Wrapping up the Excelsiors

Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

“Hold it. Haven’t we seen this picture before? Recently? A lot?” you ask. Well, honestly, yes you have. Over the years I’ve tried to give readers a short look at each of the men in the picture of the 1860 Excelsiors. I have one to go and then I want to make a few general comments about the players on one of the more famous of the pre-Civil War era teams.

The final player I want to tell you about is Edwin Russell. He’s the man fourth from the right. He’s one of the two men holding a bat. Of the two men holding bats, he’s the one to the right. There’s not much available on him. He was born in Britain (location undetermined) in 1829 and at some point emigrated to the US with his family. In 1855 he shows up in the New York state census still living with his parents (so the kid still living at home in his mid-20s isn’t new). He became interested in baseball at some point, probably through an earlier interest in cricket, a common thread among a lot of early pioneers from the British Isles (guys like Harry Wright and Henry Chadwick). By 1858 he’d caught on with the Excelsiors as a pitcher and left fielder. With the arrival of Jim Creighton he spent most of his time in left, with only an occasional foray to the middle of the diamond. He left the Excelsiors after the 1862 season and I lose track of him at that point. I don’t know whether he joined the Union Army or not. A later reference to him indicates he became a hardware merchant and died 21 February 1881 at age 52.

So that’s all nine of the 1860 Excelsiors. If you take time and look at their lives (at least of all but shortstop Thomas Reynolds who simply seems to have disappeared), they represent a fairly common cross-section of American male lives in the late 19th Century. Here’s a few things we can say about the eight men we know enough about to draw conclusions.

1 One of them (Creighton) died very young (21). Early death by young men was not uncommon among 19th Century Americans, although the nature of Creighton’s injury (rupturing something while batting) was unusual. I say this discounting the effects of the Mexican War and the American Civil War (two days at Shiloh can really skew death statistics among young men–especially if you’re both sides of the fight). It seems, from the only evidence we have (a note in 1887 saying he “died years ago”) that Reynolds may have also died young.

2. Two of them were civil servants. Joseph Leggett worked for the city of Brooklyn, and George Flanly worked for the Brooklyn Police Department’s Telegraph Department. Andrew Pearsall in late life spent time as a county coroner, making him also a civil servant; but it was not his normal career.

3. One of them, Leggett, turned out to be a criminal and may have died in prison.

4. Three were businessmen. Henry Polhemus ran a cloth making business, John Campbell Whiting was an investment broker, and Russell was in hardware. Asa Brainard, also late in life, ran a hotel pool room (his wife’s family owned the hotel). Like Pearsall it was not his primary profession for most of his productive years.

5. Of those, Polhemus became a multi-millionaire.

6. One player, Pearsall, became a medical doctor and as mentioned above,  late in life, a county coroner.

7. Brainard, became a celebrated baseball player (with the Cincinnati Red Stockings) and played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (1871-75). He also became an alcoholic.

8. Several served in the Union Army during the Civil War and Pearsall was in the Confederate Army.

9. Both Leggett and Brainard had multiple marriages, an oddity for the era. I didn’t spend much time telling you about the player’s home life, but they seem to be the only ones with more than one wife (and Creighton never married). For a couple I found no information about marriage one way or the other.

So there they are, the 1860 Execelsior of Brooklyn. I’m sure that there is more information available on the players, but this should give anyone interested a place to start if they want to learn about the men. They were champions once, formidable for a few years, and one of the great teams of the era. They also were, all in all, a group of fairly typical men.

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5 Responses to “Wrapping up the Excelsiors”

  1. Allan G. Smorra Says:

    An interesting look back. Thanks for sharing your hard work with us.
    Ω

  2. glen715 Says:

    I did a little research just now. There’s a Polhemus Place in Brooklyn near the northwestern part of Prospect Park. Also there are streets named after Polhemus in the Jamaica section of queens, a lot of streets in New Jersey, one in Vermont and one in California. I wonder if it was the Polhemus family that were related to Henry. I would guess some of them are, especially the ones around Brooklyn, Queens, Vermont, and New Jersey. Also quickly did a little research and someone in the Polhemus married someone in the Remsen family; Remsen Avenue is a very, very long and well-known street that runs through or near Brownsville, East Flatbush, and Canarsie, all in Brooklyn. I’m guessing that Polhemus came from a very “prominent” family; the Remsens were a “prominent” family, and “prominent” families tended to marry people in OTHER “prominent” families in those days.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Both Folkert Boerum and Jack Remsen played for the Atlantic prior to the Civil War. Remsen married Boerum’s sister. Boerum was another catcher with Leggett (see post on The Thief) in the big Brooklyn/NYC games of 1858 (Polhemus did not play in any of the games, but Harry Wright did). So Boerum knew Leggett. It wouldn’t surprise me if they all knew each other. One of the books I read on my post about Boerum (See “The Urban Gentleman” on 15 April 2014) indicated that Boerum was from one of the “best and most highly regarded” families in Brooklyn. Wouldn’t surprise me either to find the same was true of Polhemus. Didn’t know about the streets. Thanks for informing me.
      v

  3. William Miller Says:

    Great research about a team I previously knew little about. Interested that of the Civil War veterans on this team, they all seem to have emerged unscathed. Guess none were at Shiloh or Franklin.
    I really enjoyed this little series.
    -Bill

  4. Gary Trujillo Says:

    This is great! Thank you for sharing.

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