SABR

Charles A. Prince

This article was written by Charlie Bevis.

During his two years as a baseball executive, from November 1889 to August 1891, Charles A. Prince was a director of the pennant-winning Boston club in the sole year of the Players League and the president of the pennant-winning Boston Reds club in the final year of the American Association. In between, from November 1890 to January 1891, he was president of the Players League in its dying days. After he left baseball, Prince fled the United States in 1893 and lived the rest of his life in exile in France as an expatriate following his involvement in a financial scandal.

Charles Albert Prince was born on August 26, 1852, in Winchester, Massachusetts, the second of four sons of Frederick O. and Helen (Henry) Prince.1 His older brother was Gordon and his two younger brothers were Morton and Frederick H.2 Prince grew up in a wealthy household, initially on an estate outside Boston in suburban Winchester and later in the upper-class Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. Following his early education in the Winchester public schools, he graduated from the Boston Latin School in 1869 and from Harvard College in 1873.3

Prince first became interested in baseball during his college years in the early 1870s. The Harvard baseball team at the time was one of the premier amateur teams in the country, during a period when professional teams were just coming into vogue. One of the Harvard players, Delano Sanborn, formed a summer team that included his Winchester neighbors, the four Prince brothers (Charles was the second baseman), and played its games on the Prince estate. By the summer of 1875, the baseball team was known as the Myopia Club, “so named by Sanborn, because five of their number (four of them the Princes) wore glasses and were near-sighted.”4 Several years later the club focused more on fox hunting than baseball and modified its name to Myopia Hunt Club, which became one of the most exclusive country clubs in the nation.

After his graduation from Harvard, Prince studied law in the office of Sidney Bartlett and began his own law practice in 1875 after being admitted to the bar that year. His father was a prominent politician, as mayor of Boston for four years (1877, 1879-1881), so Prince likely had little trouble attracting clients. In 1881, in partnership with Francis Peabody, he formed the law firm of Prince & Peabody.5 In 1888 he became general counsel of the New York & New England Railroad and a member of its board of directors.6

Prince married Helen Choate Pratt on June 7, 1881, in Boston.7 Their only child, a daughter named Helen, was born on April 6, 1882.8 The Prince family lived in a brick townhouse at 44 Mount Vernon Street in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston.9

As a young lawyer, Prince perpetuated the wealthy social status that he had become accustomed to in his youth. Besides being a charter member of the Myopia Hunt Club, he was a member of many social clubs, including three prominent Boston men’s clubs (Somerset, Union, and Algonquin), the Country Club in Brookline, and the Longwood Cricket Club. He had a summer house on the ocean in the town of Beverly, where he was an avid sailor on his yacht, Helen, which could have been named after any or all of his mother, wife, and daughter.

Seduced by the lure of power, Prince fancied himself a corporate magnate in training as the general counsel for the New York & New England Railroad. However, he had delusions of grandeur. Prince began to make speculative stock investments in railroads and baseball teams, with money embezzled from friends and family and likely the railroad itself. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who in the 1890s was a lawyer for a competing railroad, later wrote that Prince was dishonest in his dealings at the New York & New England Railroad and “left America many years ago on account of his embezzlements and possibly also forgeries.”10 Prince, a smooth talker, was able to fool so many people because he was “a man of the most attractive personality” and people didn’t seem to realize that a lawyer who would “stop for nothing” for a client wouldn’t be likely to let “any minor scruples stand in his way in his own affairs.”11

The first published connection between baseball and the adult Prince came in April 1889, when he sponsored a banquet for George Wright following his return from Europe with the Spalding world baseball tour.12 Prince knew Wright as a cricket player (Prince was then the president of the Longwood Cricket Club) more than as a former baseball player or part owner of the sporting goods firm Wright & Ditson.13 The Boston Globe described Prince’s blusterous speech at the banquet: “President Prince arose and in one of his characteristic speeches accounted the imaginary trials and tribulations of George Wright’s journey around the world, and graphically depicted Boston’s sorrow during his absence.”14 Wright, though, was still a baseball fan.

During the 1889 baseball season, Wright likely introduced Prince to Julian Hart and John Haynes, who were former minority stockholders in the Boston National League ballclub, and legendary fan Arthur Dixwell; all four fans were disgruntled with the owners of the team.15 The minority stockholders had lost a lawsuit in October 1888 that sought to force the majority stockholders to provide an accounting of the ballclub’s financial condition so that share value could be reasonably determined.16 The minority stockholders then sold their shares to the majority triumvirate, headed by club president Arthur Soden.

When the Players League coalesced as competition to the NL for the 1890 season, the timing seemed auspicious for Hart, Haynes, Dixwell, Wright, and Prince to launch a competitive strike against the NL club. Since Soden had just made a significant financial investment in a new grandstand at the South End Grounds and made two expensive player acquisitions in Mike Kelly and John Clarkson, the Boston NL ballclub might not be able to spend enough money to thwart the competition from the Boston club of the PL.

In November 1889 Prince was named a director of the Players League club; Hart was the secretary; Haines, Dixwell, Wright, and Prince were all stockholders.17 Prince helped his compatriots capitalize the new organization, arrange for the Congress Street ballpark to be built, and raid the players from the Boston National League team to form the nucleus of the Players League team, which was nicknamed the Reds.

Kelly and nearly all the regular players of the Boston NL team except Clarkson bolted to the new team, the Reds had no problem winning the pennant in the first and only year of the Players League. However, the league began to crumble soon after the playing season ended when the financial backers of its New York team deserted the new league to buy out the financially desperate owners of the New York National League team, which had survived the season largely through the financial aid of Boston NL owner Soden. Edward McAlpin, one of the owners of the New York Players League team, then resigned from his position as league president.

Prince succeeded McAlpin as league president in November 1890.18 He tried to negotiate with National League owners to keep the Players League alive, but when those prospects faded he managed to salvage his own investment. Over the objections of Soden, Prince arranged for the transfer of the Boston PL team to the American Association, to be called the Reds, and he became president of the team.19

Since the American Association was weak, the Boston Reds waltzed to the 1891 pennant. Prince, though, stepped down as president in early August, with Julian Hart succeeding him.20 Prince was by then more interested in sailing his yacht and speculating in railroad stocks. Since by year-end 1891 he held most of the stock in the Reds (having bought out Dixwell and Haynes), Prince negotiated hard to salvage some value from his investment, ultimately arranging for a financial settlement in January 1892.21

“Very few knew that it cost him a great deal of time and money in base ball,” Jake Morse wrote in December 1891 about Prince in what was, in effect, an obituary of the Boston Reds. “He well said to your correspondent that he would rather have lost all he had put into the club than to have not gone into base ball at all.”22 It was a typical varnishing of the truth by Prince.

Prince gave a banquet for the Boston Reds on October 18, 1891, to honor their championship season. If paying for a few lavish meals was Prince’s only financial vice, he might have enjoyed a wealthy, if unheralded, life of leisure in the United States. But he wanted the fame and fortune that he did not get from investing in baseball.

During 1892, Prince inserted himself into a power struggle at the New York & New England Railroad, as the financially weak company struggled to survive in the consolidating railroad industry. He was part of a cabal that ousted two company presidents and in March 1893 installed noted railroad executive Archibald McLeod, who was also president of the Boston & Maine Railroad. Prince chaired a raucous stockholder meeting that culminated in McLeod’s election as president. Attorney Brandeis, the future Supreme Court justice, spoke on behalf of minority stockholders to voice concerns about falsification of accounts and the payment of an unearned dividend, which he characterized as frauds and thefts. Prince brushed aside Brandeis by saying that the treasurer and auditor of the railroad disputed those charges and that he would “take their words against anybody’s in the land.”23

Prince borrowed heavily to finance stock purchases, expecting McLeod to merge the two Boston-area railroads that he was chief executive of. When McLeod abruptly resigned as president of the Boston & Maine Railroad in mid-May 1893 (indicating that a merger was not to be), Prince’s financial scheme collapsed. When his creditors began filing liens on his real-estate property a few days later, Prince clearly had huge debts that he couldn’t repay. The Boston Daily Advertiser reported that his debts were due to the “collapse of the McLeod boom,” since Prince had “enormous faith in McLeod’s railroad operations.”24 Newspapers reported that the price of New York & New England Railroad stock dropped precipitously as Prince sold off his remaining stock positions.25 On June 1, 1893, Prince resigned from his position with the New York & New England Railroad and left the country.26 The New York & New England Railroad soon went into bankruptcy.27

The Boston Daily Advertiser captured the scene: “Here is a man who for years has been prominent in Boston, in club circles, as a railroad lawyer, as a boomer of the ‘brotherhood’ baseball scheme of 1890, as a man about town, who suddenly drops out of sight … and no one is authorized to say where he is or when he will be back.”28 Through interviews with unnamed club members, the Daily Advertiser pieced together the embezzlement back story of Prince’s departure. The newspaper reported that he had borrowed money from friends, who politely said they didn’t remember signing the papers, and that several men made good on Prince’s fraudulently obtained loans with the proviso that he leave the country.

Prince had reportedly spent between $1 million and $2 million more than his income as a lawyer in the previous few years, according to a Sporting Life account of the scandal. He “spent a few thousand on the Brotherhood ball team,” a few thousand more on a half-built house in Manchester and lavish dinners in New York and Boston. These were the only tangible purchases with his embezzled funds; the rest was put toward stock speculation. “Even to make $1,000,000 disappear, absolutely, with nothing but a half-built house to show for it, is not common,” the newspaper wrote as it put the scope of Prince’s financial dealings in perspective.29

Prince left Boston in disgrace and lived the rest of his life in exile on the island of Noirmoutier, off the coast of France.30 His wife and daughter accompanied him when he left the US, but his daughter returned to Boston in 1902 to visit her maternal grandmother.31 His wife also returned to Boston to visit her mother in 1903.32 His wife and daughter divided their time for the next few years between Boston and France, while Prince remained in France.

Prince’s wife, Helen, was a fiction writer whose novels, written in France, were published by the Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston. One of her more famous titles was The Strongest Master, published in 1902, about a Harvard man who was expelled but then reforms himself in life.33 The plot has many parallels to the life of her husband.

His daughter married John A.L. Blake, a Harvard graduate, on August 8, 1908, at the family home in Noirmoutier.34 After a honeymoon in Europe, they settled in Boston. She died less than a year later, on April 11, 1909, due to complications with a pregnancy.35

Prince maintained a low profile during his years in France. The periodic published reports of the Harvard Class of 1873 simply stated of Prince: “Has lived in France for many years” without further detail.36 During World War I, Prince regularly updated his passport at the US consulate in Paris, in order to maintain proof of his US citizenship.37

Prince died in France in 1942 during World War II. At the time France was occupied by Nazi Germany, so the exact details of his death are unknown, as only sketchy information was provided by the International Red Cross after his wife died in 1943.38

 

Sources

Books

Bacon, Edwin, ed., “Charles A. Prince” in Boston of To-day: A Glance at its History and Characteristics (Boston: Post Publishing, 1892), 361-362.

Brandeis, Louis, Letters of Louis D. Brandeis (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1971).

Weeks, Edward, ed., Myopia: A Centennial Chronicle (Hamilton, Massachusetts: Myopia Hunt Club, 1975).

Newspapers

“After 10 Years in France,” Boston Globe, December 14, 1903.

“Mr. C.A. Prince: His Absence Likely to Be a Long One,” Boston Daily Advertiser, June 3, 1893.

“Prince Exiled: The Ex-Magnate Will Never Come Back to America,” Sporting Life, July 22, 1893.

Boston Daily Advertiser, 1888-1893.

Boston Globe, 1887-1893, 1902-1903.

Boston Transcript, 1908-1909.

New York Times, 1888-1893, 1902.

Sporting Life, 1889-1894.

Archival Material

Harvard University Archives, alumni file of Charles A. Prince.

Massachusetts State Archives, birth, death, and marriage records prior to 1910.

US Census Bureau, federal census records for 1870 and 1880.

US State Department, passport application records for 1915-1918.

 

Notes

1 Birth records for 1852 in the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 64, Page 165).

2 1880 federal census (Series T9, Roll 555, Page 7).

3 Edwin Bacon, ed., “Charles A. Prince” in Boston of To-day: A Glance at its History and Characteristics, 361.

4 Edward Weeks, ed., Myopia: A Centennial Chronicle, xvii.

5 Bacon, “Charles A. Prince,” 362.

6 New York Times, December 12, 1888.

7 Marriage records for 1881 in the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 327, Page 78).

8 Birth records for 1882 in the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 333, Page 144).

9 Boston City Directory, 1885.

10 Louis Brandeis, Letters of Louis D. Brandeis, 59.

11 “Prince Exiled: The Ex-Magnate Will Never Come Back to America,” Sporting Life, July 22, 1893.

12 Boston Daily Advertiser, April 15, 1889.

13 Boston Globe, February 1, 1887.

14 Boston Globe, April 14, 1889.

15 Boston Globe, December 22, 1887.

16 Boston Daily Advertiser, October 8, 1888.

17 Boston Daily Advertiser, December 2, 1889.

18 New York Times, November 12, 1890.

19 Boston Daily Advertiser, January 17, 1891.

20 Boston Globe, August 6, 1891.

21 Sporting Life, January 9, 1892.

22 Sporting Life, December 26, 1891.

23 Boston Daily Advertiser, March 15, 1893.

24 Boston Daily Advertiser, May 26, 1893.

25 New York Times, June 1, 1893.

26 Boston Globe, June 1, 1893.

27 The New York & New England Railroad declared bankruptcy in December 1893, was reorganized in September 1895 after financier J.P. Morgan became the majority stockholder, and then in July 1898 was absorbed into the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad system.

28 “Mr. C.A. Prince: His Absence Likely to Be a Long One,” Boston Daily Advertiser, June 3, 1893.

29 “Prince Exiled: The Ex-Magnate Will Never Come Back to America,” Sporting Life, July 22, 1893.

30 Alumni file of Prince at the Harvard University Archives.

31 Boston Globe, February 16, 1902.

32 “After 10 Years in France,” Boston Globe, December 14, 1903.

33 New York Times book review on October 25, 1902.

34 Boston Transcript, August 3, 1908.

35 Death records for 1909 in the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 10, Page 501); Boston Transcript, April 12, 1909.

36 The Ninth Report of the Secretary of the Class of 1873 Harvard College (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill Press, 1913), 38.

37 Passport application, July 5, 1915.

38 Alumni file of Prince at the Harvard University Archives.

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