the first of November 1857, William Henry Coxe of Galena
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
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.
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
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.
The 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.
FOREWORD | THE
COXES | BUILDING THE COXE MANSION | THE
CIVIL WAR | TOPP TENURE
THE LEAN YEARS | REVIVAL | THE
DEAN YEARS | RESTORATION | NOTES