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

by Walter Kendall Watkins, Malden.
[Read before the Medford Historical Society, Monday, February 19, 1906.]

JOHN Cox, born, as he states in a deposition, on the east shore of the Kennebec River, just previous to King Philip's War, came later to Dorchester, where he married Susanna Pope and settled. At Dorchester was born his son William, who married in 1716, Thankful Maudsley, and had a numerous family, among whom was Unite Cox, born in 1723, who married Lydia Falkner, and settled in Malden, becoming the ancestor of those of the name still living in Malden.

The youngest brother of Unite Cox was Lemuel, born in 1736. Of his early days we know little or nothing till his marriage intention was published in Boston, 14 April, 1763, to Susanna Hickling, born 6 February, 1740, the daughter of William and Sarah (Sale) Hickling, of Boston, the great-grand parents of William Hickling Prescott, the historian. Sarah Sale was of a family very prominent in that part of Boston which later became Chelsea.

The older residents of Boston and vicinity, are familiar with the elevation known as Fort Hill, which disappeared just after our Civil war. It took its name from a fort, erected upon the hill in the early days of the colony, and which was utilized in Boston's first Revolution, when the people rebelled against Andros and shut him up in the fort. Near the fort was a large stone house, built by the Gibbs family, probably the largest and most pretentious, standing at that time in the colony. [p. 34]

At the foot of the eastern slope of the hill was the South Battery, or Sconce, where the present Rowe's Wharf is located. Circling the base of the hill, inside the battery, was a walk from Milk street to Gibbs' lane (now Oliver street), called the ‘Battery March,’ a favorrite walk for the townspeople.

On the other side of the hill were ropewalks, between Oliver street and Long lane (afterward Federal street).

Between Federal street and Summer street, were gardens and orchards, even as late as the last century.

At the foot of what is now Milk street was Oliver's dock.

It was in this vicinity, in 1765, that Lemuel Cox and his brother Jesse, bought a house and land of William Lowder. The lot was situated on the south side of Batterymarch street with a frontage of about eighty-four feet, and a depth of about one hundred and forty-five feet. In May, 1768, he bought thirty acres of land in Malden of his brother Unite, which he disposed of in December, to John Wait, Jr.

In the Spring of 1767 (30 May), we find him returning from South Carolina, on the schooner ‘Three Brothers,’ as ‘Mr. Lemuel Cox, wheelwright.’

After the Boston Port Bill, the patriotic element, as we would call them now, though the government then styled them as turbulent and disloyal, met in gatherings in August each year, and dined at the Liberty Tree in Dorchester. Among the diners, 14 August, 1769, was Lemuel Cox.

As to the later sentiments of Lemuel Cox, investigators would be inclined to place him among those loyal to the Crown, as we find him in prison at Ipswich at the close of 1775, presumably for his attachment to the King's cause.

In the year 1767, the Overseers of the Poor, for the town of Boston, reported they had paid out about £ 600 to poor people outside of the almshouse, and in 1768 not less than £ 620. There were about two hundred and [p. 35] thirty persons in the almshouse, and forty in the workhouse that should have been in the almshouse.

To relieve this situation it was proposed to employ two hundred of the poor of the town in spinning and carding. Schoolmistresses were to be procured and a number of spinning wheels and a quantity of wool; and the same to be converted into yarn to be disposed of to several persons, lately arrived from abroad, who had been brought up and were master workmen in the manufacturing of ‘shalloons, durants, camblitts, callamancos, duroys and legathies, and in general mens' summer ware,’ and who were determined to carry on business as soon as they could be furnished with a sufficient number of spinners to keep their looms employed.

The town contracted with Mr. William Molyneux to furnish spinning wheels and cards and teach the poor to spin, for the next two years.

One of the most important inventions in the manufacture of all textiles was that of machine-made cards. These were the leather and wire cards with which the revolving cylinders were covered. Hundreds of fine wire teeth are set in a square inch of leather. The leather is pierced, the wire cut and bent twice into a loop, then thrust through the leather and bent into two knees. The angle at which the wire teeth strike the fibre is an important element in carding. In making the ‘hand cards,’ used for ages past, all this work was painfully manipulated.

In 1770 Lemuel Cox invented a machine for cutting card wires, which machine was preserved by him through his lifetime.

Soon one, John McGlench, unduly got a sight of the same, improved upon it and claimed to be the original inventor. After the Revolution McGlench was located at the corner of Washington and Bedford streets, and there did business as a card maker. Others also went into the manufacture. Giles Richards & Co., wool and cotton card manufacturers, were located at 2 Hanover street in 1789. [p. 36]

By this invention of Cox at that early date, many thousands of pounds were saved to the Commonwealth by putting a stop to the importation of wool and cotton cards from Europe.

It was probably at about this time while experimenting with wire for cards that Cox was the first to produce in the state of Massachusetts wire for fish hooks, and instructed others in the first drawing of steel wire from half an inch down to the size of a hair.

As the fisheries were one of the staple industries of Massachusetts, the value of his efforts can be readily appreciated.

If disloyal during the Revolution, Cox was not so to a great extent or for a long period, as we find later that he was quite active in support of the patriots. After the war he petitioned the state for relief, and among other acts claimed to have established the first powder mill in the state during the war. Investigations have revealed where this mill was situated and that the first powder mill was at Andover, and they made powder there in the early part of 1776. Samuel Phillips, Junior, was the leading man in the enterprise but Cox's name not before appeared in print in connection with the works.

In Dorchester, afterward Stoughton, the Everendens were makers of powder previous to the Revolution, and in Stoughton the state established a powder mill, nearly as early as the Andover scheme. The state also contemplated later a mill at Sutton. There is also said to have been mills at Bradford and Seekonk.

Cox was prominently connected with the enterprise at Andover. He claimed to have put up the first powder mill in the state, and invented a machine for granulating the powder whereby one man could granulate five hundredweight in one day at the same time saving the labor of fifty men, and that he supplied the state with that necessary article at that time.

Of his connection with the Andover scheme we have [p. 37] fortunately preserved to us a document of the strongest weight

Andover, February 20, 1790.
This may certify that Mr. Lemuel Cox was employed in erecting the Powder Mill at Andover in the year 1776 that he discovered great mechanical ingenuity and rendered essential service in executing that work.

Near the close of the Revolution, in October, 1782, we find Lemuel Cox was residing with his family at Taunton.

A petition signed by five hundred inhabitants of Boston resulted in a town meeting held Thursday, 10 February 1785, in Faneuil Hall, with Hon. Samuel Adams as moderator. The first article in the warrant was to consider a petition of Thomas Russell and others for liberty to build a bridge over Charles river, where the ferry from Boston to Charlestown then ran. A vote in favor was passed with only two dissenting among thirteen hundred voters present. It was also voted for a committee to prepare a petition to the General Court, and the town's representatives were instructed to support it. An act was passed, 9 March, 1785, by the legislature incorporating the scheme. John Hancock, Thomas Russell, Nathaniel Gorham, James Swan, Ebenr Parsons, and others, their associates, were those interested. The bridge was to be forty feet wide, with a draw at least thirty feet wide. They were to pay Harvard College annually £ 200, in compensation for the annual income of the Boston and Charlestown ferry. They were to receive certain tolls, which were to be double on Sunday.

Preparations for building the bridge were at once commenced. Major Samuel Sewall was appointed architect. He was of Marblehead and afterward, in 1814, chief justice of Massachusetts. At Concord, Massachusetts, however, there is the gravestone of Captain John Stone who died in 1791, which states he was the builder of the bridge. Lemuel Cox was appointed master workman. [p. 38] The stock of the company consisted of one hundred and fifty shares, the par value of each of which was £ 100, a total of £ 150,000. The first pier of the bridge was laid on the 14 June, 1785, and the last on 31 May, 1786, and the bridge was opened to the public 17 June, 1786. The bridge, as finished, was forty-two feet wide, upon seventy-five piers, each composed of seven oaken timbers, and four solid wharves and buttresses were laid with stone in different parts of the structure to sustain the wooden piers. It had on each side a passageway of six feet, railed in for safety, and was lighted at night by forty lamps, in lanterns mounted upon posts.

The opening of the bridge took place on that great Charlestown holiday, the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, 17 June, and was attended with great enthusiasm and the usual parade and festivities. At dawn of day thirteen guns, the number of the confederated states, were fired from Copps Hill in Boston, and Bunker Hill in Charlestown, as a federal salute. The bells in both towns were rung and the musical chimes of Christ Church in Salem street were pealed. A large procession of the proprietors, state officials, town officers and notables was formed at the Old State House, then the capitol. When the time came for moving, another federal salute was given from the Castle, and one from Copps Hill, as the cortege arrived at the draw of the bridge. Here the draw was fixed for their passage by Lemuel Cox, and the procession passed over it under a salute. On arriving at Charlestown it passed through the square and took its course to the battle ground of eleven years previous, and there received another salute of thirteen guns. On the historic field, untouched by improvements, a dinner was served to about eight hundred persons, seated at two tables of three hundred feet each, united by a semicircle, and festivities were continued till six o'clock in the evening. The number of persons viewing the celebration is supposed to have equalled the total [p. 39] population of the two towns. The arrangements for the day surpassed any that had ever been known in the neighborhood before. The bridge subsequently passed into the hands of the state for $25,000, 30 April, 1841. For his success Cox received a gratuity of $200 extra.

The rude woodcut which adorned the head of one of the two broadsides circulated at the opening of Charles River Bridge was executed, as the printer says, by ‘that masterpiece of ingenuity, Mr. Lemuel Cox.’ It shows a detachment of artillery with cannon ready for firing, and a coach with four horses, and a footman behind, driving at full speed over the bridge. To do justice to the occasion of the opening there was issued a poem of forty stanzas of which the following are a sample:—

1. The Smiling morn now peeps in view,
     Bright with peculiar charms,
See, Boston nymphs and Charlestown too
     Each linked arm in arm.

2. I sing the day in which the Bridge
     Is finished and done,
Boston and Charlestown lads rejoice,
     And fire your cannon guns.

3. The Bridge is finished now I say,
     Each other bridge outvies,
For London Bridge, compar'd with ours
     Appears in dim disguise.

23. Now Boston, Charlestown nobly join,
     And roast a fatted Ox
On noted Bunker Hill combine
     To toast our Patriot Cox.

38. May North and South and Charlestown all
     Agree with one consent,
To love each one like Indian's rum,
     On publick good be sent.

Powder and wire making were not the only benefits conferred on the public, beside bridge building, by Cox. [p. 40] In 1785 it was found necessary, for the safety of the people to find some place, other than the common jails, for the confinement of persons convicted of larceny and other crimes. Castle Island in Boston Harbor was selected, it then being owned by the state. Here was a garrison (of which the governor of the state was the captain) stationed under an officer, usually of the rank of major (as a lieutenant), with a gunner, surgeon and chaplain and a detail of privates. The gunner was William Hickling, brother-in-law of Lemuel Cox.

The officers appointed an overseer, to superintend the convicts' labor, in repairing the fortifications and picking oakum and making nails. This employment of convict labor in nail making was the project of Lemuel Cox, and he sent one of his sons to instruct the convicts, sixteen in number. Of the commercial value of this industry there may be some question. The notorious Stephen Burroughs, in his interesting autobiography, interesting as showing a type of human character and throwing sidelights on the events of that day, gives his experience in nail making.

His daily output at first was five nails each day, but each nail, as he states, was equal to anything you ever saw, in beauty and elegance, but the cost of each he reckoned at ten times the cost of iron and coals. The overseer expostulated on the small returns from his labor and the next day he was more expeditious and made five hundred nails, but they were all ‘horns and heads.’ The prisoners were in the habit of taking the nail rods and breaking them and throwing the pieces down the well, and vowing they made all they could, in nails from the rods furnished. The authorities then offered a gill of rum to those making a certain number of nails from their supply of rods. Burroughs cautioned his fellow prisoners of the trap, but the offer of rum was too tempting, and all were participants except Burroughs of the extra bounty. The next day no rum was served and the convicts afterward were forced to fashion the [p. 41] increased number of nails daily. The convicts remained on the island until about three weeks before it was turned over to the United States in 1798.

2 April, 1640, the inhabitants of Charlestown voted that Philip Drinker shall keep a ferry to Malden at the neck of land with a sufficient boat. For his services he had two pence for a single person and a penny each where there were more. This was the penny ferry of the first century and a half of the colony's existence.

The route by land from Charlestown or Cambridge was by the Mystic Bridge that crossed the Mystic River at Medford, and was the successor at an early date of the bridge built at the ford near Cradock's house in Medford. The Mystic Bridge was used by the Malden farmers for their cattle, teams and horses, and they contributed for many years towards its repair.

After the completion of the Charlestown Bridge some of the gentlemen interested became identified with a project to build a bridge from Charlestown Neck to the Malden shore near Sweetser's Point. Thomas Russell, Richard Devens, Samuel Swan, Junior, Jonathan Simpson and William Tudor, were granted by the legislature this privilege, 11 March, 1787. It was built in six months and cost £ 5,300. It was opened to travel 30 September, 1787, when a single cannon was fired and the workmen regaled with refreshments, a quiet affair compared with the 17 June celebration of Charles River Bridge the year before. The bridge was two thousand four hundred feet long, including the abutments, and thirty-two feet wide; the draw was the design of Lemuel Cox, and eight lamps lighted the bridge at night.

The instant success of two ventures in bridge building made a strong impression on the flourishing merchants of Salem and Beverly, and, 13 June, 1787, a subscription was started to build a bridge between those two towns. Two hundred shares were at once subscribed for, and sixteen towns in Essex County favored [p. 42] it. Eighty-five poor widows of the Revolutionary War, resident in Manchester, with one hundred and thirtyfive fatherless children, wanted it as a highway to Salem, where they carried their manufactured cloth. Danvers and a part of Salem opposed it. After a strenuous fight the project materialized, 17 November, 1787, with George Cabot, John Cabot, John Fisk, Israel Thorndike, and Joseph White as corporators. Before i March, 1788, they had contracted for pine and oak timber, made terms with Lemuel Cox to build the bridge, and settled other details.

Cox was to be paid nine shillings a day and his board (including punch) for superintending the work. 25 April they added to Cox's pay a gratuity of $55, to be drawn when the bridge was done. About this time they contracted for ten gallons of New England rum, but it is probable that it was not all to be consumed by Cox.

From the first some trouble had grown up between Cox and the directors, and this culminated, 19 July, by a vote to dismiss him, ‘it appearing improper that Mr. Lemuel Cox should be continued in their service for any longer time,’ it was therefore voted unanimously that he be discharged and that the sum of $55, being the whole of the gratuity promised to him, and his wages to this time, be paid to him in full.

With the advent of September the bridge was near completion. The first pier was raised 3 May, 1788, the last pier 6 September, 1788. It was opened for public travel 24 September, 1788; its cost was $16,000. The bridge measured 1,484 feet without the abutments, which added thirty-six feet more. It had ninety-three piers, and a draw thirty feet wide, ‘which played with such ease that two boys of ten years old may raise it.’

Here is one item of interest: the tolls were farmed, and when George Washington, as President, crossed the bridge, shortly after the opening, the proprietors had to pay $7.80 tolls on Washington and his escort and suite to the lessee, Capt. Asa Leach, with whom Lemuel Cox had boarded while the bridge was building. [p. 43]

Lemuel Cox's neighbor on the west, on Batterymarch street, was Robert Hallowell, who was Comptroller of the Customs under the king and who left Boston on the evacuation of 17 March, 1776. After the war Hallowell returned to America, and resided in the next house to Cox's till he removed to Gardiner, Maine, in 1816, where he died in 1818. Hallowell, Maine, was named for him.

Cox did not live on Batterymarch street, in his house, after the Revolution. It was a wooden house of two stories, with fourteen windows, and covered six hundred and eighty square feet. The land contained 2,786 square feet, and the whole was valued at $1,800 in 1798, and occupied by Dr. John Frederic Enslin, a physician. Cox sold his property on Batterymarch street in 1801 to Edw. Bartlett, Jr.

In June, 1788, the selectmen gave Lemuel Cox a license to sell liquors at his shop, near Charles River Bridge, and in 1789 we find Lemuel Cox, millwright, living on Prince street.

The census of the next year shows his family consisted of three white males over sixteen years, two white females over sixteen, and four white females under sixteen.

Cox severed his connection with the Essex Bridge Corporation in July, 1788. Between that date and June, 1789, he visited Ireland. It was probable his fame as a bridge builder had reached the Emerald Isle, and a desire for a bridge at Londonderry carried him to that town, probably in the spring of 1789, and he estimated the cost of a bridge there at £ 10,000. Receiving encouragement he returned to New England, and from Sheepscott, Maine, shipped a load of oak piles and twenty skilled workmen to complete the project.

His connection with the Cabots and others, directors of the Bridge Company, made him familiar with another enterprise some of the directors were also interested in. I refer to the cotton factory, established at Beverly, [p. 44] which was mentioned, 6 January, 1789, ‘as a promising cotton manufactory,’ and it was stated apprentices were received as early as June, 1789.

It was in June, 1789, Lemuel Cox returned from Londonderry, and with him he brought, for the benefit of his country, as he states, a man, superintendent of a large cotton manufactory that had stopped working. With the man was his wife and ‘a curious machine whereon the Woman can spin fifteen pounds Cotton in one Day.’

Being familiar with the needs of the Beverly manufacturers, Cox evidently saw an opening which he took advantage of.

We are left in doubt as to the final destination of the cotton spinner and his wife, but from the activity of the works in the following October, when Washington visited them, we are led to think the curious machine may have been utilized at Beverly.

His success in getting the machine from England was greater, from the fact the British government were quite strict at the time against the export of even the models of machines for manufacturing purposes.

In 1615 James I. granted to certain citizens of London, members of different livery companies or trade guilds, the town and fort of Derry, town of Coleraine, and other towns, villages, etc. They were known as the ‘Society of the Governor and Assistants, London, of the new Plantation in Ulster,’ and later as the ‘Irish Society.’

Among other privileges they had the right of ferryage and passage over the rivers Ban and Foyle. In 1769 a bridge was projected, but not till 8 June, 1786, the Irish Society assented to the proposition for erecting a bridge at Londonderry over the river Foyle. This was just one week after the last pier was laid for Charles River Bridge and a week before it was opened for travel.

The probable success of the Boston enterprises without doubt was the cause of the determination to erect [p. 45] the Irish structure after Cox had finished his labors at home, and it was not until 29 April, 1789, that we hear further as to the Irish enterprise. It was then reported that the proposed timber bridge was estimated to cost £ 10,000. A memorial was then presented by the Corporation of Londonderry to the Irish Society, to obtain a lease of the tolls in perpetuity. On 15 July the Society granted the request. 11 December, 1789, the Society agreed to grant to the corporation a lease of the tolls in perpetuity, to enable the corporation to build a bridge and borrow money on the security of the tolls.

The bridge, commenced in 1789, was completed by the spring of 1792. It was 1,068 feet in length and forty in breadth. The piles of American oak had the head of each tenoned into a cap piece forty feet long and seventeen inches square, supported by three sets of girths and braces. The piers were sixteen and one-half feet apart and bound together by thirteen string-pieces, equally divided and transversely bolted, on which were laid the flooring. On each side the platform was a railing four and one-half feet high, also a broad pathway provided with gas lamps. Originally there was a drawbridge, but it was replaced by a turning bridge. The original expense of its erection was £ 16,594. The work was a success, though an eminent English engineer, Milns, had pronounced it impracticable. On 6 February, 1814, a portion of the bridge three hundred and fifty feet in length was carried away by large masses of ice floating down the river, with a strong ebb tide, and high wind. The expense of the repairs of this damage was £ 18,208, of which the government advanced a loan of £ 15,000. The absence of Cox and his skilled workmen explain the increased cost of the labor. Seventy years ago the annual amount of tolls of the bridge was £ 3,700.

In 1782 Lemuel Cox mortgaged his house in Batterymarch street to William Lowder, and this mortgage was discharged 22 October, 1790, probably by his first payment received in Ireland. [p. 46]

Mr. Cox probably felt that bridge builders, as well as prophets, received but small honor in their own country, from his experience at Salem. In Ireland, however, his fame must have increased and spread the length of the land, for his labors in the north were known in the south in those days of poor communication and religious differences.

At Waterford, on the southeast coast, a company was incorporated in 1793, who subscribed £ 30,000 in £ 100 shares to build a bridge over the Suir from the western extremity of the city to the northern suburb of Ferry-bank, where is now the joint terminus of the Waterford, Limerick and Western and the Waterford and Central Ireland Railways. The work was begun 30 April, 1793, the year the bill was passed for relieving the Roman Catholics from disabilities and admitting them to the parliamentary franchises. The bridge was opened 18 January, 1794. It was built at a total cost of £ 27,000, including ferry rights, and as it was below the estimate, only £ 90 instead of £ 100 was paid on each share. It is still the property of a company, which annually receives over £ 6,000 in tolls.

The following inscription is on the bridge:—

A year rendered sacred to National Prosperity,

by the Extinction of religious division,
the foundation of this Bridge was laid,
at the expense of Associated individuals
Unaided by parliamentary grant,
by Sir John Newport, Bart.:
Chairman of their committee, Mr. Lemuel Cox, A native of Boston in America, architect.
The bridge is eight hundred and thirty-two feet in length and forty in breadth, supported on stone abutments and forty sets of piers of oak piles.

The next undertaking of Lemuel Cox was the bridging of the river Slaney to connect the northern end of Wexford town with the opposite bank. It was commenced in 1794 and finished the next year, being built throughout of American oak, and 1,571 feet in length.

The expense of the work was £ 17,000. It has since [p. 47] been superseded by stone causeways projecting from the opposite banks of the river, of the respective lengths of one hundred and eighty-eight and six hundred and fifty feet, connected by a length of timber structure seven hundred and thirty-three feet long. A quarter mile higher up has been erected a modern bridge. A picture of the old bridge is preserved by the bridge commissioners' seal.

At New Ross, County Wexford, the Barrow river, after the destruction of an old bridge in 1634, was crossed by a ferry until the fame of Cox as a bridge builder reached the town, when a company was incorporated by act of Parliament and £ 11,200 raised by shares and a bridge of American oak constructed by Cox. Its length was five hundred and eight feet and its breadth forty feet; it had a drawbridge and connected New Ross with Rosshercon.

While in Ireland, Mr. Cox's family resided in Medford, and we find him taxed for real estate there in 1793-4-5. We extract the following item from the Columbian Centinel of 15 January, 1794:—

14 January a son of Mr. Cox, the celebrated architect, in viewing a wild panther which a show man had in his possession in Medford was suddenly seized by the voracious animal and his head and face torn in a shocking manner so that his death would be a consolation to his desponding relatives. The strength of the animal was so great that five persons could hardly disengage his claws.

Two of the sons of Mr. Cox were in Ireland with their father, Lemuel and William Cox. The latter married, in 1794, Catherine Hugone, in Dublin. A letter written by him in 1794 to the editor of the Columbian Centinel is still preserved in print.

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