Artist’s rendering of the Oneida Football Club in match play on Boston Common
Those interested in the history of American football know that the Oneida Football Club of Boston is often given significant credit for the development of the modern game. That team was formed by Gerrit S. Miller, one of a number of Boston schoolboys who played what was sometimes called the “Boston game” on Boston Common during the early 1860s. The game involved both running and kicking plays and developed a more consistent set of rules than prior versions of American football.
In 1925, a marker was erected on Boston Common to commemorate the Oneida Football Club. It reads, “On this field the Oneida Football Club of Boston, the first organized football club in the United States, played against all comers from 1862 to 1865. The Oneida goal was never crossed.”
Oneida Football Club members at the dedication of the monument on Boston Common. Lincoln’s classmate, Gerrit S. Miller, stands immediately to the right of the monument. (Photo from W. Scudder, An Historical Sketch of the Oneida Football Club of Boston: 1862-1865)
Miller and other early players attended Epes Sargent Dixwell’s Latin School, a Boston preparatory school. Francis Lincoln of Hingham was a classmate of theirs at Mr. Dixwell’s School and, if not a football player, certainly a fan. His high school diary, which is preserved in our archives, reports on football at Mr. Dixwell’s School. Here, on October 18, 1862, he reports on some intramural play:
The first class were challenged by the second for a match game of football. The first class were assisted by Thies and the second by G. S. Miller.
Two games out of three.
The second class beat. The first game was very hard and long—1 h. 6 m. with considerable lurking by Frank Peabody.
Louis Thies, like Gerritt Miller, was a member of the Oneida Football Club. Both student coaches’ names appear on the Boston Common marker. (“Lurking,” of which Frank Peabody was guilty, was an early word for “offsides.”)
Lincoln also reports on a June 1862 football match between Mr. Dixwell’s School and the Boston Latin School. This was clearly considered an important event by more than young Lincoln, who pasted into his diary the results reported in four different newspapers:
The Boston Evening Traveller, June 6th:
MATCH GAME OF FOOTBALL.—A match game of football came off yesterday afternoon, on the Common, between the Latin and Mr. Dixwell’s school. The Latin school boys won three games in five, and were the challenged party. The best feeling prevailed on both sides. Each game was a specimen of splendid playing, and the last was prolonged to the unusual time of forty-two minutes—resulting in the victory of the Latin school.
The Boston Herald, June 6th:
FOOTBALL MATCH. A football match between seventeen boys of the Public Latin School and the same number from Mr. Dixwell’s school took place yesterday afternoon on the parade ground. The Latin school boys won three games in five and were therefore victorious.
The Boston Daily Advertiser, June 7th:
FOOTBALL MATCH.–A football match between seventeen boys of the Public Latin School and the same number from Mr. Dixwell’s school took place on Thursday afternoon on the parade ground. The Latin school boys won three games in five and were therefore victorious.
The Boston Journal, June 6th:
MATCH GAME OF FOOTBALL.–Seventeen boys of the Public Latin school, and a like number from Mr. Dixwell’s school, played on the parade ground on Thursday afternoon a match game of football, which resulted in the Latin school boys winning three games in five. Each game was a specimen of splendid playing, and the last was prolonged to the unusual time of forty-two minutes—resulting in the victory of the Latin school.
Francis Lincoln also gave an eyewitness report of this match in his diary. He can be forgiven if he has a slightly different take than the Boston newspapers on the disappointing result for his classmates in his entry for Thursday, June 5, 1862:
Seventeen fellows from our School challenged the same number of the Latin School to kick a match game of football. Our fellows beat the first game; Latin school, second; Our fellows, third; Latin School, fourth & fifth.
Some foul play on side of Latin School.