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A Medford tax Payer. Lemuel Cox, the Bridge builder and inventor.

by Walter Kendall Watkins, Malden.
Continued from Vol. X., No. 2.

25 February, 1790, Lemuel Cox prepared and presented to the Massachusetts Legislature the following petition, some of the facts of which I have already presented:—

Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled.
The petition of Lemuel Cox of Boston in the County of Suffolk, millwright, Humbly Sheweth—

That in the year of our Lord 1770 your petitioner invented a machine for cutting card wires which machine he hath now by him.

That one John McGlinch and many others unduly got a sight of same and improved upon the same and then pretended to be the Original Inventors of such machine, whereby many thousand of pounds has been saved to this Commonwealth by putting an entire stop to the importation of Wool and Cotton Cards.

That your petitioner in the late War put up the first powder mill in this state.

That he invented a machine for granulating the powder whereby one man could granulate 500 weight in one day and at same time saved the labor of 50 men and supplied the state with that necessary article at that time.

That your petitioner is the sole inventor of the three draws on the late bridges in this state each upon different constructions whereby the conveniency of Vessels are greatly expedited in passing thro the Bridges.

That your petitioner was the first projector of employing the prisoners at Castle William in that valuable branch of Business of Nail making and that by the consent of the Commissary he sent his [p. 58] son to instruct the prisoners then at Castle William which were— 16 in number—

That your petitioner lately constructed a wire mill for drawing steel wire for the making of fish hooks and that himself drew the first wire of that kind that ever was drawn in this state and that he instructed in the method of drawing that and all other kinds of wire from the bigness of half an inch down to the size of a hair.

That your petitioner gave encouragement and (for the benefit of his country) and brought over with him from Ireland in June last a man and his wife with a curious machine whereon the woman can spin fifteen pounds cotton in one day. That the man was the superintendent of a large Cotton Manufactury that had stopped working and that they were Reccommended by a number of Gentlemen of the first character in the City of Londonderry.

That your petitioner by reason of his attention to matters of Original inventions and by reason of his many losses and misfortunes humbly begs leave to say to your Honors that he is yet a Poor Man.

This petition, written shortly after some of the events recited, received favorable action, and a grant was finally made, 26 January, 1796, of lands in the eastern parts, in the district of Maine, amounting to one thousand acres.

If the claims recited had not been true, parties interested were still alive, and could have refuted the statements in his petition.

The delay in passing the resolve can be readily explained by the necessary absence of the petitioner in Ireland, where he was bridge building.

The committee appointed in 1790 reported favorably, and that he should have one thousand acres in township No. 7, bordering on Gouldsborough, Maine. This land, shortly after the grant, was disposed of by him to one of the Amory family of Boston.

William Priest was an English musician who came to Boston to play at the Haymarket Theatre in 1796, and kept a journal, which he published in 1802. He mentions being introduced to Cox, the celebrated bridge builder:

Cox told him he constructed his bridges of wood and always endeavoured to give as little resistance to the water as possible the supports being numerous but slender with intervals between. [p. 59]

The idea first came to Cox from reading Aesop's fable of the “ Reed and the Oak.” The tempest bent the reed and tore up the oak by the roots.

He served his apprenticeship to a carpenter and it was late in life before he attempted bridge building. He proved his new theory on a small bridge in the country with success.

He then contemplated the Charles River Bridge, a subscription was raised and the bridge built, he was rewarded with $200 above his contract.

He built seven bridges in Ireland the largest at Londonderry, 1860 ft long.

He also states that Capt. John Stone, of Concord, Mass., was the architect of Charlestown Bridge.

At Reed's Corner, at and near the junction of Main, Eden, and Mill streets, Charlestown, a century and more ago, was Mill Village. Mill Lane ran westward, and in the middle of the eighteenth century led to the mills and mill pond, now made land.

At that time the mills were the property of Capt. Robert Temple, grandson of Sir Purbeck Temple, of Stanton Bury, Bucks, England. From the first settlement of Charlestown, Mill Lane had led to the mills and the mill pond, and near by was Mill Hill.

The Webb family were here as millers, shortly after 1700, coming from Braintree. Benjamin Stokes was the miller in the middle of the century, and purchased a share in the mills from Robert Temple, and the balance from his widow in 1757. William Paine, miller, bought five acres of Robert Temple in 1768, and was the executor of Benjamin Stokes on his death.

At the Battle of Bunker Hill part of the mill buildings were destroyed, and the balance by the Americans in January, 1776, during the siege of Boston, as a military necessity. The buildings were eight in all. A large double dwelling, barn 30 × 18, a mill house with two grist mills, store 60 × 24, another 30 × 16, a fulling mill with three pairs of stocks, a smoke house, wharf, and gates to the mill pond. The lot were valued at £ 800. At the corner of Main and Mill streets was the Cape Breton Tavern. [p. 60]

Diana, daughter of William Paine, married Thomas Adams in 1768, and after his father-in-law's death Adams bought, in 1792, of the widow, Mary Paine, five acres north of where the mill stood. On his death his widow, Diana Adams, sold this to William Hawes and Lemuel Cox in 1797, and Cox bought Hawes' interest in 1801.

The Mallett family also had mills and land in the vicinity, and from Isaac Mallett's executors Lemuel Cox bought two and one-half acres in 1798. Soon after this he erected mills, which he leased in 1801 and 1802. In 1803 he sold the mill estate bought of Adams (except the lots leased and sold) to the Middlesex Canal proprietors.

In 1801 a bridge was contemplated between Boston and East Boston, about where the tunnel now runs under the river. A shoal running out from the Boston side, it was the opinion of Lemuel Cox, who was consulted in the matter, that there was no doubt of the stability of a bridge properly erected at that place.

This scheme was in the place of the projected Chelsea Bridge, and would save a distance of at least three-fourths of a mile on the route to Lynn, and the tolls of the Charlestown Bridge. The proposed Navy Yard at Charlestown killed the East Boston Bridge project. If it had been erected the Navy Yard would have been located lower down the river, and large ocean steamers would not now lie at the Charlestown docks.

In 1803, at a town meeting of Nantucket, it was voted to petition Congress to assist the town in digging a channel from Brant Point to the outer bar. Some desired to include in the scheme the building of stone piers from Coatue Point and Brant Point to the outer bar.

A survey of the harbor was made in the summer of 1803 by John Foster Williams and Lemuel Cox, and they reported it would be expedient to build wooden piers to protect the channel, one to extend from the northwest point of Coatue to the southwest corner of the black flats, the other to begin about one-third of the distance from the end of Brant Point to the Cliff and [p. 61] to extend to the northeast corner of Cliff Shoal, both upon straight lines. A report was made to the Federal government, 28 October, 1803, but the scheme was not accomplished.

Of the family of Lemuel Cox, we know that William, who married in Dublin, died in Savannah.

Lemuel, who also visited Ireland, became a sailor. On a voyage to the Pacific he, with two others, while exploring a river, was deserted by his vessel and never heard of afterward. He left a widow and two children. Lemuel Cox, wheelwright, of Charlestown, was administrator of the estate of Lemuel Cox of Boston, mariner, 30 July, 1799, and it was, therefore, previous to that date the son disappeared.

John Sale Hickling Cox married, 16 June, 1803, at the Hollis street church, Nancy Lewis, b. 7 May, 1778. His wife died a few months after the wedding, 10 December, 1803. He was a lieutenant in the war of 1812, and resided in Reading.

Nancy Lewis and her brother Isaiah were children of Winslow Lewis, and their nephew was the late Dr. Winslow Lewis.

After the war J. S. H. Cox married Mrs. Arabelle Percelle, and lived in Charleston, S. C. He had two sons, Roland and William.

James Cox lived in New Bedford, where he married a Miss Tabor, a Quakeress. He moved to Ohio, where he died, leaving three sons.

His son Lemuel, a beneficiary by Lemuel Cox's will, sold his share in the estate of Lemuel Cox, deceased, to Rufus Bracket in 1827, his cousin Mary Ann Dadley's husband, as did the other grandchildren.

Susanna Hickling Cox married, 10 November, 1793, Simon Tufts of Medford, and had Eliza, Rhoda, Harriet L., Simon (b. 29 November, 1800), and Susanna H. Tufts. Eliza married Richard Brownell.

Harriet's name was changed to Harriet Lewis, and she married William Johnson, jeweller, lived in Boston and Quincy, and had Laura Ann Lewis, b. 8 November, [p. 62] 1806; Lavater, b. 6 March; 1809. (Being born after the death of Lemuel Cox they were, of course, not legatees.)

Elizabeth Brightman Cox married George Dadley in Medford, and had Mary Ann, James Lemuel Cox, and Eliza Dadley.

Mary Ann Dadley married, 29 June, 1818, Rufus Bracket, and Eliza Dadley married Rev. Josiah Brackett, a Methodist clergyman.

Harriet Ann Townsend Cox, b. 1784, d. 9 February, 1861. Her marriage intention to Capt. Isaiah Lewis was published 15 November, 1805; m. December, 1805, in Boston. He was b. 14 June, 1776; d. 20 April, 1822, at sea. They had—

I. Susanna Hinkling Lewis, b. 24 August, 1806; d. ——(intentions published 21 December, 1829); m. 24 February, 1830, to Joseph Willard of Lancaster (son of President Joseph Willard of Harvard University), clerk of the Superior Court. He was b. 14 March, 1798; d. 12 May, 1865. Their son, Major Sidney Willard, b. 3 February, 1831, was killed at Fredericksburg, 13 December, 1862.

II. Isaiah William Penn Lewis, b. 15 June, 1808; d. 18 October, 1855, a topographical engineer, who introduced a mode of lights in our lighthouses in use during Civil War and after.

Lemuel Cox made his will, 18 January, 1806. He devised to his five children, John S. H., James, Susanna H. Tufts, Elizabeth B., and Harriet A. T. (Lemuel and William, being dead, were not named), $1 each. To his grandchildren, an equal share of the residue. He died 18 February, 1806, and his will was proved 13 May, 1806. The inventory amounted to about $20, and the estate was insolvent from the claims against it. In 1819 an account filed by the executor, Samuel Swan, Jr., of Medford, exhibits a house near Charlestown Bridge, and money from the Canal proprietors, which left a balance above his debts of $2,555, to be divided into ten shares, and his grandchildren, as legatees, Eliza, Rhoda, Harriet, Simon, and Susanna Tufts; Mary Ann, James, Lemuel [p. 63] Cox, and Eliza Dadley; and Lemuel, son of James Cox, received each $255.57.

In 1787, Ezekiel Decosta of Boston married Rebecca Hickling, the youngest sister of Lemuel Cox's wife. Their son, Ezekiel Carver Decosta, was the father of William Hickling DeCosta, editor of the Charlestown Advertiser for twenty-six years, and of Rev. Benjamin F. DeCosta of New York, an Episcopal clergyman.

John and Mary DeCosta were also living in Charlestown in 1797.

Of one of these families was, probably, Timothy Decosta, with whom Lemuel Cox boarded at the time of his death. An item of $489.13 for board was brought against the estate of Lemuel Cox, but it was contested, and a suit brought against the executor.

Other claims against the estate not allowed were one each of $6,000 by William McKean, tobacconist, on Ship street, and his wife, and John Callender, a lawyer.

The executor of the estate, Captain Samuel Swan, was born in Charlestown in 1750. He was a mariner, and neighbor of Lemuel Cox at Mill Village, selling his house in 1803 to the Middlesex Canal proprietors and moving to Medford.

He was a soldier of the Revolution under General Lincoln, who appointed him quartermaster-general with rank of major during Shay's Rebellion. He was also a deputy collector of revenue under General Brooks.

When Cox's estate was pronounced insolvent, Laomi Baldwin and Asa Peabody were the commissioners appointed, but Baldwin soon resigned to go to Europe.

Bought by his daughter, Betsey Dadley, in 1803, after the sale of his mill property to the Middlesex Canal proprietors, Cox had a house on Main street near the Charlestown Bridge, now Charlestown Square. It adjoined the house in which Ammi Ruhamah Tufts lived, and was between that house and a new brick house built by the Hon. Thomas Russell, great-grandfather of the late Dr. John Langdon Sullivan of Malden, which stood on Water street, between Charlestown and Warren Bridges. [p. 64]

This large house, after Russell's death, became a hotel, known as ‘Gordon's,’ ‘Nichol's,’ ‘Charlestown Hotel,’ ‘Pierce's,’ ‘Brick Hotel’ (1817), and finally, the ‘Middlesex Hotel,’ till burnt in 1835.

This fire of 28 August, 1835, the most destructive in Charlestown since the Battle of Bunker Hill, destroyed the house in which Lemuel Cox died.

In Charlestown, Capt. Lemuel Cox, an eminent mechanic, aged 65. The funeral will proceed from his late dwelling house in Charlestown, tomorrow, at half past 3 o'clock; where his friends and relations are requested to attend without further invitation.’

This was his obituary by the newspaper of the period.

My interest, primarily, in the subject of this sketch, was aroused from the credit given him as builder of Charlestown Bridge. I was, therefore, somewhat surprised when former Mayor Rantoul of Salem stated before the Essex Institute, of which he was the president, in an article on the Essex Bridge at its centennial, that the builders ‘made terms with Lemuel Cox, an eminent English engineer, to build the bridge.’ A few years later I read on Waterford Bridge, in Ireland, that it was built by ‘Mr. Lemuel Cox, a native of Boston, in America, Architect;’ and visiting at the same time Wexford, New Ross, and Londonderry, I learned of his work there.

In recent years, in investigating, I found that he was not only with a claim for fame for his work in bridge building, but also for inventions, among them for his introduction of textile machinery, previous to the arrival of Samuel Slater, to whom the credit has been accorded in the histories of textile industries.

Traditions, after the lapse of a century, still show his type of character and tell of his life in Ireland and domestic life here; that he was a genius with the eccentricities of genius; that he returned from Ireland rich in money and beautiful gifts of every description, but died a poor man, under unhappy conditions.

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