Thursday, December 15, 2016

James William Cox and Mary Elizabeth Mitchell - Part V


All of Jim’s farm work was done by horsepower and manpower, although it changed seasonally.  In addition to herding his cattle, tending young stock, harrowing plowed fields, harvesting crops, stacking hay, storing grain, and building fences, he was, at the same time, in the blacksmith business on the side to bring in extra money for his large and growing family.  His work was from dawn to dusk.

As soon as the children were old enough, he assigned regular chores and taught his six boys how to help with the livestock and how to seed, grow and harvest grain, as well.  Everybody in the family had to lend a hand, and at times, it is probable that everyone in the family may have helped with the field work.  Eventually, according to my grandfather, his older brothers mostly ran the farm, while their father operated his blacksmith shop on the side.

In working his homestead and farm fields, Jim Cox had to be part blacksmith, part mechanic and part carpenter, just to name a few of the talents needed to carry out a successful farming operation.  It was also important for him to be somewhat of a veterinarian so he could tend to the ailments of his livestock.  When we think about all the animals kept around the farm, the pioneering farmer had to be concerned and as knowledgeable as possible about their health and diseases. 

In the horse and buggy days, James Cox had to depend on his own remedies to cure the ailments of his horses, cattle and sheep.  Since there were no veterinarians such as we have today, most farmers, as a rule, practiced all the old-time cures taught them by their fathers.  Just like most of his neighbors, Jim Cox probably made his own all-purpose ointments and liniments that contained ingredients such as turpentine, coal oil and salty meat grease, among other things, widely used for wounds, cuts, bruises and just about everything.

First and foremost, it was important to know how to tend a sick horse and restore his health, else plowing and essential work would not get done.  Of course, Jim also needed to know something about how to tend to all the other animals around his farm.  But, like most farmers of that era, he was concerned mainly with the care of his horses, mules and cattle.  In that day, some people also still used oxen for plowing and pulling heavy loads. 

Having been a teacher, he would have realized the importance of studying the economy in planning for his annual and immediate cash income.  As part economist, he most likely consulted the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the oldest continuously published periodical in America, first published in 1792.  He checked it out to get the most favorable weather information, moon cycle dates, and planting guides for his crops, as well as for all the latest agricultural techniques.  Most almanacs of the day supplied astronomy and weather observations. 

If Jim Cox used the moon cycles to plant, as outlined in the almanac, it provided him with a few tips to yield more and healthier crops, such as:

§         First quarter moon cycle (new moon to half full) – Plant things
that are leafy, like lettuce, cabbage and spinach.

§         Second quarter moon cycle (half full to full moon) – Plant things
that have seeds inside, like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and beans.

§         Third quarter moon cycle (full moon to half full) – Plant things that
grow underground like potatoes, onions and beets; also perennials.

§         Fourth quarter moon cycle (half full to new moon) – Do not plant
at this time.  Weed, mow and kill pests during this time.

§         Do not plant anything on the first day of the full moon or new moon.

With study of this old-time reference guide, Jim went about making the necessary plans for his farming operations for the year.  It was important to plan ahead for selling some of his produce and crops in the nearest market in order to buy his land, farm tools and supplies.  He probably wrote down his ideas - dates his animals were bred and born, the cost of his seed, and other farm plans - in an old time gray canvass-backed ledger book or perhaps on a calendar.  Or, he may have carried a little pocket-sized canvass-covered book that he kept handy in the pocket of his bib overalls.

    He had a number of things to plan for and consider in selecting the crops for his farm.  Generally, he had to consider the lay of his land, investment requirements, cost of supplies, number of acres to be planted, and possible profitability.  Jim was also concerned about how and where the crop would be stored before going to market, prices, and where he would sell all that he did not keep for his family and his livestock.

And of course, as with all farm or any other business operations, his success depended to a great degree on what state trends and market conditions prevailed at the time. No doubt he tried to take all this information into account in making his annual farming plan.


          Mary’s garden, located near the house, had to be cleared of old growth and weeds in late fall every year, and in spring her sons plowed the garden plot to loosen the soil and opened up rows for planting. Lettuce was probably planted first in the “tobacco burn beds” where seedlings were planted, covered with cloth to hold heat in. It gave the lettuce an early head start.  Sometimes lettuce was transplanted to the ends of tobacco rows.  Cabbage planting came next, along with beets, English peas, onions, greens, carrots and a few other vegetables that liked cool weather.  Mary and the children weeded and took care of the garden the rest of the year.

          One of the big jobs - planting potatoes - came early, too, about a month before the last spring frost.  Earlier, the seed potatoes had been spread out for several weeks until the eyes sprouted and were ready to be cut up in big pieces.  Mary had to teach her children that were old enough how to handle a knife and cut up the potato into pieces with eyes.  They probably sat around in a semi-circle, maybe in the kitchen, or if it was warm enough, maybe out on the back porch or down at the barn, while they helped cut up the potatoes under the watchful eye of their mother. 

         It was a time-consuming job to cut the potatoes in sections, making sure each section had at least one or two eyes and a large piece of potato.  Having one eye on each planting piece was important since the new potato grows from the eye.  After maybe two or three tow-sacks of seed potatoes had been cut up, the chunks were spread out in a sunny place to air, while waiting for the eyes to grow into about one-fourth inch sprouts.  When the potatoes were well sprouted, the pieces were ready to be planted.  Holes or trenches were dug in the freshly plowed ground, then the children sprinkled each hole with a dipper of water from a bucket to help start the growth.  Potato pieces were dropped into the dampened holes, about twelve inches apart, and then they used their hoe to cover the seed potato section with about three inches of loose soil.

Sometime in May or early June, the potato hills were ready to be plowed up, dug, and picked up by the children.  Harvesting the potato crop took hours of back-breaking work, bending over and digging out the potatoes buried in the loosened dirt, and taking them to the barn to a cool, dark place where they were spread in a layer to dry out. 

The Cox family probably ate an abundance of potatoes, prepared in many ways.  Boiled new potatoes, when cooked with the first garden pickings of Kentucky Wonder beans, and a pan of freshly baked cornbread, was a meal “fit for a king” and one the whole family looked forward to!  Just as today, potatoes were a popular dish on the dinner table, whether it was potato salad, fried potatoes with onions, baked potatoes, mashed, or creamed.  New potatoes were a staple and most farm families also planted a fall garden with potatoes they buried later to preserve and carry them through the winter.

Other vegetables cultivated in the garden were tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, radishes, green beans, butter beans, peas, carrots, cabbage, pumpkins, turnips, squash, sweet potatoes and watermelons.  They grew just about everything you could think of and particularly raised a lot of beans, which in the fall, were dried and threshed to use all winter.  Sometimes they raised running beans beside the cornstalks.  Sweet corn as well as field corn was planted.  The family ate both kinds, and they made a lot of hominy, but mostly, field corn was used for animal food, with some ground into corn meal at the mill for the family’s use.

The farm also supported a fruit orchard, consisting of apple, pear, peach, plum and cherry trees, which were tended and pruned to provide fruit for jelly, jams, preserves, pies and cobblers in the winter.  Fruits from the orchard were canned, preserved or dried and supplemented wild fruits and berries, which with honey, molasses and maple syrup, made the Cox farm practically self-sufficient.   Farming was a year around job.

Everyday Life for Mary Elizabeth Cox

It’s easy to imagine a day in the life of Mary Elizabeth (Mitchell) Cox. With five children by the time she was twenty-six, each coming along about two years apart, Mary Elizabeth had a large responsibility to keep her household running smoothly.  In general, she managed the household and the outbuildings and grounds around the house, while her husband managed the rest of the farm, including the stock barns, storage sheds, and fields.  Besides tending to her children’s needs, responsibilities for Mary included cooking, washing, ironing, churning, cleaning, mending, sewing and raising enough food in the garden to last the family for a year.

All her jobs were important, but cooking for her large family started her day.  Just as soon as her feet hit the floor in the morning, Mary Elizabeth headed to the kitchen to build a fire in her big black cast iron, wood-burning cook stove that dominated the room.  They had no electricity, gas, or running water, so after filling the graniteware tea kettle from a water bucket, she set the kettle on the stove to get hot for coffee.  When the water boiled, she added ground coffee to the pot.  A tea kettle was nearly always on the kitchen stove top, full and hot for the needs of the day, such as washing the dishes or scalding a chicken. 

By the time a good fire was going in the kitchen stove, she had put on her calico apron and prepared large pans of biscuits, a platter of ham, sausage or bacon, gravy, and scrambled eggs in cast iron skillets for her large and growing family.  On hot summer mornings, enough biscuits were cooked for both the morning and noon meal.  Having a good cook stove made her life a bit easier than cooking on the fireplace like her grand- mothers had to do.  It was probably around the warmth and heat from the cook stove in the kitchen on cold winter evenings, where Mary bathed all her young children in a zinc tub in winter.  The kettle on the stove was handy for refills to keep the water warm.

With her husband working in his blacksmith shop and her sons working in the fields, substantial meals, cooked from scratch, were required three times a day.  The minute the men had eaten and left out to work, the kitchen was cleaned up and what must have seemed like a mountain of dishes were washed, by hand, in a dishpan.  Right away, one or two of her older daughters started preparing and getting ready for dinnertime.  Then, donning their sunbonnets, Mary and some of the younger children may have gone out to hoe weeds in the garden before the sun got too hot. 

When the garden had been hoed, weeded, and the potato bugs picked off, Mary went back to the kitchen to check on how dinner was coming along.  (In that day and time, the noon meal was called “dinner” and not lunch.  The evening meal was called “supper” and was the last meal of the day where they helped themselves to as many “seconds” as they wanted.)  As soon as dinner was over, the same routine was repeated for supper. And so it went, day in and day out.  Cooking, taking care of her children, and tending to the outside chores took up much of Mary Cox’s day.

The chickens had to be looked after too. Every so often, the nests had to be cleaned out and new straw put in for the old setting hens that would be hatching baby chicks. She usually had several hens setting at one time to provide plenty of young roosters and pullets to fry for Sunday dinner. Gathering eggs was another chore for the younger children.  It took a dozen or more fresh eggs for breakfast, not to mention the eggs used for cooking.  If she had any eggs left over, she probably saved and sold them to the nearest neighbors or merchants.  

Each evening she sent one of the children to the chicken yard to shut the chicken house door after the chickens had gone to roost, else a fox might get in and kill all the chickens before morning.  Several times a year, the chicken house floor had to be raked out and cleaned.  Raising chickens in all kinds of weather was a year-around job that required daily time and attention.

Morning and evening, the girls fed and watered the chickens. All the animals around the farm had to have water.  Their hand-dug well in the back yard had poles that supported a pulley, rope and a tin well bucket to draw water.  Sometimes buckets and any number of other objects were accidentally dropped in the well, and it had to be cleaned out every summer.  All the children, boys and girls, took turns throughout the day carrying water into the kitchen – to wash dishes, to cook with, for drinking water, and for bathing.  Since they didn’t have running water as we do today, a good well of pure, fresh water was important to the Cox family.  Ponds and creeks on the farm watered the horses, cows and larger farm animals.

Sometime during the day, all the smut on the glass chimney shades of the coal oil lamps had to be cleaned and the wicks trimmed before using them again in the evening.  Farm people had long, hard work days and most families went to bed soon after the sun went down. Some folks claimed, “we go to bed with the chickens,” meaning they retired very early.  It saved money – on candles and on coal oil.  Besides, they usually got up at first light when the roosters started crowing from the top of the henhouse every morning.

Washing, a complete hand operation from start to finish, was one of Mary’s biggest jobs.  If there was no spring nearby, all the water had to be drawn from the well, bucket after bucket, or else water was hauled to the yard in a barrel. I can imagine that Mary Cox was up early, before most of the birds were awake, to get the fires blazing under a huge black iron wash pot – one for washing and boiling sheets first, then clothes – and  second and third pots or tubs for rinsing. 

Using homemade lye soap and a poke stick for stirring the clothes around in the pot, she washed and scrubbed, beat and pounded, and she may have used a wooden rub-board by that day and time.  Sheets were so large and heavy that it took two people to rinse, twist and wring out all the water.  Afterwards, clothes were hung out on clothes lines to dry in the sun.  If they ran out of clothes line, the fence made a good place to hang the heavy work clothes - overalls and work shirts.

Nothing was ever wasted, and at the end of washday, Mary Elizabeth probably poured her rinse water from the washtubs on flower beds or perhaps on a row of herbs in her garden.   We can be sure that she had all her children old enough to help her out on washday!  Washing was followed by folding and putting away the clothes, and ironing.  Irons were much different from what we use today.  Made of iron, they were heavy, and had to be heated on the wood cook stove or set on a trivet in the fire place.  Several irons were heating at the same time to make the chore go faster.  Electricity was unheard of in that day and time.

In addition to all the work of her household, she had to take care and maintain the health of her family.  She did, however, have her brother-in-law, Leonard Cox, a pharmacist who later became a medical doctor, to call on when there was sickness in the family.  Nevertheless, she collected and dried many medicinal plants, just as her mother and grandmothers had always done before her.

At different seasons, she probably made lye soap and dozens of molded, tallow candles at a time – enough to last through the winter.  Everything she did – from making soap to making hominy and sauerkraut, to preserving fruits and vegetables, to picking the geese to make feather pillows and mattresses, to quilting and mending – all was done the hard way, the same way as for every other farm woman.  A woman’s work was just taken for granted.  It was simply her job and something she was supposed to do.  Then, as now, there was no time for idle hands. 

Living on a farm, young, and being the only adult woman in the home, Mary Elizabeth had all the work to do by her own efforts until the children were old enough to help her.  Somehow, with all her other work, while her husband was gone during the day, she managed to have time to look after several small children, cook large meals, bring in wood and water, and was responsible for the garden and for the domain of the farmyard.

No doubt there were mornings when she woke up at the crack of dawn, faced with the realization of all the work that lay ahead of her that day.  Although she was young, surely there were times when it seemed overwhelming and unending to her.  But, with so much work to be done, there was simply no time for complaints, and so she managed the best way she knew how.

For Mary Cox, the first years of her married life were probably more difficult than can be imagined and her workload for home and hearth must have been the work of survival.

After the children came along and were growing up, James Cox often instructed his children in their schooling.  My grandfather said they always had a good number of books in their home.  Jim and Mary Cox encouraged their children to get as much education as was available to them.  Most attended school at various times at Cromwell and Select, and walked to and from, a distance of at least a mile or more, in all kinds of weather.  My grandmother said that in Ohio County, Select is pronounced as “See-lect.”


In 1878, Mary’s mother, Susannah Caroline (Acton) Mitchell died at age fifty-two and five months, and was buried in the McCord Cemetery, located between the communities of Cedar Grove and Rosine, about three and one-half miles from Rosine on the Hall’s Creek Road.  Joseph Thomas Cox, the oldest son of James and Mary Elizabeth Cox, is also buried at McCord, along with his first wife, Emily J. (Crume).

Two years later in the 1880 census, James W. Cox, age 42 and Mary Elizabeth, 36, were living in the Stewartsville District, and are listed with nine children:  Joseph Thomas, 18; Susan M, 16; Delana Jane, 14; John W., 12; Mary E., 10; Netter, 8; Emma, 7; Martha, 2; and Orlando C., 4 months old.


The large Cox family was almost totally self-sufficient, just like everyone else in Ohio County.  They had to be!  No super-markets were handy in that day and time and travel was by horse and buggy.  Many things they needed were bartered or swapped for.  Mary may have used her income from sales of eggs and butter to finance the purchase of household items, while Jim probably used his blacksmith and farm income to expand his capital investment in land and equipment.  

Once a month, James and Mary probably went to Cromwell or maybe over to Beaver Dam, about six miles away, in the buggy for staples and supplies, and if they took some of the children, they went to town in the wagon.  Each son and daughter was part of the family team and each contributed something everyday to help sustain and improve their daily way of life.


Over a span of twenty-eight years, Jim and Mary Elizabeth Cox had fourteen children, all of whom married in Ohio County (except one daughter) and became respectable citizens of the county.  The children’s names, dates of birth and death were listed in the family Bible (Nelson series, Thomas Nelson and Sons) belonging to Cinderella (Cox) Crowder, and was in the possession of her daughter, Loretta Westerfield, Rosine, Kentucky in 1972.

As recorded in the Bible of James W. and Mary Elizabeth Cox, the “Births” of the parents and their fourteen children are recorded as follows:
“James W. Cox was born the 24th of February 1838.
Mary E. Mitchell was born June 1st 1844.
Joseph T. Cox was born September 8th, 1861.
Susanah M. Cox born July 18th, 1863
Dalana J. Cox born October 2nd, 1866
John W. Cox born May 15th, 1868.
Mary E. Cox born December 6th, 1869
Gabriel N. Cox born Dec. 10th, 1871
Emma C. Cox born Aug. 8th, 1873
Cindrilla Cox born Sept. 2nd, 1875
Martha E. Cox born Aug. 31st, 1877
Orlando C. Cox born Feb. 2nd, 1880
Ira C. Cox born Jan. 20th, 1882
Jasper N. Cox born May 10th, 1884
Bertha B. Cox born Sept. 13th, 1886
Sarah May Cox born July 25th, 1889”

I do not have a copy of the marriage record pages, but only three deaths were recorded in the Bible, two children, Bertha B. and John W., plus Rebecca Patterson, the second wife of James W. Cox:

            “Bertha B. Cox departed this life August 7th, 1903
            Rebecca Cox departed this life September 2nd, 1903   
            John W. Cox departed this life February 18, 1906.”

Mary Elizabeth Cox was forty-five years old when Sarah May, her eighth daughter and last child, was born on July 25, 1889.  James was fifty-one.  When little Sarah was born, their oldest child, Joseph Thomas, was twenty-eight.  Three of their children - Susanah, Delana Jane, and John W. - were already married and had left home to begin families of their own.  The next year in 1890, two more children married, Joseph Thomas and Mary Ellen.  That left at home, four boys and five girls – Netter, Emma, Cinderella, Evelyn, Orlando, Ira, Newton, Bertha and the baby, Sarah May.  All of their children grew to maturity except Bertha, who died when she was not quite seventeen with typhoid fever.


Because ninety-nine percent of the1890 census was destroyed by fire in a Washington, D.C. warehouse on January 10, 1921, we now have a twenty-year gap between the 1880 and 1900 censuses. Twenty-four important questions were asked in the 1890 census that would have given more clues about our families. The loss of the 1890 records requires us to look for help in other places to fill in the genealogical holes in our family research.  Tax and land records can often help fill this lost period of time in the county records.


Sometime in November 1890, when my grandfather was about six years old, James William Cox and his wife of thirty years separated and filed for divorce.  Mary Elizabeth moved out of her home.  At forty-six, other than domestic skills, she probably had few talents required to make a living for her younger children.  After all, she had been married nearly thirty years, borne fourteen children, and had time for little else besides raising her family.  Thus, the children remained in the home with their father, age fifty-two, at the Cox homestead, and continued going to school.  The older daughters still at home, Emma, seventeen, Cinderella, fifteen, and Evelyn, thirteen, helped with the care of the younger children.   

According to family members, only eight-year old Ira Clinton, who cried and cried, went with his mother. It is unknown how she supported herself, but somehow she managed. She may have lived for a while with a brother or sister’s family.  When Mary Elizabeth returned home to visit her children, James would leave the home to let her have time with them. 

No reconciliation was worked out and their thirty-year partnership came to a formal end, three years after the first filing, when the court rendered a final decree on November 1, 1893.  It must have been a sad day for the children, young and old.  All hearts concerned probably felt a little heavier that day.

On April 3, 1896, about two and one-half years after the divorce was final, Mary Elizabeth (Mitchell) Cox married John Rummel.  In 1900 the couple was living in the magisterial district of Hartford, Ohio County.  John was fifty-two, Mary E. was fifty-six, and Ira Clinton was eighteen.  Sometime after the 1900 census, she and her husband, an expert “tie hack,” moved to Obion County, Tennessee, taking Ira Clinton with them.

NOTE: This article is Part V of several.  It was written by Janice Cox Brown, an expert genealogy researcher whose ancestry is from Ohio County. Janice now lives in Texas. We thank her for her work and her desire to share her family research.

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