Sixty Three Years Before The Chatham All-Stars, The Towns First All-Black Team Took The Field
By Ian Kennedy
History has a way of uncovering itself. If you walk into the Chatham-Kent Public Library, you’ll see local historians scrolling through microfiche, and dissecting books line by line.
Inside those texts, which date back to the 1800s, from time to time, a surprise jumps off the page.
For me, that surprise happened recently. By now, most of us in the area have heard about the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, the first Chatham team to win an OBA Provincial championship, and more importantly, the first all-Black team to do so in Canada. They accomplished that feat, and became Chatham’s team in 1934, securing their spot in the record books, and breaking barriers for generations to follow.
But the Chatham All-Stars weren’t the first all-Black baseball team in Chatham. In fact, the first ever baseball game recorded in the city, was played by an all-Black baseball team known as Chatham Royal Oak.
That baseball game, or Base Ball as it was known at the time, was played on Tuesday, June 27, 1871… 63 years before the Chatham All-Stars won their provincial title.
In that first game, the Royal Oak played a team known as the Unexpected Base Ball Club of Detroit. The game took place at the Chatham Barrack Grounds.
A few weeks later, the Chatham squad played another game against a team from Ridgetown.
While no first names were listed in the Chatham Daily Planet, the publication that covered the game, familiar last names were listed including Washington, McSpadden, Scott, Jacobs, Venable, Smith, Keys, Hunton, C. Sparks, C. Brown, G. Brown, and Shadd.
C. Sparks, a pitcher for the team was team captain.
Looking through the history of Chatham’s Black community in the years surrounding this game, the last names listed were all present in Chatham’s census information, or as key contributors to the development of Chatham’s Black community.
Some of the names, we could hypothesize based on age, and for a few of the players, a first initial.
The last name Scott and Washington even reappeared several decades later with the Chatham All-Stars, so it is possible the All-Star athletes were decedents of this first team.
Other names, like Hunton, are tied to abolishonist movements in Chatham, as Stanton Hunton, who would be too old to have been the Hunton on this team, attended John Brown’s convention in Chatham in 1858 to plan the Harper’s Ferry raid, which is believed to be the first battle of the American Civil War. Stanton Hunton sat on the board of trustees for the Wilberforce Institute in Chatham, and built the Hunton Block located on William Street near King.
In the decades that followed, other all-Black baseball teams in Chatham-Kent appeared. In 1887, a team called the Jubilee Base Ball Club was formed.
Skipping forward into the 1900s, the Chatham Coloured Giants played games in 1915, and had a memorable season in 1926, sweeping their competition in the area.
In North Buxton, the 1920s saw the community’s first Homecoming celebration, and baseball has always been a part of this event. Buxton’s baseball teams played in fields and pastures in the community, including in James Robbins field during that first Homecoming. The 1920s also saw women’s baseball in the Black community, including the Buxton Bloomers.
Other racialized teams were also playing throughout the regions earlier history, including the 1876 Walpole Island Indian Clipper Club, and the 1878 Walpole Island Oil Stockings.
Canada’s white washing of history omits these early teams, pretending that the game of baseball was all-White until Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in 1947.
While the Chatham All-Stars sit in history as a first for Canada, the first all-Black team in Chatham came generations before.
Baseball has always been tied to Chatham, and the fact that the first organized game on record involved an all-Black team is a fact that needs to be recognized.
The 1871 Royal Oak Club of Chatham, was Chatham’s first – the first baseball team to be recorded playing an organized game, and the first all-Black team in the city.