Brownlow’s Black Boys Base Ball Club

On September 16, 1866, sixteen African-Americans (and one white man*) were cited and later fined ($5-$9 each) for violating Nashville’s city ordinance against playing games on Sunday. The following Tuesday, the Nashville Daily Union and American reported (in two separate accounts) that the black men were members of “Brownlow’s Black Boys Base Ball Club.” The incident, also reported in the Republican Banner, provides the earliest documented account of African Americans playing baseball in Nashville. The game took place at Sulphur Spring Bottom, later the site of Nashville’s historic Sulphur Dell ballpark.

The club’s name refers to Tennessee governor (1865-1869) William Brownlow, a preacher, newspaperman, unionist, and sometime abolitionist. A Radical Republican, Brownlow used his control of the legislature to disenfranchise ex-Confederates and force the passage of the 14th amendment, leading to Tennessee’s readmission to the Union. Brownlow’s championing of the civil rights of African Americans garnered him support among the black community, but he was often ridiculed and despised in the white press.

The name of the club has not been verified by other sources, and it’s possible that in assigning that name the Daily Union and American was just mocking the players. In any case, here are the names of the black men cited in court:

  • Andrew Boyd
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Andrew Wright
  • Charles Arms
  • David Young
  • Gus Spence
  • Howell Tate
  • Jack Phillips
  • Jesse Gordon
  • John Cook
  • John Patton
  • Riley Williams
  • Rufus Porterfield
  • Sim Noel
  • Thomas Payne
  • Vaughn Loften

*Identified in one account as Mr. “Same O.L.D. Coons,” if there was any doubt as to the accuracy of the historical record.

From the September 18, 1866 issue of the Nashville Republican Banner: 940306435_1

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