Bill Richmond the First Black Sports Star

 

The Legend of Bill Richmond

Old image of Bill RIchmond

When we think about black sports stars we often go to names such as Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, perhaps Kareem Abdul Jabbar or even Jack Johnson, however, if we dig a little deeper and look a little harder we might come across the story of Bill Richmond the first black sports star.

Bill Richmond was born on the 8th August 1763 in Staten Island, which at the time was an outpost of the British Colonies. His parents were both enslaved persons, and Bill’s prodigious talents would never have been discovered had a British soldier named Hugh Percy not convinced the brute keeping a young Bill captive to release him into his care. Bill’s natural intelligence, wit and tenacity had struck a chord with Percy who brought the 14-year-old Richmond to England with him and set him up as an apprentice cabinet maker in Yorkshire.

Black Briton

It may be hard to believe this, but at that time (1777) the number of black people living in Britain was fairly large many having had their freedom restored in exchange for fighting against the American rebels in the war of Independence. However less surprisingly upon entering Britain, they faced extreme racism.

The smartly dressed, confident and literate Richmond was an instant target for the small minded bigots of Britain, and a young Bill found himself in numerous bruising encounters and brawls as he defended himself from the insults thrown at him from the small-minded men of that time. It was during these encounters that Richmond began to hone his fighting talents as he handed out beating after beating to his racial abusers.

In the words of the leading boxing writer of the day Pierce Egan Richmond taught his detractors that it was wrong to discriminate against a man on “account of his country or his colour”.

Fight Club

Richmond's reputation as a man of honour and fighting prowess began to grow, and in 1795 he moved to London. Prizefighting was one of the leading sports of that era and Richmond feeling confident after years of handing out beatings in Yorkshire spontaneously challenged seasoned veteran George Maddox to a match in January 1804. Richmond lost in 9 close rounds with one brutalising blow opening up a dangerous cut over his left eye. This was bare-knuckle boxing and injuries from bouts could often be life-altering.

A less determined man would have possibly quit the sport, but in 1805 Richmond made a successful comeback defeating a Jewish boxer by the name of Youssop who was left “totally disfigured” after six vicious rounds. Richmond quickly followed this with a win over Jack Holmes in another one-sided beating likened at the to a “public slaughter.”

These and other victories opened up the possibility of a rematch with Richmond's nemesis George Maddox in 1809. The fight took place in August, and Richmond battered Maddox across a bloody 52 rounds. At the end of the battle, Maddox was described as “Hideously disfigured”. But all who watched the contest agreed that the skill and bravery of the two men went without question.

Wealthy from his winnings, reputation enhanced Richmond wisely invested his money into property becoming the Owner and Landlord of the Horse and Dolphin pub near Leicester Square.  During this time Richmond began to tutor other young fighters one of whom was the young gifted and black boxer Tom Molineaux who under Richmond's tutelage went on to fight the British champion Tom Cribb in one of the most contested boxing bouts in British history.

Richmond due to some financial losses was forced back into the ring.  He fought a Jack Davis in 1814 and then in 1815 took on his riskiest fight when aged an unbelievable 51 (black really doesn't crack) he fought and defeated Tom Shelton who was half his age. It was an epic battle with Richmond eventually defeating Shelton, the racist interfering referee and the crowd. According to boxing writers of the day, Richmond somehow punched his way through the majority of the 23 rounds unable to see out of his left eye.

Black Excellence

His place among British boxing elites finally established Richmond began to showcase his skills to European Royalty and in 1821 he acted as an usher at the coronation for King George IV. It cannot be stressed that Richmond achieved all this during a time when slavery was a very legal and widespread practice.

Bill Richmond died at his home in London in 1829 after having lived a remarkable life and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.

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The legend of Bill Richmond

Graphic about Bill Richmond

Graphic about Bill Richmond and staten Island

Graphic about Bill Richmond and image of cabinet maker

Graphic about Bill Richmond and facts

Graphic about Bill Richmond and facts

Graphic about Bill Richmond and facts

Graphic about Bill Richmond and facts

Graphic about Bill Richmond and facts

you can download this as a pdf at the link below:

Bill Richmond Download 

If you'd like to purchase the book Richmond Unchained you can do so at the links below:

UK link: Richmond Unchained

US link: Richmond Unchained

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4 comments

LEROY CROFTON

I was watching a show call “Horrible Histories” and a segment came on about Mr Richmond. Quite remarkable were his matches and how though treated badly by White British he eventually was able to live the English way of life. Yet another unsung Black person.

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Micah

Good Afternoon,

This is Micah from Hudson, Iowa. I attend Hudson Middle School and for history class we are doing a project called National History Day. My topic for this year’s project is Bill Richmond. I am looking to expand my research. I was hoping you would be to provide me with information, or potentially be able answer a few questions, for my project. I understand you probably get these requests all of the time and hope that I am not causing you inconvenience by sending you this request. Any information or potential interview would be fantastic. I just wanted to find multiple sources to help prove my thesis statement.

Thank you very much for your time!

Sincerely, Micah

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