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13 November 2014
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William Bray's journal

William Bray's journal

Baseball history

The history of America's national sport has been re-written, thanks to a discovery made by a BBC South Today viewer.

The Major League Baseball Constitution, which sets out the rules by which modern baseball is played, was written more than 100 years ago - but the game itself is older. 

Until 2007 it was believed that the earliest recorded mention of a game called baseball was around 1790. 

However, after BBC South Today reported on an American TV crew visiting the south of England to make a documentary, history was re-written.

Tony Husband

Tony Husband

Our Sports Reporter, Tony Husband, followed the American TV crew from the Major Baseball League while they were filming in Sussex. 

Realising that there might be more to discover, Tony decided to ask the audience - making a plea to South Today viewers for any information which might throw more light on the subject.

Luckily, Trisha St. John Barry was watching at her home in Rudgwick on the Surrey/Sussex border. 

Trisha St.John Barry

Trisha remembered an old manuscript which had been in her possession for many years.  It belonged to William Bray, a Surrey diarist and historian who wrote about the game when he was a teenager.

She recalls her reaction to seeing the South Today report: "They said '1790' as though this was quite early and I thought; wait a minute, young William Bray was playing baseball in 1755!"

At first, Trisha couldn't find the manuscript but after searching her cottage she located it in a drawer and contacted South Today to say that William Bray had indeed played baseball in 1755 and recorded the fact in his journal.

The diaries have since been verified by The Surrey History Centre.

William Bray's journal

The date clearly written

"After dinner, went to Miss Jeale's to play at Base Ball with her the three Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford and H. Parsons. Drank tea and stayed 'til eight."

William Bray, 1755
 
 

On hearing about the journal, the American film crew and baseball historians were understandably very keen to meet Trisha. 

The American film crew have now finished their documentary - with a significant change to the original script!

Acknowledging South Today as having played a major role, the director explains that they had set out to reflect on the game's history but ended up making a historical discovery. 

Sam Marchiano

"If the BBC hadn't done the story on us being in England then Trisha wouldn't have known about us and none of this would have happened."
 
Sam Marchiano.  Director, Baseball Discovered

William Bray's journal is important because it is the earliest surviving record of the game being played using the name 'baseball'.

It's not the end of the story.  What William Bray referred to as 'baseball' probably more closely resembled the game we now call rounders. 

The absolute origin of the three games, baseball, rounders and stoolball is still unclear.

If you know any more, please get in touch!

Did America's national game begin in England in 1755?  Can you add any more to the story?  Use the form below to leave your comments.  Your email address won't be included automatically so please include it in your message if you'd like us to be able to contact you.  We will not publish your contact details.
 

last updated: 18/09/2008 at 15:32
created: 17/09/2008

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