Tag Archives: Christopher Shelton

Female Slave as Boxer: The remarkable life of Sylvie Dubois

Female Slave as Boxer: The remarkable life of Sylvie Dubois!

Sylvie (Sylvia) Dubois, Born March 5, 1768, Credit: NYPL

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

C. W. Larison: A Biografy of the Slav Who Whipt her Mistress and Gand her Freedom 

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.

Honoring Women’s Labor: Elizabeth Wilkinson-Stokes, 18th Century Boxer!

Honoring women’s labor: Elizabeth Wilkinson-Stokes, 18th Century Boxer!

18th Century Female Bare-Knuckle Fighting

As a Labor Day treat, I thought it might be fun to share historical accounts and commentary about Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes, generally accepted as the first recorded female boxing champion who took her fists and whatever weapons were handy into the streets of London in the early part of the 18th Century!  And yes, that’s 18th Century!

Beginning in the early 1700’s organized “street”-fighting became an early popular form of entertainment in England, and while it had been around even earlier, “bare-knuckle fighting” as it was known then became popularized by James Figg who elevated the sport from one of a working-class free-for-all to a form closer to today’s boxing at his School of Arms and Self Defense.

To quote an article entitled Prize Fighters: Elizabeth Wilkinson-Stokes: The “London Journal” for June 23, 1722, refers to a battle between “two of the feminine gender” who “maintained the battle with great valour for a long time, to the no small satisfaction of the spectators.” After this description the advertisement appeared: “I, Elizabeth Wilkinson of Clerkenwell, who had earlier had some words with Hannah Hyfield, ‘challenged and invited’ her adversary to meet her on the stage for three guineas. Each fighter would hold half-a-crown in each hand and the first to drop the money would lose the battle. Elizabeth Wilkinson won on that day. Shortly after this she beat another lady pugilist from Billingsgate – Martha Jones. The only details of this contest are that it lasted 22 minutes.” 

Christopher James Shelton’s article about Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes entitled 1720’s English MMA Fighter cites numerous historical accounts of her remarkable achievements fighting both men and women. Shelton’s article is informative and details her exploits and the historical context for the 18th Century’s version of pugilism.

Shelton was also recently interviewed on the Ringside Boxing Show about Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes. To give a listen, the link is here:  First Female Fighter, Circa 1720.

An article penned by Lucy, on the Georgian London website provides other fascinating quotes from newspapers and other sources to include this account from 1728 in the Daily Post:

At Mr Stokes’s Amphitheatre in Islington Road, this present Monday, being the 7th of October, will be a complete Boxing Match, by the two following Championesses: Whereas I, Ann Field, of Stoke Newington, ass driver, well-known for my abilities in my own defence, whenever it happened in my way, having been affronted by Mrs Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of her best skill in Boxing, for 10 pounds; fair rise and fall…I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not fought this way since I fought the famous Boxing Woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes and gained a complete victory….but as the famous ass-woman of Stowe Newington dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I shall not tail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows I shall present her with will be more difficult to digest than any she ever gave her asses. 

And how about the fact that Stokes earned ten pounds for a fight!  That would be the equivalent of tens of thousands by today’s standards if not more!  I’ll add that there are many other sources on the web, so enjoy your American Labor Day with a bit of history!

It’s been one of those crazy days …

It’s been one of those crazy days …

Up too early after going to bed too late. No time for yoga. Everyone in the family really, really touchy by half. Raining … again. Too much work, but not enough time.  Oh … you know the drill … kvetch, kvetch, kvetch!

When in doubt … grab the popcorn and declare it a movie night!

Tonight’s recommendation isn’t even about boxing per se, but, with a hat tip to Girlboxing pal Christopher Shelton, there’s nothing like a terrific John Ford movie to make everything feel great and grand again.

The film in question is his 1946 rendition of the Shootout at the Ok Corral as rendered in the classic film My Darling Clementine.  The movie stars Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Ward Bond, Linda Darnell, Cathy Downs and the great Walter Brennan.

And for those of you who want to know the true history of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and Bat Masterson in Tombstone, check out Christopher Shelton’s interview on the history of the town plus its place in the history of boxing in the “Wild West” (who knew!!!) The link is here. (The interview is entitled “Wyatt Earp boxing referee scandal.”)

Trailer for My Darling Clementine:

Shakespeare in Tombstone:

The famous Barber and Dance sequences — yep, that’s Henry Fonda in his go-to-meeting duds.

The movie is available from Netflix and from other outlets for video streaming online.

PS — if you’d like to see a classic western tonight, here is the great and wonderful Stagecoach starring a very young John Wayne, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Tim Holt, and Clair Trevor!  As the movie is in the public domain, you can watch the entire film for free on YouTube!