SEARCHING FOR THOMAS COX, BLACKSMITH (August 31/01)

“There’s a record of him in Halifax and old-timers tell me his axes were stamped TC,” tool collector Kevin Wood says of an early Kentville blacksmith and axemaker named Thomas William Cox. “But nobody’s ever identified a Tom Cox axe or found where his shop was located.”

Before machinery replaced the horse and ox, farm life and local industries literally evolved around the blacksmith’s shop and the blacksmith often was held in high esteem. Thus I found it intriguing that Kevin Wood mentioned a Kentville blacksmith/axemaker of which little is known. Mr. Wood spoke about Cox during a talk on antique tools last spring at the Kings Historical Society.

Curious to find out who Thomas Cox was – I couldn’t accept that there was little or no record of his existence and his work – I made a note at the time to do some research. Fortunately, I had two potential sources of information – the database compiled by Kentville historian Louis Comeau and the extensive files of the Kings Historical Society. Thanks to these sources I came up a mini profile of Thomas Cox and that highly regarded gentleman is no longer a total mystery.

In his day Thomas Cox was one of Kentville’s best-known citizens. A resident of the town for 50 years, he died at age 78 in 1921, survived by four daughters. His obituary spoke of his “genial and generous nature,” noting that at the time of his death he was Kentville’s oldest citizen. Cox worked as a blacksmith in Kentville until five years before his death, ill health forcing him to retire at age 73.

A reference to Thomas Cox, who was a Planter descendant, can be found in The Cox Connection, a detailed genealogy on the many offspring of Captain John Cox. Captain John was a Planter grantee. Eaton’s Kings County history notes that Captain John founded the Cox family here, receiving a grant in the Cornwallis township in 1764.

Mabel Nichols Kentville history, The Devil’s Half Acre, lists Thomas Cox as one of three practising blacksmiths in Kentville in the 1880s, along with W. O. Forsythe and Frederick Haystead. This jibes with dates given in his obituary which indicates that Cox opened his blacksmith shop in Kentville about the year 1870.

Cox’s obituary indicates that his residence was on Webster Street but the exact location of his shop is not known. Cox was undoubtedly one of the old fashion blacksmiths whose craft was tied in with the horse and oxen period and the time when blacksmiths made most of the tools used on the farm and in the woods. Cox apparently specialised in making axes. He would have been active when the railway reached the Valley and the Nova Scotia Carriage Company was in business.

I mention the railway and the Carriage Company since both employed a great number of blacksmiths. Louis Comeau tells me that due mainly to Kentville being a railway centre, there were at least 50 “company blacksmiths” working out of Kentville at one time. However, there is no evidence that Thomas Cox was employed by the railway or the carriage factory.

Cox’s blacksmith shop may have been located next to the Cornwallis River on Cornwallis Street. Kentville’s last practising blacksmith, John Fitch, apprenticed with Cox for five years. Louis Comeau says that Fitch took over the Cox business and may have used the same premises, a building that once stood on what is now the town library parking lot. Other sources indicate Cox’s shop was once located at the foot of Gallows Hill, Comeau says.

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