Mystery: Eli J. Cox & Nancy C. Watson – Calling all Cox and Watson researchers from Craven, Lenoir and Jones County branches

by | Mar 23, 2014 | 9 comments


New research has been done since this article was originally published and it can be found here.

Nancy Catherine Watson
It is believed this is a photo of Nancy Catherine Watson. Was she the daughter of George Watson and Mary Tull Watson of Lenoir, Craven and Jones Counties?

I would like to correspond with anyone who might have information about the Watsons of Craven, Lenoir and Jones Counties of North Carolina.

I’m a descendant of Eli J. COX of Craven/Lenoir County border area, and he had three, possibly four wives over the course of his life.

I descend from his last wife, Nancy Catherine WATSON.

Her children with Eli were:

  • Thomas Charlton Cox – 1878 – 1941 (my 2nd great-grandfather) m. Nannie Redden WOOD
  • Andrew Cox – 1881 – 1942 m. Rosa JONES
  • Nannie Cox – 1882 – 1963 m. Jackson JONES, Sim JONES
  • Edward Cox – 1889 – 1974 m. Nora COX (She was also a COX from Pitt Co.)

Eli had at least two other wives previously. His children with them are as follows:

First (or Second) wife, Nancy (possibly MOYE) – b. abt 1810:

  • George Cox – 1842 – unknown

Nancy (MOYE?) also had two other children by a previous marriage to a man by the last name of WATSON. They were Eli’s step-daughters:

  • Sarah Moye WATSON – b. aft 1830 (What became of her? Does she become Eli’s next wife?!)
  • Louisa Ann WATSON – b. abt 1832 – d. aft 1880;  m. William PHILLIPS

Second (or Third) wife, Sarah Ann M. (?) – b. abt 1835

  • Louis Cox – 1859 –? (no further records after 1860 census)
  • Delia/Devie Ann Cox – 1861 – 1920 m. Noah Lafayette AVERY
  • Celia Enna Cox – 1864 – 1932 m. Benjamin COOK
  • Eli Cox, Jr. – 1871 – 1926 (I don’t know if he had a wife)
  • Ambrose B. Cox – 1872 – 1914 m. Siddie F. DAUGHERTY
  • Teresa “Treacy” Cox – 1873 – 1953 m. Ambrose JONES

A lot of people also think that Treacy COX was a daughter of Nancy, because she’s listed as Treacy’s mother on her death certificate, but a little later, I’ll explain why that’s not likely.

[In 1840, Eli Cox does appear in Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina on the Federal Census in a household with one man aged 20-29 (himself), two boys under age five, a girl under age 5 and a woman aged 20-29. Unfortunately, we may never know whether or not that was a wife and two children of his own, or if they were a sister and her children.]

Eli & Nancy: Winter-Summer romance, or a marriage of convenience?

There is a lot of conflicting birth year data for Nancy Catherine WATSON.

Eli and Nancy’s marriage record, dated 6 MARCH 1874 lists her age as 18, and Eli’s age as 59. (No, that’s not a typo. He was nearly 60-years-old marrying a teenager.)

It gets worse, though, because if she’s who I *think* she is, she really would’ve only been about 13 or 14 when she married old Eli.

Wanted: Spring chicken to help local widower with six children whose mother recently met an untimely end.

Just six months prior to Eli marrying Nancy, his previous wife, Sarah Ann M. (last name unknown, though I have an idea) died in a tragic accident, which was reported in the Wilmington Morning Star on Saturday, September 27, 1873 (originally printed in the Kinston Gazette):

Death of Sarah Cox, 2nd wife of Eli Cox - version from Wilmington Paper
“Kinston Gazette: We have been informed of the sad accident which befell Mrs. Cox, wife of Eli Cox, who resides in Craven county near the Lenoir line. It appears that some one called at Mr. Cox’s gate, and Mrs. Cox, in chasing the dogs away so as to allow the parties to enter the house, tripped over something and fell, dislocating her neck, from which she immediately died.” – Wilmington Star News, Saturday, September 23, 1873.

Ok, first of all, I didn’t realize one could dislocate their neck from tripping and falling, but that aside, Sarah Ann M. COX had only just given birth to her daughter, Treacy COX, just six months earlier in March 1873.

I can imagine Eli was at a complete loss for how to care for six children on his own, particularly when three of them were under the age of three.

Within six months he had taken a new bride to care for his babies — Nancy Catherine Watson.

But who was she? Who were her parents? And how old was she really?

Right now, I’m leaning towards Nancy’s parents being George WATSON and his wife, Mary TULL. But I welcome anyone to prove me wrong on this. I’ve written a new post with updated information about this. Go here to read it.

Census records raise questions

In 1840, Eli J. Cox is living right between Joel WATSON and George WATSON (the older) in Kinston District, Lenoir County, North Carolina.

In 1850, Eli and his first (or possibly second) wife, also named Nancy (possibly MOYE), were living right next to Pency (PHILLIPS) WATSON, widow of Joel WATSON, with several children including a 14-year-old George.

In 1860, Eli shows up with his next wife, the tragic Sarah, in Russels district of Craven County, and a now-married George is living with his young wife, Mary, and their small children in Kinston.

I haven’t yet been able to locate Eli J. COX in the 1870 census, but if I had, I wonder if I’d find him living in the same neighborhood as George and Mary (TULL) WATSON.

In November 1870, Eli and his then wife Sarah Ann M. COX sell land to George WATSON (presumably the younger, the husband of Mary TULL and possible father of Nancy Catherine WATSON):

1870 – November 3 – Eli COX and wife, Sarah Ann M. COX to George WATSON, all of the COUNTY OF CRAVEN – $125 for 125 acres on east side of Moseley’s Creek, bounded by Snake Hole Branch and Hog Pen Branch.

By 1880, however, when Eli is married to Nancy Catherine WATSON, Eli and George are living in very close proximity again — this time in Township 9 of Craven County. They are only about six houses apart in a section with 65 pages, but depending on how the census taker went from house to house, that could’ve been across the street, or even a couple of doors down.

And to make things even more interesting, Eli and Nancy’s next door neighbors in 1880 are Jane (TULL) WATSON (widow of Bryant WATSON) and her son, William Henry WATSON. Jane may be the sister of Mary TULL, wife of George WATSON. According to that 1880 census, Jane has debilitating health issues. Her census listing has the box checked for “Maimed, crippled, bedridden or otherwise disabled.”

Here’s the thing: If Nancy Catherine WATSON is the daughter of George and Mary WATSON, then she was born in May 1860.

How do I know that?

Because the 1860 census lists the age of Pency C. WATSON as 2/12, which means two months old, not two-years-old. Granted, she might’ve been a few months older, but the point is, the census taker obviously wouldn’t have confused an infant for a toddler.

That means, in March of 1874, she’d be about 14-years-old, if that. It boggles the mind to think a marriage would’ve not only taken place, but been registered, between a young girl of that age and a man of 59 years!

Data on Nancy’s Date of Birth

  • 1860IF Nancy Catherine WATSON is, in fact, the Pency C. WATSON in George WATSON’s household, then she was just a few months old when the census taker came around, meaning her birth year was 1860.
  • 1874 – Her age is given as 18 on marriage license, meaning she’d have been born in 1856.
  • 1880 – The census record lists Nancy’s age as 27, which would’ve meant she was born about 1853, which is three full years earlier than the date that’s given on the marriage license.
  • 1900 – The census lists Nancy’s age as 40, and has her date of birth as Jan (or Jun) 1860.
  • 1910 – The census lists Nancy’s age as 45, making her birth year 1865.
  • 1920 – Nancy’s age on the census is 65, aging her 20 years in just 10, and making her year of birth 1855.
  • 1927 – On her death certificate, no birthdate is given (nor are her parents named), and her age is only given as “About 70,” meaning she would’ve been born “about 1857.”

Will DNA testing solve the mystery, or does someone already have the answers?

I’d love to get some other COX cousins, as well as some descendants of George WATSON and Mary TULL through their other children to take FamilyFinder tests. Maybe we’ll find matches and solve this mystery once and for all.

If you’d like to see the research on these families as I currently have it, please visit my tree at (The username is eastcarolinaroots.)

Then again, if anyone knows more information than what I have documented here, please add a comment using the box below, or if you prefer to send a private e-mail, use the contact form.


  1. Bettye Nesmith

    Does anyone have any information about William Clark who married Chloe Bexley and later moved to Georga?

  2. Debby Hodges

    My great-grandmother was Nannie Cox. She lived in Craven County until she died. I was about 10 years old when she passed away. She was the daughter of Eli and Nancy Cox.

    • Sara Whitford

      We’re cousins, then, Debby! 😃 As I mention in the article, I descend from Eli and Nancy through their son Thomas Charlton Cox. I’m glad you found this site! 😊

      • Debby Hodges

        Very cool! I am just reading this. I have had my DNA done through Ancestry too. My first cousin, Teresa (who also descends through the same line has had her DNA done too.) Will go check this out

        • Debby Hodges

          Sara, I do know that Eli had a son that was called Melcher. He was 1/2 brother to Eli and Nancy’s daughter, Nannie – who was my mother’s paternal grandmother. Nannie’s son (my mother’s father) was Elijah Jones. Elijah and Melcher married sisters – Alma and Kate Stallings from Jones County, NC. My mother told me this and I have found records documenting it, too.

          • Sara Whitford


            It’s great to hear from you! I know about Milton and Melcher, but they weren’t Eli’s boys — even though it says so on their death certificates. They were born five years after Eli’s death. I would love to figure out who Eli’s parents are. So far I’ve not been able to tell anything for sure from DNA, but if you and another Cox cousin are being tested I’ll definitely have to compare results. Who are you testing with? FTDNA?


  3. Beth Kellum Spano

    I’m related to Anna P. Cox from Craven /Jones County. She had 3 children before marrying John Marion Mallard. One of those 3 was named William Hardy (McKinney) Mallard. He and one of the two sisters were adopted by John Marion. I believe her first husband’s last name was McKinney.
    Have you come across any information regarding Anna Cox? She may have been the daughter of Marmaduke Cox.

    Beth Spano

  4. Teresa A Morris

    ??? Yes….I continue having ???’s regarding the way it was reported that the wife of Eli Cox (Sarah Ann M. Cox died in 1873. The story being told at the time still raises ?’s in my mind in 2019 in addition to him also having quickly married a 13 year old girl named Nancy Catherine Watson.

  5. Hailey

    I have been working on my tree, and I have come across Eli Cox and Sarah Watson are descendants of mine. If I am not mistaken through my research it shows Eli was married 3 times, his first wife being Nancy Carlton in 1850; she died in 1858. Eli then married Nancy’s (his first wife) daughter Sarah Watson in 1859. After Sarah’s tragic death in 1873 he married Nancy Watson- or Pency in 1874.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *