The book “Black Baseball: 1858-1900” lists Sylvester Chauvin as a team captain with the St. Louis Black Stockings.
He and co-manager Charles Tyler are featured in the Jesuits’ Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project, which launched in 2016 to better understand and share a broader history of the Jesuits’ involvement in the institution of slavery.
Chauvin’s mother, Henrietta, who had been a slave of Saint Louis University, married Charles’ father at St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Louis. Members of their family and their descendants were active at St. Elizabeth Parish, the centerpiece of the spiritual lives of Black Catholics. Tyler’s mother, Matilda Tyler, was enslaved to Saint Louis University until Matilda purchased her freedom, and that of her sons.
As reported by Kelly Schmidt and others, Chauvin was a star player on the Black Stockings with Tyler serving on the board of directors and as president of the club, one of the country’s first Black baseball teams. Chauvin, often misspelled as Shovan, toured the country with the team between 1883 and 1886, playing third base and right field.
The Black Stockings were extremely successful during the early 1880s. They traveled throughout the Midwest, playing in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Upper Canada against teams composed of Black and white former professionals, semiprofessionals and amateurs. Black audiences turned out in large numbers to watch the team across the country. The Black Stockings played in front of huge crowds in Detroit, Cincinnati and Louisville.
Racism throughout the 1870s led to barriers for Black teams and players. Though a few players, including Moses “Fleet” Walker and his brother Weldy Walker, made the major leagues, Black players were unofficially banned from major league baseball by the end of the next decade.
Segregation gave rise to independent Black teams, with Charles Tyler joining Henry Bridgewater, manager of the Black Stockings, in seeking to create a national all-Black baseball league. They were compelled to play against white teams when the league never materialized. The Compton Avenue Grounds (also known as Red Stockings Park and currently on Metro property just south of Market), was the home of the St. Louis Black Stockings.
Besides leaving a mark on baseball, Tyler and his mother, Matilda Tyler, were influential in shaping Black Catholic life and African-American politics and society in St. Louis. Both had been enslaved to Saint Louis University, until Matilda Tyler negotiated with the Jesuits to purchase her freedom in 1847. Matilda Tyler entered College Church, where she had given the money for her self-purchase, and received the sacrament of confirmation there. Over the next 10 years, Matilda Tyler worked hard to buy the freedom of her other sons, while continuing to worship in the segregated space within College Church assigned to Black Catholics.
Matilda Tyler funded the “colored chapel” within College Church, and helped raise funds for the establishment of St. Elizabeth, the first Black Catholic parish in St. Louis, which was founded in 1873. At St. Elizabeth, the Tylers stood as godparents and marriage witnesses to many members of their parish community.
Charles Tyler was a porter for Sigemund Archenhold, owner of S. Archenhold & Co. By the following year, he became a partner with Archenhold, selling wine and liquor. By 1880, Charles had established his own saloon with his colleague and friend Henry Bridgewater. As business partners, Tyler and Bridgewater ran saloons at locations across St. Louis through the 1880s. They were part of an elite group of the Republican Party in St. Louis known as the “Colored Silk Stockings,” and Tyler helped prepare for the funeral procession of President Ulysses Grant. Tyler moved his family into the Ville’s emerging middle-class Black neighborhood, and the family eventually began attending St. Matthew Parish.
Charles Tyler and Sylvester Chauvin deserve recognition for their accomplishments in advancing the game of baseball despite obstacles. They and their families also are remembered as Catholics who maintained their faith in the face of great challenges. They are among the many Black Catholics whose example stands out throughout our history.
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.