The Quaint Game of Quoits
Essayist Brooks Smith, rediscovering Richmond's sports history, has found that in the 18th century, Virginians enjoyed a game called quoits.
Brooks Smith has been rediscovering Richmond’s sports history and today he’s here to go way back into history and tell us about a now all but forgotten game that was once very popular, quoits. What is it?
Smith: Well, it’s a game not unlike horseshoes or what is very, very popular today, bag-o. A quoit was a circular disk with a hole for the middle. You have a metal stake in the ground called a hob or a meg. And you’d stand at a distance, say 20 feet, toss your quoit and try to land it on the meg or nearest to the meg. And I guess if you’re rooting on a teammate, you’d say :”ring the meg” and if you were trying to distract an opponent, you’d say, “miss the meg.”
Sounds exciting. Why did it fade out?
Smith: This was an ancient game, it thrived here in the new country of America in the 18th and 19th century. The story of its decline apparently was connected to wartime, the soldiers would like to play games in their off-hours but it was easier to find horseshoes that it was to find quoits. Certainly they were heavy to cart around. Sometime in the early 1900’s when horseshoes in particular became very popular to build only for ringers and not close to the pin. Of course it’s easier to get a ringer with a horseshoe than it is to get a round metal disk. Quoits faded out, and, like you said, they’re a game in name only these days.
Well, you mentioned Richmond’s connection. Apparently there’s quite a pedigree for this sport in Richmond.
Smith: That’s right. The oldest and perhaps most famous quoits club in America started right here in Richmond back in 1788. It was located right around the epicenter of VCU’s Broad St. campus at the 1000 block of West Broad. The club was called Buchanan Spring Quoits Club. It was at old Parson Buchanan’s Farm, which is famous in itself, this idyllic setting old 500-acre estate with lush old oak groves. It was a farm that was formed out of William Byrd III’s land lottery, a lottery that he had to go through to pay off his gambling debts. And it was equally famous for the spring that ran through the farm, because the spring was later used for one of the most popular breweries in the city.
Would we recognize any names of the participants in this sport?
Smith: It was a bit like the “Who’s Who in Early American Politics” – members of the Buchanan Spring Quoits Club included Chief Justice John Marshall, U.S. Attorney General William Wirt, U.S. Senator Benjamin Watkins Leigh, and the lawyer John Whitcomb, who was famous for his defense of Aaron Burr.
Oh, you name-dropper, you! Tell us about a day on the quoits – what would you call it, a field? A court?
Smith: Yeah, I think it was a bit like the field next to the picnic table. The quoits club was famous for meeting on Saturdays in the pleasant season, from May to October. And as the social accounts go, they would eat prodigious amounts of food and drink to abandon out of a so-called “big bowl” of rum punch or julep or toddy, and then they would go to the field and test their skill at quoits. And I think there was probably an equal measure of story-telling and joking, but, according to club rules, there was no politics.
Oh, good. That would have been a real benefit. Well, the name Richmond Sports or Quoits club still exists, I understand. Do they play?
Smith: Well, the Historic Richmond Foundation has a young professional group called the Quoits Club and they borrowed the name in honor of this tradition here in Richmond. I don’t know that they actually play quoits, but someone ought to bring it back, some kind of vintage games here.
As you said, it exists now in name only.
Smith: That’s right. And one last thought. Chief Justice Marshall of course presided over the highest court in the land. Apparently he was a fierce competitor, he loved quoits, and he was also considered the chief judge of any dispute on the quoits courts. If there was any doubt about who was closest to the meg, it was Chief Justice Marshall who got to make the call.
Okay. Well, an interesting part of our city’s sports history, with commentator Brooks Smith. Thanks, Brooks.