Photo © Ian Coristine/
 You are here:  Back Issues      Archive

Early Pugilism in the Islands

In 1867 the Marquess of Queensbury brought structure to the sport of prize fighting. These rules instituted the three minute round, a 24-foot square ring, wearing of head protection and the count of ten for knockouts. With these innovations modern prize fights was born. The Marques’ rules were not the first as early as 1743 Jack Broughton introduced Broughton’s Rules, which protected a down fighter.

An illustration from Edmund Price’s 1867 book The Science of Self Defense demonstrates a straight right.

What on earth has this to do with the Thousand Islands? In 1891 there were at least two prize fights held on Robbins Island or Picton Island and Grindstone Island. In each case local pugilists were involved Harry Howell, perhaps the best known, Josiah MacAvoy and Joseph Sire.

Harry Howell was probably the best trained. He trained in Boston under the supervision of the famous Champion John L. Sullivan. Sullivan, known a

s the “Boston Strong Boy” was the first American sports figure to earn over a million dollars and was a national celebrity. Sullivan defeated Paddy Ryan in 1882 to become the “Heavyweight Champion of America.”

Ryan here is featured on a trading card issued by Goodwin & Co. in Old Judge Cigarettes. Goodwin & Co. was owned by Charles G. Emery, of Calumet Island, who also owned Robbins or Picton Island and in the Utica Daily Press, 25 August 1891 Picton was referred to as “Emery Island.”

While Sullivan is pictured on a competitor’s cigarette brand.

Harry Howell fought Josiah MacAvoy to a draw on Picton Island in May 1891. The two were scheduled for a return match on 1 November at Picnic Point on Grindstone Island. Meanwhile Harry Howell would fight Clayton pugilist Joseph Sire on Picnic Point on 10 August 1891. The prize was $250.00 and gate money and the Oswego Daily Times referred to the fight as “a genuine prize fight.”

Some sixty years later the Thousand Islands most famous fighter would make his mark. Carman Basilio trained in and loved Alexandria Bay although born in Canastota, NY. Basilio’s career included 56 wins with 27 knockouts, 16 losses and 7 draws. In a Watertown Daily Times article on 4 September 1956, published just eight days before Basilio’s championship fight with Johnny Saxton in the Syracuse War Memorial, Joe Netro, Basilio’s trainer observed “Everything being equal, there’s a building atom bomb being set to explode. Here in the heart of the Thousand Islands Basilio is loading the weapon for the big detonation.”

Rexford M. Ennis, Grindstone Island

© Copyright Rexford M. Ennis 2010, All Rights Reserved


· Wikipedia Basilio, Sullivan and illustrations

· Oswego Daily Times, July 1891 and August 1891

· Watertown Daily Times, 5 August 1891 and 4 September 1956

· Utica Weekly Herald, 4 August 1891

· Utica Daily Press, 25 August 1891

· Oswego Daily Times, 22 November 1899 

Rex Ennis has written several articles for TI Life.   His bio is recorded in Contributors in December, 2008.  Until this past fall Rex and his wife Janet spent several winters on Grindstone Island.  Currently they are experiencing their first winter in Tennessee where Rex is completing a biography of Charles G. Emery.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.