Female Slave as Boxer: The remarkable life of Sylvie Dubois!
Sylvie Dubois (Sylvia in some texts) was said to have lived to 122 years of age, and at 116 was memorialized in the book, A Biografy of the Slav Who Whipt her Mistress and Gand her Freedom by C. W. Larison.
The text itself, written in 1884 was done so by a man who’d invented his own Phonic Orthography to “capture” language — and while portions of the original text can be read online at Google Scholar, it must be realized that the “lens” for C. W. Larison’s questions and interpretations were in accordance with late 19th century views of women and race.
Sylvie Dubois remains a fascinating figure and as noted in Boxing Historian Christopher James Shelton’s recent article, American slave boxer: Sylvie Dubois, she lived a remarkable life.
Shelton wrote that Sylvie Dubois grew up in New Jersey, becoming the property of a French businessman identified as a Mr. Dubois after her mother, Dorcas, failed to repay a loan. Sylvie eventually came to work for Mr. Dubois in his tavern in Great Bend, Pennsylvania becoming as Shelton says, his “trusted partner” as well as the opportunity to earn money, but still — as a slave. Using her quick intelligence and wit, and purportedly at 5’10” and over 200 pounds, she became invaluable as a bouncer and pugilist, fighting what Shelton calls, “impromptu” bare knuckle/wrestling bouts.
Sylvie, however, was still a slave, subject to the cruel abuses of her slave masters, which not only included Mr. Dubois, but his wife who was purportedly particularly hard on her. In a what became a final showdown, Mrs. Dubois was said to have slapped Sylvie across the face for some infraction or another whereupon Sylvie is alleged to have cold-cocked her with one punch to the face. Sylvie feared for her life, but most amazingly was offered a chance at freedom: Mr. Dubois would grant her freedom provided she got back to New Jersey.
As Shelton states in his article, after a difficult journey, she eventually found her way to the town of New Brunswick, New Jersey, where after reuniting with her mother, she was able to find work as a servant. Her story of course does not end there!
For further information on Sylvie Dubois’ remarkable life please click on the following links:
Christopher James Shelton: American slave boxer: Sylvie Dubois
From the Princeton Press, January 26, 1884: Sylvia Dubois, 116 Years Old
From MELUS,Vol. 20, No 2., a scholarly examination: The Peals of her Terrific Language by Michael C. Berthold
Special thanks to Christopher James Shelton for his insightful work in bringing Sylvie Dubois’ story to life.