I’ve written about a branch of my husband’s West Indian family tree that includes Edgar Oscar Challenger, an historian, scholar, and labor leader from St Kitts. He is related to the Challenger family through his 3rd great grandparents from the island of Madeira. There’s another Edgar O. Challenger who was Edgar Oscar’s uncle. He made his name in the United States on the cricket field.
Edgar Othniel Challenger was the son of John Thomas Percival Challenger of St Kitts, and Ascenia Augusta Cabral of Madeira. He was born in 1878 in the St Thomas Middle Island parish of St Kitts, where his father was a blacksmith. His birth record actually listed his name as Othniel Edgar Challenger, but he appears as Edgar O. Challenger in later records including New York City newspapers. Edgar came to the United States in 1898, ending up in New York City. Within four years, he was playing with the Brooklyn Cricket Club. The team was a member at that time of the NY Metropolitan Cricket League, which was composed of clubs from the New York City boroughs and northern New Jersey. The Brooklyn team won their league championship multiple times in the early 1900s, with E. O. Challenger frequently cited in area sports pages for outstanding play. Edgar also took on leadership roles, going from a seat on the Brooklyn team’s board to president of the Metropolitan League by the 1920s. While league president, he was also president of the Staten Island Cricket and Tennis Club.
While cricket remained an ongoing passion of Edgar’s, his career in the business world also progressed. In the 1905 New York State census, he was living as a boarder on Henry Street, in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, with his occupation listed as clerk. By the 1910 US census, he was working as a stock exchange broker and living in Brooklyn with his widowed mother Ascenia Challenger. In the 1920 census, he is married to American born Emma Ermina Banghart, living in a home he owned in Brooklyn, and his occupation is flour broker. In 1930, he was in New Rochelle, just north of New York City, working as flour and grain broker.
Period newspapers show that Edgar worked for many years at the New York Produce Exchange as a commodities broker. He seems to have done well in this job, as Edgar and Emma’s names appeared in the society pages of New York City newspapers, attending charity benefits and chairing philanthropic committees alongside members of the city elite.
Death came to Edgar O. Challenger in Staten Island in 1935, at age 57, quite suddenly and tragically. The New York Times reported on his death during an exhibition cricket match:
“Mr. Challenger, who had made a single at bat, was seized with a heart attack while the field was being changed for the next ‘over’ and fell on his back on the grass. About 400 persons, players and spectators of the several matches going on, ran to his side. Several friends picked him up and carried him into the clubhouse.”
The NY Amsterdam News detailed his West Indian origins and prominence in the game of cricket:
“Mr. Challenger was long identified with cricket in this country, for thirty-five years as a player and for fifteen years as a leader in cricket organizations. He was prominently connected with efforts to widen the sport’s popularity by bringing leading foreign teams here.
When he came to the United States from St. Kitts, West Indies, as a youth of 20, he made his home in Flatbush, and joined a Brooklyn team. He quickly distinguished himself as a reliable batsman inclined to be aggressive when the bowling was indifferent, and was dependable in the field.”
Edgar O. Challenger’s racial background is interesting, as he was identified in different ways under different circumstances. In his birth record from St Kitts, he was recorded as ‘colored’, which denoted a child of mixed race. In the United States census documents, he is consistently listed as white. In the NY Amsterdam News, an African American publication, he was characterized this way:
“Edgar O. Challenger, who died suddenly on Sunday in the presence of 400 spectators and players on the field of the Staten Island Cricket Club, where he was taking part in a game of cricket, was a Negro who was widely known to whites, but little known to members of his own race.”
The Episcopal minister who eulogized Edgar at his funeral said that Edgar had wished to “die in harness”, still involved in doing what he loved. He certainly seems to have achieved that, going out at the top of his game in business and still active on and off the cricket field.
- Civil Registration, 1859-1932, Basseterre (St. Christopher), Registrar, Salt Lake City, Utah : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990
- Edgar Challenger in the FDR Presidential Library, At The Corner of Genealogy and History blog, 2017
- NY Times articles from 1902 through 1935
- NY Amsterdam News article of July 27, 1935