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Portait of Richard Crafus courtesy of the New England Historical Society.

The curious story of Richard Crafus

This week we’re sharing a short story about a War of 1812 privateer believed to be from Vienna, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This story is a bit mysterious, and represents a larger-than-life character.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and curious stories of the War of 1812 is that of Richard Crafus. Richard, an African-American sailor believed to be from Dorchester County, was captured from the American privateer Racoon off Bordeaux, France, in March 1814.

Like many prisoners of war during the conflict, he was sent to the infamous Dartmoor Prison. He arrived on October 9, 1814, forced to march seventeen miles to the gloomy stone prison. There he dominated Cell Block 4, largely populated by African-American prisoners. He earned the nickname “King Dick” and became one of the most famous men in the prison.

Standing at 6’ 3”, Richard was physically powerful and a masterful bare-knuckle boxer. While imprisoned, he taught fellow prisoners how to wrestle and box. Richard also negotiated with prison authorities and kept order among the prisoners. He made daily rounds, checking each berth for infractions. He wore a bearskin grenadiers’ cap as a symbol of his authority.

Some historians believe that after the war Richard Crafus went to Boston, where he rose to leadership in the city’s African-American community. Boston’s King Dick taught boxing 1826-1835 in a tenement on St. Botolph Street, wearing a red vest, white shirt, and carrying a cane. He also wore an old-style police cap because he served as an auxiliary police officer.

King Dick led an annual procession around Boston Common on Election Day, after which he gave a patriotic speech.

Information for this post courtesy of the New England Historical Society. If you are interested in learning more here’s the link.