A Born Fighter
James Corbett was born to Irish immigrant parents in San Francisco, California in 1866. His parents were devout Catholics, and they envisioned a life in the priesthood for their son, who was named after his father's brother, a Catholic priest back in the old country. (Corbett's parents met a tragic end when, on August 16, 1898, Corbett's father, who had been in declining mental health for some time, murdered Corbett's mother with a revolver and then shot and killed himself in their home in San Francisco.).
Corbett's father supported his family, ten children in all, by running a livery stable. Corbett, in later years, would describe the street of his childhood home as a dirt track whose major businesses were saloons.
Corbett first realized his calling when he took on his parochial school bully. Although the bully was older and stronger than Corbett, Corbett began to get the better of him, instinctively stepping out of the way of his blows, and looking at one part of the other boy's body to distract him, while attacking another. Corbett later wrote in his autobiography, The Roar of the Crowd, that he would have won the fight if the bully had not sat on him to pin him down before pummeling him.
Both boys were expelled from their school for fighting, but the encounter was to have a lasting impression on the future boxer. He learned, among other things, that he could beat a bigger and stronger opponent by being light on his feet, and quick.
After their son was expelled from his next school, again for fighting, Corbett's parents finally had to admit that their boy was not a scholar. So, at the age of 14, Corbett was sent to work as a clerk for a local company. He did well at this job, and when the opportunity came to work for one of his father's customers, a banker, he jumped at the chance. Starting out as a messenger, he rose through the company ranks over the next six years to become a bank teller.