Tench Coxe (1755-1824)

Relationship to the Speculation Lands:
Tench Coxe initiated the purchase of the North Carolina lands that became known as the 'Speculation Lands' and later the 'Speculation Land Company.' During the period of 1795-1797 Coxe actively acquired some 400,000 acres that encompassed portions of McDowell, Henderson, Buncombe, Polk, and virtually all of Rutherford county. Despite his pecuniary troubles that stemmed from land investment, he managed to retain ownership of most of the land holdings for some twenty years. Some of  his descendants remained in western North Carolina and were responsible for the development of Asheville, North Carolina as an industrial center and a tourist mecca. [See: The Coxe Family]

Born on May 22, 1755 in Philadelphia, Tench Coxe was the second of thirteen children born to William and Mary Francis Coxe.  Coxe became a well known figure in American history both during and after the revolution.  Though Coxe was not known as a reformist early on, by 1785 he had taken the powerlessness of congress in the face of a worsening economy as illustrative of the Articles' inadequacy and he became an ardent supporter of the Federalist cause.  In 1789 he served as Pennsylvania's delegate to the Continental Congress and was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Alexander Hamilton in 1790. In 1792 he became the Commissioner of Revenue.  He finally became a Federalist apostate, according to his biographer, Jacob E. Cooke, and gave his allegiance to Thomas Jefferson.

He was active in Virginia state politics as a party leader, and was a national campaign coordinator for Jefferson. A political economist, Coxe believed in technology as a means for prosperity and his materialistic philosophy led to extravagant claims for industrialization and land speculation. His journalistic talents led to his editorial contributions in three of Philadelphia's leading newspapers and his opinions helped to shape the intellectual climate of the early national period of American history.  As an interesting historical note, Coxe is sometimes called the father of the American cotton industry due to his persistent efforts to incorporate cotton as a staple in the South.

His involvement in what became the Speculation Lands began in the spring of 1795 when he was approached by Andrew Baird, who along with Lewis Beard, was an agent for the Rutherford Land Company which claimed half a million acres in western North Carolina.  Baird informed Coxe that the trustees of his company were willing to offer a portion or the whole of their holdings east of the Blue Ridge mountains for 9 cents an acre. Coxe, like many of his colleagues, found himself caught up in the speculation frenzy during the years between 1792 to 1796. He added the North Carolina lands to his growing speculative ventures in Pennsylvania. His acquisitiveness brought him close to bankruptcy and into conflict with his public trust as head of the Pennsylvania Land Office from 1799 to 1801. Like William S. Smith (John Adams's son-in-law), Thomas Billington, John B. Church, the unfortunate Robert Morris, and others, Coxe over-extended his financial reach and his official capacities. As a government agent in the Treasury Department he often made deals with his own subordinates, including William Polk, Supervisor of Internal Revenue for the District of North Carolina and Surveyor General of the "Middle District" of North Carolina, now part of the State of Tennessee. 

The opportunistic nature of Tench Coxe was not missed by his contemporaries. John Adams described Coxe as a "wiley, winding, subtle, and insidious character." Other contemporaries like Richard Hilddreth in his The History of the United States of America record him as a "busybody" but "a man of  considerable financial knowledge and ability."  

On-Site Links:
Most of the land grants were sold to Tench Coxe.

0135 - Deed of Release for land in Patent 1023 on the Main Broad River, granted by the State of North Carolina to Tench Coxe as the assignee of Beard et al, November 2, 1796. The document is referenced as an "Abstract of a Deed," delivered May 15, 1828. 

0192 - True and Perfect Copy of the Proceedings of the Superior Courts in Rutherford and Lincoln Counties, signed by John Michael, Clerk of the Court, dated April 12, 1841. The case began in April 1828 in Rutherford County and was transferred to Lincoln County in 1832 as in the judge's opinion a fair and impartial trial could not be held in Rutherford County due to the number of interested parties. The case was not concluded until 1835, in part due to the number of continuances. The case began as a Breach of Contract against Richard Roe brought by John Doe over use of land for a contract period of ten years, beginning January 1, 1828. The land in question was located on the waters of the Broad River and Buffalo Creek, 1. John Doe was physically removed from his farm and the land and sued for $1,200 for "mental anguish". 2. It evolved into a case of who actually owned the land - Richard Roe or Bronson et al. 3. Affidavits filed by Arthur Bronson, Joshua Forman, Agent, and Samuel L. Gidney stated that Bronson, Hoyt, et al owned the land. 4. Two surveys of the land are included in the Court records. 5. A jury trial was held with twelve jurors seated. 6. The jury awarded $6.00 to the defendant and ordered Peter Stephen Du Ponceau (One of two trustees of Tench Coxe's land holdings) to pay court costs of $83.50. (It is unclear if Du Ponceau or his agent was in fact Richard Roe.) Also see Item 77/294 in this Section. 

0290 - Ledger containing the record of purchase of 209,710 acres of land by Tench Coxe.

0776 - Chronology of events of Patents 1050 and 1045: 1. August 12, 1819, Augustus Sacket conveyed a Deed of Mortgage to the Trustees of Tench Coxe. 2. August 17, 1819, the Trustees conveyed lands to Augustus Sacket. 3. March 15, 1822, Abraham Kintzing released his Trusteeship to Peter S. Du Ponceau. 4. February 12, 1825, Peter S. Du Ponceau assigned the Mortgage of Augustus Sacket to Thompson, Hoyt, Bronson et al. 5. 1826, Thompson et al file suit against Augustus Sacket. 6. October 20, 1826, Report and sales are given to James Stevens. 7. May 1827, ___ assigns to James Stevens. 8. May 6, 1827, Stevens assigns his rights to Hoyt, Murray, and Arthur Bronson. 9. March 24, 1828, James Murray assigns his rights to Isaac Bronson. 10. March 6, 1830, Arthur Bronson assigns his rights to Isaac Bronson and Gould Hoyt. 


The Coxe Papers are held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and have been edited by Lucy Fisher West. They are available in West's Guide to the Microfilm of the Papers of Tench Coxe in the Coxe Family Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1977).

Cooke, Jacob E. Tench Coxe and the Early Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978. [Contains a comprehensive bibliography of sources by and about Coxe.]

Hutchenson, Harold. Tench Coxe: A Study in American Economic Development.  New York: Da Capo Press 1969.

Johnson, Allen and Dumas Malone, Ed., Dictionary of American Biography Vol. II. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958.

Richard Hilddreth, The History of the United States of America ..., V, New York, 1851.