Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Joseph Cocking, Part 2

Alas, we have been unable to pin down the location of Cocking's store; but we have pieced together a few tidbits about Joseph Cocking's life in the years immediately preceding the murder of his wife Fannie and of his sister-in-law Daisy.

Joseph bought his brother Thomas's share of their father's (John) bequest in 1891, the 400-acre farm called The Retreat and located somewhere northwest of Port Tobacco. He and his wife Fannie paid Thomas and Emily Cocking $1,200. Two years later, in August of 1893, they sold the farm to J. Benjamin Mattingly for $1,600. With a $400 profit, one might assume that they fared well; however, that April they had purchased 9.3 acres from a 55-acre parcel that Harriet Rennoe inherited from her father, Edmund Perry. The subdivided estate was just east of the hamlet of Hill Top, as depicted below.

Plat of the Perry estate (1877). The 55-acre parcel from which Harriet Rennoe sold 9.3 acres to the Cockings is the squarish tract at the top of the figure. The hamlet of Hill Top was immediately west. The Cockings' new lot was on the south side of the Port Tobacco-Hill Top road.

The Cockings took a $600 mortgage from the Baltimore Building & Loan Company in October 1895 and a $220 mortgage from White, Daly & Company in January 1896. On July 22, 1896, Sheriff George A. Wade sold the Cockings' land to White, Daly & Company (they satisfied the debt to the Baltimore Building & Loan Company in 1902). Joseph had been lynched on June 27.

There are more threads of the story to be pursued, but it appears that the Cockleys had not fared well financially. a 400-acre farm in Maryland was a substantially holding and to have sold was their home and that of Joseph's father before his death in 1890...must have been a difficult matter. Then, despite a significant profit on the sale...$400, equivalent to a year and a half wages for a laborer...they took two mortgages on their newly acquired homelot, presumably to build and stock their new store.

Of course, their timing in setting up a store was not good. The country was in the midst of the Panic of 1893, a severe depression wrought principally by railroad speculation. Unemployment reached crushing levels until the economy rebounded, helped perhaps by the short-lived Spanish-American War, in 1898.

We may never know what compelled Joseph to murder Fannie and Daisy, and it is overly simple to attribute the violence to financial problems, but clearly there were problems in the household and financial loss and indebtedness didn't help.



Scott said...

Let us remember that Cocking always maintained he was innocent and never went to trial.

Anonymous said...

"...called The Retreat and located somewhere northwest of Port Tobacco."
The retreat, recognized as the home of Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, signer of the US constitution, is located near the corner of Route 6 and Poor House Rood, approximately 2 miles west of Port Tobacco. It is probably the same property that Cocking owned, but I didn't check the deed history.