Their first fight in December 1810 (narrated in Pierce Egan's classic Boxiana here) had been an epic affair, lasting 39 rounds. It had also been dogged with controversy. In the 19th round, the crowd of spectators had rushed into the ring, injuring Molineaux's hand, forever miring Cribb's victory in uncertainty. A rematch was inevitable. As Egan put it in Boxiana, "from the excellent specimen which Molineaux portrayed in his contest with the CHAMPION [...] the Moor was entitled to another trial." The fight was scheduled for September 28, 1811.
Coming so close to the War of 1812, at a time when Transatlantic relations were strained, the contests between Cribb and Molineaux were freighted with national - and racial - significance. In Egan's telling words:
Molineaux's rise to fame from a plantation in Virginia had been truly remarkable. His fall was just as precipitous; he drank himself to death by 1815. But his fights with Tom Cribb ensured him a kind of immortality. The English crowd might not have been kind to Molineaux in 1810, but it was with no irony that Molineaux's name was included in a poetic tribute to British boxing and its patriotic significance. He was pictured as one of a number of famous boxers squaring off with Napoleon:
Blackwood's Magazine in 1820. In their account of Cribb and Molineaux's exertions, the brutality of bare-knuckle fighting gave way to a rather extraordinary exhortation of equality:
And Blackwood's was equally happy to indulge in speculation about what might have been:
America's first great champion", Molineaux remained virtually unknown in the land of his birth. As Elliott Gorn describes, "Descriptions of his fights [...] appeared sporadically in the American press. But these second-hand accounts generated a feeble response in America [...] While tens of thousands of Englishmen could recite Molineaux's exploits relatively few Americans even knew his name." Molineaux deserved a better fate then; he deserves a better fate now.
Further reading: Anyone interested in knowing more about the Cribb-Molineaux fights and their rich Regency milieu could do much worse than starting with George MacDonald Fraser's historical novel Black Ajax (1999).