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The Coxes

On the first of November 1857, William Henry Coxe of Galena Plantation, twelve miles to the southwest of Holly Springs, purchased from the Chalmers estate a large lot on Salem Road in the town, on which to build a great mansion. By late August of 1858, the walls of the Gothic structure had risen, and by New Year s Day of 1859, the Coxe family was in residence. From that time since, the grand Gothic residence has been one of the landmarks of Holly Springs and of the state of Mississippi.

The Coxes have gained mythic status in the folklore of our region. Aristocratic lineage, fabulous wealth, lavish entertaining, dare-devil exploits, beautiful women, handsome reckless men, and even murder figure in their legend. We can trace the family back to the grandfather of five Coxe brothers who came from Georgia to Marshall County in the 1840s. Bartley Coxe (c.1746-27 Oct. 1792) was born in Virginia and married there Susannah Carlton. In 1783 with members of the Carlton family, he left Mecklenburg County for the George piedmont. Bartley Coxe died there in Taliaferro County in 1792. The Coxe-Carlton union produced ten children, among them Edward Coxe, who married, on March 16, 1817, Charlotte Victoria James, daughter of Matthew James of Clarendon, South Carolina.

Edward Coxe and Charlotte Victoria James lived in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. They are buried in a prominent plot at Beth Salem Presbyterian Church at Lexington, where the house built by Edward's brother Swepson still stands. They were the parents of five sons. The two oldest, Edward and Matthew James (b. 1819), graduated from the University of Georgia in 1839. The younger three were William Henry (b 1824), Bartley Albinus (b.1827), and Robert R. (b. 1830, called Toby).

In the 1836 when the Chickasaw lands of north Mississippi were opened to settlers, Edward Coxe purchased three sections of fertile land southwest of Holly Springs near the village of Chulahoma. When his will was probated in 1841, his two oldest sons were already living in Mississippi. In April of 1842, in Oglethorpe County at the age of eighteen, William Henry married Amelia S. Brailsford, a girl of seventeen.

The Brailsfords were a distinguished South Carolina family, tracing themselves to Dr. John Moultrie, a Scotts immigrant to Charleston in the 1720s. He was the father of General William Moultrie, hero of the American Revolution. General Moultrie's son and namesake, William Moultrie, Jr., of Windsor Hill, married Hannah Ainsley, granddaughter of the Earl of Cromartie, and was the father of Eliza Charlotte Moultrie, who married Edward Brailsford. Among the Brailsford children were Serena, who married a James, and Amelia, the wife of Will Henry Coxe.

According to the family tradition, after their marriage Will Henry Coxe and his bride moved over to the Coxe holding in Mississippi. Amelia rode in a carriage with Charity Wall, the beloved Coxe nurse, at the head of a cavalcade of wagons transporting household goods and slaves, followed by livestock. A crude log cabin had been hastily erected to receive them. They named their place Galena, and in 1845 they moved into a long, sprawling H-shaped frame plantation house. Bricks for the foundation and the chimneys were burned on the place by slave workman, and the fine interior detailing was also the work of slave carpenters. The craftsmanship was as refined in detail as the finest early houses of Holly Springs. A comparable house is the Samuel McCorkle house, built in 1837. The late Hugh H. Rather remembered visiting Galena in the 1920s and being particularly fascinated with the punka over the dining room table, pulled back and forth by a servant to cool the diners.

All was not gracious living and lavish hospitality, however, on the Coxe lands near Chulahoma. A hot-blooded, dare-devil strain ran through the Coxe brothers, the only one to escape it and live to old age being Matthew James. The first to perish was the oldest son, Edward. Tradition has it that, after dressing with great care, he goaded the matched pair of fine black horses drawing his carriage, to leap over the bluffs at Memphis, taking him to his death. Strangely no tombstone memorializes him on the Coxe lot at Hill Crest, where Carrara marble monuments mark the graves of the other four brothers. The second to die was Bartley.

In June of 1846, he married Mary Peel, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Major Volney Peel of Hickory Park, just a few miles south of Galena. Before the summer had ended, Bartley was dead, killed the Peel family always said in a hunting accident. The 1850 census lists the young bride-widow as insane. A year later, she was buried under her maiden name in the Peel cemetery.

It is the remarkably handsome Toby Coxe, however, who came to the most shocking end. In November of 1855, he married young Sally Wilson, niece of leading settlers Colonel John D. Martin and Major Andrew L. Martin and sister of Mrs. Charles Bonner (and thus aunt of the author Sherwood Bonner). Two and a half months later, Toby and his wife were both dead. In a drunken fit, he had killed her and then turned the gun upon himself. The sensational incident was reported by newspapers throughout the region and twice has received literary treatment.

Amid these vicissitudes, Amelia Brailsford Coxe, beautiful and charming, as well as high-born, continued to add luster to a frontier region that from the start had prided itself on the excellence of its society. Will Henry and Amelia traveled widely and collected for the fine town house that they planned to build. In 1853, they had made a tour of the east with Judge Jeremiah W. Clapp and his wife Evalina Lucas.

Coxe and Clapp Mansions on Salem were built in the same year,1858, in different fashionable architectural styles that the couples may well have admired on their tour. Amelia Brailsford Coxe did not live to see her mansion. She died on Oct. 27, 1857, four days before her husband gained title to the large lot on Salem Road.



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