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Historic Houses
Where the founder of Trenton Lived, and later the famous Cox family

From Historic Houses of New Jersey by W. Jay Mills, 1902
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

BLOOMSBURY the beautiful, as Bloomsbury Court used to be called in the days of Colonel John Cox's ownership, is truly a house of many memories. In its colonial garden there still stands an aged ash-tree, planted by the wealthy and noted William Trent, the erector of the original Bloomsbury and the founder of Trenton ; and flanking the building itself are bushes of aged box, reminiscent of the days of the Georges. Under the shade of the ash-tree and the boxwood hundreds of roses bloomed in the long ago, fair white-hearts and gloires de Dijon, loved and tended by the Demoiselles Chevalier, the French aunts of Mrs. John Cox.

One is prone to dream as he whispers the stately and euphonious name of Bloomsbury, for it belongs to the blossoming Trenton of yesterday, the Trenton of brick houses and brick-walled gardens an English visitor of the eighteenth century compared to a Devonshire town. Its leafy streets and lanes charmed many travellers. Two of the most noted were the gossipy Marquis de Chastellux and the Duke de la Rochefoucauld. The latter wrote iii his diary ,that it was a pleasant place, and numerous handsome villas enriched the landscape of the environs."

Standing in the summer sunlight before the Bloomsbury of to-day, and shutting one's eyes to the growing city and her multitudinous voices, what genuine lover of history cannot obtain glimpses of the panorama of the past. Through the wide colonial doorway, a portion of Trent's Bloomsbury, where the great William Penn was often entertained, many figures pass: gentlemen of affairs, quiet, sombre-garbed Quakers, and gentlemen of the army. And who cannot see the ladies! Lovely visions in brocade and calico, flitting in and out like shadows.

During the Revolution Bloomsbury Court was oc-cupied for a short period by Dr. William Bryant, a practising physician of great repute, and afterwards by Colonel John Cox, assistant quartermaster to General Greene. The Coxes were greatly beloved by the dancing Greenes, and General Greene made the appointment of John Cox to serve under him a condition of his acceptance of the position of quartermaster-general.
Dr. William Bryant was a brother of Mary Bryant, who became the wife of William Peartree Smith, of Elizabethtown. His father was a sea-captain, and his tombstone in Perth Amboy records that he made fifty-five voyages between New York and London.

At the time the war broke out John Cox and his family were living in a fine dwelling on Third Street, Philadelphia. He was the owner of an iron foundry at Batisto, New Jersey, from which some of his ample income was derived. During the war it supplied the army with a large amount of ordnance. On one occasion it nearly fell a prey to the British invaders, who passed by it on their way to Philadelphia. Owing to a skilful arrangement of lumber in covering the guns and cannon-balls the redcoats mistook it for a lumberyard.

The Batisto foundry played an important part in the lives of the Cox family; and when the Quaker City was given over to Lord Howe and his aides, Mrs. Cox and her daughters fled to a farm-house in its vicinity for safety. In some old letters of the period, written by the Cox family to friends, we obtain a glimpse of the hardships they endured while there and learn to appreciate better the bravery of the carefully-nurtured patriot women of the Revolution.

The lovely Mrs. Cox, who has been described as "an angel of a woman" and a leader of the beau monde of Trenton and Philadelphia, was then forced to do up her hair with thorns in lieu of hair-pins, and her six daughters went about in home-made linsey-woolsey. (Mrs. Cox before her marriage was Esther Bowes, the daughter of Sir Francis Bowes.) Miss Rachel Cox was seen at Valley Forge by Tory friends, and rallied by them on her " homespun appearance," but they later took pity on her forlorn condition, and helped her to secure some " London trades" for a more fashion- able wardrobe.

Perhaps it was at Batisto that the Cox family learned the wise lesson of simplicity of manners and costuming. At a later period, when the fashionables of Trenton and Philadelphia were rioting in every extreme of foreign extravagance and luxury, the Cox girls in their muslins charmed the occupants of all the drawing-rooms they entered. Bloomsbury Court during the Cox regime was a republican Hotel de Rambouillent in miniature. All that was best in the surrounding country came there. Old Trenton society crowded in its salons for the purpose of conversation. Often there was some air of Handel and Mozart played or sung by an eighteenth-century celebrity, or the reading of the latest poem by a well-known litterateur. Mrs. Cox herself had the volatile essence of gaiety and wit that characterized the women of the famous French salons, and her six daughters, – Catherine, Rachel, Sarah, Mary, Esther, and Elizabeth, – who inherited the quality with the additional fragrance of individuality, made a series of the most brilliant matches in the annals of old Philadelphia society.

General Washington and his lady enjoyed the hospitality of Bloomsbury Court, and the Marquis de Lafayette, Rochambeau, and other noted Frenchmen were entertained there. Many of the meals were served in the garden amid the roses of the Demoiselles Chevalier, and those stately ladies were always present conversing with their Gallic visitors in their native language. Sarah Cox, then a girl in her teens, used to relate in after years as Mrs. John Redman Coxe, the pleasure she took in seeing the family plate brought out for these occasions and the bustle and stir they brought to the family kitchen. "Those were Bloomsbury days," she used to sigh, and, according to Cox traditions, "Bloomsbury days" were best.

One of the most welcome visitors at Bloomsbury Court, Bellville,and other houses in the vicinity was a young Swedish aide-de-camp to Rochambeau, Count Jean de Ferson. (Belville was the seat of Sir John Sinclair. It was occupied at dif- ferent periods of the Revolution by the Stirlings and the Rutherfords.) This fascinating figure in our Revolu-tionary society has been described as a man of the pure blond type and beauty almost god-like. Marie Antoinette fell under the influence of his charm when he belonged to the revellers of the French court, and there is a story told that in disguise they often visited the streets of Paris together. It is said that his advent in America was due to his regard for her majesty's reputation, as the preference she showed for his society was noted in the tittle-tattle of the court. His character as well as his personality was much admired, and the Cox ladies were no doubt as sensible of his attractions as the unfortunate queen of France. Of all the famous men who walked among the Chevalier roses in the Cox garden his life was the most brilliantly adventurous, for he it was who, disguised as a coachman, drove Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette from Paris to Varennes on the occasion of their pitiful attempt to escape from the throne crumbling and falling about them.

At the time Trenton was being talked over as the probable capital of the United States many distinguished visitors were entertained at Bloomsbury Court, and the list would be a very long one if enumerated. When General Washington passed through the city on his way to New York in 1789, Mrs. Cox was among the matrons who received him, and all her daughters took part in the festivities. The two youngest daughters – Sarah Cox, who afterwards became the wife of Dr. John Redman Coxe, and Elizabeth the wife of Horace Binney – were flower-girls by the famous arch.

The Cox family disposed of Bloomsbury Court some time before the dawn of the nineteenth century. Among the families subsequently connected with its ownership and history are the Dickinsons, Redmans, Hewitts, Prices, Woods, and, last of all, the Stokes. Mr. James H. Redman erected the wooden addition while he occupied it as a residence, but the main house, built of bricks brought from England as ballast by the Trent and Penn merchantmen, is still in excellent condition. Its interior is very interesting. The old paper on the hall walls came from Alsace-Lorraine and is hand- painted with views of Eldorado scenery. On the walls of the rooms which listened to the voices of the gay Frenchmen of the court of Louis XVI., fate has placed paintings once owned by the Bonapartes. The famous old garden is still a riot of loveliness in the summer-time. To-day the old mansion is called Woodland, both fitting and appropriate. But when one pictures the old Demoi- selles Chevalier among their roses, his mind reverts to the more poetic name of Bloomsbury bestowed upon it by the founder of Trenton.

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