Believed to be first record of organized football
Pictured are seven members of the Oneida Football Club of Boston.
By Matthew Urtz
Like many people fall is my favorite time of year. The leaves turn color, the temperatures are perfect for throwing on a sweater and going for a walk, but most of all I love football. I grew up watching it with my dad and brothers cheering on Saturday’s for the Syracuse football team and Sunday for the Bills. I played it throughout elementary and high school and even played on flag football teams in college.
When I went off to graduate school I knew I would have to finish with an internship and did so at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It was a great learning experience and I have lots of positive memories. Football will always hold a special place in my heart, and in Madison County’s history
Many people know of Gerrit Smith the famed abolitionist from Peterboro, NY. Many also know of his daughter Elizabeth Smith Miller, a women’s right activist who helped create the bloomer dress. Outside of Peterboro however few remember Elizabeth’s son, and Gerrit’s grandson Gerrit Smith Miller. Gerrit Smith Miller was born and raised in Peterboro until his mid-teens when he moved to Boston, Mass. to prepare for entrance into Harvard.
Miller was always a good athlete excelling in baseball and football. In 1859, at the age of fourteen, he organized the “Bobolink Baseball Club” of Peterboro, NY. He was elected President, Captain and pitcher. He helped Bobolink defeat their rival the “Young Americas” of Canastota.
When Miller moved on to Boston in 1860 he joined the Lowell Baseball Club, which was recently organized, and quickly was elected Captain and pitcher. In 1864 he led Lowell to the New England Championship.
Miller entered Harvard in 1865 and joined the Harvard “Varsity Nine,” which he led to the championship game against her former team. Rather than play against his former team he chose to umpire so that he did not have to play his former teammates. Both teams agreed he called an excellent game and he did not affect the outcome.
In 1866 Miller left college due to illness and returned home to help take care of the many family businesses. He joined the Ontario Baseball Club of Oswego whom he promptly led to a city and county championship. He returned to Boston a year later and re-joined the Lowell Baseball club as they prepared to play the New York Champion, “The Excelsior’s.” Miller promptly led Lowell to victory, the first time a team from Massachusetts had ever defeated a New York Champion team.
Organized football had not really come around yet. Schools had teams of players similar to a club system in college. However, there were no referees, no legal markings. It was much closer to a back yard football game than it was to what we see today.
Miller played with his high school team mates and felt frustrated with the lack of rules. He thought for football to meet its potential as a game it had to be organized. In 1862 he organized “The Oneida Football Club of Boston.” The first recognized game of football would not come until seven years later when Rutgers would play Princeton in 1869, yet Miller was ahead of the curve in forming his club. It was named after Oneida Lake near Miller’s home.
The team consisted of a mixture of his school and two others. They wore a red silk handkerchief around their head as a uniform. “The Oneida Football Club of Boston” is believed to be the first record of organized football. They played against teams from around the area, although none were organized on the level that Miller’s team was and they routinely were victorious.
Miller was another example of Madison County’s amazing history, one which the people of Madison County continually celebrate.
With that in mind this coming weekend the Abolitionist Hall of Fame celebrates its latest members Theodore Dwight Weld and Lewis Tappan in Peterboro on Saturday, and on Sunday the Gerrit Smith Estate and the Smithfield Community Center will be opening their doors to celebrate their inclusion in the Underground Railroad Heritage Trail.
After enjoying the festivities take a walk down to the Peterboro Area Museum and learn more about Gerrit Smith Miller and his many contributions, including football, to not only Madison County but also the United States.
A great deal of the information for this article was taken from a series or articles entitled “Gerrit Smith; An Appreciation,” which was edited by a former friend of Smith, Winthrop S. Scudder. For more information on Gerrit Smith Miller, the upcoming events in Peterboro or anything Madison County feel free to contact me either via phone at 315-366-2453 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Urtz is the Madison County Historian.
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