The History of the Philadelphia Pythians

Founded in 1865 by African American leaders Jacob C. White Jr. and Octavius V. Catto, the Pythian Base Ball Club was comprised primarily of business and middle-class professionals from Philadelphia and graduates from the Institute for Colored Youth (known now as Cheyney University). 

Octavious Catto and the Philadelphia Pythians
The organizational structure was similar to most other mutual aid societies during the mid-1800s, governed by a constitution, bylaws, and elected officials. Players paid dues and attended regular meetings on the second floor of Liberty Hall at 718 Lombard Street. 

According to published reports, the Pythians debuted on Oct. 3, 1866, in a contest against the Bachelor Club of Albany. Catto and Co. lost, 70-15. The game was played at the Parade Grounds near the Moyamensing Prison at 11th and Wharton Streets. 

The Pythians' first complete season of action was 1867 and opened with a 62-7 victory in early June over L'Overture. The contest took place at Diamond Cottage Park in Camden because the teams could not travel safely to the Parade Grounds due to racial tensions in the Irish-populated area near Moyamensing Prison. 

The Pythians finished 1867 with a 9-1 record, their lone defeat coming in July in a contest in Philadelphia with the Mutuals of Washington D.C., 44-43. 

Despite their success on the diamond during the 1867 season, Catto and Co. were dealt a significant blow in their ongoing fight for equality when the National Association of Base Ball Players rejected the Pythians application. Despite having the support of Athletic vice president E. Hicks Hayhurst, a well-respected white baseball lifer, the NABBP responded with a "report against the admission of any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons." 

The denial of the Pythians set a precedent, and baseball remained segregated until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. 

The Pythians finished 1868 with six wins in seven contests, a tie against Active of West Chester as their lone blemish. 

Boxscore Pythian vs. Olympic, Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/4/1869
On Sept. 3, 1869, the Pythians played against the all-white Olympics in the first recorded instance of an interracial baseball game. Although the Pythians lost 44-23 (see clipping from Philadelphia Inquirer), the Philadelphia Inquirer published a play-by-play account of the contest, noting the skill of the Pythians as well as the large size of the crowd. A few days later, the Pythians played and beat the all-white Philadelphia City Items; it was a historic victory that Catto hoped would prove the capability of African Americans. 

In 1871, while trying to organize Philadelphia's African American voters, Catto was assassinated by white rioters just blocks from his home at 9th and Lombard Streets. Catto was celebrated six days later and honored with Philadelphia's biggest public funeral since Abraham Lincoln. 

The Pythian Base Ball Club disbanded following Catto's death.

Note About Published Results
The information pertaining to the Pythians schedule and results should be viewed as incomplete. This data was obtained by scouring through hours of newspaper archives and historical collections. As with most research of Negro baseball clubs, there are gaps in coverage, missing scores, and occasionally conflicting information in different outlets. 

1866 Season
10/3/1866: Bachelor of Albany, L, 70-15

1867 Season
6/?/1867: L'Overture, W, 62-7
6/28/1867: Excelsior, W. 39-16
7/6/1867: Alert of Washington, W, 21-18
7/7/1867: Mutual of Washington, L, 44-43
8/28/1867: Alert of Washington, W, 52-25
?/?/1867: Mutual of Washington, W, 50-43
9/?/1867: Rouen, W, 30-9
9/?/1867: Aldridge, W, 35-13
10/?/1867: Resolute, W, 50-6
10/?/1867: Monrovia, W, 59-27

1868 Season
8/21/1868: Blue Sky, W, 26-12
8/24/1868: Active of West Chester, W, 31-9
9/5/1868: Active of West Chester, T, 30-30
10/1/1868: Mutual of Washington, W, 49-33
10/3/1868: Alert of Washington, W, 40-34
10/6/1868: Monitors of Brooklyn, W, 27-9
10/10/1868: Monrovia, W, 71-16

1869 Season
9/3/1869: Olympic, L, 44-23
9/16/1868: City Item, W, 27-17

1870 Season
No published results