Country McCleester

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John McCleester
Nationality American
Other names George McCheester
Country McCleester
Country McCloskey
Occupation Sportsman and pugilist
Employer Tammany Hall
Known for lieutenant of Colonel Isaiah Rynders; cornerman of Yankee Sullivan.
Home town New York City, New York, United States
Weight 180 lb (82 kg)
Political party Democratic Party

George "Country McCloskey" McCheester or John McCleester (fl. 1841-1850) was an American bare-knuckle boxer and sportsman involved in the early history of pugilism and prize fighting in Old New York. A well known fighter in his youth, his 1841 bout with Tom Hyer at Caldwell's Landing reportedly lasted nearly 3 hours and went to 101 rounds [1] before the "Pride of Chatham Square" seconds threw up the sponge.[2][3] Considered one of the greatest fights in the city's history, Hyer was recognized as the top fighter in the United States and awarded the American heavyweight championship.[4][5][6][7] He and Yankee Sullivan were part of a group of promoters arrested following the death of boxer Thomas McCoy who died during a match against Christopher Lilly in Westchester County on September 13, 1842. Sullivan, who was the main promoter, was sentenced to two years in prison while McCleester and the others received light jail sentences or fines. McCleester had served as one of the cornermen during the bout.[8]

McCleester first became involved with Captain Isaiah Rynders' Empire Club with John Morrissey during the early 1840s [5][9] and eventually became an active member of the Democratic Party. Around the time of the nomination for Henry Clay, Johnny Austin was supposed to have been offered $2,000 to bring himself and several members over to the rival Whig Unionist Club including McCleester, Manny Kelly, Bill Ford, Mike Philips and Dave Scandlin. It was hoped that McCleester and the others would be able to bolster support for the Whigs, but the offer was refused.[10]

Involved in graft, corruption and election fraud in Manhattan's Sixth Ward during the 1840s and 50s, later to become known as the Tweed Ring, McCleester was one of several lieutenants to Isaiah Rynders, along with Dirty Face Jack,[11][12] Edward Z.C. Judson and Yankee Sullivan.[13][14] He later accompanied Yankee Sullivan as his cornerman during Sullivan's much publicized battle against Hyer in Still Pond Creek, Maryland on February 7, 1849. After the 16th round, McCleester signaled to the referee to stop the match.[4][6] Three months later, he and Dirty Face Jack assisted Rynders in instigating the Astor Place Riot in which an Irish-American mob chased British actor William Charles Macready from the Astor Opera House.[13]

He was among several prominent sportsmen who supported Rynders when, in the autumn of 1850, he announced his intention to become active in the Sixth Ward and run for the state assembly. McCleester was present along with Bill Ford, Tom Maguire and Hen Chenfrau when Rynders attended the primary meeting at Dooley's Long Room with "hundreds of the captain's friends". Opposition from Matthew T. Brennan, Constantine J. Donoho and other Five Points political leaders however, who considered the political club thugs and squatters, eventually defeated Rynders over control of the ward.[15][16]


  1. ^ Siler, George. Inside Facts on Pugilism. Chicago: Laird & Lee Publishers, 1907. (pg. 144)
  2. ^ Hearst, W.H., ed. The American Almanac, Year-book, Cyclopaedia and Atlas. New York American and Journal, Hearst's Chicago American and San Francisco Examiner, 1903. (pg. 665)
  3. ^ Wignall, Trevor C. The Story of Boxing. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923. (pg. 211)
  4. ^ a b Timony, Patrick. The American Fistiana: Containing a History of Prize Fighting in the United States, with All the Principal Battles for the Last Forty Years, and a Full and Precise Account of All the Particulars of the Great $10,000 Match Between Sullivan and Hyer, with Their Method of Training for the Fight. New York: H. Johnson, 1849. (pg. 1-29)
  5. ^ a b Adelman, Melvin L. A Sporting Time: New York City and the Rise of Modern Athletics, 1820-70. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990. (pg. 231, 237)
  6. ^ a b Anbinder, Tyler. Five Points: The 19th-century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. (pg. 203, 205) ISBN 0-684-85995-5
  7. ^ Isenberg, Michael T. John L. Sullivan and His America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. (pg. 77) ISBN 0-252-06434-8
  8. ^ Downey, Fairex. Our Lusty Forefathers. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947. (pg. 310)
  9. ^ Moss, Frank. The American Metropolis from Knickerbocker Days to the Present Time. London: The Authors' Syndicate, 1897. (pg. 379)
  10. ^ Myers, Gustavus. The History of Tammany Hall. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1917. (pg. 137)
  11. ^ Terrett, Courtenay. Only Saps Work: A Ballyhoo for Racketeering. New York: Vanguard Press, 1930. (pg. 43)
  12. ^ Burgess, Anthony. New York. New York: Time-Life Books, 1970. (pg. 1134)
  13. ^ a b Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928. (pg. 39-40) ISBN 1-56025-275-8
  14. ^ Callow, Alexander B. The Tweed Ring: Corruption in New York politics, 1866 to 1871. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. (pg. 58)
  15. ^ Kernan, J. Frank. Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies and Volunteer Fire Departments of New York and Brooklyn: Together with a Complete History of the Paid Departments of Both Cities. New York: M. Crane, 1885. (pg. 54)
  16. ^ Kenny, Kevin. New Directions in Irish-American History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. (pg. 114) ISBN 0-299-18714-4
Further reading
  • Harlow, Alvin F. Old Bowery Days: The Chronicles of a Famous Street. New York and London: D. Appleton & Company, 1931.
Preceded by
Heavyweight boxing champion
Succeeded by
Tom Hyer