Truth Stranger than Fiction


A History Full of Romance but not of Revenge

Daily Reporter – Wellsville, NY, Saturday, August 28, 1886

Transcribed by Lea Dorrett

That truth can discount fiction every day in the week, and every week in the year, is as certain as that the sun rises in the east and throws its shadows at the close of day, when unobscured by intervening clouds, from the west. That stranger things happen in every day life than are even talked of in well-regulated romances, as is certain that the unexpected always happens; that these strange happenings seem to fall in the way of a restricted few, following the ruts in narrow circles, here and there, is as true as that strange things happen. It has been THE REPORTER’s good fortune to come into possession of facts of a strange case that have been lying dormant for a number of years; facts that were brought to light on the whirligig of time, forming a sort of side dish, as it were, in this section’s local menu of life’s feast of sensations. We believe our story—for it reads like a romance—will be a surprise to nearly everyone in the southern tier, and especially interesting to the residents for a few years past of this immediate vicinity, involving, as it does parties who are, or were well known here. As to the tale, here it is, read it and judge for yourselves:

About twenty-five years ago –in 1861—Henry Wilcox moved to Wellsville, N.Y. He found employment at his trade (he was a tanner) in the old French tannery, then located on the lands where now stands the tannery property of Messrs Healy, and known for years as “Hill’s Tannery.” Here he served for three years in the capacity of foreman. He then opened a hotel opposite the depot on Loder Street, Under the name of the Wilcox Hotel. With his hotel business he also connected an office for the sale of tickets for railroad and ocean travel. In this business Mr. Wilcox apparently found the goose that was laying him golden eggs daily, for he accumulated a considerable property during the tens years he was in that location. Not only did he accumulate monied values, but he made many friends in his daily walks of life, and attained a standing in the Democrat Party in both local and State, that was an honor to any politician to hold. (Farther on will appear a portion of his political history.) His next move in a business way was the building of the Johnson House, on the corner of Main and Pearl Streets and now known as the Commercial House. This was the last of a long list of varied pursuits during his life. Henry Wilcox followed out the principles laid down (and that are foolishly followed by many to-day) as necessary to make a man a good fellow to other people; but in doing so, he made a pretty bad fellow of himself. In other words, he was too liberal in treating others at his bar and always being willing to assist in the exercises. His strong appetite for intoxicants, to which he ever yielded, resulted in bringing on disease that caused his death; he died at the Fassett House in this city, July 19th, 1880.

And now comes the strange and startling part of this truly romantic chapter. Proofs have been verified and are now for the first time given publicity, that show beyond the shadow of a doubt that Henry Wilcox, in this instance, was a myth. This man of whom we have spoken was not Henry Wilcox, only an assumption. The nineteen years of his life spent here, and a number of years passed elsewhere were under a non-de plume. His own name was

To our readers a brief but true history of his double life, so successfully carried out, it will be necessary to revert to his life of early days. Patrick Henry Cox alias Henry Wilcox was born at or near Middletown, this state, in which vicinity he lived until he arrived at manhood’s majority. In that neighborhood he married his first wife. The acquainted with him will open their eyes with wonder now, for they never knew before that he had but one wife – but he had. This first marriage we speak of was consummated in 1850, and the ceremony was performed by a Dutch Reformed minister. He lived with this lady peacefully and prospering in a homelife for several years. To them were born several children, and history’s lamp lights up the dark past and reveals the dark past and reveals the fact, that although surrounded by a loving wife, a happy cluster of children and a large circle of prosperous and prominent relatives and friends, he, like many other naturally good-hearted, kind and generous fathers and husbands have heretofore done, took to drink. This was the stepping stone to his after life, and who can properly paint the picture that probably often hung before him on the disk of imagination in after years, when non but himself and his maker knew the part he was playing in a life made up of wholly of pretense. His drinking habits grew upon him; him home, once a happy one, where his coming was always anxiously awaited with a wife’s and little one’ tender love, deteriorated into one of fear and dread. It grew worse and worse as time rolled on, and finally Mrs. Cox deemed a separation better than the life she was leading and took steps and obtained that then desired end.

In the year of 1860, one year previous to him coming to Wellsville, after a courtship with on Joanna Sarsfield, he married his lady under the name he was first presented to her- Henry Wilcox- the name he assumed and which by the world at large was ever after known by a name taken for reasons known only to himself. This lady whom he married for his second wife, or, rather who was Mrs. Cox No. 2, but supposed she was the “original and only” Mrs. Henry Wilcox, was a most estimable lady and faithfully performed the duties of a wife to the end of his existence. Sometime previous to his death a child- the only one from this union was born to them, Mrs. Wilcox died shortly after her supposed-to-be-legal-husband’s death and was buried at Hornellsville, never knowing that in all her years of wedded life, legally, she had not been a wife.

About 30 years ago, his first wife obtained a divorce, but according to the divorce laws, although she was released and as free to act her own pleasure as though she never had been married, with Mr. Cox was not so, he undoubtedly knew it, and this is unquestionably the motive that caused him to assume the name of Wilcox. It is learned that his divorced wife in some way became acquainted with the fact of his having changed his name some years after he had married the second time, and for this piece of crookedness she the supreme satisfaction of making him “come down” with $1000 in Uncle Sam’s greenbacks to settle the matter. Mrs. Cox has since married again, is still living and resides at Damascus, Wayne Co., Pa.

The pages of the history of the Cox family show that Patrick Henry Cox was most respectably connected. It shows that was an own brother to the prominent firm of Cox Bros., of Ellenville, this state, which includes Isaac N. Walter and John P. Cox. He had one sister who is the wife of a prominent banker in California, and another who is the wide of a gentleman at one time the Superintendent of Instruction of the state of California. It is also said that he was a distant relative of Hon. S.S. Cox, the present U.S. Minister of Turkey, but of this last we are not certain.

A promise was made in the early part of this tale to give a portion of his political history, so here it is: He was the recognized Democratic Boss of Allegany County for years, and the Lord Lieutenant for M.B. Champlain and Judge Martin Grover. It was through him that Champlin received the nomination for Attorney General. His popularity with his party may be still better understood when we tell you that he was a state delegate to the Democratic Convention in the years of 1865-1875. He was always expected to make political graves for those in the Allegany Democratic ranks who opposed the will or wish of Champlin, politically speaking. At every convention where Mr. Chamberlain, at present the owner and “Absolute Monarch” of Allegany Democracy, attempted to assume the leadership, he was always driven out of recognition by Champlain and Wilcox, which gave to the latter the political cognomen of “Field-Marshall” Wilcox. All this was in his early days of citizenship here, when he was on the high sea of prosperity. Time works many changes and in it working the hard hand of fate seemed destined to fall heavily upon him of whom we write. Through his habits of dissipation his property became involved, and he gradually lost the once proud prestige he held in his party, and at the time of his death political ingratitude was never more strongly shown. A small number only of his fellow-citizens followed his remains from the Fassett House to this station, from whence they were sent to Hornellsville for bury.

The facts were made know to The Reporter by an attorney’s investigating recent legal proceedings necessary to obtain a title to certain lands in this city. It was while searching for his brothers that the discovery was made that his name was Cox not Wilcox that gave the first clue to the tale we told.