How were blacks involved in boxing on slave plantations?

There are claims that boxing has had a more profound effect on the lives of African Americans than any other sport. During slavery one strong black man was often matched against a peer from a nearby plantation. An example was seen in the boxing feats of Tom Molineaux (1784–1818). Born a slave in the Georgetown section of Maryland (now a part of the District of Columbia) on March 23, 1784, Molineaux came from a family of boxers and “was forged into a pugilist of historical significance and acclaim.” Algernon Molineaux, who owned Tom and his family, moved them to a plantation in Richmond, Virginia. There the master followed common practice of the day and arranged frequent bouts between his slaves and those on neighboring plantations. Healthy male field-hand slaves were considered worthy of a hefty price. Since the Molineaux boys fit this description, they commanded a premium at every bout. By 1909 Tom Molineaux’s master had won a considerable amount of money and offered Tom his freedom if he won a final bout against “Black Abe,” another slave. Tom defeated his opponent and won $100 for his master and his freedom. He moved to New York City, worked as a porter and later a stevedore, turned semi-professional in 1800, and continued his boxing career in England in 1809. Molineaux defeated the recently retired white boxer Tom Cribb to become the first black American boxing champion in England, in 1810. His victory was never acknowledged, however, because Londoners did not want the public to know that Cribb had lost to a black. Instead, they referred to Molineaux’s race as “unknown.” Molineaux astonished everyone as much by his extraordinary power of hitting and his gigantic strength as by his acquaintance with the science of boxing, which was far greater than any had credited him. The two fought again on September 11, 1811, and Molineaux defeated Cribb for the second time. By then, Molineaux had become a celebrated boxer in England but his success remained unrecorded in the American press.


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