A Tailor-Made Lawsuit

Jennings’s patent brought him and his family wealth and worry. The competition was fierce. One rival who threatened Jennings’s business was Abraham Cox. A black tailor with white financial backing, he tried to steal Jennings’s new cleaning process. Jennings confronted his rival by moving his store to 64 Nassau Street—right next to his rival Cox, Gilbert & Company.

Cox damaged his neighbor’s business splattering oil of vitriol was across an engraved glass sign on Jennings’s storefront. He tore down Jennings ads from around the city and to avoid suspicion of vandalism, Cox slightly damaged his own shop and then offered a reward for the culprit.

Displaying an ability that would serve his family well, Jennings brought a lawsuit against Cox. The trial began on November 29, 1821, in the Marine Court. Covered by the press, Jennings made it clear that he didn’t approve of Cox’s fancy lifestyle. He called Cox a “first rate dandy” and a man who “cuts considerable dash in his mode of living.”

Unlike the reserved Jennings, Cox pranced around the city in a “horse and gig” for the “purpose of monopolizing this profitable business.” Jennings key piece of evidence was the “Letters of Patent” the bore the gold seal of the US government. After a half hour, the white jury agreed with Jennings and he was awarded fifty dollars in damages.

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