02 April 2021

Family Feud at Frankfort, 1907

In the late afternoon of January 22, 1907, Morris "Max" Breen took a break from his chores to regale his friends with stories of his ongoing feud with Thomas Cox. Breen and Cox were rival shopkeepers in the hamlet of Frankfort, New Jersey - a small postal village in Hillsborough Township that up until 1878 had been named Flaggtown.

23 January 1907 Home News

Farmer Nicholas Ernest and laborers Crook Sutton, David Dilts, and Clarence Miller relaxed on cracker barrels around the heat stove in Breen's store and listened as the Russian immigrant and former house painter poured out his troubles.

23 January 1907 Courier News

The feud had been going on for quite some time. According to Breen, it all started when Cox - who was also the Frankfort Postmaster and whose store was on South Branch Road about opposite of where Longfield Drive is today - had Breen arrested on a charge of "cruelty to dumb animals". Not long afterward Breen sent one of his friends to accost Cox and frighten him by pretending to rob him as he drove his cart over a lonely country road at night. Because Cox pulled his revolver in the incident, Breen had him later arrested on a serious charge of carrying a concealed weapon.

22 January 1907 Home News

According to an account in the Plainfield Daily Press, relations between the two continued to sour after Breen - whose store was on Amwell (now East Mountain) Road near Mill Lane - held a house party and invited everyone in the vicinity except the Cox family. To make room for all of the horses (kind of like finding room for street parking today) Breen moved his own horses out of his barn and took them to Cox's stables. This was a regular courtesy offered to each other by area folks - but not between these feuding families. Cox refused to release the horses back to Breen, compelling Breen to initiate a legal proceeding which cost him $3 paid to Cox for the board of the horses.

23 January 1907 Plainfield Daily Press

Hearing all of this, the four friends decided to pay the postmaster a visit. They entered Cox's store that evening and each, in turn, asked for his mail. As Cox slid the mail through the slot in the window he sensed trouble. He came out from behind the counter and asked the men to leave. When they didn't go, he took a step towards his gun in the corner of the room. It was at this point that the gang knocked him down, stomped on him, and dragged him by his heels out to South Branch Road.

24 January 1907 Courier News

Cox's wife Mary and sister-in-law Dora Mutchler heard the commotion and came running out to help. Mrs. Cox wound up getting her fingers smashed by a boot heel and then fainted. Cox called out for store clerk James Martin to come quickly and retrieve his gun from the store. But as Martin reached the door he was jumped. The Cox family managed to escape to the neighbors - and Cox ran up to the telegraph station at the Flagtown Depot to call for help.

1 February 1907 Courier News

The four assailants were rounded up the next day by county detective George Totten and appeared before Justice Sutphen where they were charged with assault and robbery - it seems that Cox noticed $19 was missing from his pocket after the melee. 

This story was prominent in the newspapers for about ten days back in 1907, then promptly disappeared as journalists turned to new and shinier distractions, so we may never know how the feud turned out in the end!

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