The earliest members of the Coxe family with whom this book is concerned were already established as wealthy Somerset landowners by the last quarter of the sixteenth century. They called themselves yeomen or gentlemen, they bought and sold large estates, and they sent their sons away to London or the universities of Cambridge and Oxford to be educated in law or medicine. William Coxe and Dorothy Wall, from whom all the Coxes in this book were descended, were married about 1575 and lived in Othery, a village half a dozen miles from Glastonbury on the way to Taunton. In his will, dated 1619, Thomas Wall, yeoman of the parish of Weston upon Avon (now part of Bath) in Gloucestershire, left Mrs Dorothie Coxe twenty shillings for a ring. We can take this as evidence that Thomas Wall was William Coxe's father-in-law, as Alexander Du Bin did in his 1936 history of the American Coxes, or - as seems more probable from the dates - that Thomas was Dorothy's brother. Like the Coxes, Thomas Wall had relatives living in or near London - cousins in Edmonton and Cheapside - and was a landowner, with property in Weston, Welford (probably the Berkshire Welford, near Newbury) and "ground at the greate Poole". His mother was a Granger, and he had a family connection with Wheathill, south-east of Glastonbury ; he left money to the poor of that parish, and a pistol and articles of furniture to his cousin "Thomas Shepard of Whethill". William and Dorothy Coxe's son Thomas married Katherine Shepherd of nearby Bruton, so the Shepherds may have provided the Wall family's initial introduction to the Somerset Coxes. Thomas Wall died around January 1619/20, and was buried in Weston churchyard, to the accompaniment of bellringers specified in his will.

William and Dorothy Coxe had three sons. The oldest, Daniel, born around 1580, inherited his father's home in Othery, and it is with his descendants that the rest of this book is mostly concerned, although little is known about his life. His brother Thomas, born about 1588, married Katherine, daughter of Nicholas Shepherd of Bruton and his wife Katherine, formerly Colborne, on St Valentine's Day 1613/4. For the next ten years they lived in Bruton, where at least seven of their children were born, moving to Catcott, a few miles north of Othery, where Thomas had acquired or perhaps inherited from his father an estate and the gift of the minister's living. Hester Coxe, their eleventh and youngest child, was born at Catcott. Thomas described himself as a yeoman, which was something lower in social rank than a gentleman, but the later term of "gentleman farmer" is probably an accurate description. From Catcott the family moved to Sutton Mallet, two miles closer to Othery, where Thomas farmed until his death in the summer of 1646. As well as his properties in Catcott and Sutton Mallett he left estates in Battleborough, nearly ten miles to the north of Sutton Mallett, and Bridgwater, about the same distance to the west. By this time his sons Henry and William were living at Catcott, and his oldest son Thomas was practising as a physician, either in London or with the Parliamentary army. Thomas senior left the Sutton Mallett farm to Katherine, reverting at her death to their sons John and Edward ; the Battleborough estate went to their eldest son Dr Thomas as part of a settlement by which the latter agreed to divide 260 between three of his sisters. The Bridgwater estate was to provide marriage portions to their brothers Joseph and Jonathan. With the exception of Dr Thomas Coxe, of whom more below, little is known of Thomas and Katherine's children. John and Elizabeth married, respectively, spouses called Archer and Hand ; Jonathan went to France and died there in 1672, unmarried ; William moved north to Failand near Bristol, styled himself gentleman, and made himself useful to his uncle William's family, the Coxes of Long Ashton.

William, the third of William and Dorothy Coxe's sons, was born about 1590, and married three times, altogether having eight children. He trained as a lawyer, and after his first marriage he and his wife Rachel moved to Long Ashton, a few miles south-west of Bristol, where at least the two youngest of their five children were born. About 1635, after Rachel's death, he married Margaret Davies, with whom he had a daughter and a son ; and around 1644, widowed again, he married Hester Dowell, a widow herself whose maiden name had been Millard, and with whom he had a daughter, Hester. Like most of the Coxes, he was an avid collector of property : apart from his home at Long Ashton, where he lived until his death, and other unnamed properties bequeathed to his third son William as part of his residuary estate, he owned premises on the other side of Bristol in Over, close to Long Ashton in Brockley and Tickenham (where he had a lease on a house), and further south the manor of Axbridge, which he had bought from the Earl of Newcastle. He called himself a gentleman, and practised as an attorney. By the time he made his will, in 1651, the elder of Rachel's sons, Hugh, was married and presumably already provided for, and the younger, Francis, had died ; and William, Margaret's son, whom he made his principal heir and executor, was still a minor. He nominated his nephew William Coxe, gentleman of Failand near Long Ashton and son of his brother Thomas, as an overseer, and this William duly took up letters of administration in June 1652 until his not-much-younger cousin came of age in 1660. Rachel's daughter Florence and Margaret's daughter Dorothy received legacies of 400 each. Their brother William eventually moved to Staunton Drew, probably the Staunton across the River Severn near Monmouth.

Hugh Coxe settled in Long Ashton, married, and had one son, Francis. Hugh's brother Francis married Sara, daughter of Serjeant Clowes (his name and not his rank). They moved to London, where their son, also Francis, was born in December 1642. Francis (the father) died early in 1647 "in the parish of St. Sepulchre without Newgate" - close to St Bartholomew's Hospital - and in his will, which was dictated, asked Sara to settle their son in Somerset "and marry him tymely". Sara, however, remained in London, surviving her husband only by seven years, and it is not known whether the younger Francis returned to Somerset or lived long enough to marry. She appointed her cousin, Dr Richard Pile, and her late husband's cousin, Dr Thomas Coxe, guardians of her son's estate, which included a manor left him by his father - Dr Coxe succeeding Dr Pile as guardian after three years. Among the minor legatees in her will were her brother James Clowes, also a doctor, and her sister-in-law Florence Coxe, to whom she gave her "Wastcoate of Ash collour'd Tabby". Dr Thomas Coxe was living in Warwick Lane, on the other side of Newgate by St Paul's Cathedral, and Sara must have remained in the same area, as the list of debts appended to her will shows :

To M'ris Tapiffield 13-2s-0d. To Martha Raymond [a spinster of Flax Bourton in Somerset, and a friend and probably a relative of the Long Ashton Coxes] 10-0-0. To a Mercer next doore to the Henn & Chickens in Paternoster Rowe 1-7-0. To a Shopp keep at the signe of the Shipp in Paternoster Rowe 0-13-0. To an Apothecary in Warwick lane 1-10-0. Totall of the Debts 26-12 -0.


Hugh Coxe's son Francis, first cousin to the Francis born in London, married Joan Newcourt of Long Ashton in the late 1650s. Another "gentleman of Long Ashton", and a farmer, he inherited the Axbridge manor from his grandfather, but seems to have sold this and bought the manor of Gatcombe, near Minchinhampton, about twenty-five miles north-east of Bristol. He died in Long Ashton in 1668, leaving two young daughters, Sarah and Rachel. Gatcombe was divided between them : the farm and demesne, or manor, lands to Sarah, and the more valuable mill and manor house to Rachel, the younger daughter. In case they did not live to inherit, the whole estate was to go to his uncle William Coxe, of Staunton, on condition that he give 100 to the poor of Long Ashton and 100 to Francis's sister-in-law Frances Newcourt ; and the slightly-older William Coxe of Failand, Thomas Coxe's son, was one of the trustees of the girls' estate. The trustees were left twenty shillings each to buy gold rings "enameld in black with this mottoe in each Ring, Post Labore Quies". Francis could not have been much more than thirty years old when he died.

Thomas Coxe, "Doctor in Phisick", the eldest son of Thomas Coxe and Katherine Shepherd, was born in Bruton about December 1614. He attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he received his B.A. in 1635 and his M.A. in 1638, after which he went to the University of Padua in Italy to receive training in medicine and philosophy. In December 1641 he graduated M.D. at Padua, and was incorporated at Oxford five years later. By 1646 he was married and serving as a physician with the Parliamentary army. The young Thomas Sydenham, known today as "the English Hippocrates" for his contributions to medical knowledge, was then a Captain in Cromwell's army, and he later claimed that Thomas Coxe's example and encouragement during the Civil War had inspired him to take up medicine.

Dr Coxe's wife Mary was nearly four years his senior, the daughter of Robert Hatley of Maulden in Bedfordshire. They were married soon after Thomas returned from Italy, and their three children, Nathaniel, Thomas and Mary, were born in London between 1642 and 1646. Nothing more is known of Mary, their mother, except that she lived long enough to experience her daughter's "love, duty and obedience".

The Royal College of Physicians (then "of London") admitted Dr Coxe as a Fellow in 1649. His growing professional reputation reached the House of Commons, who on 31 October 1653 appointed him Master of St Katharine's Hospital. The hospital was part of the original Royal Foundation of St Katharine, and the Mastership was a position "of considerable Profit and Advantage"1 which required "some Person of approved Godliness, Discretion, and undoubted Affections to the Commonwealth". Expressing the opinion that Mr Mountague, the incumbent Master, was "a Person, in some respects, unfit for the Execution of the Place", the committee appointed Dr Coxe, then not yet forty years old, Master for life ; but he seems to have turned it down, because six years later his name was put forward again for the same position.

He was a founder member of the Royal Society, being elected a Fellow on 20 May 1663, a month after Charles II granted the original charter. Two years later he was appointed physician to the royal household and received a grant of arms from the king. The Royal College of Physicians elected him Treasurer from 1676 to 1680, and President in 1682.

Thomas Coxe had been living in Warwick Lane since the early 1640s, and around 1680 he built a number of houses there and in Warwick Court. Like many of his relatives, he supplemented his income by speculating in land, and had acquired estates in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire as well as his London properties in Warwick Lane and St Giles in the Fields. Like some of those relatives, however, he overreached his financial resources, and eventually found himself unable to pay his debts. His will, begun by his attorney Mr Fosters "but carried on and perfected by my owne hand" in June 1684, is succinctly summarised by the memorandum he added at the end : "the true meaning of it is to secure the Debts and Portions of my sonne Nathaniel Coxe, to secure the just payment of all my owne debts and in case of failor of both my two sonnes Male line to secure the whole estate and premisses to my Daughter and her heires for ever." He had speculated in partnership with both of his sons in a number of ill-fated ventures, and while Thomas had been provided for by his marriage settlement, Nathaniel remained vulnerable, particularly to his father's creditors. The London property was mortgaged, and Dr Coxe hoped that it could be sold for eleven or twelve thousand pounds, out of which he estimated that Nathaniel would receive 1,500 after the payment of his and his son's debts. In the event that the London sale was insufficient, he instructed that the amount be made up by sale or lease of his other property. He had had a warrant of attorney drawn up in such a way as to protect Nathaniel against his creditors and to secure the London properties to the purposes of his will. If there was a surplus, Dr Coxe wrote, it was to go "towards payment of my other debts" - one of which was a 600 bond to his cousin Daniel Coxe of Stoke Newington, owed jointly with his son Thomas, for which Daniel had sued unsuccessfully. Thomas Coxe's estates, or those of them which could be kept, were devised by a standard formula to his male heirs in perpetuity, but in case neither of his sons had children they were to go to his daughter Mary "as if she were a Male and my Third sonne ... Having ever found and experienced her ... to have been from her very infancy to this houre a Child of most intire love duty and obedience to my selfe and her late Mother as could possibly bee expected from any Child to their parents."

Clearly believing that his assets exceeded his liabilities, but determined nevertheless not to be forced into disposing of his children's inheritance, Dr Coxe had by the end of 1684 grown desperate to escape from the increasing clamour of his creditors. He fled to France, and died of a stroke at Guines, near Calais, in March 1684/5.

Thomas Coxe the younger, Dr Coxe's second son, was educated at Eton and Christchurch College, Oxford, where he matriculated in 1659. Intending to follow in his father's professional footsteps, he enrolled at Magdalene College, Cambridge, transferred to Jesus College, and graduated Bachelor of Medicine in 1664, incorporated at Oxford the same year. He attended his father's old university at Padua, but appears not to have got his doctorate, leaving in December 1669. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 4 November 1663, proposed by the chemist and physicist Robert Boyle, and admitted a week later. In 1685, probably as a result of his indebtedness and the scandal over his father's flight, he was expelled. From Thomas senior's will, we know that Thomas junior was married, but that is all.

In 1664, at the age of eighteen, his sister Mary Coxe married Thomas Rolt, the son of Sir John Rolt of Milton Ernest in Bedfordshire and his wife Anne Barnardiston. Thomas matriculated at St Catharine's College, Cambridge in 1660, and was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1663. His father had died in 1651, when Thomas was ten years old, and the Milton Ernest estate had been entrusted to Dame Anne. When Thomas came of age he leased Milton Ernest to his uncle, Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston. His father-in-law, Dr Thomas Coxe, proposed him for membership of the Royal Society, and he was elected a Fellow on 14 December 1664.

Thomas Rolt's circumstances at his death in 1672 were remarkably similar to his father's. Both were young men, in their thirties ; both left one son, several daughters, and a pregnant wife. Dame Anne's child, Thomas's sister Eleanor, survived to adulthood ; the child Mary Rolt was carrying when her husband died did not live long. Thomas left numerous properties in Bedfordshire to his son Samuel, then three years old, but the house at Milton seems to have been conveyed previously to his mother, Dame Anne, who left it in trust for Samuel in her own will, written in 1690 shortly before he was twenty-one. Thomas, practising law in London, had not lived at Milton since his childhood, and Mary, with Samuel and her three daughters Jane, Mary and Katherine, remained in London after his death. On 5 May 1692, shortly after inheriting the manor from his grandmother, Samuel married Susan Poulter at the church of St Giles Cripplegate in London, and took his wife to Milton Ernest, where their two children, Thomas and Mary, were born. The sad pattern repeated itself : Samuel Rolt died young, probably before he reached forty, and left one son. He was buried in Milton church with his father and grandfather. His widow Susan died on 30 August 1726 at Milton and was buried next to her husband. Her will was brief and addressed directly to her children, with instructions for her funeral service and the recommendation, "above all Love God and serve him which is the way to attain that happiness which I hope for".


NOTES

1. Quotations in this paragraph are from the House of Commons Journal, Volume 7.




Back to Contents page

Coxe family history - other chapters

Chapter 2 - Daniel Coxe II of Stoke Newington and his children
Chapter 3 - Dr Daniel Coxe of London
Chapter 4 - Colonel Daniel Coxe
Chapter 5 - The Norton family of London and Virginia
Chapter 6 - The Jennys family