One of America’s first Black martial artists was a fencer by the name of Thomas Butler. In media of the early 1730s—1733 to be exact—he was known as the ”Pushing and Dancing Master.”
Thomas Butler, Master Fencer
Very little is known about Thomas Butler. He was a slave on the plantation of Alex Vanderdussen in Goose Creek, South Carolina and ran away at least as early as 1732. A notice in a July 1734 edition of the South Carolina Gazette was posted by his master:
“Whereas Thomas Butler, Fencing Master, has been runaway these two years since, and has been entertained by several gentlemen about Ferry who pretend not to know that he had a master, this is therefore desired that they would not do the like in the future…”
Butler’s skill was with the small sword, a rapier-like weapon which became popular as a dueling blade in France. As much of a mystery as his origins are, it’s also unknown when or where he would’ve trained to fence.
Over the two years he escaped from the plantation, he probably entered duels or was in situations where his sword fighting ability was shown. At any rate, he developed a reputation with the sword and had several admirers who likely helped him in his flight to freedom. A reputation that obviously got back to his master in South Carolina.