In the latter part of the Eighteenth century in Virginia it was fashionable to imitate the behaviour and lifestyle of those in London. One of the ways this was done was by the putting on of pugilistic bouts, however unlike in London the fighters were not there of their own free will. Common practice was for wealthy plantation owners to pit their slaves against each other for their own entertainment.
One one drunken night, a spoiled young man by the name of Algernon Molyneux heard one of his contemporaries boasting of the fighting prowess of one of his slaves. A famous and successful fighter named Abraham Peyton. Without bothering to find out any more, young Molyneux immediately issued a challenge that a young slave of his named Tom could beat him. In the morning when he sobered up he realised the error of his ways. He had wagered one hundred thousand dollars, money he did not have to lose, and Abraham Peyton was the slave champion of all Virginia. Tom stood no chance at all. However Algernon was a proud young man and refused to back down.
He employed the services of a Bristol born sailor called Davis to train Tom, but it rapidly became clear that Tom had no inclination to fight despite looking the part. He was threatened with all kinds of punishments, and even flogged, but to no avail. There was only one option left. Davis advised Algernon to offer Tom his freedom if he won the bout along with one hundred dollars of his own to start a new life. Unsurprisingly this was the very incentive Tom needed.
There is little in the way of detail about the fight, except that it was remarkably short. A young, inexperienced boy soundly beat an old hand. It was to kickstart what would go on to be one of the most extraordinary careers in pugilistic history. Algernon was as good as his word, if not better. He sent Tom on his way, a free man, with five hundred dollars in his pocket. He moved to New York, but what happened next is another story.