Tom Molineaux was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation and literally fought his way into freedom, gaining a reputation as America's first sports star. He died in Galway City in 1818, and now, 100 years later, Galway is honoring him. 

Galway City is honoring the extraordinary life of Tom Molineaux with a special exhibition at Galway City Museum and a plaque to commemorate the corner of Galway where he spent his last days. 

Molineaux, one of the most famous bare-knuckle fighters of all time, was born into slavery on a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1785. He developed a reputation as a skilled fighter and eventually gained his freedom when his owner's son bet him in a fight and won. 

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"This is how Tom gained his freedom, as the son of his owner waged in a drunken haze that Tom could defeat another man's slave," Brendan McGowan, Education and Outreach Officer at Galway City Museum told the Irish Times. 

Once free, Tom headed north to New York and worked on the docks, fighting in bare-knuckle competitions. Secure in his title as America's champ -  essentially America's first sports star - he journeyed to London in 1809. There he joined forces with a man named Bill Richmond, another freed slave and fighter, who became his trainer and manager. 

The Molineaux Cribb fight, which drew thousands of spectators. Image: NYPL

The Molineaux Cribb fight, which drew thousands of spectators. Image: NYPL

In December 1810, Molineaux fought in this most famous and most brutal match, for the title of World Champion against British boxer Tom Cribb. It lasted a whopping 39 rounds and included some less than honorable maneuvers on behalf of Cribb's backers, which resulted in him winning despite many believing Molineaux was robbed. 

They had a rematch in September 1811, but Cribb had been in intensive training for the match while Molineaux had been working constantly and Cribb won easily. 

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Molineaux then traveled to Ireland in 1815 and taught fighting in Connemara and Mayo. Beset by a number of maladies, he arrived in Galway City in 1818 and died just a few weeks later on August 4, 1818, in the care of three black soldiers in the 77th Regiment of the British Army that was based in Galway at the time. 

He was buried in an unmarked grave, but news of his death spread to England and US and his skills as a pugilist were widely remembered. Molineaux was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997. 

The exhibition at Galway City Museum will chronicle his life, and a bilingual plaque will be unveiled on August 2 at the site where he died, where now a school stands in place of the so-called "shambles barracks." 

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An illustration of the fighter Tom MolineauxPublic Domain