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Josiah Fox (1763-1847) Papers

Josiah Fox (1763-1847) Papers

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JOSIAH FOX (1763-1847) PAPERS, 1607-1993


Processing and conservation of this collection was funded in part by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Fox, Josiah, 1763-1847
Title:Josiah Fox (1763-1847) Papers
Quantity:11.25 Linear feet (20 boxes, 5 volumes, 1 flat file)
Abstract:The Josiah Fox papers include professional, personal, and family papers concerning the naval architect and shipbuilder and also contain a series of transcripts of some of the original papers as they were compiled by their collectors, Ernenst J. Wessen and Merle T. Westlake.
Collection Number:MH 11

Series List

SERIES I. Naval Architecture and Shipbuilding Papers
A. Ships' Papers and Correspondence
B. Naval Yards
C. Other
SERIES II. Personal and Business Papers
SERIES III. Family Papers
SERIES IV. Transcripts and Reproductions

Scope and Content Note

The Josiah Fox papers include professional, personal, and family papers concerning the naval architect and shipbuilder and also contain a series of transcripts of some of the original papers as they were compiled by their collectors, Ernenst J. Wessen and Merle T. Westlake. The bulk of the collection related to Fox's work as a naval architect, shipbuilder, and naval administrator from 1795 to 1809. The collection has been divided into four series.

Series I. Naval Architecture and Shipbuilding Papers includes ships' papers, correspondence, specifications, accounts, drawings, and writings by Fox and others. This series has been divided into three subseries. Subseries A. Ships' Papers and Correspondence includes materials related to specific ships and related correspondence. The ships' papers are comprised of materials concerning the design or construction of a single identified vessel. The papers relative to the frigates Chesapeake, Congress, Essex, President, and United States are the most complete. The inventory of the frigate Raleigh is notable for its detailed description of one of the earliest American ships. The correspondence in this subseries includes incoming and outgoing letters regarding the design and construction of vessels, administration of the naval yards at Gosport, Virginia and Washington, D. C., and appointments to positions in the War Department and later to the Navy Department. There are a number of letters from the Secretary of the Navy, Ben Stoddart, and other significant naval administrators and officers such as Joshua Humphries, William Pennock, and Thomas Tingey. Of particular interest is the autograph letter from Paul Revere to General Henry Jackson with Revere's estimates of the copper and tin work for the USS Constitution (June 18, 1796). Two letters from William Hall to Fox (June 23 and 27, 1807) contain a detailed account of the battle between the USS Chesapeake and the HMS Leopard and of events in Norfolk after the confrontation. There are photocopies and transcripts integrated into the correspondence of this series. It is not clear who did this or when the copies and transcripts were created.

The letter books in this collection are almost entirely comprised of correspondence concerning naval affairs. The first volume contains incoming correspondence and an index. Volumes two and three are outgoing correspondence with some memoranda concerning specifications and dimensions of various naval vessels. These two volumes are also indexed. Volume four is outgoing correspondence with similar memoranda but is not indexed. There are also folders with that contain memoranda and notes on dimensions and specifications for warships of a designated class. Similar material relating to more than one vessel or vessels of an unidentified class is located in the Miscellaneous Specifications folder. Within the specifications for a 36-gun ship are photocopies obtained from the Department of the Navy.

Subseries B. Naval Yards contains material related to specific naval yards that Fox worked for. The Gosport Navy Yard materials folder contains papers regarding supplies of timber, metal products, etc. specifically associated with activities at Gosport. Of interest among the miscellaneous papers is a petition from the laborers for a pay raise, estimates for the construction or repair of docks, and a list of regulations in force at the yard. The Washington Navy Yard papers contain similar materials related papers, lists of employees (some including rates of pay), cost estimates for physical improvements, and a list of yard regulations.

Subseries C. Other includes miscellaneous naval architecture and shipbuilding papers. The naval architecture literature folder contains manuscript copies of writing by other individuals, including a description of "a work to be published in 1805," The Elements and Practice of Naval Architecture. Miscellaneous materials include papers on timber and metal products needed for an unspecified ship at an unspecified yard. Miscellaneous writings include a list of "Ships of War drafted by J. Fox - for the United States (1799)," a draft memorandum regarding the Fox/Humphries controversy, the associated article from Niles Register (1827), and a holograph autobiographical statement written for the Secretary of the Navy in 1813. Of particular interest in the printed matter folder is a 1797 broadside entitled "Regulation Respecting Salutes," a report on coastal fortifications (1806), prints of various ornate figureheads, and stern configurations. The folder labeled "File dividers" contains thin slats of balsa wood that Fox apparently used to manage his correspondence.

Series II. Personal and Business Papers includes correspondence, account books, legal papers, and printed matter. The correspondence is comprised of incoming and outgoing letters, mostly those received from family members. Most of the family correspondence related to the business activities and personal affairs of a number of relations in England and America. Frederick Beates managed Fox's business affairs in Philadelphia, and so his correspondence is largely concerned with investments. Of interest in the legal papers is Josiah's document of certification as a shipwright in England. Other legal papers document purchases of slaves and their manumission by Fox. The printed matter is almost exclusively comprised of biographical news clippings on Josiah Fox.

Series III. Family Papers are composed of miscellaneous deeds, accounts, and letters relating to a series of Fox's relations and ancestors. The Anna (Miller) Fox correspondence received is mostly from Josiah and is generally personal in nature. The genealogical notes were taken by mostly unidentified individuals, and were used in the compilation of the genealogical chart (See Appendix I).

Series IV. Transcripts and Reproductions contains documentation of the two major accessions of Fox papers as they were maintained by their collectors. The MSS calendar for the Wessen collection includes detailed descriptions of the contents of letters and letter books collected by Wessen. It also includes a discussion of sources available on the history of the American Federal-era Navy and a commentary of the Fox/Humphries controversy. There are four separate MSS calendars; they are the same except for some minor differences. The MSS transcripts have been left in the numerical order that Wessen maintained, so that citations to Wessen's MSS numbers can be traced using the transcripts. The "S" numbers at the end refer to "supplement" manuscript numbers utilized by Wessen to add material to his collection after the initial arrangement had been completed. Materials from the Merle T. Westlake collection include a microfilm copy of the papers and a bound transcript of the collection with provenance information in the introduction.

Biographical Sketch

Josiah Fox was born on October 9, 1763 at Falmouth, England, to John and Rebecca (Stevens) Fox. He was an apprentice at the Royal Shipyard in Plymouth and completed his apprenticeship on his birthday in 1786. His next years were spent touring British shipyards and eventually sailing with his brother Henry on a number of European voyages. He arrived in America late in 1793 and was apparently introduced to members of the Washington administration by Andrew Ellicot, a relative who was then Surveyor General at West Point.

Fox was initially hired as a clerk in the War Department pending an appointment as a Naval Architect. Nevertheless he was employed making drawings for the Naval Constructors with William Doughty. In 1795 he was appointed "temporary assistant constructor" in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1796 he was transferred to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He returned to the War Department in Philadelphia the same year, and remained there until the spring of 1798, when he assisted in the establishment of the newly-formed Navy Department. In August he returned to Norfolk, was awarded the title of Navy Constructor, and was charged with management of the nearby Gosport Navy Yard until 1801, when he was dismissed from public service.

From 1801 to 1804 Fox was concerned with shipbuilding in the private sector, and then returned to public service at the Washington Navy Yard, where he supervised operations until the summer of 1809. He remained in Washington until 1811, when he relocated in Wheeling, Virginia, intending to continue shipbuilding on the Ohio River. Instead he purchased a farm at Colerain, Ohio, and settled there with his family. At Colerain he became involved with Quaker affairs in the area and did not return to public employment. His wife Anna died in 1841, and Josiah died at Colerain in 1847, leaving six children.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Chapline, Elizabeth Fox, 1797-1850
Chapline, Moses W.
Curtis, Anna Fox, 1799-1873
Curtis, Robert J.
Fox, Anna Miller, 1768-1841
Fox, Charles J., 1805-1895
Fox, Charles, 1748-1809
Fox, Francis D., 1811-1859
Fox, Henry, 1754-1827
Fox, John, 1724-1788
Fox, Julianna Updegraff, 1821-1866
Fox, Lovall, 1758-1814
Fox, Margaret, 1765-1828
Fox, Sarah Cooper, 1841-1935
Hall, William
Humphries, Joshua, 1751-1838
Miller, Peter, 1727-1794
Pennock, William
Revere, Paul, 1735-1818
Stoddart, Benjamin, 1751-1813
Tingey, Thomas, 1750-1829
Wessen, Ernest James, 1887-1974
Westlake, Merle
Adams (Frigate)
Argus (Brig)
Augusta (Brig)
Chesapeake (Frigate)
Clotilda (Schooner)
Congress (Frigate)
Constellation (Frigate)
Constitution (Frigate)
Crescent (Frigate)
Drake (Brig)
Enterprise (Schooner)
Epocha (Schooner)
Essex (Frigate)
Etna (Ketch)
Experiment (Schooner)
Franklin (Brig)
General Green (Ship)
Hornet (Brig)
John Adams (Frigate)
Leopoard (Frigate)
L'Insurgente (Vessel)
Mercury (Vessel)
Nautilus (Brig)
Niger (Ship)
Paragon (Ship)
Philadelphia (Frigate)
Portsmouth (Ship)
Potomac Bridge Company
President (Frigate)
Prince Frederick (Ship)
Raleigh (Frigate)
Siren (Brig)
Spanish Lady (Brig)
United States (Frigate)
Viper (Brig)
Vixen (Brig)
Wasp (Sloop)
William Pennock (Ship)
Yeopin (Schooner)
Account books
Figureheads of ships
Naval architects
Naval architecture
Slavery--United States
Washington Navy Yard
Gosport Navy Yard (Va.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Josiah Fox (1763-1847) Papers, MH 11, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material is a reorganization of 13 boxes, four folders of manuscripts, and four letter books received in two major accessions and several smaller gifts. Eight boxes of papers and letter books are believed to have been purchased from Ernest J. Wessen with money from the Kate S. Richardson Fund in 1935 (accession #9,640). These papers were originally arranged and numbered by Wessen. The original documents from Wessen's collection have been marked W-1, W-2, etc. and have been integrated into the balance of the Fox papers. Wessen's typewritten transcripts of these papers have been left in their original numerical order and placed at the end of the collection.

Five boxes of papers were the gift of Merle T. Westlake in 1972 and 1974 (accessions #20,012 and #20,501). Four folders of papers and broadside concerning the Gwynn family estate called "Lower Spargo" were received from Margaret Kennedy (accessions #15,465, #15,953, and #16,082). Two letters, two indentures, and a poem relating to various Fox family members were donated by Merle T. Westlake on behalf of Harold Hilligas in 1986 (accession #24,179). Documentation of the dedication ceremony for a historical marker relative to Josiah Fox was the gift of Mrs. E. Raymond Mitchell in 1980 (accession #22,349).

In 1991, 81 papers were donated by Merle Westlake. These were originally obtained by John Campbell, a Cadiz, Ohio, collector, and were bought by Merle Westlake in 1982. All of these papers have been marked with the accession number 25,832 and were added to the bulk of the collection in chronological order.

In 1993, Margaret Kennedy of Barton, Ohio donated a journal (1833-1841) in the handwriting of Josiah Fox, and a book consisting of a typed version of the journal, an article which Merle Westlake wrote for the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and some notes and photographs (accession #20,206). The original journal was in the possession of Virginia Wiley Stidd, of St. Clairsville, Ohio, who gave it to Margaret Kennedy to give to a museum.

In 1995, Merle Westlake donated 98 papers which were given to him by Mrs. Raymond Mitchell of Colrain, Ohio, who received them from Harold Hilligas of Ashland, Ohio. These have been marked 26,940 HH, and were added in chronological order. At the same time, Mr. Westlake also donated 20 papers which were given to him by Esther Fox Maxey, of Salem, Virginia, a great-great-granddaughter of Josiah Fox. These have been marked 26,940 EFM and were added to the collection in chronological order. Additional materials from another Westlake donation (accession #2014.012) have been integrated into this collection.

Five photographs and one negative were removed from this collection and transferred to the Photography department. Five drawings and three drawing curves were removed and transferred to the Maritime History Department.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Robert P. Spindler, March 1988. Updated by Robert G. Graves, June 1996 and Hilary Streifer, May 2015.

Related Material

Josiah Fox. MH 0.155.

Research Notes on Josiah Fox Family, undated. Acc. 2004.012.

Appendix I

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