Coxe and His Whale Fisheries

One of the subjects Daniel Coxe was particularly interested in was the whaling industry. This interest may have been sparked twenty-two years before he became governor.

Back when Coxe was attending sessions of the Royal Society and doing his own experiments, a paper was presented to the Society entitled “A Further Relation of the Whale-fishing about the Bermudas, and on the Coast of New-England and New-Netherland.”1 In it the author concluded that sperm whales could be “met with between the Coast of New-England and New Netherland, where they might be caught eight or nine months in the year, whereas those about the Bermudas are to be found there only in the Months of February, March and April.” The author of this piece is not known; perhaps it was Coxe himself.

Stranded whale at Katwijk in Holland, 1598 [Google Images
Coxe may have remembered that paper when he became Governor. By the 1680s, Coxe had looked into the possibilities of whaling in New Jersey, and found that Cape May was the ideal location to set up a whaling port, as he explained in a paper written in 1688:

“I have at the Expence of above Three thousand pounds settled a Towne and Established a ffishing for Whales which are very numerous about Cape may both within the Bay and without all along the sea coast which I am assured if well managed will bring in above 4000£ per Annum all charges Defrayed.”

In a paper written four years later, in 1692, Coxe stated:

“Ten of [my] proprieties are extended a Long ye sea without ye Bay towards Egg harbour and forty or fifty miles wthin ye Bay towards Cohanzey amounting unto Two hundred Thousand acres Plantable Land besides greate allowances for Wasts, Barrans, Roads &c. This secures to mee the Whale ffishing wthin & wthout ye Bay. In order to ye Establishmt whereof I have Expended betweene two thousand & Three thousand pounds Sterling mony and whereunto I am solely entitle and doubt not to make thereof five hundred pounds per annum clear of all Charges.

Coxe had gotten a taste of reality in those four years and revised down his estimate of profits obtainable from the fishery, from £4000 to £500 per year. But that did not mean the fishery was not successful. On the contrary, as seen in this description written in 1698 by Gabriel Thomas:

The Commodities of Capmay-County are Oyl and Whale-Bone, of which they make prodigious, nay vast quantities every Year, having mightily advanc’d that great Fishery, taking great numbers of Whales yearly.

Daniel Coxe was also interested in the fish stocks available in the Delaware Bay. He wrote:

“Upon diverse greate Bancks within the Great Bay which is 60 Miles deep 30 Miles Broad at certaine Seasons resort infinite numbers of Excellent cod ffish, Basse, and other sorts and prodigious numbers of Sturgeons with which diverse shipps might bee yearly ffreighted for the Islands of Barbadoes, Jamaica, &c. and for a Trade with the Streights, Spaine and Portugal.”

This was an ambitious plan. But one thing was lacking: salt. Coxe was ready with a solution.

“Because the only thing which hath hindred our setting up this ffishery was want of salt wee have lately sent over diverse ffrenchmen skillfull in making salt by the sun in pitts or pans whoe assure us there are many convenient places upon the Coast over against the places of ffishing where millions of Bushells may bee made at the Expense of 4 pence per Bushell.”

Some Other Schemes

Coxe went on to describe the excellent timber that was available for making ships’ masts and other products, like spars, clapboards, and pikestaves. In fact, he had been approached by

“the undertakers for the building of St. Paul’s” to provide “Ceeder Trees for the roof & inword work where wood is Imployed. By unanimous relacon of divers who have Examined these Trees there cannot bee found better in America, I might add, the world for both purposes.”

According to Coxe, New Jersey had plenty of pine for making pitch and tar, and hemp could easily be grown for cordage, along with flax for linseed oil. He noted there were abundant wild grapes growing in New Jersey, and from that concluded that wineries would be successful there.

“It is believed by judicious p’sons ffrench vignerons & others yt some sorts of them [the wild grapes] improved by cultivating would p’duce as good wine as any in ye world.”

That proved to be unrealistic.

Coxe’s Plans for Burlington

Another of Coxe’s money-making ventures was the pottery business. Coxe seemed to think that Burlington was the perfect place to establish this industry. A pottery he had built there produced “white and Chine ware” which was exported to neighboring colonies and produced an income of £1200 by 1688, although Coxe had expended £2000. The pottery was even used in the Barbados and in Jamaica. Coxe wrote that he had “two houses and kilns with all necessary implements, divers workmen and other servts.”2 According to John D. McCormick, the potteries were built at the suggestion of John Tatham. The white ware resembled stoneware from Staffordshire, and the “Chiney ware,” according to McCormick, was similar to crouch ware made in Burslem, England. It was made from red clay and ‘grit-stone’ and then salt-glazed. Since it appears that this type of pottery began to be made at Burslem in 1690, it seems that Coxe or Tatham was very up-to-date on pottery techniques.3

The pottery produced was probably a pretty durable stoneware, but it could have been semi-transparent, and therefore, much finer, if Tatham had used a “harder fire.” Apparently, it was Tatham who was in charge of the potteries, “who had some knowledge of the advantages resulting from the combination of clays.” According to McCormick, Coxe’s potteries were the first in North America. At least one of them was located “near Mahlon Stacey’s mill, on the Assanpink, in Trenton,” and was the precursor of the pottery industry in Trenton in the 19th century. I wonder about McCormick’s claim as to the location of the pottery. Coxe seemed pretty clear that the location was the town of Burlington. The deed of Gov. Daniel Coxe dated March 3, 1691/92, includes “two houses in Burlington, one a dwelling house, the other a pottery house, built by grantor.”4

Coxe also consider ship-building in Burlington. To a certain extent he was successful. This from Gabriel Thomas, written in 1698:

A Ship of Four Hundred Tuns may Sail up to this Town [Burlington] in the River Delaware; for I my self have been on Board a Ship of that Burthen there: And several fine Ships and Vessels (besides Governour Cox’s own great Ship) have been built there.

Coxe’s Ambitions for West New Jersey

All of these several projects were parts of an overall scheme to profit mightily from the province of West New Jersey. Of Coxe’s ambitions, Clark L. Beck Jr. wrote [Stellhorn & Birkner pg. 29]:

The culmination of his grandiose plans was to control a ‘circular trade,’ whereby he could exchange the raw products of the domain for the finished goods of Europe and the sugar, cotton, indigo and ginger of the West Indies. Such predictions did not seem out of line to someone of Coxe’s commercial vision, and some of his ventures took hold.5

Coxe himself wrote about establishing a “circular trade” (with apologies for his spelling):

“I have either att Cape May or Burlington four stout Negroes. Att the same Cape May a vessel of 30 or fforty Tunns began many Months agoe and I suppose now finished. I built last yeare an Excellent good Sailour & yet strong built ship of an 130 Tunns w’ch is now engaged in a circular Trade & comes from ye Barbadoes with ye next shipping. I soul’d her to divers Merchants for ye first cost with Interest. I ordered a ship of the same magnitude to bee built upon the lanching of the former. I have a plantation att Cape May made by a very skillfull ffrench Gardiner who is there resident hee hath planted some thousand ffruit Trees of divers and ye best sorts could bee procured.”

According to Clark L. Beck Jr., Coxe established a “neofeudal manor” just above Cape May, with a manor house built at Town Bank which was named “Coxe’s Hall.” Perhaps he had intentions of moving there. He definitely intended to remove to West New Jersey, but in 1690 was persuaded (or allowed himself to be persuaded) not to.

Coxe seems to have always been a big thinker. He did not do things halfway. This doesn’t mean he did things particularly well, but he seems to have been a man characterized by enthusiasm for anything he undertook. However, as we shall see, enthusiasm is not always long-lasting.

  1. Published in The Royal Society, vol. 1 (1665-1666), no. 8, p. 132-33.
  2. G.D. Scull, “Biographical Notice of Dr. Daniel Coxe of London,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1883. Vol. 7 pp.317-337.
  3.  “Crouch ware” made at Burslem, England is described in The Connoisseur, vol. 13 (1905), pg. 96-103, “Pottery and Porcelain: Crouch Ware, Part II” by Wm. Turner (Google Books).
  4. East Jersey Deeds, Book G p.174.
  5. Stellhorn & Birkner, p 29.