Prize Fight Historical Marker

Historical Marker Commemorating The Fight. Click for large image.

You don’t have to be a fan of the pugilistic arts to appreciate the story of the championship prize fight that took place in the Hamlet of Boston Corners in Columbia County NY in 1853. Well, not really. At the time Boston Corners was actually located in Massachusetts, but not for much longer.

This story has a number of versions with this being somewhat of a middle of the road rendition. Some facts differ, including the date of the fight on the historical marker, which I believe to be incorrect.

During much of the 1800’s, boxing was illegal in many areas of the United States. This forced promoters of the day to get creative and hold bouts in many an out of the way or hard to find location. Boston Corners was such a place back in 1853. So on October 12, 1853 a championship prizefight was arranged there between 22 year old John Morrissey of Troy NY, and the famed  and larger 41 year old James “Yankee” Sullivan. Other versions claim that the location was selected because Boston Corners had recently applied to become part of NYS. New York State declined, leaving Boston Corners under no legal jurisdiction.

It is said that 3000 to 4000 spectators found their way to the venue. It appears however that none of the local constabulary did the same. The fight lasted 37 rounds and was finally decided when in the 37th round Sullivan, the larger fighter and favorite, hit the much smaller Morrissey while he was on his knees. This didn’t play well with spectators, especially with those who had placed their faith and money on Morrissey. The Morrissey faithful rioted in protest and once order prevailed, the referee awarded the victory, the American Championship, and the $2000 prize money to Morrissey, making him a national celebrity.  But the story doesn’t end there.

As a result of the fight, Boston Corners was transferred from Massachusetts to the state of New York. Boston Corners residents (about 150 unhappy souls) petitioned New York State and the U.S. Congress to bring them into the jurisdiction of New York. On January 3, 1855 an Act of Congress changed the state line and made Boston Corners officially part of Columbia County in New York. What ever became of the two pugilists? Very dissimilar futures awaited them.

John Morrissey started off as a poor Irish immigrant with a talent for boxing whose career kicked off bartending in Troy NY.  He then moved on to muscling the Irish immigrant vote for the Tammy Hall crew in New York City. After his “win”, John Morrissey took his prize money  and went on to establish “The Club House”, a very successful casino in Saratoga Springs, NY, and the racetrack at Saratoga. In 1866 he successfully ran for Congress with some help from Tammany Hall cronies. He  served two terms in the House. In 1875 he was elected to the New York State Senate, re-elected in 1877, and served until his death in 1878.

After the fight Sullivan moved to California where he quickly became involved in a number of illicit activities. He was ultimately arrested by the San Francisco Vigilance Movement and died in his prison cell.

Quite the Hudson Valley story I would say. What is it they say about truth being stranger than …?


The Sojourner