Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Earliest Evidence Yet of 19th Century Football Played in the Town of Pelham

Last night the nation watched the national title football game between top-ranked, undefeated Clemson and no. 2 Alabama.  With Alabama's 45 to 40 victory and its crowning as the new National Champion, today seems the perfect time to explore a little more about early football in the Town of Pelham.  

As I have written before, for years I have pursued the Quixotic quest of documenting the earliest years of the sport of baseball in the Town of Pelham.  See, e.g., Mon., Dec. 22, 2014:  Rare 1889 Photograph of Baseball Players Playing on Pelham Field (and links therein to 36 additional articles on the topic).  The earliest documented reference to baseball being played in Pelham, so far, involves a game between the Uniteds of Westchester and the Nonpareils of City Island that was played in October, 1865.  See Fri., Mar. 28, 2014: Earliest Evidence Yet! Baseball Was Played in Pelham Only Months After the Civil War Ended.

It has been far more difficult to assemble evidence that football was played in the Town of Pelham during the 19th century.  To date, the earliest evidence I have been able to assemble involves football games played in Pelham during the mid-1890s.  See:

Wed., Dec. 02, 2015:  Earliest Football Games Played in Pelham.  

Thu., May 08, 2014:  Thanksgiving Day Football Game in 1895 Between Pelham Manor and Mount Vernon Teams.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog moves the dial back by nearly a decade and demonstrates that the sport of "foot-ball" was played in Pelham as early as 1884.

Although the sport we know today as American football has a long, complex history, suffice it to say that at least by shortly after the Civil War, students at various eastern colleges were combining elements from the sports of rugby and soccer to play a new sport they called "foot-ball" or "football."  The first intercollegiate football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869.  By 1873, various colleges subscribed to an agreed-upon set of rules.  The man known as the "Father of American Football," Walter Camp, played halfback at Yale until 1882.  Thereafter he coached football teams at Yale and Stanford and was inducted into the College Football Hall of fame in 1951, long after his death.

The Town of Pelham enjoyed the sport of foot-ball while the new sport was still in its infancy.  The January 25, 1884 issue of The Chronicle published in Mount Vernon, New York contains a brief report of the news of Pelham and City Island.  The report indicates that two Pelham teams played an "interesting contest at foot-ball" on Friday, January 18, 1884.  According to the report James Prout and Thomas Collins each formed a team and played the game with the final score:  Collins' Team, 22 vs. Prout's Team, 19.  

Tom Collins was a City Island oysterman, described in an article later the same year as "a red-faced good-natured Irishman."  See City Island's Oysters, The Chronicle Supplement [Mount Vernon, NY], Nov. 28, 1884, p. 1, col. 4.  In 1884, James B. Prout served as Commissioner of Excise of the Town of Pelham.  See ABSTRACT OF TOWN ACCOUNTS, Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], pr. 17, 1885, Supplement to Eastern State Journal, p. Supp. 2, col. 4.

The account of the January 18, 1884 game is, so far, the earliest account yet of football played in the Town of Pelham.

Harvard Football Team in 1884, the Same Year Tom Collins'
Foot-Ball Team Beat James B. Prout's Team in a Game Played
In Pelham.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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Below is the text of the account that forms the basis for today's article posted to the Historic Pelham Blog.  It is followed by a citation and source to its link.


An interesting contest at foot-ball, between two teams, chosen respectively by Mr. James Prout and Mr. Thos. Collins, took place on Friday last, and resulted in a victory for the Collins team, by a score of 22 to 19.

It is reported that a number of residents of Bartow complain bitterly of the careless manner in which the postmaster of that place discharges his duty; that letters have been opened by unknown parties, and mail matter has been presented to the owners, in a dilapidated condition.  If these charges can be substantiated, it is about time there was a change made in the postmastership."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 25, 1884, Vol. XV, No. 749, p. 3, col. 3.  

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