Many works of both Revolutionary War history and local history mention the headquarters of the Loyalist raider Col. David Fanning. This site is uniformly referred to as “Fanning’s headquarters at Cox’s Mill on Deep River.” But I haven’t found any informed sources that tell us just where Cox’s Mill was.
For example, J. A. Blair in his book Reminiscences of Randolph County (1890) acknowledges that he is unsure of where Cox’s mill was: “Thomas Cox had a mill somewhere on Deep River in 1784.” And the NC Highway Historical Marker in Ramseur is also somewhat equivocal, stating that Cox’s Mill was “4 ½ miles southeast, near site of present ‘Bean’s Mill.’”
Places which are not Cox’s Mill on Deep River
Part of the problem in sorting out the location of Cox’s Mill is that the Cox family was heavily involved in water-powered industries in Randolph County. Two places that can quickly be dismissed as possible sites of Cox’s Mill are Cox Lake on the Deep River and Cedar Falls.
It seems obvious that Cox Lake was developed by members of this same Cox family, but after an in-depth search, I am pretty sure that the site of the Cox Lake Dam was not developed for water power prior to 1924. Saville (1924) makes reference to the Cox Lake Dam as being under construction at the time of his report. Prior to the construction of Cox Lake, there was another mill dam just a few miles upstream, the Central Falls Dam. Topographically, the Central Falls site and the Cox Lake site could not have been used for waterpower at the same time. In short, I don’t think the Cox Lake site was ever developed as a mill before 1924.
Blair (1890) mentions that Cedar Falls Manufacturing Co. was owned by several people including Orlando R. Cox. Again this is doubtless a member of the same Cox family, but the Cedar Falls mill site was originally owned by Regulator Harmon Husbands and passed into the hands of Benjamin Elliott in 1801. Eventually the site was redeveloped into a textile mill by Elliott and his partners, but the Cox family did not become involved at this location until much later.
Also, neither of the sites work as theories for the site Cox’s of Mill because Revolutionary histories all agree that Cox’s Mill was near the Buffalo Ford, significantly downstream of both Cox Lake and Cedar Falls, nearer to Coleridge, NC. Also, Cox Lake and Cedar Falls are both north of the historical marker in Ramseur, rather than southeast of it.
Places which are Cox’s Mill but not on Deep River
Speaking again of the historical marker, let’s turn our attention to the statement that Cox’s Mill was “near present site of Bean’s Mill.” Bean’s Mill is on Mill Creek near Mill Creek Road, a short distance above the confluence of the creek with the Deep River. I think many modern writers assume that Bean’s Mill stands directly on the Cox’s Mill site, but I doubt that.
First, as early as Nov. 1763 (Minutes of Ct of Pleas and Quarter Sessions), Cox’s Mill is referred to as being “on Deep River,” rather than near Deep River. And Revoultionary War histories also frequently and typically use the preposition “on,” rather than “near.”
Second, Martin (1993) states that there were two Cox’s Mills – one owned by Harmon Cox, a Quaker and Regulator, and the other owned by Harmon’s father William Cox. On the Asheboro Chamber of Commerce website, an essay attributed to Emily Cox Johnson states:
“One of the gristmills was located west of Deep River onMill Creek and run by Thomas Cox . . . A second was locatedless than a mile away on the east side of Deep River on Millstone Creekand run by Harmon Cox, a brother of Thomas Cox. The reason twogristmills were being run by a single family so close together was thefact that Deep River is prone to serious flooding any time during theyear. These ravaging floods often render Buffalo Ford, which connectsthe two mills, impassable for several weeks at a time.”
Certainly Ms. Johnson’s account is consistent with 19th century maps of the area:
The 1873 Bean Map of Randolph County
But Ms. Johnson is non-committal about whether the site of Fanning’s Headquarters was Harmon Cox’s Mill on Millstone Creek or Thomas Cox’s Mill on Mill Creek.
While I believe Ms. Johnson’s account and find it eminently logical, I doubt it in one major regard: I think that one or both of these mills may have been built shortly after the Revolutionary War to address the issue of flooding on the Deep River – not merely the problem of the flooding of Buffalo Ford, but also the destruction of the original Cox’s Mill – the one that Fanning used as his headquarters – the one that was “on Deep River” – William Cox’s Mill.
Cox’s Mill on Deep River
For the 1880 Census, George Swain prepared a disquisition on the waterpower sites of the southeastern United States. In his description of the Deep River, Swain mention “Unimproved site 2 or 3 miles above Enterprise mills [Coleridge, NC], known as the Cox falls, supposed to have a fall of 12 or 14 feet.” In an 1899 report, Swain further described “Cox’s Shoal” as being 3 miles above Coleridge and having a 7 foot fall spread across 300 yards.
I concede that this is just speculation and that it runs contrary to the prevailing school of thought, but I believe that Cox’s Shoal, as described by Swain is the actual site of Fanning’s headquarters and William Cox’s Mill on Deep River. I also believe that a closer search of Randolph County land records and an in-person inspection of this vicinity might reveal that indeed there was a mill at Cox’s Shoal. After all, Fanning never says Cox’s Mills and he never says on Mill Creek or Millstone Creek. He says what all the Revolutionary and Colonial sources say “Cox’s Mill on Deep River.”