This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
William Coxe, Esq., of Burlington, New Jersey, was the pioneer pomologist of America. His work is entitled: "A View of the Cultivation of Fruit-Trees, and the Management of Orchards and Cider, with accurate descriptions of the most estimable varieties of native and foreign apples, pears, peaches, plums, and cherries, cultivated in the Middle States of America - illustrated by cuts of two hundred kinds of fruits of the natural size," was printed in Burlington, and published by M. Carey & Son, in 1817. It is a work exhibiting study, nice observation, and an amount of practical knowledge highly creditable to the research of the author; it continues to be valued by pomologists, and to be quoted by them with approbation. The author left among his papers considerable additions, the result of his succeeding efforts to promote the cultivation of fruit.
Mr. Coxe was born in Philadelphia, May 3, 1762; his father's name was William, and his mother's was Mary Frances; their names will be recognized by Philadelphians, as belonging to families of the first stations, and having pretensions to be enrolled among the best informed, and most refined circles.
An early grant of the Jerseys was made by the English crown to an ancestor of Mr. Core, but was afterwards revoked from an idea that it was too large a gift to be held by a private individual. A large tract given in exchange near the northern lakes was accepted, a part of which has continued in the family until very recently.
He received a most imperfect education. The war, which eventuated in the glorious liberty of our country, in its early stages checked all efforts for private improvement, and few or no good schools were open for the instruction of the youth of the land. At nine years of age, he, with some small assistance from a member of his family, began his efforts to acquire knowledge, and being truly industrious, laid the foundation of a remarkably accurate and extended information; his fondness for reading continued through life. Well do we remember his extensive library in his fine mansion on the " Bank" at Burlington, when, as a little boy, we were assigned the duty of bringing away, or taking home, some book or pamphlet from his ever open stores of information. Years, we will not Bay how many, have since rolled over us, and all but whitened a head even then prying into gardens and conservatories with pleasurable sensations; we have since stood before kings, and the mighty of the earth, but never have felt greater respect and veneration for them than we did when a boy for William Coxe. His person was handsome, and his bearing that of the "old-fashioned" gentleman, improved by mixing in the best society, but retaining the forms of the greatest politeness and suavity, that modem usages are too rapidly casting off.
An errand to Mr. Coxe's was a cherished privilege; never was the opportunity neglected by him, to place in the band of his visitor some fruit that he so well knew would be appreciated by a youthful appetite. The, finest Seckel pears we have ever seen were not unfrequent deposits; for this fine fruit he had an especial fondness.; and, by careful cultivation, he had brought it to great perfection; it is by the absence of this cultivation that it has depreciated, and by this alone.
In 1789, Mr. Coxe married Rachel Smith, a most estimable and benevolent lady, a descendant of the first and honorable settlers of that district of New Jersey, a name that was so well known there, and so numerous, that a fine old French emigre used to say, that when any one spoke to him, in Burlington, whom he did not recognize, he always took off his hat, and said: "How do you do, Mr. Smith!" Mr. Coxe, at the time of his marriage, was settled as a merchant in Philadelphia, but being unfortunate in business, he removed to Burlington, where he improved his wife's large property, and materially beautified that pretty little town, now a city, particularly by extending the front of the "Green Bank." and planting it tastefully with fine trees; either the first poplar or the first willow there, his daughter remembers him frequently to have said, was' brought in his hand from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The natural activity of his mind, and his strong desire for improvement, led him to the cultivation of fruit, which he introduced in his collection from all parts of the United States, as well as from England and France. His orchards and his cider were the talk of the country. So frequent were the demands upon his time for information, and the requests for grafts, that he determined to give the results of his experience in the form of print; the volume now so celebrated, and so scarce, was the result. He previously enlightened his fellow-citizens by furnishing the capital for a nursery business, consigning it to the hands of a partner, Daniel Smith, one of whose lists of trees, for the year 1806, is now before us, and is quite a curiosity in itself.
Mr. Coxe was interested in the profits of the nursery, but formed, perhaps, erroneous views of the demand for that period; the sales never amounted to more than five thousand dollars a year; the half profits on this could have been of little moment to a gentleman then living in the style of the wealthiest people of the period, but it was in the line of his studies so to do, and we all know, that for a favorite hobby we can attempt anything we fancy. The business not being of sufficient moment, it was abandoned to his partner, who continued it for some years with moderate success.
Mr. Coze was made an honorary member of the Horticultural Society Of London, and received, annually, their splendid works, with colored engravings, in consequence of his making known to the members the great value of the Seckel pear, a painting of which, executed by one of the accomplished members of his family, was sent by him through Dr. Hosack to that Institution; but in a few years, he declined this honor, being unwilling to receive their valuable publications for so trifling a contribution.
He was for many years a member of the State Legislature, and afterwards was elected a member of Congress about the time of the last war with England, where he was intimately associated with Daniel Webster, and one of his earliest admirers.
Some unfortunate investments in veal estate induced him to consider it prudent to dispose of his beautiful residence in Burlington, and remove to his farm on the borders of the Delaware, near the town, which he improved and cultivated with great interest. The cider made there, much of it from his favorite crab-apple, was sought after from all parts of the country, and made as much noise in the then little American world, as the wine of Ohio does now.
From this period he led a very retired life - devoted to his family and his books, always manifesting a warm interest in the church of which he was a member, and keenly alive to the comfort of the poor families by whom he was surrounded, frequently, making sacrifices to give them employment, especially through the winter months.
A sudden and violent cold, terminating in bronchitis, caused his death on the 25th of February, 1831, in the 69th year of his age. He left several children, one of whom, Richard Smith Coxe, has made a considerable figure at the bar, and is a resident of Washington, D. C. One of his daughters is the wife of Bishop Mcllvaine, of Ohio.
Such is the bare outline of the life of William Coxe, the pioneer of American pomology, on which it would be useless to enlarge further than to say that his book is a very good one. Much that we moderns plume ourselves upon as new, is old. Even Evelyn, in 1686, said: "Water lately planted trees, and put moist and half-rotten fern, Ac, about the foot of their stems, having first cleared them of weeds and a little stirred the earth." This is our modern "mulching" and "stirring." Again, in October, he says: "Trench grounds for orcharding, and the kitchen garden, to lie for a winter mellowing."This is now much insisted on, "Gather winter fruit, that remains, weather dry; take heed of bruising; lay them up clean lest they taint." Evelyn, too, has his select list of pears, as follows: "Messire Jean, Lord-pear, long Bergamot, Warden (to bake), Burnt-cat, Sugarpear, Lady-pear, Ice-pear, Dove-pair, Deadmans-pear, Winter bergamot, Bell-pear, etc.;" no doubt great "acquisitions" in their day. His apples, too, were doubtless sought after under the following appellations: "Rousseting, Leather-coat, Winter reed, Chestnut apple, Great-belly, the Go-no-further or Cat's-head," Ac. In January, you are to "set your traps for vermin; especially in your nurseries of kernels and stones, and amongst your bulbous roots," and in December, "As in January, continue your hostility against vermin." Perhaps if these good rules were observed now, we should hear less of the depredations of mice.
In short, though Pomology has made immense strides in our day, the more the subject is looked into, the more will it be found that we are often treading in the footsteps of our ancestors. Mr. Coxe's treatise deserves every praise that can be given to it, considering its date, and we are sure the most modern of our fruitgrowers may still consult it with advantage, though it has been pretty thoroughly culled by recent authors. Among the advantages they can claim is the description of the best and more modern varieties, with a more thorough knowledge of the best modes of planting, pruning, and cultivation.