He was hailed in his time as Nova Scotia’s master builder of sailing ships. Today Ebenezar Cox is recognised as the builder and designer of some of the finest sailing ships ever to come down the ways in Canada. The Cox shipyard was located in Kingsport and hopefully current plans to rejuvenate its old wharf and highlight its history will include a tribute to him.
For approximately a 30-year period beginning in 1864, Ebenezar Cox “designed and supervised the building of some 30 schooners, brigs, barks, barquentines and ships averaging 1000 tons each,” including some of the largest sailing ships built in Canada. This quote is from the book, In the Wake of the Wind Ships, by Frederick William Wallace, and is the resource usually referred to when Nova Scotia’s shipbuilding history is reviewed. Wallace devotes several pages in a salute to Ebenezar Cox, putting his work into perspective, and it’s likely that without his research much of what the shipbuilder accomplished wouldn’t be recorded.
In a recent column I noted that Eaton’s Kings County history has scant mention of Cox as a shipbuilder. This is a surprising omission. Eaton must have been aware of Ebenezar Cox since in his day his name was synonymous with shipbuilding. In fact, Cox was active in shipbuilding in the 20years before 1910 when Eaton said he was compiling and researching the Kings County history.
Ebenezar Cox was born in 1828 into a family with shipbuilding traditions. His father Joseph had married the daughter of another famed shipbuilder Ebenezar Bigelow Sr., after whom Cox was named. Bigelow was descended from a Cornwallis Planter whose original land grant is said to have included all of what is now the community of Kingsport.
Ebenezar Cox operated a shipyard and a dry-dock on Kingsport beach, on a piece of the Bigelow grant that we surmise was a wedding gift to his father. According to marine buff Leon Barron, who has an immense file on Cox and the Kingsport wharf, the Cox shipyard and dry-dock were located just west of the wharf. Barron’s research has found that Cox, in partnership with one of his brothers, William, and his brother-in-law, Joseph E. Woodworth started building ships at Oak Point, later renamed Kingsport, a year before work on the wharf was started.
According to Barron the partners placed their shipyard a short distance west of where Kingsport wharf would rise, operating it from that site from 1864 to 1870. William Cox withdrew from the partnership within a year or two of its formation. Ebenezar Cox and Woodworth built a dry-dock in 1898, locating it between the wharf and shipyard. From 1870 to 1893 Cox and Woodworth built ships out a yard farther west up the beach. Barron says that this latter shipyard was originally built by Cox’s grandfather, Ebenezar Bigelow, a major shipbuilder in his own right who operated later in Canning. Bigelow apparently was first in building ships at Kingsport, with Cox following in his grandfather’s footsteps.
Wallace said Woodworth financed the Cox shipyard. Woodworth was later financed by Charles W. Berteaux and after retiring, replaced in the partnership by Peter R. Crighton and later C. R. Burgess who retained Cox as a shipbuilder and ship designer. In his tribute to Cox, Wallace wrote that “thirty vessels aggregating almost 30,000 tons in thirty years was this man’s contribution to the Nova Scotia fleet. To have turned out so many splendid vessels in a little spot tucked away in an elbow of the Bay of Fundy is certainly a matter that calls for historical record.” I am glad, Wallace said, to give Cox, Woodworth, Crighton and Burgess the “honour that is their due.”