The Urban Gentleman

Newspaper drawing of one of the 1858 Brooklyn vs New York all-star games

Newspaper drawing of one of the 1858 Brooklyn vs New York all-star games

Folkert Rapelje Boerum was born in Brooklyn 26 October 1829. He was the eldest son of one of the most prominent old families of Brooklyn. The Rapelje’s went back to when New York was New Netherland. One of his ancestors was a member of the governing counsel of the Dutch colony. The Boerum’s came only slightly later, one family member serving the First Continental Congress of 1775. Their home was a big house set on a big lot. They were originally farmers, but by Folkert Boerum’s time the family was established as a “leading family” of Brooklyn. He is described in A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (the “Present Time” being 1905) as “one of the best and most highly regarded citizens” of the borough. The work also uses words like “public-spirited” and “trusted” to describe him. He helped maintain the Bushwick and East Brooklyn Dispensary, The Good Samaritan Society, and the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, among other charitable work. He died 13 November 1903 and is buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. He is, unquestionably, the very definition of a mid-to late 19th Century American urban gentleman. I guess it’s fair to say he did have one vice. He was also a ballplayer.

When we first run across Boerum in connection with baseball, he’s the catcher and three hitter for the Harmony, one of the older Brooklyn teams. They weren’t all that good, but they did have a handful of quality players. Boerum was one of them. William Babcock, the man who ran the Atlantic, Brooklyn’s premier team, lured Boerum away from the Harmony where he became the team’s starting catcher. He remained there into 1858. He appears as the catcher in one of the 1858 “all-star” games held between Brooklyn’s best and New York City’s best (Brooklyn was an independent city in 1858). By 1859 he’d moved to third base where he was considered one of the finest third sackers of his day. He remained at third until 1861 when he retired from the game. I’m not sure why. I can find no evidence that he joined the Union Army after Fort Sumter. During 1858-1860 he served as club vice president.

Boerum is an extremely good example of an early baseball player. It was a world of amateurism and only men with a certain amount of leisure time could afford to take off time to play ball. Working stiffs simply couldn’t afford to lose the pay. Most of the early players were wealthy farmers or insurance men or doctors or some sort of other professional who received (for the time) a good paycheck and had free time to pursue the game in “gentlemen” clubs. That defines Boerum and most of his teammates and opponents. With the arrival of professionals like Jim Creighton (who played for the Excelsiors against Boerum) the game changed and we lost the Boerum’s of the game.


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6 Responses to “The Urban Gentleman”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Which raises the question, wouldn’t you like the see the owners of today’s MLB teams actually go down on the field and play the game, like the gentlemen of old? Watching Fred Wilpon run down a fly ball would be hilarious, I’d guess.

  2. steve Says:

    Interesting post. I get a different account on early baseball in America. It comes from Henry Chadwick who was incidentally buried in Greenwood Cemetery-Brooklyn. I paraphrase with maybe glaring errors.

    He describes a strange and rowdy gang of thugs; maybe beer on their breath, over yonder-on the other side of the cricket field. Chadwick walks over; maybe intrigued by the rebellious spirit and the rough housing and the total lack of proper manners that is maybe both a blessing and a curse to cricket. Chadwick likes the newness.

    • verdun2 Says:

      I’m certain both types existed. Boerum represents one aspect of early baseball, a ball that can be played on weekdays and at various times during the day. I would never argue with Chadwick about who played ball in his era.

  3. glenrussellslater Says:

    Boerum. Well, now I know what Boerum Hall, a section of Brooklyn is. I just moved from Queens to Brooklyn about two and a half weeks ago, but I live in what would be called the Midwood section of Brooklyn, near Kings Highway, with surrounded by Coney Island Avenue and Ocean Avenue to the east and the west, and Avenue O and Avenue P and Kings Highway to the north and south. Boerum Hill is way north of where I live, and includes Schermerhorn Street, which no one knows how to pronounce, including me.


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