Who was the ‘Black Terror’?

William Richmond was a mild-mannered chap, known for his quick wit, elegant dress, politeness and sobriety. But when he stepped into the boxing ring he became the 'Black Terror'

Picture of boxer William Richmond

Though born an American slave, Richmond overcame racist abuse and nationalistic tub-thumping to become Britain’s first black sporting celebrity, and was much admired thanks to his sublime technique.


Astonishingly, he only began fighting aged 41, having already experienced a life of considerable drama.

He’d been born a slave in 1763 on Staten Island and, when the American Revolution broke out, he’d allegedly assisted in the execution of the spy, Nathan Hale, and then immediately after seems to have fought for the British Army, despite only being 13 years old.

He’d then been brought to Yorkshire by his commanding officer, the Earl of Northumberland, who charitably funded his apprenticeship to a cabinet-maker in York.

Yet, after becoming a craftsman and marrying a local woman, Richmond somehow ended up as bodyguard to the notorious young rake, Lord Camelford, who introduced him to the thrill of London’s bareknuckle boxing scene. When his controversial patron died in a duel, Richmond took the plunge and became a professional boxer, soon to acquire that famous nickname thanks to his dynamic footwork.

Lord Camelford introduced Richmond to the thrill of London’s bareknuckle boxing scene

But, being quite small, he was unable to beat the huge English champion, Tom Cribb, and so instead opened his own gym where he trained others in the pugilistic science, including ex-slaves and a bevy of literary celebrities, such as Lord Byron.


Sadly, despite boxing into his 60s, Richmond died impoverished, but his reputation endured and his obituary was published in The Times.

This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine