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Jacob White, Jr.

  • Series: Pioneer Portraits I: 1850-1874
  • City: Philadelphia
  • Team: Pythian B.B.C.
  • League: Independent

Jacob C. White Jr. (1837-1902) was the son of a preacher in Philadelphia who grew into one of the city's most prominent businessmen. With his friend Octavius Catto, Jake founded and helped lead the Pythians, one of the first and most successful black baseball clubs of its day in America. Catto was the fiery on-field presence that galvanized the Pythians into a force on the national scene as baseball and the country emerged from the darkness of Civil War. But he depended on his childhood pal to help fund the club and give it necessary administration. White had earlier demonstrated the gifts of organization and leadership Catto needed when he took over the Robert Vaux school in 1864, taking it from a damp church basement struggling to help a few dozen black kids to a noted institution whose legacy continues today. Thanks to White's intellectual bent, the Pythians were as unlike the typical white ball clubs of the time as possible. The Club shared quarters with the Banneker Institute, also founded by White. The Pythians were refined gentlemen representing the elite of black society in Philadelphia. They were as interested in scholarly debate, abolition, desegregation and civil rights as they were in playing ball. Catto and White tried to join the National Association of Base Ball Players and, despite the support of the Athletics, were rejected. Eventually, in 1869 the club did get one chance to play a white team, the Philadelphia City Items, and walloped them 27-17.

  • White was the promoter of a distincive feature of black baseball in Philadelphia: an all-day celebration of sport and fellowship which invariably ended with a banquet organized by Jake
  • When his best friend and partner Catto was assassinated in the lead-up to the 1870 elections, a grieving White stepped away from the game he loved but continued to serve his city for decades

Auction History

Octavius Catto

  • Series: Pioneer Portraits I: 1850-1874
  • City: Philadelphia
  • Team: Pythian B.B.C.
  • League: National Colored Baseball League

Octavius Valentine Catto (1839-1871) died a martyr for civil rights in Philadelphia amid violent Reconstruction Era political strife when he was shot three times and killed while on his way to vote. Only a few years before, he had been a pioneer in the early days of baseball as founder of the Pythian Base Ball Club in 1867. The emerging national game was shedding its elitist roots of pre-Civil War days and Catto was trying to make it a truly all-American sport. He sought membership for his club in the National Association and, in 1869, organized the first inter-racial match in Philadelphia versus the Olympic Ball Club. Catto had dedicated his life to the pursuit of freedom. He was an educator and mentor of black men, a military leader during the war, and ended his life in the forefront of the political struggle, including the integration of Philadelphia’s transit system. He brought to baseball the same passionate devotion that characterized his all-too-short life.

  • The “gentlemen’s agreement” adopted by white baseball executives in response to Catto’s bid held sway – with very few exceptions – until 1947 when another talented infielder finally broke the color barrier

Auction History