During the 1872 season of the National Association, John Conkey served as president of the Boston Base Ball Association, the corporation that entered the Boston baseball team to compete for the National Association championship. While the Boston team did win the championship in 1872, the Boston Base Ball Association experienced a significant financial loss that year, which resulted in the ouster of Conkey as president.
John Adams Conkey was born in 1839 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the son of John Quincy Adams Conkey, a maker of crockery ware, and Martha Bird, the daughter of an attorney.1 Conkey had deeps roots in America, as his great-great-great-grandfather was Scottish immigrant Alexander Conkey, who settled in Pelham, Massachusetts, in 1740.2 Conkey became an orphan at age 11, following the death of his father in 1843 and his mother in 1850.3 Conkey and his younger sister Martha then lived for many years with Ann Robinson, a widow.4
According to a biography of Conkey in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Conkey’s legal guardian was Dr. Solomon Townsend, a well-known physician in Boston.5 It is unclear what the exact relationship was between Robinson and Townsend. Likely at Townsend’s behest, Conkey received an education, rather than go to work at an early age, attending the Josiah Quincy School and Boston English High School.6 After graduating from high school, Conkey worked for relatives of Townsend, where he learned the process of importing goods into the United States and getting them through customs. Conkey worked for Albert Townsend at A. H. Townsend & Company and for Thomas Townsend at Tuckerman, Townsend & Company, where he honed his knowledge of the customs brokerage business.7 By 1870 Conkey was working for Percival Everett at his importing firm that focused on the China tea trade.8
As a prominent young businessman in Boston, Conkey was a close associate of Ivers Adams, the first president of the Boston Base Ball Association, as Conkey was elected vice president at the formation of the ballclub in January 1871.9 Ten months later, Conkey was elected president when Adams declined re-election.10 However, the Boston Base Ball Association suffered a significant financial loss during the 1872 season with Conkey as president. The directors of the Association blamed the adverse results “mainly of an error in the management of its affairs during the closing part of the season,” when the baseball team played numerous exhibition games in front of small crowds.11 The directors elected a new president and new treasurer, but retained Conkey as a director for two more years until he severed his connection with professional baseball after the 1874 season to focus on his customs brokerage business.
Conkey settled into life beyond professional baseball. He married Ellen V. Read on June 11, 1873, in her hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts.12 The couple lived in the upper-middle-class suburb of Newtonville.13 They had no children. In 1876 Conkey established his own customs brokerage firm, Magoun & Conkey, in partnership with Thatcher Magoun Jr.14 A few years later Conkey was the sole proprietor of his own customs brokerage, John A. Conkey & Company. He died on March 17, 1903, in Brookline, Massachusetts.15 He is buried in the Read family plot in Lowell Cemetery in Lowell, Massachusetts.16
His wife, Ellen Conkey, a businesswoman in her own right, continued to run John A. Conkey & Company for many years, in partnership with Walter Doherty.17 At her death in 1940, at age 92, her obituary noted the efforts of her husband to help form the Boston Base Ball Association nearly 70 years earlier.18 John A. Conkey & Company survived as a small business until 1991, when the firm was absorbed into Fritz Companies, Inc., a large customs brokerage firm.19
1 Birth information from marriage records of Newton, Massachusetts, for 1873, page 267; no birth record can be located.
2 “The Conkey Family of Pelham, Massachusetts,” Pelham Free Public Library.
3 Death records in the Massachusetts State Archive for 1843 (Volume 3, Page 35) and 1850 (Volume 50, Page 68).
4 Federal census records for 1850 and 1860 for Ward 10 of Boston, in Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
5 New England Historical and Genealogical Register (Boston: New England Historical and Genealogical Society, 1905), lxxi.
6 New England Historical and Genealogical Register.
7 Boston City Directory, 1865; New England Historical and Genealogical Register.
8 Boston City Directory, 1870 and 1875.
9 Boston Daily Advertiser, January 21, 1871.
10 Boston Daily Advertiser, December 8, 1871.
11 New York Clipper, December 14, 1872.
12 Marriage records in the Massachusetts State Archive for 1873 (Volume 254, Page 239); Lowell Daily Citizen, June 11, 1873.
13 Boston City Directory, 1875; federal census records for 1880 for Newton in Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
14 Boston Daily Advertiser, February 9, 1876.
15 Death records in the Massachusetts State Archive for 1903 (Volume 541, Page 12).
16 Burial records at Lowell Cemetery in Lowell, Massachusetts (Lot #2199 on Cushing Avenue).
17 Boston City Directory, 1905 and 1925.
18 Obituary of Ellen Conkey, Boston Globe, March 4, 1940.
19 Gregory Johnson, “Final Bell Has Not Yet Rung for Mom ‘n Pop Brokers,” Journal of Commerce, October 8, 1992.