Fulton Cox – African American Methodist and a New Paltz Icon

By Anna Louise Bates, Church Historian 
November 2020

Four years ago, Laura Gust and Brianna Switzer,  two senior history students from Empire State College, completed an internship that involved sorting boxes of historical documents at New Paltz United Methodist Church.  In that process, they came across a faded, brittle newspaper that required special care to unfold without destroying.  Thankfully, they worked under the tutelage of Pastor Bette Sohm, an experienced historical preservationist and archivist.  Laura and Brianna copied and preserved the document, and it currently lives in an archival
quality box in the church library.            

The newspaper pages are from the New Paltz Independent, dated June 15, 1894.  The paper contains a story entitled “An Example of Two Ex-Slaves:” 

Sometime during the late Civil War or soon after, there came to New Paltz a man who had been a slave in the South. He found work among the farmers and got some money together and bought a small place.  He then sent for his wife, and on her arrival, they were regularly married and went into house-keeping. When they went to their home, they invited a number of their friends to a house-warming.  This they had in the form of a prayer meeting.  They were both pious, and this act shows great thoughtfulness on their part, and affords a good example for persons of other races who have had better opportunities to follow.  Fulton Cox, the husband, died in 1888, and left a will in which he provided that his wife should have the full use of the property, and, after her death if there was anything left it should go to the Methodist Episcopal Church, of New Paltz.  About a year ago his widow died, and after settling up the estate of legacy of about $600. comes to the church.  The church officers have placed a tablet in the vestibule of the church in memory of these worthy persons.  This money is to be invested, and the interest is to be used for the support of the minister.  In this way it will be a perpetual benefit to the church, and also a perpetual memento of them through all time.           

The Independent 1894

This article raises two important questions:  Why did Fulton Cox bequeath his estate to the New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church, and what became of the Fulton Cox fund?        

Fulton Cox and his wife, Jane, lived in New Paltz in a house that Fulton built on Pencil Hill during two federal censuses, those of 1870 and 1880. Fulton’s birth place is listed as South Carolina, suggesting that he was born a slave in that state. Jane Cox was born in Virginia.  (Fulton and Jane were slaves in Virginia later on)  Fulton is listed as “farm laborer” in both censuses, and Jane’s occupation as “keeps house.”  Neither Fulton nor Jane could read, but apparently Jane could write. Fulton’s property value is listed as $800.00.  He is the only Black person of the seven listed who owned any property.  There is also a column in this census labeled “denied voting,” which Fulton Cox was not.  So, he was listed as a voter.  None of the seven Black people listed were “denied voting.”  The same goes for thirteen listed in the 1880 census. (Bureau 1870) (Bureau 1880) 

As a farm laborer, Fulton suffered several injuries as a result of the dangerous work that he did.  In 1882, while chopping wood, “…the axe slipped and struck the fleshy part of his hand, making an ugly wound, which will unfit Fulton for work for a week or two.” (New Paltz Times 1882)  In January 1886 , “while riding in a wagon … holding up a stove, accidentally fell out.  In falling Mr. Cox received quite severe injuries, from which he was confined to the house.” (New Paltz Times 1886) Later that year, he “…had one of his feet badly smashed at the time Abm. D. Relyea’s team fell off of Pencil Hill.” (New Paltz Times 1886).    

Fulton was atiKve politically.  Besides voting, he ran for Supervisor in 1887, but received only one vote. (New Paltz Times 1887)  He attended both the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1873, and his funeral procession in 1885. (New Paltz Times 1873) (New Paltz Times 1885)          

Despite his inability to read or write, Fulton clearly cared much about education.  He is listed among donors of items to the New Paltz Normal School several times, usually donating a slate. He also visited Dr. H.M. Bauscher, the former 
principal of the New Paltz Academy, after he retired and moved to Clifton Point, Long Island in 1882, although his connection to Dr. Bauscher is not clear. (New Paltz Times 1882)    

Fulton and Jane Cox’s connection to the Methodist Episcopal Church is made clear in the notes of the church’s Seekers Sunday School Class dated September 27, 1949.   Apparently,         
there was an annual fund-raiser to enhance the Fulton Cox fund.  The notes relate that the Coxes sat in the last pew in the old church,” and Fulton once said he would “be worth more to the church after I am dead.” (Seekers Club 1949) Indeed, by the terms of Fulton’s will, his house and the property it stood on became the property of the New Paltz Methodist Church upon Jane Cox’s death. (billiongraves.com n.d.) The house and its contents were sold at auction, and a fund created at the church.  It is not clear what became of the Fulton Cox fund.  It possibly became part of another fund, such as the Black College Fund, but this is not certain. 

What is clear, though, is that Fulton and Jane Cox  were committed Methodists.  While church records do not record the date they joined the congregation, it is possible that the church was served by various circuit riders during the Coxes early days in New Paltz.  The “old church” referenced by The Seekers was erected in 1881. That he willed his estate to the church speaks to     
his faithfulness to his denomination, and his church community.  It is my hope that the church will trace the Fulton Cox fund, and continue its tribute to this remarkable Methodist family.