From Heavyweight Champion To Irish Mob Boss To New York Senator

Grace Higgins | November 10th, 2020

John Morrissey was an Irish-born American who dominated New York politics during the Gilded Age of the Northern United States. This was a period in the late 19th century starting from the 1870s when the country saw rapid economic growth and extreme political corruption. It was one of the periods where Europeans migrated in masses because American wages grew much higher than in Europe. Nicknamed Old Smoke, a reference to the time he pinned onto a stove that burned his flesh but he kept on fighting: the journey of how John Morrissey became a politician is a crazy one.

In the early 1850s, John was a big gambler who went to San Francisco at the height of the Californian Gold Rush. He didn’t have any luck finding gold, but he made a fortune by winning gold off prospectors. During this time he became a well-known bare-knuckle boxer. Returning to New York he immediately challenged the biggest heavyweight boxer and won the title. His prizefighting wins continued, as a result, he launched his own gambling establishments. At one point owning a stake in over 16 casinos and had a major role in creating the Saratoga Racetrack. It was at this point many started to suspect that Morrissey was actually a leader of the Irish Mob.

It definitely was true that on his voyage to Europe to watch the famous Heenan vs Tom Sayers fight he stopped by Queenstown in County Cork for several hours. Here crowds of people came up to Morrisey as admirers and presented him with gifts.

In 1866 he switched his focus to politics, running for congress. Despite many rivals pointing, Morrisey had various convictions and indictments. However, he was backed by Tammany Hall, the major political force of the Democratic party with Irish origins. He was well known for looking after Irish interests and strong-arming legislations to accomplish his goals. Eventually, he fell out with Tammany Hall over the rampant corruption but returned to politics as an anti-candidate.

The real crazy part was he did all this before the age of 47 when he died from pneumonia. John Morrissey is now seen as one of the first Irish mob bosses in American History.

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