Thomas "Tom" Molineaux (23 March 1784 – 4 August 1818), sometimes spelled Molyneaux, was an African-American bare-knuckle boxer and possibly a former slave. He spent much of his career in Great Britain and Ireland, where he had some notable successes. He arrived in England in 1809 and started his fighting career there in 1810. It was his two fights against Tom Cribb, widely viewed as the Champion of England, that brought fame to Molineaux, although he lost both contests. His prizefighting career ended in 1815. After a tour that took him to Scotland and Ireland, he died in Galway, Ireland in 1818, aged 34.
Tom Molineaux by Robert Dighton.
|Height||5 ft 8 in (173 cm)|
|Born||23 March 1784|
Virginia, United States
|Died||4 August 1818 (aged 34)|
According to some of the chroniclers of 19th-century boxing, Molineaux was born into slavery in the State of Virginia, USA in 1784. The most detailed account claims that he was born on a plantation and that he took his surname from the landowners' name. An earlier writer just states that he came from America. In one account he boxed with other slaves to entertain plantation owners and was granted his freedom and $500 after winning a fight on which the son of the plantation owner had staked $100,000. Another source claims he was in the service of the one time American ambassador to London, Mr Pinckney. One of his biographers points out that whilst some of these accounts may be based on truth, they cannot be substantiated and may have been romanticised to some extent. After obtaining his freedom, Molineaux was reported to have moved to New York, where he was said to have been involved in "several battles" and had claimed the title "Champion of America". He subsequently emigrated to England where he expected to be able to earn money as a prize fighter.
Career in EuropeEdit
Molineaux found his way to London in 1809 where he made contact with Bill Richmond, another ex-slave-turned-boxer who ran the pub the Horse and Dolphin in Leicester Square, London. Molineaux's first fight in England took place at Tothill Fields, Westminster on 24 July 1810. According to one report, the match was preceded by bull baiting. Molineaux won the fight, beating Jack Burrows of Bristol in front of a small crowd in 65 minutes. Bill Richmond seconded Molineaux for the fight and Tom Cribb seconded Burrows.
Molineaux's second fight in England was against Tom Blake whose nickname was "Tom Tough". The fight took place at Epple Bay near Margate on August 21, 1810, the American ending up victorious after 8 rounds when Blake was knocked out by Molineaux. In this fight, the American was reported to have shown "great improvement in the science of pugilism".
On 3 December 1810, having been trained by Bill Richmond, Molineaux fought Tom Cribb at Shenington Hollow in Oxfordshire for the English title. According to the writer Pierce Egan, who was present, Molineaux stood at five foot eight and a quarter inches tall, and for this fight weighed "fourteen stone two" (198 pounds (90 kg)). Egan wrote that few people, including Cribb, expected the fight to last very long; there was betting that Cribb would win in the first ten rounds. However, Molineaux proved a powerful and intelligent fighter and the two battered each other heavily. There was a disturbance in the 19th round as Molineaux and Cribb were locked in a wrestler's hold (legal under the rules of the time) so that neither could hit the other nor escape. The referee stood by, uncertain as to whether he should break the two apart, and the dissatisfied crowd pushed into the ring. In the confusion Molineaux hurt his left hand; Egan could not tell if it had been broken. There was also dispute over whether Cribb had managed to return to the line before the allowed 30 seconds had passed. If he had not, Molineaux would have won, but in the confusion the referee could not tell and the fight went on. After the 34th round Molineaux said he could not continue but his second persuaded him to return to the ring, where he was defeated in the 35th round.
Two days after the fight, Richmond took Molineaux to the Stock Exchange in London where the boxer received an ovation and was presented with 45 guineas.
A return fight with Tom Cribb took place on 28 September 1811 at Thistleton Gap in Rutland and was watched by 15,000 people. Egan, who was present, said that both fighters "weighed less by more than a stone", which means Molineaux weighed at most 185 pounds (84 kg) for this fight. As preparation for the bout, Cribb had undertaken extensive training under the guidance of Captain Barclay. Molineaux, though still hitting Cribb with great power, was out-fought; Cribb broke his jaw and finally knocked him out in the 11th round. After the fight Richmond and Molineaux parted.
Molineaux fought 4 subsequent bouts, winning three and losing one. On 2 April 1813, Molineaux fought Jack Carter at Remington, Gloucestershire, the American winning after 25 rounds. After the fight, Molineaux went on tour, where he sparred in exhibition bouts. In 1813 he fought Abraham Denton at Derby, his opponent being described as a "country pugilist" with the stature of a giant. Moilineaux won the contest. The tour took him to Scotland and on 27 May 1814, he took on a boxer named William Fuller at Bishopstorff, Paisley, Ayrshire. After 4 rounds of fighting the match was interrupted when the "sheriff of Renfrewshire, attended by constables, entered the ring, and put a stop to it". A rematch was staged at Auchineux, 12 miles from Glasgow on 31 May 1814. 2 rounds were fought there, lasting 68 minutes, Molineaux being awarded the contest. On the 11 March 1815, Molineaux fought and lost to George Cooper at Corset Hill, Lanarkshire.
Molineaux's prizefighting career ended in 1815. However he continued to show his talents in sparring exhibitions. After his visit to Scotland, he toured Ireland where in 1817 he was reported to be in the northern part of the island. He suffered from tuberculosis. After a stint in a debtors' prison he became increasingly dependent on alcohol.
|5 Wins, 3 Losses, 1 Draw|
|Win||Jack Burrows||24 July 1810||Tothill Fields, Westminster||65 minutes|
|Win||Tom Blake||21 August 1810||Epple Bay near Margate||8 rounds|
|Loss||Tom Cribb||18 December 1810||Copthorne Gap, Surrey||35 rounds|
|Win||William Rimmer||21 May 1811||Moulsey Hurst||21 rounds|
|Loss||Tom Cribb||28 September 1811||Thistleton Gap||11 rounds|
|Win||Jack Carter||2 April 1813||Remington, Gloucestershire||25 rounds|
|Draw||William Fuller||27 May 1814||Bishopstorff, Paisley||4 rounds|
|Win||William Fuller||31 May 1814||Auchineux||2 rounds|
|Loss||George Cooper||11 March 1815||Corset Hill, Lanarkshire||14 rounds|
- It was discovered that Molineaux is a direct ancestor to American hip hop superstar LL Cool J. The rapper, named James Todd Smith found out the information when he had his genealogy traced on a television show titled "Finding your roots".
- A hand-coloured etching of Molineaux by Robert Dighton is held in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
- A fictionalised account of Molineaux's boxing career is the basis of Black Ajax, by George MacDonald Fraser.
- Thomas Molineaux is featured in the short animation The Prize Fighter, directed by Jason Young.
- Tom Molyneaux is featured, as a ghost, in the short story Apparition in the Prize Ring by Robert E. Howard, who was a boxing fan.
- Molineaux's fight with Cribb was turned into a 2014 play called Prize Fighters (based on the book Bristol Boys by Jack Allen), by director Ed Viney and was performed in the Tobacco Factory in 2015.
- Molineaux's return fight with Cribb in 1811 at Thistleton Gap is referred to in Regency Buck, a novel by Georgette Heyer.
- Molineux was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
- In 2010, Molineaux was inducted into the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame.
- Pugilism.org ranked him as one of the five hardest men of the pugilistic era
- In 2017 a documentary film "Ag Trasnú an Atlantaigh Dhuibh/ Crossing the Black Atlantic", directed by Des Kilbane and Andrew Gallimore, premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh.
- "Molyneux, the pugilist, died at Galway, Ireland, on the 4th inst., in a room occupied by the band of the 77th regiment, where he had been maintained the last two months, and very humanely attended by three people of his colour": The Times (London, England), 18 August 1818, p. 3.
- Henning, Fred W.J. (1902). Fights for the Championship: the men and their times. London: Licensed victuallers' gazette. pp. 16–45. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- Thormanby (1900). Boxers and their Battles. London: R.A. Everett & Co. pp. 39–58. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
- Egan, Pierce (1830). Boxiana. 1. London: George Virtue. pp. 360–423.
- Kevin, Smith (2003). Black Genesis: The History of the Black Prizefighter 1760-1870. iUniverse. pp. 27–60. ISBN 9780595288847.
- Pancratia, Or, A History of Pugilism. London: W. Oxberry. 1812. pp. 341–371. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- Miles, Henry Downes (1906). Pugilistica Volume 1. Edinburgh: J. Grant. pp. 278–288. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
- Mary Lobel, with Alan Crossley: Bloxham Hundred. A History of the County of Oxford. 9. Victoria County History. 1969. p. 205.; pages 139-150 (Parishes: Shenington). And can be viewed on the BHO website
- Famous Fights, Past and Present. 2. London. 1901. pp. 226–233. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
- Egan, Pierce (1830). Boxiana. 1. London: George Virtue. pp. 457–466.
- Famous Fights, Past and Present. 1. London. 1901. p. 5. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
- Atisu, Etsey (September 9, 2019). "The sad end of Tom Molineaux, the 1700s bare-knuckles slave fighter who was America's first boxing star". Face2Face Africa. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
- "New photographic exhibition opens Galway City Museum". Galway City Museum.
- "Old Master Remembered". Boxing News. 9 August 2018.
- "Galway event honours African-American heavyweight boxer Tom Molineaux". rte.ie. 18 December 2019.
- A hand-coloured etching of Molineaux
- "The Prize Fighter (2010)" at IMDb.
- Pamela Parkes (22 June 2014). "Boxing: When a freed slave fought a sporting star". BBC News. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
- Molineux on the IBHF Website
- Listing on the website
- "Ag Trasnú an Atlantaigh Dhuibh/Crossing the Black Atlantic screening on TG4". galwayfilmcentre.ie.
- Egan, Pierce (1813), Boxiana; or, Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism, from the Days of the Renowned Broughton and Slack, to the Championship of Cribb: Volume 1
- Lobel, Mary D.; Crossley, Alan, eds. (1969), Victoria County History: A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 9, pp. 171–188
- Fraser, George MacDonald (1997), Black Ajax, London: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-225585-5
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