Octavius Valentie Catto a member of the Knights of Pythias, helped found and became a star player for (and captain)
of the Pythian Base Ball Club, a black entrant to the city’s new most popular sport. (It was supplanting cricket.) The
Pythians’ first game, against the Albany Bachelor in 1866, was a 70-15 loss. But it was their only defeat of the
season; they ended with “a 9-1 record and the acclaim as the best colored team in the city and perhaps the nation,”
Biddle and Dubin report. The following year, Catto’s team applied for membership in the state chapter of the National
Amateur Association of Base Ball Players, hoping to schedule games against white teams. Association leadership
blocked the application from coming up for a vote. Catto then drafted a proposal that the Pythians join the national
association, rather than the state chapter. Its convention voted overwhelmingly not to admit “colored clubs.” The
following year, the Philadelphia Olympics accepted the Pythians’ citywide challenge to white teams, and a match was
set. The game lasted three hours, and the Olympics won, 44 to 23. (Pitching must have been interesting.) A story
about the game ran on page one of the New York Times.
Pythian Hall, Dennisville, NJ, from the collection of the Dennisville School House Museum
As told by Aristoxenus, and after him Cicero and others, Pythias and his
friend Damon, both followers of the philosopher Pythagoras, traveled to
Syracuse during the reign of the tyrannical Dionysius I (r. 405–367 BC).
Pythias was accused of plotting against the tyrant and sentenced to death.
Accepting his sentence, Pythias asked to be allowed to return home one last
time to settle his affairs and bid his family farewell. Not wanting to be taken
for a fool, the king refused, believing that, once released, Pythias would flee
and never return. Damon offered himself as a hostage in Pythias' absence,
and when the king insisted that, should Pythias not return by an appointed
time, Damon would be executed in his stead, Damon agreed and Pythias was
Dionysius was convinced that Pythias would never return, and as the day
Pythias promised to return came and went, he called for Damon's execution—
but just as the executioner was about to kill Damon, Pythias returned.
Apologizing to his friend for the delay, Pythias explained that on the passage
back to Syracuse, pirates had captured his ship and thrown him overboard,
but that he swam to shore and made his way back to Syracuse as quickly as
possible, arriving just in time to save his friend.
So astonished by and pleased with their friendship, Dionysius pardoned both
men. It was also said that the tyrant then sought to become their third friend,
but was denied.
Another version says that it was a test planned by Dionysius and his
courtiers. The Pythagoreans were renowned for their moral strength and
superiority, but some Syracusan courtiers argued the claim was false, and
others disagreed, so with their king they devised a test—a crisis that would
show whether two Pythagoreans lived up to that reputation.
According to the 1889 Membership
Certificate of the Knights of Pythias
(above and below): “Its aim is to
alleviate the suffering of a brother,
succor the unfortunate, zealously
watch at the bedside of the sick, sooth
the pillow of the dying, perform the last
sad rites at the grave of a brother;
offering consolation to be afflicted, and
caring, with all a brothers love, for the
widow and orphan”
|Detail of the Catto Memorial at Philadelphia's City Hall