Joseph Dorsey

This article was written by Paul Winter

On July 9, 1884, the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association played the Baltimore Monumentals in Baltimore, with both starting pitchers making their major-league debuts. Henry Boyle pitched for the Maroons, allowing just four hits and no unearned runs. “Dorsey, late of the Trentons, pitched for the home team, but was batted out of position in the third inning and [Yank] Robinson took his place.”1 Baltimore lost, 8-2. Dorsey struck out three, walked five, and threw a wild pitch in four innings. He allowed all eight of the St. Louis runs (four earned). After Robinson took over, Dorsey moved to right field. At the plate, he was hitless in three at-bats. Boyle would go on to pitch in 207 games in the majors over six seasons. That would be 206 more games pitched than Dorsey, whose big-league career started and ended that day.

For many years, it was thought that this Dorsey was Michael Jeremiah (Jerry) Dorsey, until it was shown that Jerry Dorsey was playing elsewhere while our subject was pitching for Trenton in June 1884.2 The Trenton pitcher was determined to be Joseph Wilbur Dorsey, referred to as J.W. Dorsey or J. Wilbur Dorsey in newspaper accounts from 1885 and 1886. He went by J.W. Dorsey in his later professional life but seems to have been known as Wilbur with his family.

Joseph Wilbur Dorsey was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1864.3 He was the only child of stonecutter Joseph I. Dorsey (1815-1886) and Margaret A. Middlekauff (1831-1901).4 Joseph I. Dorsey was single in the 1860 Census, so J.W.’s parents married sometime between 1860 and 1864. The 1880 Census record states that both parents were born in Maryland, as were all four grandparents. The Dorsey family (descended from Col. Edward D’Arcy) appears to have come to Maryland from England as early as 1690. His mother’s family appears to have come from Germany in the early 1700s. Both family names are well represented in the Maryland newspapers in the mid- to late 1800s.

No information about Dorsey’s life before 1884 has surfaced yet. The first available press mention dates from June 8, 1884. The Baltimore Sun reported, “Dorsey, an amateur pitcher of this city, pitched against the Baltimore Unions yesterday. He was quite effective, striking out eight men, and only had eight base hits made off him.” Dorsey’s club, the Baltimore Arctics, lost to the Unions by a score of 7-1.5 However, chances are that this game brought him to the attention of the Trenton, New Jersey, club in the Eastern League, because a few days later he signed to pitch for them. “A new pitcher named Dorsey arrived from Baltimore last night. Manager [Patrick] Powers will try him.”6

After pitching in a few games with Trenton in late June and early July, Dorsey got his start with Baltimore on July 9, 1884. Baltimore had started Bill Sweeney in more than half of its games since the start of June, while John Ryan made the last of his six starts with the club in that same time frame on July 3, an 18-7 loss to Cincinnati.7 If the club was trying to identify another pitcher to replace Ryan, that could be why they gave Dorsey a shot. However, he was not able to capitalize on the opportunity. It is not clear if or where he pitched that summer after his one game in the majors.

The following summer, Dorsey pitched and played second base for the East Patrick Street Club in Frederick, Maryland. In mid-July, he left Frederick to pitch for the club in Lonaconing, Maryland.8 “Dorsey, formerly of the East Patrick street battery, is doing well in Lonaconing. In a game with the Cumberland club the first of the week, he struck out 22 men.”9 In addition to striking out 22 batters in one game, one other notable thing happened to him that summer. While in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August, he saved a woman from drowning. The incident didn’t seem to make the news at the time, but the following winter, it became a big story, hitting the wires nationwide.

J. Wilbur Lorsey [sic], of Ijamsville, Frederick county, Maryland, a good swimmer and baseball pitcher, has just inherited a sum of money in a rather romantic way. Dorsey spent a couple of weeks last August in Atlantic City, and while bathing one day he rescued a young woman from drowning. She was from one of the western cities and formed a great attachment for her rescuer, although he knew nothing of it except that she and her friends were profuse in their thanks to him. Dorsey thought no more of the matter, and was surprised to receive a letter from a lawyer informing him that the woman was dead, and had bequeathed him $60,000 for his heroism.”10

The Democratic Advocate specifically noted, “Dorsey last season pitched for a base ball club in Frederick and Lonaconing.”11

Dorsey’s father died on January 25, 1886, in Ijamsville.12 His mother Margaret later remarried (in 1893) to James Montgomery. Margaret died in 1901 of a shotgun blast to the face under unusual circumstances, having fallen asleep with a loaded shotgun beside her.13

To round out the trifecta of life-changing events for Dorsey in 1886, he married Virginia (Jennie) Catherine Hebb on May 14, 1886.14

Dorsey played his final season of professional baseball in 1886, starting the season with Richmond in the Virginia League in June, after his wedding. He was signed as a first baseman.15 From Richmond he went to Lynchburg in the same league. In August, he was signed by Scranton in the Pennsylvania State Association to play third base.16 His few games with Scranton are the last known games of his professional career.

By 1887, Dorsey and his wife had moved to Topeka, Kansas, to join her brother.17 Daughter Lillian R. Dorsey was born in September 1888.18 Dorsey held a variety of jobs in Topeka, including as a clerk with F. E. McFarland’s, and later as a partner with George Wilkshire in Dorsey & Wilkshire, an auction house, which dissolved in January 1889 when Dorsey withdrew.19 Later that month, an advertisement appeared in the Topeka Daily Capital for the sale of Japanese goods by auctioneer J. W. Dorsey.20 Soon after, the family moved to San Francisco. He remained on the West Coast through at least 1893. An advertisement for an auction by Z.G.W. Watson and J.W. Dorsey appeared in the Tacoma Daily Ledger on December 16, 1890, suggesting that he may have been traveling up and down the West Coast during this time.21

Jennie Dorsey died on June 13, 1893, while visiting her brother in Topeka. Lillian was sent to Ijamsville to live with her paternal grandmother.22 Wilbur moved back east and married Margaret Elizabeth Ashenfelter in 1894. (Whether the move happened before or after the marriage is uncertain.) At some point, they lived in Newark with Margaret’s sister, Rachel, and her husband, Harry Kneezel.23 Margaret shows up in the 1909 Newark street guide living alone, but the 1910 guide indicates that she moved to New York. The couple appears in the 1910 Census living in Brooklyn, having been married 16 years with no children. He was working as a traveling auctioneer at the time.

Wilbur Dorsey shot himself in the early morning of January 31, 1913, in a boarding room in Manhattan. He was found with a .38 revolver in his hand. There was no suicide note, just an envelope addressed to his wife at the New Jersey address of her sister Rachel. The motive was never determined. According to these articles, he had no known financial issues or problems with his wife.24 He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.25


Lillian R. Dorsey was identified in the 1905 New York Census as an “inmate” at the Manhattan Free House for Girls, which would make sense if her father lived in Brooklyn at the time, after her grandmother’s death in 1901. She was last identified in the 1910 Census, single and living in Manhattan at the age of 21. Her occupation was given as “Own income.” She may have gone under the name Delia. In 1918, there is a Lillian Dorsey, teacher, listed in the New York Street Guide, but there is no direct connection to the daughter.

Margaret “Maggie” Ashenfelter Dorsey vanishes from the record after the death of Wilbur Dorsey. The envelope left by Dorsey for Margaret contained a ticket to the auctioneers’ ball two weeks later, 41 cents in change, and membership cards in the Seattle Lodge of the Elks and the Topeka Lodge, F. and A. M.26 Margaret Dorsey appears occasionally in Brooklyn street guides in the 1910s, but there is no proof that this is his widow.



This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Paul Proia.



The bones of this biography came from a blog entry by Justin McKinney, “The Love Song of J. Wilbur Dorsey”, posted on November 9, 2017, and accessed on December 31, 2022. Justin was the first to identify Joseph Wilbur Dorsey as the pitcher for the Baltimore Monumentals more than 100 years prior.

US Census data was accessed through and, and other family information was found at and Articles cited in this biography were typically accessed through and/or Street guides were accessed through



1 “St. Louis Unions, 8; Baltimores, 2,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 10, 1884: 8. The Baltimore Sun reported that Robinson took the mound starting in the fifth inning (July 10, 1884: 4), and Baseball-Reference credits Dorsey with four innings pitched.

2 Joseph Dorsey was identified in the January/February 2018 newsletter for the SABR Biographical Research Committee.

3 In the 1870 Census, Joseph W. Dorsey (age 6) is the son of Joseph J. Dorsey (stonecutter, age 55) and Margaret E. Dorsey (age 39). In the 1880 Census, Joseph W. Dorsey (age 14) is the son of Joseph I. Dorsey (grocer, age 64), and Margaret A. Dorsey (age 48). From as early as 1865 through 1876, Joseph I. Dorsey appeared in Baltimore street guides as a stonecutter. From 1877 through 1882, he was identified as a grocer. In 1883, he was listed as a stonecutter in his final entry in Baltimore. (The 1884 directory is not available online.) The address changed over the years from 57 n. Stricker to Stricker and Saratoga, and then back to 57 Stricker. The address in the 1880 Census was 57 Stricker. This supports the conclusion that the 1870 and 1880 Census records are for the same family, even though there are differences in the middle initials and ages.

4 The Frederick News reported “Mr. John A. Middlekoff, an aged [84 years old] and respected citizen of Ijamsville, died at his home… Deceased leaves a widow and several children, among them Mrs. Joseph I. Dorsey” (June 25, 1890: 1). After reviewing the records of the time, it seems more likely the last name was originally Middlekauff. However, no records were found that absolutely proved that Margaret Dorsey was John Middlekauff’s daughter, as she does not show up in the 1850 Census, by which time she was 19 and may have no longer lived at home, nor was she identified in the 1860 Census records under the name Margaret Middlekauff.

5 “Notes of the Diamond,” Baltimore American, June 8, 1884: 4.

6 “Curry’s Curves. Bothered Cincinnati, but Poor Support Gave Away the Game,” Trenton Evening Times, June 12, 1884: 1.

7 Ryan was pulled in the third inning after Cincinnati scored nine runs on six hits. Robinson replaced him, and then started the first game of a doubleheader the next day (July 4) against Cincinnati. Sweeney started the second game that day, which was against St. Louis.

8 “On the Diamond,” The News (Frederick, Maryland), July 16, 1885: 3.

9 “On the Diamond,” The News, July 25, 1885: 3.

10 “Paid for Heroism. A Maryland Athlete Receives a Fortune from a Stranger,” The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), February 20, 1886: 2. The story also appeared in the Oakland Tribune (pg. 8) and the Montreal Daily Star (pg. 6), as well as numerous other papers across the United States on February 20, 1886.

11 “Maryland Affairs,” Democratic Advocate (Westminster, Maryland), February 20, 1886: 2.

12 “Ijamsville Items,” The News, January 27, 1886: 1. Given that Dorsey is described as from Baltimore in 1884 and from Ijamsville in 1885, it seems likely that the family moved there prior to the 1885 season. Joseph Sr. was 70 in 1885, so he may have retired to Ijamsville. Joseph Sr. was buried in Mount Olivette Cemetery in Frederick. FindAGrave gives the name as Joseph J. Dorsey, with wife Margaret Ann Wilcox Montgomery (1831 – 1901) and the son incorrectly identified as Joseph Henry Dorsey (1863 – 1937). Wilcox may have been Margaret’s mother’s maiden name. Joseph Henry Dorsey lived in Geesboro Point (a neighborhood of Washington D.C.) in December 1884, when he married Amelia Smoot (also from Geesboro). The couple remained in the D. C. area, where he dies in 1937.

13 “Accidentally Killed,” The Citizen (Frederick, Maryland), February 1, 1901: 5. The obituary states that she was survived by her son Wilbert [sic] Dorsey of New York, and that her granddaughter Lillian Dorsey was living with her in Ijamsville at the time of her death. James, Margaret and Lillian were living in Frederick at the time of the 1900 Census.

14 “Hymeneal,” The News, May 27, 1886: 3.

15 “Richmond Base-Ball Club,” Richmond News Leader, June 19, 1886: 1.

16 “Four New Players Join the Team Yesterday – The Club Being Gradually Strengthened,” Scranton Republican, August 17, 1886: 3.

17 William Hebb moved to Topeka as early as 1885, possibly to join his uncle, Henry Johnson. Mother Olivia Hebb died in Fort Dodge in 1901, while sister Mary (Mollie) Hebb married John Cady in Topeka in 1891.

18 “Personal Mention,” Topeka State Journal, September 18, 1888: 1. Her name was determined to be Lillian from Census records and her grandmother’s obituary.

19 “Dissolution Notice,” Topeka State Journal, January 17, 1889: 2.

20 Advertisement, Topeka Daily Capital, January 29, 1889: 4.

21 Advertisement, Tacoma Daily Ledger, December 16, 1890: 3.

22 “Ijamsville – July 5,” The News, July 6, 1893: 4. This article notes that the Dorsey family had been living in San Francisco for four years.

23 It is through the sister-in-law that Dorsey’s second wife was identified. One of the articles about his death identifies his sister-in-law as Mrs. Harry R. Kneezel. Harry Rahn Kneezel married Rachel Ann Ashenfelter in 1892. Rachel and Margaret (Maggie) Ashenfelter were living with their mother Almira and stepfather Alexander Freeman in Philadelphia per the 1880 US Census. Their father, George Washington Ashenfelter, and mother separated prior to 1880 and after Margaret was born in 1874.

24 “Wilbur Dorsey’s Suicide Mystery,” Newark Star and Newark Advertiser, February 1, 1913: 1. The article notes that Dorsey and his wife lived in Newark for a period of time, and identified Dorsey’s sister-in-law as Mrs. Harry R. Kneezel,

25 “Bury Suicide Today,” Newark Evening Star and Newark Advertiser, February 4, 1913: 4. Baseball-Reference identifies his burial place as Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, but Green-Wood Cemetery is different. The author has been unable to confirm the location of the grave to this point.

26 “Wilbur Dorsey’s Suicide Mystery.”

Full Name

Joseph Wilbur Dorsey


, 1864 at Baltimore, MD (US)


January 31, 1913 at New York, NY (US)

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