San Francisco to await a steamer back to China but before their departure, a local Oakland baseball team challenged the Celestials ball club to a game. The Oakland club expected to walk all over with the young Chinese squad. However, to the surprise of most people in attendance, the Celestials drew on their experience in Hartford and won their final baseball game in America.
In 1883, Yung Wing came back to Hartford to care for his wife who had fallen ill while in China. Sadly, she never recovered and passed away in 1886. A devastated Yung Wing raised his two sons who helped console him through the loss of both the Chinese Educational Mission and his wife. In 1895 Yung Wing returned to China in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War in which China was defeated. He made suggestions to government officials, such as construction of railroads, establishment of a national bank, but none were adopted.
Yung Wing then joined the Reform Party who lobbied for new progressive policies in China. During the summer of 1898, Empress Dowager Cixi brought a halt to any notion of reform and a $70,000 bounty was placed on the head of Yung Wing. He fled for his life to Shanghai and then on to Hong Kong. Though his United States citizenship had been annulled in 1898 as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act, he snuck in to the country via a port of San Francisco in June of 1902. Yung Wing arrived in New Haven in time to see his younger son, Barlett Golden Yung graduate from Yale.
Along with his longtime friend, Rev. Joseph Twichell, Yung Wing published an autobiography in 1909 entitled My Life in China and America. On April 22, 1912, he died in Hartford and was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery. If not for Yung Wing, 120 Chinese students would not have come to live and study in New England during the 9-year Chinese Educational Mission. The students entered into diplomatic service, worked as engineers, physicians, educators, administrators, magistrates and naval officers; thus achieving the original vision of Yung Wing. He left a trailblazing legacy of international diplomacy, he led a Western expansion of China’s cultural footprint and perhaps unintentionally, Yung Wing ushered the game of baseball from Hartford to China.
- Wing, Yung. My Life in China and America. Nabu Press, 2010.
- Chinese Exchange Students in 1880’s Connecticut, www.ctexplored.org/chinese-exchange-students-in-1880s-connecticut.
- “Yung Wing, the Chinese Educational Mission, and Transnational Connecticut: Connecticut History: a CTHumanities Project.” Connecticut History | a CTHumanities Project, www.connecticuthistory.org/yung-wing-the-chinese-educational-mission-and-transnational-connecticut.
- Hartford Courant, Connecticut State Library digital database.