John Old Smoke Morrissey Boxer

Also known as Old Smoke, John Morrissey was born on the 12th of February, 1831. He was Irish-born American and his parents had moved to New York State when John was still a small child. During the early 1850s, John went to San Francisco during the era of the California Gold Rush. He became a bare-knuckle boxer in California and after returning to New York he threw a challenge at Yankee Sullivan and also defeated him. This made John an American Boxing Champion.

During the natural course of time, John became a gambler and also owned several gambling houses in New York City between the year 1850 and 1860.later on in life Morrissey became a US Congressman between 1867 and 1871 from New York. He was backed by Tammany Hall. With time he fell out with the Tammany Hall political machine and became Democratic State Senator for New York between 1876 and 1878. He was elected as an anti-Tammany candidate.

Early Life of John Morrissey

In Ireland, John Morrissey was in Templemore, County Tipperary. Around the year 1833 his parents shifted to the US and settled near Troy, New York. John’s father, Timothy, was a laborer and was the sole bread earner of the family. Timothy had 7 daughters and John, his son. After a few years of formal education, John started working in a wall-paper factory at a tender age of 12 years.

Later, he also worked in a stove foundry and iron-works. By the year 1848, Morrissey started taking part in factional fighting in Troy. These fights were mostly between the Up-Town gangs and Down-Town gangs. He also became the king-pin of the faction for the Down-town gang and was involved in defeating Jack O-Rourke, the leader of the Up-town gang.

In the year 1848, Morrissey shifted to New York and became a deck-hand on a steamer that operated between New York and Albany. He went on to marry Sarah Smith, the daughter of the ship’s captain around 1849. This was the time when John acquired the nickname of Old Smoke due to the result of a fight. There was a story that goes to say that Morrissey was pinned on his back during one fight against Thomas McCann, who was a noted right-and-tumble fighter.

Morrissey was pinned on his back atop burning coals from a stove that was overturned. After enduring the pain of burning flesh, John fought off McCann and stood up on his feet. He went on to beat McCann senselessly with smoke rising from his burning flesh. This even earned him the name Old Smoke. This nickname stayed with him for the rest of his life.

Winner of the Heavyweight Championship

Morrissey appeared for the first time in a professional prize fighting ring during his time in California. He defeated George Thompson on 31st August, 1852 at Mare Island, California. He defeated George in the 11th round that earned him $5000. This incident encouraged him to return to New York and challenge Yankee Sullivan, who was the American Champion.

Morrissey challenged Sullivan multiple times before the latter finally agreed. During the 1850s, boxing was termed as an illegal sport in most parts due to its violent nature. Various articles for the fight between the two parties were signed on 1st September 1853. 2 days after signing the articles, Morrissey went for training. The fight took place on the 12thof October, 1853 in a hamlet of Boston Corners. It was in Massachusetts at that time. The fight continued till the 37th round and due to a general riot in which the crowd broke into the ring Morrissey was declared as the winner.

Bill Poole Murder

With time, Morrissey became involved in Democratic politics in New York City and also developed a rivalry with William Poole. William was also popular as Bill the Butcher at that time. He was also a boxer and the leader of the rival Bowery Boys, who were the enforcers for the Know-Nothing Party. At the corner of West and Amos Street, a fight was organized between Morrissey and Poole on the 8th of August, 1854. According to a report in a newspaper, Poole threw Morrissey on the ground after some sparring. He also got on top of Morrissey and after gouging, pounding, biting and bucking Morrissey, he was ultimately forced to concede the fight to Poole.

In the month of February, 1855, Jim Turner and Lew Baker, two of John’s friends, shot and ultimately fatally wounded William Poole at Stanwix Hall, which was a saloon on Broadway. Morrissey and Baker were charged with murder of Poole. However, the charges were soon dropped after three trials resulted in hung juries.

Political Career

In 1866, Morrissey ran for Congress with the help of Tammany Hall as his backup. Although the other political rivals kept on pointing out Morrissey’s several convictions and indictments for different crimes, he managed to become a Congressman and also served two terms from 1867 to 1871 in the House. This was during the 40th and the 41st United States Congress. Once he became a Congressman, Morrissey was always interested in fulfilling the interests of the Irish. He was also popular for using strong-arm tactics to reach his legislative goals. He was also alleged to declare that he can lick any man in the House.

As the corruption in Tammany Hall kept on growing, he eventually grew tired of it all and decided to leave the House after his second term. He also finally testified against William Tweed that helped Tweed get behind bars. He was also elected as the Anti-Tammany Democrat in 1875 to the New York State Senate and later got re-elected in 1877. Thus, he was seen sitting in the 99th, 100th, and 101st New York State Legislatures.

John Morrissey died on 1st of May, 1878 at the age of 47. He died due to pneumonia. On his death, all the offices were closed by the state and the flags were flown at half-mast. Many people attended his funeral.

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