George Godfrey



Written by Rob Snell   

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Name: George Godfrey
Career Record:click
Alias: Old Chocolate
Nationality: Canadian
Birthplace: Prince Edward Island
Born: 1853-03-30
Died: 1901-10-17
Age at Death: 48
Height: 5′ 10½″

Cause of death was reported as the Dropsy.


George Godfrey, (20 March 185317 October 1901), was born in Charlottetown,Prince Edward Island and was the black Canadian heavyweight boxer that John L. Sullivan refused to fight as a champion. He is not to be confused with the American heavyweight George Godfrey who named himself after our subject.

Godfrey left Canada as a boy to find employment as a porter in Boston's silk importing offices. There he took up boxing, calling himself "Old Chocolate". At a fighting weight of 175 pounds on a 5' 10" frame, he would be considered a light-heavyweight by today's standards. He would engage in an estimated 100 bouts, usually against significantly bigger opponents.

In 1881, a bare-knuckle fight against John L. Sullivan had been scheduled but was stopped by the police. After Sullivan had become champion, he would not fight Godfrey.

The most famous fighters Godfrey beat were Peter Maher, Denver Ed Smith, McHenry Johnson ("Minneapolis Star"), Irish Joe Lannon, Patsy Cardiff, Steve O'Donnell and Joe Doherty. He fought the 20 lbs heavier Peter Jackson from the Virgin Islands (based in Australia) in 1888 and lost the colored championship in the 19th round.


GODFREY, GEORGE (OldChocolate), boxer; b. March 1852 in Charlottetown, son of William Godfrey, a labourer, and Sarah Byers; m. in the United States and had six children; d. 17 Oct. 1901 in Revere, Mass.

      George Godfrey was born in the Bog, a poor part of Charlottetown’s West End. The area had a high concentration of blacks, almost all of whom were descended from slaves brought to the Island in the 1780s as a result of the American revolution. The Bog was notorious locally for its poverty and for bootlegging, prostitution, and other minor crimes. A member of his mother’s family, Peter Byers*, was hanged for theft in 1815, and the year after Godfrey was born his father was convicted of petty larceny and served two weeks in jail for stealing a cow.

      Godfrey received his first boxing instruction in Charlottetown from Dick Cronin. Around 1870 Godfrey moved to Boston, where he worked as a porter. He played baseball, trained in a gymnasium, and took boxing lessons from a “Professor” Bailey. An 1879 win in the heavyweight class at a local boxing competition led to a career as a boxer. Despite being rather old to begin prize-fighting (he was then 27) and somewhat light for his division (at 5 feet 10 1/2 inches he weighed only 175 pounds), he went on to become the “first U. S. colored heavyweight champion” boxer and one of the leading fighters in the world.

      Beginning in 1880, Godfrey, under the name Old Chocolate, fought an estimated one hundred bouts across the United States in the next 16 years. The origin of his professional nickname is difficult to fathom because he was not especially aged and was fairly light-skinned. A similar ring name, Little Chocolate, was given to George Dixon, a contemporary black boxer from Halifax.

Boxing was then largely segregated by race, and although Godfrey fought many of the top black and white heavyweights of his era he was denied the opportunity to cross what contemporaries called the “colour-line” and contend for a championship outside his race. For years he challenged the white boxer John Lawrence Sullivan to fight him but Sullivan, despite claiming he would do so any time the money to be won was sufficient, consistently refused to fight Godfrey or any other black. None the less, Godfrey gained notoriety from a story that an attempt to match him with Sullivan at a private club in Boston was foiled only by the arrival of the police. Godfrey won his title as “the first American colored heavyweight champion” around 1883 and apparently held it until 24 Aug. 1888 when he was defeated in San Francisco after 19 rounds with Australia’s Peter Jackson.

      Godfrey concluded his career in Baltimore, Md, with a victory on 11 Nov. 1895, but continued giving boxing exhibitions, returning to Prince Edward Island for this purpose a few years later. He also operated a gymnasium and boxing school in Boston and invested carefully in property in the area. Consistent with the temperate habits that were frequently cited as playing a role in his long and successful career, he died at his home of natural causes.

      Godfrey was followed to the Boston area by several other black fighters from the Bog, notably George (Budge) Byers, a prominent turn-of-the-century middleweight and light heavyweight. Philadelphian Feab Williams, a leading black heavyweight contender and sparring partner of Jack Dempsey’s in the late 1920s, fought under the name George Godfrey, apparently in tribute to the Island-born boxer.



Fitchburg Daily Sentinel

17 May 1892

Godfrey Defeats Lannon 


Godfrey Comes Out the Victor In the

Fight with Lannon


NEW YORK, May 17.—The large crowd that was looked for to attend the boxing contest between George Godfrey and Joe Lannon at the Coney Island Athletic club did not turn out. The small attendance was attributed to Longstreet's failure to win the Brooklyn handicap, on the theory that the patrons of boxing are big

betters, and the big betters were generally backers of the favorite that did not win the horse race. The crowd that did assemble were of the enthusiastic kind, and they were Lannon champions as a rule. 

The men who put out money on the result of the fight, however, were rather in Godfrey's favor. The colored boxer ruled the odds at 100 to 85 just before the time of entering the ring, although the price fluctuated considerably. 

The men were both in good condition. Gofrey gave his weight as 175 pounds and Lannon  his at 185. Lannon looked stout for his announced weight. Godfrey was apparently in his best shape. Godfrey bad Howie Hodgkins, Frank Steele and Jim Godfrey, his brother. in his corner, and Lannon was helped out by Jack Barnitt, Billy Mahoney and Dan Murphy. Charley Johnson held the watch for Lannon and Tom Kenny did the same

for Godfrey. All those men are Bostonians , except. Johnson, who is the backer of John L Sullivan. Al Smith was referee . 

Only four rounds were fought, but they were of the warmest species. The men were plainly in to fight out a grudge, and they went at each other with all the vim that was in them. Godfrey had the best of it all the way through. Occasionally, Lannon would land a punch with his right hand in Godfrey's stomach, but the colored man never lost his smile, and sent back as good as he received He knocked Lannon down clean in the fourth round, and again went down with him in a clinch, in which Godfrey thumped the white man several times before falling. Lannon was plainly groggy as he tried to rise from the knockdown. He was  thoroughly played out from the blows on the ribs and face that Godfrey had put upon him. 

Just before the end of the fourth round Godfrey rushed his man to a corner, smashed him against the ropes and punched him hard and often. After the gong sounded Godfrey continued to punch and landed a stiff right-hander to Lannon's ribs. Everybody cried "foul," and Lannon tried to fight back, but he was tired and winded, and his blows had no effect. 

After the men went to their corners, Lannon's seconds claimed the decision, and refused to allow their man to go out for another round. The referee would not allow the claim of foul, and gave the verdict to Godfrey. Lannon's friends entered a protest, but Godfrey will probably receive $2200 of the £3000 purse. 

Lannon was pretty well puffed in the face and he had red marks on the ribs and stomach, covering quite an area, when the show was over. Godfrey had a small cut over the left eye and some red on his breast, but otherwise was free from bruises.


The Daily Republican

Fresno, Cal.

14 March 1891


Kilrain – Godfrey 

The Baltimorean Wins In Forty Four Rounds 

SAN FRANCISCO, March 13.— Jake Kilrain of Baltimore, and George Godfrey, (colored) of Boston, met in a finish fight at the California Athletic club to-night for a $5000 trophy. Kilrain, who had been trained by Muldoon, was in fine form. The betting ranged from $100 to $60 to $100 to $75 in his favor. Godfrey had also trained assiduously for the meeting, and much of difference in odds placed on the men was duo solely to the fact that Kilrain's backers were more numerous. 

At 0:52 p..m. Kilrain entered the ring, followed closely by Godfrey. Kilrain was seconded by Muldoon and Jim Hall the Australian, with Ernest Raebor as bottle holder. 

Godfrey’s seconds were Frank Steele and the latter's brother, Jack, while Peter Jackson officiated as bottle-holder Kilrain weighed about 192 to Godfrey's 173 pounds. 

Time was called at 9:53. Godfrey lay well back with left extended, Kilrain standing easily. The men came together. with rights on the ribs. A couple of clinches followed. Kilrain led with his left for Godfrey's ear and was countered by Godfrey. Kilrain got in both hands on face, but the force of the blows was lost by Godfrey breaking ground. 

The men came together again and exchanged a number of blows for the head. 

Second round 

Kilrain led lightly on  Godfrey's shoulder. He seemed disposed to rush matters while the Bostonian exercised more science and stopped several ugly leads. Kilrain got in his right on the ear and closed the round by a rush which was cross-countered by Godfrey. 

Third round 

Kilrain landed a. good left on Godfrey's cheek. The latter rushed, falling short. Some feinting followed at long range. The round closed with a lead and  stop by each man. Kilrain had a light bruise under the left eye. 

Fourth round 

Kilrain swung a powerful left and fell short and the men clinched. Godfrey played his right for the ribs as usual while Kilrain  guarded his head. Godfrey cleverly ducked a wicked left, but soon after caught a punch in the chest that caused him to groan. 

Fifth round 

Godfrey led for the head, falling short. Several clinches followed, Godfrey taking the aggressive. Kilrain for a second time caught Godfrey's head under his arm, but the cries from the spectators caused him to relinquish his purpose of doing damage, Godfrey was apparently much cooler oft the two, and in fighting displayed much good humor. 

Sixth round 

Godfrey  again dodged a wicked left hand swing. Kilrain caught him with the left on the check several times, Godfrey countering on the ribs. Godfrey's left temple was slightly cut. 

Seventh round 

Godfrey essayed several straight two-handed drives at the Baltimorean, who took his time about responding, but eventually scored a lefthander. From the eighth to the thirteenth round the fight progressed slowly ,though there were several sharp exchanges, 

From the eighth to the thirteenth round the fight progressed slowly, though There were several sharp exchanges in one of which Godfrey received a blow which seemed to daze him. There was some sharp fighting during the next half hour, Godfrey receiving the most of punishment. 

Twenty-third round 

Godfrey had up to this time taken punishment sufficient to wear out any pugilist, but the contest apparently was no nearer termination than half an hour before. He continued to receive punches in the mouth, jaw and ear with perfect equanimity that seemed to nonplus the doughty Baltimorean. 

Twenty-fourth round— No damage. 

Twenty-fifth round 

 Godfrey secured but two good blows to his credit in this round, while Kilrain left the glove on the negro's jaw and hammered him repeatedly with the right on the ear. 

Twenty-sixth round

Kilrain again got in under the point of the chin, but as usual was too far away. Kilrain forced him to his corner and punched him right and left, while Godfrey helplessly hugged the ropes. Kilrain finally let up, and the negro, all but knocked out, went to his corner smiling at the end of the round. 

Twenty-seventh round 

 Godfrey received a sounding left on the ear and a couple of short leads on the jaw and a hard right in the ribs, for which he made little return. The contest was preeminently one of endurance, in which the more powerful build of Kilrain was gradually deciding the contest in his favor. 

Twenty-eighth round 

Exchange blows more even. Godfrey getting left inside Kilrain's guard several times. Latter drives, which more than once caught the point of his jaw and kept him from getting to close. 

Twenty-ninth round 

 Barring chance blow Godfrey's chance of winning seemed hopeless but the manner in which he took punch after punch in various parts of his anatomy precluded Kilrain winning in easy canter. 

After the twenty-ninth round Kilrain continued to hammer the colored man but the latter held up well under the punishment In the thirty-sixth round Kilrain started in to force matters and encouraged by the cries of the spectators he throw him to the floor. He then proceeded to knock him about the ring and drove him into his corner, over and against the ropes until it seemed impossible that the negro could stand. Twice he fell into the chair and once he fell helpless through the ropes, and just before the gong sounded he sank helpless to the floor, all but out. He rose two seconds before the gong sounded amid uproarious applause and so great was Kilrain 's exhaustion he could not touch the man who needed but a touch to go to the floor.

Thirty-seventh round 

 Kilrain was too weak to end the fight, though he essayed to do so and this and the few following  rounds, while interesting to witness. were productive of  little injury to either. 

The forty-first, forty-second and forty third rounds passed without any special efforts, but in the forty-fourth round Kilrain woke up and began his long two handed drives for the head and speedily  rendering Godfrey groggy. The latter stood feebly against the ropes unable to do anything, taking whatever punishment, Kilrain had strength to administer. The blows, indeed, were little more than pushes, but they served their purpose. Godfrey went through the ropes landing with his head in a box of sawdust,. He gamely struggled to get into the ring, but only succeeded in getting partly back and hung head downward  over the ropes. He was counted out and carried to his chair amid the cheers of the spectators, who admired  his gameness in the face of  sure defeat. Little or no blood was drawn during the fight. The gloves weighed about half an ounce over the regulation five ounces.