George Godfrey (1852-1901) is believed to have been the first black heavyweight champion boxer. Although based in Boston, Massachusetts for most of his life, George was actually born and raised in "The West Bog" -- an almost forgotten neighbourhood in the history of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Established around 1810, and existing until the turn of the century, "The Bog" was home to a relatively poor, racially-mixed community on the west end of Charlottetown. A large proportion of those living in that area were of African descent -- the legacy of a small population of slaves brought to the Island in the mid-Eighteenth century. Emancipation came early relative to other places, but racism and class hierarchies lingered well after that period. The neighbourhood was virtually ignored by the outside world, aside from the excessive attention paid by the criminal justice system. Relatively little is known, as a result, of the actual people within this historic community.
In spite of the small population, the Bog had its own hockey and baseball teams, as well as a string of skilled boxers who became prominent after emigrating to Boston. George Godfrey was one of them. In fact, according to early records, he trained at a Richmond Street boxing academy run by Professor Dick Cronin.
In 1870, at age 18, Godfrey left the Island. He was just like many other young Maritimers, lured by the hopes of better opportunity in large cities like Boston. While employed as a porter at a firm of silk importers, he gained notoriety after winning a local competition in 1879. Although he was a small man (at 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches and 175 pounds), and already in his late twenties, Godfrey was armed with a powerful knock-out punch: a short right to the heart.
Boxing at this period was not standardized: it was bare knuckle and mostly unregulated. In some places, prizefighting was a criminal activity and had to be hidden away in private clubs. The police actively interfered in shutting down matches in parts of Boston.
Undaunted, Godfrey (who boxed under the name "Old Chocolate") had defeated every known incumbent to the title of American black heavyweight champion by 1883. He had also knocked out several famous white heavyweights, such as Patsy Cardiff and Joe Lannon. He might have conquered the official, white heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan, had the latter not refused to fight him. Godfrey remained undefeated until 1888 when, as a thirty-six year old veteran, he was matched with a much younger, Australian boxer, Peter Jackson. Incidentally, it still took Jackson nineteen rounds.
Fighting professionally until 1895, Godfrey set up a boxing academy of his own at Scollay Square in Boston. He also became successful as a financier, possessing large bits of land in Chelsea and Revere, Massacusetts. Unfortunately, he passed away from an unknown illness on August 18, 1901. He left behind a family of six.
Before he died, Godfrey did return to his Prince Edward Island birthplace, stopping there as part of a touring boxing exhibition. By then, the Bog had almost entirely disappeared from the map of the city after outmigration and assimilation. After 1900, the land was rapidly drained, resodded, paved over, and built upon. There are now three ugly, sterile concrete buildings(built circa. 1974) taking up the space. Ironically, they constitute the home of provincial government bureaucracy on P.E.I..
Currently, there is also a group of University of Prince Edward Island students agitating to have, at the very least, a plaque situated on the square. It is a chapter of P.E.I. history that does not deserve to remain forgotten.
Source Hornby, Jim. Black Islanders: Prince Edward Island's Historical Black Community Charlottetown: Institute of Island Studies, 1991.