Ep. 27: Sport in Early America

6a00e553a80e1088340168eb138d9b970c-800wiIn this episode, Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, and Roy Rogers discuss the development of sport in early America, from the pre-contact to the Civil War.


Sport and recreation provide a useful lens into the social, political, religious, and economic lives of early Americans of all periods from all regions. By looking at ideas and practices related to sport and recreation we can see how they reflected the societies and cultures of their times and places and gain new ways of looking at and thinking about many of the most important themes in early American history including race, class, gender, nationalism, urbanization and industrialization, and more.


  • What is “sport history?”
  • How did the role of sport and recreation differ between Indigenous Peoples and the Europeans who settled the Chesapeake and New England?
  • What was the political and cultural value of horse racing and gambling in late seventeenth-century Virginia?
  • What was the importance of boxing both to the sporting and sociopolitical history of the new republic?
  • How did ideas about sport, recreation, and physical exercise change over time and how did they reflect the social, economic, political, and demographic changes occurring in the nineteenth century?
  • What was the role of baseball in American sport history?


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Betts, John R. “Mind and Body in Early American Thought.” Journal of American History 54, no. 4 (1968): 787-805.

Breen, T. H. “Horses and Gentlemen: The Cultural Significance of Gambling among the Gentry of Virginia.” William and Mary Quarterly 34, no. 2 (1977): 239-57

Cohen, Kenneth. They Will Have Their Game: Sporting Culture and the Making of the Early American Republic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017.

Davies, Richard. Sport in American Life: A History. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

Gorn, Elliott J. “The First American Championship Prizefight.” OAH Magazine of History 7, no. 1 (1992): 19-23.

————. “Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch”: The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry.” American Historical Review 90, no. 1 (1985), 18-43.

————. The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010.

Lockley, Timothy James. ‘“The Manly Game”: Cricket and Masculinity in Savannah, Georgia in 1859’.” International Journal of the History of Sport 20, no.3 (2003): 77-98.

Thorn, John. Baseball In The Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.