Colonel John Cox

1732 - 1793

Owner of Batsto Ironworks, Assistant Quartermaster General

I was born in September 1732, in New Brunswick and grew up to be a prominent Philadelphia merchant. In 1770, I became part owner and then full owner of the iron works at Batsto in Burlington County, New Jersey. My iron works produced household items such as cooking pots and kettles. I was also a salt merchant during the war. I was an ardent supporter of the Patriot cause and served in several political and military offices in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. On December 28, 1776 I accompanied Adjutant General Joseph Reed on a mission to scout for enemy activity near Trenton. Reed quickly reported our findings to General Washington and urged him to return to New Jersey. He did so and fought the British a second time at Trenton on January 1 and a third time at Princeton on January 2, where I saw action. In February 1778, I was appointed Assistant Quarter-Master General for the Continental army. That year I decided to move to Trenton along with my wife and six daughters. We took up residence at Bloomsbury Court in Trenton, a house with large rooms built by William Trent about 1719. There was an avenue of cherry trees leading to it and the property was considered to be elegant, complete with boxwood hedges and hundreds of roses. Our home was often the scene of festive occasions. My wife Esther and I, along with our three unmarried daughters, returned to Philadelphia in 1792 and I died there a year later in April 1793.

Learn More About Colonel John Cox…

I was born in September 1732, in New Brunswick, New Jersey and grew up to be a prominent Philadelphia merchant. On June 10, 1756 I married the widow Sarah Edgil. The story is told that my brother was engaged to Mrs. Edgil, a lady celebrated for her beauty and wealth, but they quarreled and I tried to help them make peace. I failed and they separated, but later I did succeed in securing her hand in marriage. Tragically, she only lived for a year after our marriage. On November 16, 1760 I married 20 year old Esther Bowes as my second wife.

In 1770, I became part owner and then full owner of the iron works at Batsto in Burlington County producing household items such as cooking pots and kettles. The area around the iron works had all the necessary natural resources, including bog ore that could be dug from the banks of the streams and rivers, wood from the forests for charcoal to burn to heat the ore, and running water to power the manufacturing equipment. I also owned a forge and rolling mill at Mount Holly. During most of the time I owned the iron works I continued to live in Philadelphia.

I was an ardent supporter of the Patriot cause and was elected as a deputy to the Provincial Convention of Pennsylvania in 1774 and 1775. Although I lived in Pennsylvania, I owned property in New Jersey and on February 8, 1775 was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Burlington and Gloucester counties and on February 14 was appointed to the Committee of Observation for Burlington County. In 1775, I was also appointed a major in the Second Battalion of the Pennsylvania Associated Militia and in 1776 was elevated to Lieutenant Colonel. With this battalion I was very active in the campaign in New Jersey in December 1776. On December 28 I accompanied Adjutant General Joseph Reed, my nephew, on a mission to scout for enemy activity near Trenton. While passing through Bordentown and into Trenton, we found the villages deserted of enemy troops and the citizens in fear and anxiety of what military activity might follow. General Reed urged Washington to return to New Jersey. He did so and fought the British a second time at Trenton on January 2 and a third time at Princeton on January 3, where I saw action. Throughout the war the iron works at Batsto produced cannon barrels and iron shot along with other equipment for the army, but my ownership ceased in 1779 when iron works manager Joseph Ball took ownership. Although the British targeted the iron works for destruction they were never able to accomplish it, although they did destroy another furnace of mine at Mt. Holly in 1778. I also did considerable business in salt throughout the Revolution.

In February 1778 when Washington and Congress talked with General Nathanael Greene about taking over the important role of Quartermaster General, Greene wrote to Washington, “I hope the Committee of Congress will not lose sight of Colonel Cox; there is no man will serve their purpose better.” On March 2, 1778 I was appointed by Congress to be Assistant Quartermaster-General, the same day that General Greene was appointed and accepted the job of Quarter-Master General. One of Greene’s conditions for accepting the position was that I be appointed his assistant to be responsible for purchases and monitoring the stores of supplies.

In 1778 I decided to move to Trenton, which I considered a healthier location, along with my wife and six daughters. We took up residence at Bloomsbury Court in Trenton, a house with large, comfortable rooms built by early Trenton resident William Trent about 1719. It was considered an elegant property with an avenue line with cherry trees leading to it and featuring boxwood hedges and hundreds of roses. Because we were intimate friends with the Washingtons, as well as Generals Knox and Greene, Count Rochambeau, the Marquis de Lafayette and other leaders of the Revolution, our home was often the scene of elegant and festive occasions. My property also became a supply depot for the army and several times during the course of the war I allowed patriot troops to establish camps on my fields south of Bloomsbury Farm.

On August 5, 1782 I was chairman of a meeting of the committee in Nottingham Township appointed to prevent trade and dealings with the enemy. Even though the fighting was over, we did not want the enemy to gain economic strength. On October 8, 1782 I was elected to represent Burlington County on the New Jersey LegislativeCouncil and then on October 24 was elected VicePresident of the Council.

Esther and I, along with our three unmarried daughters, returned to Philadelphia in 1792. I died a year later in April 1793 and was buried in Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia.

See the website for the William Trent House athttp://www.williamtrenthouse.org/.

See the website for Batsto Village athttp://www.batstovillage.org/.

Cox, Rev. Henry Miller, The Cox Family in America (New York: 1912), pages 224-225.

Colonial Dames of America, Ancestral Records and Portraits, vol 1 (New York: Grafton Press, 1910), pages 31-36.

Various issues of the New Jersey Gazette, between 1778-1783, including August 14, 1782; October 16, 23, and 30, 1782; and April 23, 1783.

The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. Richard K. Showman, ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976+), volumes 2 through 13. There are many references to, and letters involving, John Cox in his role as Assistant Quartermaster General. Volume III page 85 has a biographical sketch of John Cox.

Golway, Terry, Washington’s General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution (New York: H. Holt, 2005), pages 166-170.

Art: Joe Barsin

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