If ever there was a case where armchair research fails to deliver, this must be it. To properly understand who Dr. Daniel Coxe was, I need to go to London. But that isn’t going to happen any time soon. I must make do with what I can get my hands on, and believe me, it is not enough. Not even Samuel Pepys can help me, for he was no longer writing his diary by this time.
I’ve been spending a lot of effort on Dr. Coxe so far, seeking to learn more about his motivations. In this post, I come a little closer to understanding what went on in his mind before he became governor of West New Jersey. He has so often been characterized as a real estate speculator who’s only interest was enriching and empowering himself. Albright G. Zimmerman called him “one of the most active of the schemers who dreamed of wealth and empire in the New World.” By selecting certain acts and events in his life it is easy to support that conclusion. But that is only part of the story.
I want to account for Coxe’s activities between December 1679, when he signed the Monster Petition, and 1686, but I only have hints and suggestions to go on, so this will be very speculative.
Coxe the Conventicler
In a previous post, I wrote of how Dr. Daniel Coxe had signed the “Monster Petition” in December 1679, which was delivered to the King in January 1680 (and disregarded by him). Mark Knights wrote:
“. . . Darrell, a Dissenter . . . was taken into custody at the time of the Monmouth rebellion in 1685. Dr. Daniel Coxe, a conventicler [my emphasis] who also signed this sheet, was also arrested in 1685, as were fellow subscribers Edward Whitehead and Edward Pitts.” [Knights does not give a citation for this arrest; sources listed at end of post.]
‘Conventiclers’ were members of dissenting Protestant churches. By law they could not worship in their own churches, and had taken to worshipping outside in the fields. The word was somewhat synonymous with the term ‘dissenter,’ but it more commonly identified members of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. Daniel Coxe Sr., father of Dr. Coxe, was a Presbyterian who fought on the side of Parliament during the English Revolution. So it is likely that Dr. Coxe started out as a Presbyterian. This put him on the wrong side of both the Catholic-leaning monarchy and the established Church of England. But, like many dissenters in late-Stuart England, this did not prevent him from climbing the ladder of success.
Daniel Coxe and New England
One of the earliest indications of Coxe’s interest in America is a petition to James II for a charter “for naval stores to be made and produced in New England” signed by Coxe and several others. This would have been sometime between 1685 and 1688. The petition was renewed to Wm. III, and again in 1702 to Queen Anne, who finally granted the charter that year [Scull, 1993: 324].
Coxe and Pennsylvania
Many London merchants were invested in Mediterranean trade as well as the West Indies and North America. These were the people who provided capital for the Atlantic trade routes between England, Africa, South and North America. Many of these investors were well-connected politically. During the 1670s, English influence on trade in the Mediterranean reached its peak. Thereafter, competition from the Dutch and French made it less lucrative. So English merchants and investors turned to North America [Geiter, 1997: 105].
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was established in 1680. Its founder, William Penn, was cognizant of the fact that success depended on investment, and he did not hesitate to make use of the money men of London who were looking for investment opportunities. Several companies were created to meet the demand, the first of them being the Free Society of Traders. Other companies were the New Pennsylvania Company, and the London Land Company. Some of the members also owned shares in West and East New Jersey. They were investors buying stock; very few of them migrated to either the Jerseys or Pennsylvania [Geiter, 1997: 102].
The Free Society of Traders was a company set up by William Penn consisting of a small group of London Quakers, mostly merchants, to exploit Pennsylvania’s trade potential and simultaneously support the new colony. Like other ‘open stock’ companies, it allowed investors to join regardless of religious affiliation [Geiter, 1997: 104; Nash 1965: 152-53]. Penn probably realized that he could not obtain the investment needed to develop his colony if he depended only on his fellow Friends. Its president, Nicholas More, was an Anglican. Even so, most of the investors were Quakers. Penn showed his favor to the company by granting it a tract of land in his new town of Philadelphia, known today as Society Hill.
Mary K. Geiter wrote the that “the trading world was a closely connected network with London as its center. Levant company members Daniel Coxe, William Crouch, and Thomas Harriot, also members of the Free Society of Traders, contributed to the birth of Pennsylvania” [Geiter, 1997: 105]. This implies that Coxe was also a member of the F.S.T. Yet, on Geiter’s list of London investors in trading companies, Daniel Coxe is not a member of the Free Society of Traders, and Gary Nash does not show him on a list of investors for 1682. Geiter’s list does show Coxe invested in the New Mediterranean Sea Co. and in the Levant Company [Geiter, 1997: 119].
The Levant Company was chartered in 1581 by Queen Elizabeth to trade in the Mediterranean and gain access to the textiles and spices available through the spice roads. Charles II restored its charter, creating “The Company of Merchants of England trading to the Seas of the Levant.” Members were required to be wholesale merchants, who had to swear that any goods they sent to the Levant would be consigned to the company’s agents. I do not have information as to when Coxe became a member of this company, but I am particularly interested to learn that he was required to be a wholesale merchant. This is another case where residence in London would be helpful in determining when Coxe turned away from science and began his career as a merchant investor.
James II’s Rocky Start
When Charles II took ill in 1681, fears increased that his Catholic brother, James, would take the throne, since Charles had no legitimate children. This prompted some to rally behind Charles’ illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, and prepare to take arms in case of Charles’ death. But Charles recovered, so the plan was postponed. Then in February 1685, Charles died from an apoplectic fit. Recognizing the temper of the times, his brother James hurried things along and got himself coronated on April 23rd.
An interesting side note: it was this year, 1685, that the head of Oliver Cromwell was removed from the pole on which it had been suspended for the past 25 years [Zimmer, 2004: 196]. Perhaps this was done to celebrate James II’s coronation. It must have been quite a sight.
The supporters of the Duke of Monmouth immediately began planning to dethrone James II, and persuaded Monmouth, who was then living in Holland, to attempt a revolution. Monmouth landed in England in June 1685 expecting to be welcomed by the English. He was in fact supported by many from the middle and lower classes, but the most influential members of English society turned their backs on him.
James responded with great firmness. He declared all followers of Monmouth guilty of treason, and soon afterwards, arrested a large number of people who were deemed to be “disaffected to the government.” No doubt that included signers of the Petition of 1680, including Daniel Coxe. Research in England might shed light on how long Coxe was detained and what penalty he was given. Clearly, Coxe was not on the list of James’ supporters, which explains why he was no longer employed as court physician, as he had been under Charles II.
The Resettlement Scheme
“The solemnity of the times [following the execution of the Duke of Monmouth] had induced a religious feeling throughout the land, of more than usual earnestness. Prayer meetings were constantly held, to which people flocked to receive the only consolation that remained to them. But even this was denied. Spies were stationed everywhere, conventicles watched, and congregations interrupted in their worship by magisterial warrants” [George, 1851: 194].
Following Monmouth’s capture and execution, many of his followers left England for America. They were not the only ones looking for escape. In October of 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, exposing the French Protestants, known as Huguenots, to extreme persecution. Hundreds of thousands emigrated, many to England. The English had no love for the French king and were generally sympathetic to the Huguenots. Having himself been arrested, Coxe was probably inclined to join in the sympathy, and to do what he could to assist these desperate people.
Amidst the fervor for resettlement of persecuted Protestants, one of Daniel Coxe’s friends, one John Hooke, appealed to Coxe to help him acquire property in New Jersey to which he could flee if things became too dangerous in England. Hooke’s friends were “under Apprehensions of the Prevalency of Popery in England and had thoughts of providing a place of Refuge in the West Indies in Case the Popish Interest should prevail” [Farr, 1999: 229]. On October 20, 1685, Daniel Coxe purchased two proprietary shares in West New Jersey from Thomas Sadler of Lincoln’s Inn [WNJ B2: 621], and on October 22 and 23, Daniel Coxe conveyed to John Hooke of Gray’s Inn, Esq. one of those shares [WNJ B2: 622].
Hooke was appealing to Daniel Coxe as a good friend. Coxe recalled in court that he had at one time saved Hooke’s life. And Hooke declared that Coxe was “a person for whom this deft had and still have great esteem” [Farr, 1999: 229]. Hooke testified that on November 3, 1685, he paid money to Edward Byllinge on behalf of Daniel Coxe in order to acquire land in America to serve as a haven from “the approaching storm” [Farr, 1999: 229]. Perhaps this payment was for the two shares that had been deeded on October 20th.
Coxe v. Hooke
Along with his 1685 arrest as a ‘disaffected’ person, Daniel Coxe appeared in court for another reason. According to Farr, Coxe was involved in a suit relating to a debt incurred by the heirs of Maj. Gen. John Lambert. This may be the case that is identified in London’s Public Record Office as “PRO C 9/374/45, Dr. Cox v. Hooke, Sergeant at Law” in Records of Equity, Court of Chancery, pleadings before 1714. Unfortunately, copying costs are too steep for me, so I will have to rely on Farr’s description.
John Hooke was the son-in-law of Gen. John Lambert. After Lambert’s death in 1684, the general’s eldest son (John Jr.) brought chancery proceedings against Hooke and Daniel Coxe. (Farr consistently spells the name Cox rather than Coxe.) Farr wrote that Hooke had been persuaded to “become bound to one Daniel Cox of ye Citty of London Dr in phisick in a Bond of a great penalty.” In the suit, John Lambert Jr. claimed that:
“Ye sd Confederate Cox yet having in his Custody ye sd Bond wch he promised to deliver up to your Orator [Lambert] not onely Sues yor Orator at Comon Law upon the said Bond soe as aforesaid but also threatens that he will compel your Orator to pay ye penalty of ye sd Bond And also ye sd Confederates with intent to ruine your Orator have of late taken a Writt upon an Elegit upon ye sd Judgmt directed to ye Sheriffe of Yorkshire” [Farr, 1999: 231-32].
One of the other defendants, John Blackwell testified that
“in November 1658 he had become bound in the sum of £1000 in the major general’s behalf to one “Daniel Cox of New Windsor ffather of the said deft Daniel Cox of London Doctor of Phisick . . . .” When he returned from Ireland in 1670 Blackwell said that Dr. Daniel Cox pressed him for the remaining £220 with interest that he still owed from the 1658 bond. Blackwell paid some of this off and then with another fellow brother-in-law, Charles Hatton, entered into another bond with Cox in 1671. In part of his answer Blackwell also stated that he was “well acquainted and haveing great Confidence in the other Defendt Daniel Cox .. . .” [Farr, 1999: 232].
From this it appears that Coxe was a hard-headed financial manager, and yet despite that, he was held in high regard by some of those who dealt with him. Without a copy of the transcripts, I cannot say anymore about this lawsuit, or what the outcome was. I’m not even clear about how many lawsuits there were, since Coxe sued Hooke, and Lambert sued Coxe.
William Penn returned to England in the fall of 1684 in response to increased persecution of the Quakers there. In September 1688, John Blackwell was sent to Pennsylvania by Penn to act as his Deputy Governor. Blackwell was not a Quaker, and had no connections with the established powers in Pennsylvania. Farr suspects that one reason Penn named Blackwell to the post was his association with Daniel Coxe, who by that time had become Governor of West New Jersey.
New Jersey Investments
Daniel Coxe, who was about 45 years old in 1685, was well aware by this time of the new settlements being attempted in the mid-Atlantic. Having been a correspondent, and perhaps a friend, of John Locke, he no doubt knew about Carolina. And as a result of a financial transaction, he had become aware of New Jersey.
On March 1, 1683/84, Edward Byllinge (about 60 years of age), whose finances were always doubtful, mortgaged a share in the province of West New Jersey to Daniel Coxe [ENJ G: 174]. As a ‘conventicler’ Coxe was probably sympathetic to a Quaker in need of a mortgage. And as a gentleman’s son, he appears to have had sufficient funds to provide it. And he may have been making money on his own as a member of the Levant Company.
Byllinge probably needed funds in order to become one of the 24 Proprietors of East New Jersey, which happened on March 15, 1683/84. His interest there was most likely aimed at protecting his investment in West New Jersey [Pomfret, 1953: 268]. As it happened, Byllinge never got around to redeeming this mortgage, so the share remained in Coxe’s hands, and stands as his first, if inadvertent, investment in West New Jersey.
Coxe made other investments in the New Jersey provinces. On January 8th and 9th, 1685/86, he purchased a proprietary share from Edward Byllinge in the province of East New Jersey [per Coxe’s deed of March 3, 1692]. And in February 17th and 18th, he acquired five proprietary shares in West New Jersey. The reason for two dates being given is explained by the ancient custom of conveying land by Lease and Release. The lease would be given on the first day, and the release on the second. The result was ownership in fee simple, but the conveyance was still couched in feudal terms, and the fee was not so simple if the deed required payment of a quit rent. Coxe wrote that the whole five shares were divided into 100 shares of 13,000 acres each. One of the five shares was purchased from Edward Byllinge’s daughter Gratia, widow of Benjamin Bartlett of London.
In March 1686, Coxe acquire two full shares in East New Jersey. He purchased one from Edward Byllinge, and the other from Byllinge’s daughters, Gratia and Loveday. Coxe was acting as a middle man, immediately transferring the shares to Samuel Stancliffe, a London haberdasher. The date of Coxe’s deed to Stancliffe was April 20, 1687. In June 1687, Gov. Robert Barclay sent a letter to the Governor and Council of East New Jersey recommending that the property sold by Coxe to Stancliffe be laid out in two 5,000-acre tracts [ENJ, B: 359]. Like other well-intentioned people, Stancliffe thought he might establish a refuge for the Huguenots who had fled France following the repeal of the Edict of Nantes. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Stancliffe seems to have given up on the scheme. Eventually, Dr. Coxe managed to re-acquire the rights and the land [Pomfret, 1953: 268].
Coxe and “The New Mediterranean Sea Company”
It was about this time that Daniel Coxe caught colonial fever, an ailment from which he never recovered. Perhaps it was triggered by the craving for a safe haven by the Huguenots. David Farr wrote that it was “because of his interests in West Jersey and East Jersey that he was at the center of the resettlement scheme [in Pennsylvania], the object of which was to provide a refuge against the threat of popery” [Farr, 1999: 228].
As Coxe looked into the possibility for investment, he learned that great wealth could be obtained from the trade in beaver. What may have started out as an altruistic motive seems to have morphed into an obsession with trade and the acquisition of colonial properties. I assume that Coxe had more money in 1686 than he did before, because that year his father died. But I do not know if Daniel Coxe Sr. wrote a will, or exactly what his son inherited.
Coxe’s first direct investment in Pennsylvania was a tract of 30,000 acres on the west bank of the Sckuylkill near present day Spring City. Coxe partnered with Sir Matthias Vincent and Major Robert Thompson to acquire the property in three separate deeds. Coxe bought 10,000 acres from Penn on April 20, 1686, and on the same day two other grants of 10,000 acres and 10,116 acres were made, the first to Thompson, the second to Vincent. Today the plot is part or most of Vincent Twp. in Chester Co., PA, and was known as “Cox and Company’s 20,000 acres” [Zimmerman, 1952: 87; [Futhey & Cope, 1881: 207]. As part of Coxe’s plans for the Schuylkill tract, the new lands were to be settled by Huguenots and Dissenters. While the deeds were being drawn up, William Penn wrote to the president of the Pennsylvania Council, ordering him to be hospitable to the immigrants [Geiter, 1997: 108, ftnt 28].
It appears that Coxe had much bigger plans than settling a mere 30,000 acres with refugee Huguenots. He had begun to think of a huge feudal empire, perhaps something like Shaftesbury’s Carolina. Coxe wrote in 1688:
“I have made greate discoveryes towards ye greate Lake whence come about 100,000 Bevers every year to ye ffrench Canada and English at New Yorke, Jersey, pensilvania. I have contracted ffreinshipp with diverse petty Kings [Indians] in ye way to and upon ye sd greate Lake and doubt not to bring ye greatest parte of ye sd Traffick for ffurs into yt part of ye Country where I am settled and by my patent I am intituled to ye said Trade Exclusive” [Zimmerman, 1952: 87, also ftnt 3].
This paragraph clearly demonstrates Coxe’s gift for exaggeration. He claimed that he was “settled” on a grant of 150,000 acres from William Penn, from which he thought he could convey tracts worth £5000, with an outrageous yearly quit rent of £100. Even more fantastic was Coxe’s claim that he had a monopoly of the trade in beavers, especially since William Penn was strongly opposed to monopolies. And Coxe certainly never personally met with any Indian ‘kings.’ He must have had agents who “contracted friendship” with them. This does show, however, how extensive his research and investments had become by this time.
Albright Zimmerman wrote in 1952 that “a bundle of deeds” had been discovered in England, one of which was dated June 7, 1686, and titled “Grant by Wm. Penn of land for formation of a company to be called the New Mediterranean Sea Co.” In it, Dr. Daniel Coxe and his son Daniel, John Hooke, John Blackwell, the Hon. Robert Boyle, Sir Matthias Vincent, Joseph Dudley, Wm. Penn Jr. and many others claimed to have discovered:
“a great Lake abounding with fish called the New Mediterranean Sea or Lake and a great tract of land adjoining to the said Lake abounding with a certain Cook Backt Wilde Kine called Sibolas or Psidious [buffaloes]”
According to this deed, a group of investors was to have the benefit of the natural resources on this huge tract of land, and to have the governing of it, separate from Pennsylvania. Clearly this was not a tract of land owned by Daniel Coxe alone. But Coxe was probably the one most active in promoting the company. On April 23, 1686, he wrote to David Lloyd that there were several men “of estate and influence” who had bought shares “upon the great lake,” probably Lake Erie, located deep in Indian territory.
Mary K. Geiter wrote
“Many of the members of the New Mediterranean Sea Company were dissenters who were not likely to have favored the quo warranto proceedings against Pennsylvania. Yet they belonged to a group the king was anxious to cultivate at a time when his relations with Anglicans and Tories were rapidly deteriorating. Their incorporation into the company the day after the threat to the colony was removed strongly suggests that the two events were part of a political deal.” [Geiter, 1997: 107].
I don’t wish to get into a discussion of the quo warranto proceedings here. What impresses me about this statement is that it suggests that Coxe was still among the dissenters. Yet despite the predominance of ‘dissenters’ in the company, the project was meant to exploit the fur trade, not to provide settlement the way the purchase of 30,000 acres on the Schuylkill was.
I wish Geiter had described who took part in this political deal, so that we could get an idea of how close Coxe might have come to the highest levels of the government. Probably most of the negotiating was done by the president of the company, one Charles (Lord) Montagu, who had served as privy councillor from 1672 to 1679 and again in 1689. He had been appointed by Penn, and provided the company with a valuable conduit to the court” [Geiter, 1997: 106-107].
So far we have established that by 1687, Coxe had become an eager and a slightly credulous investor in the New World. His enthusiasm for The New Mediterranean Sea Co. seems to overshadow any idealistic feelings he might have had for establishing safe havens for Protestants. This was just at the time when England was in tumult, reacting against the governing style of James II. But perhaps Coxe’s arrest in 1685 cured him of politics, as he seems to have had nothing to do with schemes to remove the king. His acquaintance with Shaftesbury would have exposed him to the efforts of the Whig party to replace James with his nephew William of Orange and James’ daughter Mary. But for Coxe, the emphasis seems to have been on trade rather than politics. Whatever side he took, he managed to stay on his feet. There is no indication that he suffered in any way from the change in monarchs that took place in 1688.
ENJ Deeds of the Proprietors of East New Jersey, on file at the N.J. Department of Archives and Records Management, Trenton, NJ.
David Farr, “John Blackwell and Daniel Cox: Further Notes on Their Activities in Restoration England and British North America.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 123, no. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 227-233.
John Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania: with genealogical and biographical sketches, Volume 1. Heritage Books, 1995 (1881).
Mary K. Geiter, “London Merchants and the Launching of Pennsylvania.” PMHB, vol. 121, no. 1/2 (Jan. – Apr., 1997), pp. 101-122.
Julia W. H. George, The Story of the English and Scotch Rebellions of 1685; Describing the struggle of the English and Scotch people to rid themselves of a popish king, James the Second. Cady & Burgess, 1851.
Mark Knights, “London’s ‘Monster’ Petition of 1680.” The Historical Journal (Cambridge Univ. Press), vol. 36, no. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 39-67.
Gary B. Nash, “The Free Society of Traders and the Early Politics of Pennsylvania.” PMHB, Vol. 89, No. 2 (Apr., 1965), pp. 147-173.
John E. Pomfret, “The Proprietors of the Province of East New Jersey, 1682-1702.” PMHB vol. 77, no. 3 (Jul 1953), pp. 251-293].
John E. Pomfret, “The First Purchasers of Pennsylvania, 1681-1700.” PMHB vol. 80, no. 2 (Apr 1956), pp. 137-163.
G. D. Scull, “Biographical Notice of Doctor Daniel Coxe, of London.” PMHB, vol. 7, no. 3 (1993), pp. 317-337.
Albright G. Zimmerman, “Daniel Coxe and the New Mediterranean Sea Company.” PMHB vol. 76, no. 1 (Jan., 1952), pp. 86-96.
WNJ Deeds of the Proprietors of West New Jersey, on file at the N.J. Department of Archives and Records Management, Trenton, NJ.
Carl Zimmer, Soul Made Flesh; The Discovery of the Brain—And How It Changed the World. NY: Free Press, 2004.