Darius “Britches” Matthews

Darius was born in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1843 to the 16 year old nanny of cotton plantation owner Deke Matthews.   Raised as a slave on the plantation he grew into a strapping young man who worked in the fields. Throughout the war he labored picking cotton for the Matthews family. His favorite way to spend time when he wasn’t working was to race the other slaves across the fields to the pond and be the first to dive in and swim to the other side.

On one of these occasions in April of 1865 while Deke was away on a trip, Darius dove into a shallow spot, hit a rock and broke his right hand. This created a real problem because he couldn’t pick as much cotton with his left hand and Mr. Matthews had set a quota for all the workers.  The slave driver Cletus had orders to get rid of any workers who didn’t meet the quota, but Mrs. Matthews was a Christian woman who would not see any of the Matthews family slaves killed.  She arranged to have Darius help out the women folk doing laundry while his hand healed up.

After a few days, on April 9th Deke returned to the plantation and learned of the unfortunate mishap.  He was furious with his wife for interceding on behalf of an injured slave. He stormed down to the creek with his gun intending to take care of Darius himself.  Darius had heard the ruckus when he was collecting clothes to be washed and decided to take his chances on the run.  He snatched a pair of fine woolen pants that belonged to Deke, along with one of his “Sunday go to Meetin” shirts, and raced to the nearby train tracks, jumping the train through Nashville towards Kentucky and further north toward freedom.

Once aboard he changed into the nice clothing he had stolen and settled in for the ride north.  Unfortunately for him, the train was headed southeast toward Chattanooga.  Darius jumped off the train on the outskirts of the Scenic City and noticed a game of Base Ball being played in a cow pasture.  Fascinated as he had never seen the game before he hid and watched for quite a while.  When evening fell, he headed into town, doing his best impression of a freed slave while looking for a pocket to pick because he had no cash and needed to buy some food. The news had just come in that Lee had surrendered at Appomatox, and people were filling the streets.

He spotted a gentleman who had been playing in the base ball game and noticed his fine pocket watch.  When he tried to lift it from the fellow, he was discovered.  All that running he had done as a slave prepared him for a speedy escape.  However as he rounded a corner well ahead of his pursuer  he ran right into Matthew “Taco” Shelby, who had also been playing in the game.  So impressed were Shelby and the other gent with Darius speed and “fancy britches” that they offered him a spot on their ball team as an outfielder if he would only return the pocket watch.  He agreed, and “Britches” became the right fielder for the Mountain City club, learning how to play the fine game of base ball as well as any man alive.