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John L. Sullivan, The Boston Strong Boy: Topics in Chronicling America

John L. Sullivan was the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing and remembered as the "Boston Strong Boy." This guide provides access to materials related to “John L. Sullivan” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"John L. Sullivan in his prime." February 4, 1918. The Washington Times (Washington, DC), Image 16. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

America’s first heavyweight hero, John L. Sullivan, is brute force incarnate—his size and power are mythical. The “Boston Strong Boy” elevates bare-knuckle boxing to a mainstream sport and becomes the first great American boxer. He is the last world champion bare-knuckle boxer. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


February 7, 1882 Sullivan knocks out Paddy Ryan in a bare knuckle match in Mississippi City, MS.
November 13, 1886 Sullivan and Ryan meet again in the ring. Sullivan wins the gloved match in just three rounds.
March 16, 1888 Sullivan fights Englishman Charley Mitchell to a draw in Chantilly, France.
April 24, 1888 Sullivan returns home and announces his willingness to fight any man in the world for “any part of $10,000.”
December 1, 1888 Jake Kilrain issues a challenge to Sullivan for a $5,000 bare-knuckle match. June 1889 Newspapers speculate about the outcome of the Sullivan v. Killrain bout.
July 8, 1889 A crowd of 3,000 gathers in rural Mississippi to witness John L. Sullivan defeats Jake Kilrain. The fight gained national coverage and Sullivan was crowned champion. Sullivan declares that he will never enter the ring again.
September 1889 Sullivan announces his intention to run for Congress. September 7, 1892 Sullivan loses his heavyweight title to Jim Corbett. Sullivan immediately retires.
1915 Sullivan begins to publicly advocate for temperance and speaks of his own struggles with alcohol.
February 2, 1918 John L. Sullivan dies. He takes his heavyweight bare-knuckle title to the grave.