The Tombstone in the Attic: The Coxes and the New Paltz Methodist Church

September 2023
Kate Hymes

Not long after becoming a member of the New Paltz United Methodist Church, I was introduced to the great NPUMC mystery: why is there a tombstone in the attic?

Those who frequent NPUMC’s upper room testified that engraved on the stone were the names of, along dates of death, Fulton and Jane Cox. The stone was heavy, and mostly people worked around it to store stuff. They affirmed that it had been there for a very, very long time, longer than the memory of the church’s current membership.

Anna Bates, church historian, along with past Pastor Bette Somme, set out to solve the mystery. As they began their sleuthing, Susan Stessin was researching the history of the New Paltz AME Zion Church. Fulton Cox appeared as a prominent figure in each project. Bates and Stessin assisted one another to solve the mystery of who was Fulton Cox and answer the question of the tombstone in the attic.

Civil War Captain Peter Eltinge brought “a first-class darkie servant” with him home to New Paltz at the close of the war, 1865. Within three years of Fulton Cox’s arrival in New Paltz, he purchased a house, a one and one-half story structure still standing on Pencil Hill Road, where he and his wife, Jane, settled. Cox was elected to the position of roadmaster. Roadmaster work included blasting out rock, building bridges, putting earth upon the road. Despite the difficulty of the work and lack of help, Cox kept the roads in good condition.

Fulton and Jane Cox were founding members of the New Paltz African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1871. He was a member of the Board of Trustees. He and Jane hosted church socials, picnics, and prayer gatherings on his property across the street from the church building on Pencil Hill Road (structure no longer exists).

While a founder and supporter of the AME Zion church, Fulton Cox also became a member of the New Paltz Methodist Episcopal Church, then located on Church Street. Church records show that he was accepted into probationary membership, November 30, 1874.

The Coxes experienced friction with the AME Zion Church congregation because of either a dispute with the AME Zion pastor or worshiping with white people at the Methodist Church. It was reported that the dispute led to his expulsion from the AME Zion Church, 1877. Yet, he continued to host socials and remained a benefactor of the AME Zion Church.

Cox died in a wagon accident while hauling wood, barrels, and fruit crates. He fell from the seat of the wagon and was gravely injured, 1888. When his will was probated, he stipulated that upon the death of his wife – Jane died 1893 – the Cox estate, including the house and lot on Pencil Hill Road, were to be left to the Methodist Church, not the AME Zion church, a legacy of about $600.00. He was described as the Methodist Church’s principal financial benefactor. To honor these worthy persons: The church officers have placed a tablet in the vestibule of the church. (New Paltz Independent, June 15, 1894)

Mystery solved. The tombstone is a commemorative stone tablet once residing in the vestibule of the Methodist Church at its Church Street location. The tablet was moved from Church Street to the new church building, Main and Grove Streets, about 1929, placed in the attic and forgotten.

June 18, 2023 the stone tablet was brought down from the attic and re-dedicated as part of New Paltz’s Juneteenth Jubilee celebration. The tablet has been restored to a place of honor as was intended by the late nineteenth century congregation of the New Paltz Methodist Church.

This is not the end of the story, that is the story of the Methodist Church and people of African descent in New Paltz.

My recent project merges with that story. I serve as Vice-President of the Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis Center for Black History and Culture at the Ann Oliver House. Jacob Wynkoop – a founding member of the AME Zion Church – worked as a primary carpenter on the building of the Ann Oliver House, 1885. Wynkoop is known as “never was a slave,” because he was born free in 1829, two years past the legal end of enslavement in New York State.

Jane Deyo Wynkoop, Jacob’s mother, and her son, son John, are listed as members of the “Old Paltz Village” Methodist Church in 1848.

Recent research has also uncovered that Ann and Richard Oliver lived on property owned by the Methodist Church when they arrived in New Paltz in the early 1860s.

Every mystery solved, every question answered leads to another and another. There’s lots more research yet to be done to document and understand the ties between the New Paltz Methodist Church and the African-American community.

You may delve deeper into this history:

Anna Louise Bates, Fulton Cox – African American Methodist and a New Paltz Icon,

Susan Stessin, Fulton Cox – Tales of a Congregation: African American History through the Lens of the AME Zion Church of New Paltz, New York,

Historic Huguenot Street, Jane Deyo Wynkoop – An Emancipated Life,