Richmond Unchained by Luke G. Williams

Edited to add: If you’re reading this post without attribution, then you’re at a site that scrapes content without credit to the original author. The author of this post is Carolyn Jewel. This is a great book and you should totally buy it while giving a hard side-eye to people who make it look like they did all the hard work of reading, contacting the author, and writing this post.

Preface: Today I have author Luke Williams here with a guest post about his biography of Regency era boxer, Bill Richmond. I read this book and absolutely loved it. I stayed up late reading every night until I finished it. Richmond’s story is fascinating and gripping and it’s beautifully written.  I’m giving away a copy to a commenter, rules below.

Luke Williams about his biography of Bill Richmond, Richmond Unchained

It’s a pleasure to have been asked to write a guest post here about my new book Richmond Unchained. Given that most people probably haven’t heard of the remarkable man who is the subject of my book, I figured that some background info would be useful for you all.

Cover of Richmond Unchained, a barechested Black man in yellow breeches in a boxing pose

Cover of Richmond Unchained

Sub-titled The biography of the world’s first black sporting superstar the subject of my book is the life of Bill Richmond, a black man who was born a slave in Staten Island in 1763. Bill’s initially bleak prospects in life were immeasurably enhanced by the altruism of a British soldier named Earl Hugh Percy, who met Bill when he was a teenager, took a shine to him and persuaded his slave owner to free him.

Percy brought Bill back to England and paid for him to be educated. By the 1790s, Bill was leading a respectable existence in London with his wife and children as a literate and trained cabinet-maker. In 1805, though, Bill’s life took a remarkable twist when, despite already being in his forties, he decided to try his hand in the sporting arena. It seemed an act of madness but, within a few short years, Bill was one of the top boxers in the country, at a time when ‘pugilism’ was perhaps the most fashionable spectator sport among both the upper and working classes.

 

Richmond by Hillman, watercolor sketch of a black man in a green Regency coat and a red neckcloth

Richmond By Hillman

Bill became so famous and feted that he was among a group of boxers enlisted by George IV to act as ushers at the coronation celebrations of 1821 in Westminster, while his skills as a pugilistic and gymnastic tutor saw him mix with the nobility and the literati, William Hazlitt and Lord Byron among them.

I first came across the bare bones of Bill’s life story in the late 1990s. Given his status as the first black sportsman in history to achieve widespread fame, and the Dickensian rags to riches narrative of his life – complete with mystery benefactors and a fair dollop of both glory and tragedy – it astonished me that no one had written a full biography of his life.

From the moment I began carefully researching Bill’s life in 2003, with the intention of eventually writing a book about him, I was convinced that someone else would come along and ‘beat me to the punch’ by writing a rival book. But no one ever did … so when Richmond Unchained was finally published in August of this year it represented the first full-length account of Bill’s life story.

Pen and ink drawing of Richmond wearing clothing from 1600s against a background of the coronation of George IV

Bill Richmond at the coronation celebrations of George IV (original art by Trevor Von Eeden)

 

‘Black history’ has traditionally received a raw deal from publishers and mainstream historians in the UK and I think it is crucial, given the wonderful, multicultural and multi-ethnic society that modern-day Britain has become, that the stories of significant figures from black history such as Bill Richmond are now told.

Thankfully, my publishers Amberley agreed, although it is worth pointing out that five other publishers passed on my proposal – one claiming Bill’s story was too ‘niche’, while the other four neglected to even send me the courtesy of a rejection letter.

My main ambition in writing this book has been to ensure that more people learn about Bill Richmond, a truly ground-breaking ‘man of colour’, who succeeded, against all the odds, in winning fame and respect in Georgian England, during an age when slavery was still in operation throughout the British Empire and America.

To these ends, I was also delighted when Shepherd Neame brewery agreed to my proposal to honour Bill in the form of a memorial portrait at their Tom Cribb pub in central London – a location which holds great significance in Bill’s life. (Find out more about this here: billrichmond.blogspot.co.uk)

The author and Earl George Percy at the unveiling of the Richmond tribute. They are standing at either side of a framed picture of Richmond

The author and Earl George Percy at the unveiling

When Bill’s portrait was unveiled at a recent launch event for Richmond Unchained, in this very same pub, what made the moment even more significant and fitting in my eyes, was the fact that the ‘unveiler’ was Earl George Percy – a direct descendant of Richmond’s benefactor Hugh Percy.

As I stood next to George, with news cameras capturing the moment for television and admirers of Bill Richmond surrounding us, I like to think that Bill would have been proud.

Where to Get Richmond Unchained

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amberley Books (UK) | B&N | Kobo | Google Play | iBooks

The Giveaway

I’m giving a copy of the book to one commenter. It’s out in digital format now, print forthcoming. So I can (probably) send you your choice of format. If you’re in the US, it should be pretty easy. If you’re outside the US, it’s a little trickier, but we’ll work it out. I might not be able to get you a digital copy.

Rules: Must be 18 to enter. Void where prohibited. No purchase necessary. Prize will be awarded to an alternate winner if the winner does not respond to notifications from me.

To enter, leave a comment to this blog post. It would be awesome if you comment about the post, but telling me what color breeches you think Richmond should be wearing is fine. (It’s yellow on the book cover.) Leave your comment by 11:59:59 PM Pacific Time Wednesday September 9, 2015.
GO.

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6 Responses to “Richmond Unchained by Luke G. Williams”

  1. Phyl says:

    I’m OK with the yellow breeches, so I’ve got nothing there. But seriously, this book does sound very interesting. I’m amazed that Richmond didn’t start boxing until he was in his 40s and then spent almost a couple of decades in the public eye. In our day and age most sports figures (unless they move to TV) fade from competition and public view. Remarkable.

    • The age Bill began boxing professionally really is remarkable. Some of his pugilistic contemporaries died well before their 40s! One of the secrets to Bill’s longevity was his restrained lifestyle – he was not indulgent with drink and alcohol and always kept himself trim.

  2. David says:

    I’m not trying to win a copy (I already have the book), but I can endorse Carolyn Jewel’s comments about the quality of Luke G Williams writing.
    I would recommend that those interested in this topic or era also check out the RichmondUnchained Blog/website for all the ‘extras’ material etc.

  3. Isobel Carr says:

    This is so cool. I’ve been eyeing that book for awhile. I just got one about private menageries that I’m going to talk about on Risky Regencies next week.

  4. bn100 says:

    interesting person and info

  5. Thanks to all commenters for their kind words and interest. So happy that more people are discovering the amazing achievements of Bill Richmond! Luke G. Williams