Tom Molineaux, a born slave, was raised in Virginia. His father, also a fighter, trained Tom and his twin brother to successfully bare-knuckle box for the entertainment of his own, and other plantation owners. This was a common, brutal, and bloody business, and frequently ended with slaves very much the worse for wear as rules were often disregarded and savagery was the watchword for the matches. However, after deftly boxing and winning a number of matches - as well as winning a sizable betting purse for his own plantation owner - surprisingly Tom Molineaux was granted his freedom.
Under the impression that both more freedom and dignity in his sporting profession lay overseas, he would travel to Ireland and England to attempt to test his skills and money-making opportunities at the still-tender age of twenty-six. Bare-knuckle matches were a "gentlemanly" pastime of the aristocracy, and as a freedman, Molineaux stood to gain much both as a novelty and an immediate underdog due to the color of his skin. Though free black men were allowed to fight, it would be considered an outrage for a person of color to defeat the popular and almost exclusively white boxers of the era. The reality of his chances despite his evident talent, unfortunately, proved to be quite different due to the bigotry of the time. However, Molineaux became such a figure in popular culture at the time that famous engravings, the figurines, and even a historical novel by George McDonald Fraser, titled Black Ajax, resulted from his unusual career. Tom Molineaux made history by simply stepping into the ring, and became a legend, as well as an enduring object lesson in the unfairness of the odds stacked against him merely for the color of his skin. The figurines depict Tom Cribb as being shorter and slighter than Tom Molineaux. The reality was that Tom Cribb was a beast of a man for the time, standing at six-foot tall.