Tench Coxe was born in Philadelphia on May 22, 1755. His father, a respected merchant, was active in local politics. At the age of 16 Tench entered the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) to study law. He was more interested in business than law, however, and when he came of age, he became a partner in his father's firm.
Coxe faced a dilemma during the American Revolution, as did many other established merchants. When the British invaded Philadelphia, he decided to remain neutral rather than declare his support for the Colonies. Some of his critics have claimed that Coxe was actually a royalist sympathizer and that he joined Gen. William Howe's army against the patriots. Considering his later career, however, this seems doubtful. More likely, the decision was based on economic rather than political motives. After the British withdrew from Philadelphia, his name was listed among those persons accused of treason. But the charges were dropped when no one appeared against him.
He died in Philadephia in 1824.