Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Prize Fighting At Pelham Bridge in 1884

In 1812 a bridge across the mouth of the Hutchinson River opened. Before then, today's Shore Road ended where Pelham Neck met the waters of the bay at that location. The bridge was destroyed by a storm four years later and reportedly was not rebuilt until 1834. At that time, abundant fish and water fowl in the area attracted outdoor sportsmen from New York.

By 1884, the area had begun to attract a different type of sportsmen -- those interested in the "sweet science" of boxing. A tiny community that included a hotel had sprung up around Pelham Bridge. In a shed behind the hotel men would gather to watch prize fights. These prize fights, however, were illegal in Westchester County and soon caught the attention of local authorities.

What follows is a news account of one such instance that is so interesting I am including it in its entirety.


Sheriff Stephen D. Horton, of Westchester County, was informed by telephone at White Plains from Police Head-quarters in this city, at about 2 o'clock yesterday morning, that a prize-fight was to take place early in the morning at Pelham. With two Deputies, John Duffy and John Brogan, at about 3 o'clock he set out in a close hack in the driving rain, though he did not know definitely where it was to take place as there are a number of Pelhams -- Pelham Manor, Pelhamville, Pelham Priory, and Pelham Bridge. They drove direct to New-Rochelle, and there they got word that the fight was probably at Pelham Bridge, and for that place they started. When nearing that spot they were passed by a wagon-load of drunken men, who seemed to be in a hurry to get away from them. As they were a suspicious-looking gang, they were followed until their wagon broke down and they were dumped in the mud in the middle of the road. When that happened the Sheriff and his party were very near Pelham Bridge, so it was decided to go there first.

The Sheriff and his companions crossed the bridge and drew up in front of Ryan's Hotel. From the groups of men about it it was evident that they were at the right place. The party got out of the carriage and entered the hotel. The Sheriff was recognized by some of the crowd, and most of the by standers slunk away as quickly as possible. It was learned that the fight had just been finished, and that the principals had retired to their rooms on the second floor. The fight had taken place in a shed at the rear of the hotel. The Sheriff demanded to be taken to the men's rooms and after some hesitation he was shown to them. He was first taken into the room of James Murray, whom he found sitting on the edge of his bed, still in his ring costume, not having had time to dress. The Sheriff informed him that he was his prisoner. Murray was disposed to take the matter as a joke and laughingly dared the Sheriff to arrest him. When the latter produced a pair of handcuffs, however, he submitted, claiming that the contest had been only an exhibition and that they had used soft gloves. The other principal, Thomas Henry, was in a room on the opposite side of the hall. He refused to unlock his door, and the Sheriff told Deputy Duffy to break it down, which he did in short order, being a man of muscular build. Henry was also found in his ring costume and promptly handcuffed.

While this was going on the dozen or more men who had remained about the place had been talking about attempting to rescue the prisoners. Sheriff Horton, when he heard of this, went down to them and told them that he was the Sheriff of Westchester County, that he had arrested the men for violating the law by engaging in a prize-fight, and that he intended to take them with him to the White Plains Jail. His determined air had the desired effect, and no more threats of a rescue were indulged in. Two hacks were then procured, and the Sheriff, with the prisoners and the Deputies, drove off. At New-Rochelle the party boarded a train and came to this city. Here they took the 11:20 A.M. train on the New-York and Harlem Railroad for White Plains, where they arrived an hour later.

The men were arraigned before Justice Long later in the afternoon. James Murray said he lived in Providence, R. I., and that there had not been a prize-fight, but only a soft glove exhibition. Thomas Henry said he was an Englishman, and corroborated Murray's version of the affair. They were remanded for further examination this morning. The Sheriff said that he had found a regular rope ring, and some hard gloves, but they had not been used. There had been three rounds fought, in which the Englishman came out victorious, winning the stakes which were $300 a side. Henry had a black eye and Murray had his ear and lip badly cut. There were about 500 persons present at the fight. This is the first arrest for prize-fighting that has been made in Westchester County in a good many years."

Source: Caught In Their Ring Dress. Sheriff Horton Arrests Two Prize-Fighters At Pelham Bridge., N.Y. Times, Feb. 21, 1884, p. 8.

There is no known record of what happened to the loser of the fight, James Murray. We know, however, that the winner of the fight, Englishman Thomas Henry, went to jail for his participation in the prize fight. We know this because of a small item published a year later that stated: "Thomas Henry, the pugilist, who a year ago was arrested for engaging in a prize fight at Pelham Bridge, was yesterday discharged from the White Plains Jail. After several trials and appeals, he had been sentenced to 30 days' imprisonment in the county jail and to pay a fine of $150. He served his 30 days and was working out his fine at a dollar a day and had paid $50 in this manner when, it being represented to Judge Mills that he had no money, he discharged him from custody." Source: Prize-Fighter Henry Liberated, N.Y. Times, Mar. 20, 1885, p. 8.

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