History of Boston Corner New York

About the town Boston Corner which was ceded to New York after a boxing heavyweight championship.


From: ARTHUR MYERS (Pittsfield, Mass.)

Back in 1853 a heavyweight championship prizefight was held that resulted in the transfer of a town from Massachusetts to the state of New York.

The town-its correct name is Boston Corner-was then often called Oblong, or even more often "Hell's Acre." If you take a look at a modern map, you'll notice that there is a slight oblong-shaped chink in the southwestern corner of Massachusetts. There didn't used to be; the Massachusetts state line ran straight down, and Boston Corner was part of that state.

This caused a law enforcement problem. Between Boston Corner and the rest of Massachusetts reared the Taconic Range, small mountains but difficult to get over in those days, and the lawmen from the town of Great Barrington rarely visited it. As a result, Boston Corner was a den of thieves. It was particularly favored as a handy place to dye racehorses stolen from nearby Saratoga so that they could be raced incognito on Long Island. The solid citizens of Boston Corner pleaded that the town be transferred from Massachusetts to New York State so that law enforcement would be more readily available, but neither state legislature took any action. That is, until the town's date with destiny.

In those days, it was difficult to tell who was a boxing champion, since boxing was illegal and the bouts were held in a secrecy that discouraged stratified ratings. But it was conceded that the two main contenders for the title of heavy-weight champion were John Morrissey and Yankee Sullivan, both of New York. Morrissey was a big, handsome broth of a lad who at the age of 23 already owned a popular bar, the Gem, on lower Broadway. Sullivan was, at 40, almost old enough to be Morrissey's father, and he weighed only about 150 lb., some 30 less than Morrissey. But he was a tough, experienced battler, so clever in the ring that he was called "Old Smoke."

On Sept. 1, 1853, articles were signed, with a purse of $2,000, the site to be within 100 mi. of New York City. The Harlem Railroad had just been built, so Boston Corner was accessible. It was just the place.

A ring was set up on the drying ground of an old brickyard, and hours before the fight was scheduled to start thousands of gamblers and fans were milling around. The fighters showed up at the last minute, taking as little chance as possible of the lawmen's making it over from Great Barrington.

The fight went on, bitter, bloody, with Sullivan forging slightly but steadily ahead. It lasted for 37 rounds. In the 37th round, Sullivan glanced into the crowd, where many subsidiary fights had broken out, and saw a friend take one on the jaw. Enraged, he jumped from the ring to take after his friend's assailant. After some moments of indecision, the referee raised Morrissey's hand in victory.

As soon as the fight ended, the Massachusetts lawmen, who had shown up after all, collared Morrissey, and he was tossed into the clink in Lenox, Mass. He was prosecuted by a young district attorney named Henry L. Dawes, and fined $1,200.

Because of the publicity, New York and Massachusetts legislators became convinced that something had to be done, and a few months after the fight, Boston Corner was ceded to New York.

Sullivan drifted west to San Francisco, where his fighting ability brought him to such prominence that he was hanged by a vigilance committee in 1856.

Morrissey and his prosecutor, Henry Dawes, next met in the halls of Congress. Morrissey had risen in politics through Tammany Hall. Dawes related that he was wary of the reception he would receive from Morrissey when they first met as congressmen in Washington, but that Morrissey greeted him like a long-lost brother, and they became great friends.

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