December 9, 2004

The John Coffey-Mary Jolliffee-Rebecca Ireland Myth

In 1960 George C. Greer published his reference, Early Virginia Immigrants, 1623-1666. In that work, Greer wrote that John Coffee came to Virginia in 1637 as the indentured servant of one Nicholas Hill.

In 1969, Nell M. Nugent, in her work, Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, Vols. I-III, transcribed the same information, but recorded the name as John Coffin or John Scoffin.

Marvin Coffey, in his work of 1984, James Bluford Coffey, His Ancestors and Descendants in America, wrote that he went to the original records, and found that Nugent had copied the name correctly; e.g., Coffin in one place, and what appears to be Scoffin in another. Marvin observed that whatever the name, it is not Coffee or Coffey!

Many Coffee/Coffey genealogists have accepted that John found in Greer's work was the earliest Coffee in America. Some researchers have given him a wife, often two wives; either Mary Jolliffe or Rebecca Ireland.

Records found, in York Co., VA, mention a William Ireland, in that county from 1633-1648. And, there is a John Jolliffee in Nansemone and Isle of Wight counties in 1653 (see Nugent). But, after all of the research, by literally hundreds of Coffee/Coffey researchers over several decades, no one has related any credible evidence that 1) there was a John Coffee/Coffey in that time frame, and 2) that a Mary Jolliffee or Rebecca Ireland ever existed.

Edward is first found mentioned in the 1699 will of William Mosely. The will was proved in Essex Co., VA on April 16, 1700, and in September, 1700 Edward received his "freedom, corn, and clothes" from the Mosely estate. Mosley transported many indentured persons to Virginia from about 1660 until the 1690's. Edward was likely one of his servants.

Edward Coffee/Coffey remains as our earliest known ancestor in America.

Anyone with evidence to the contrary will certainly be hailed by the large and growing family of Coffee/Coffey researchers!

Sometime after I wrote the above, and following questions posted on a well known genealogy forum, I asked Marvin Coffey to revisit this question. He submitted the following:

"Peter Rigllesworth had a will in which he mentions a daughter Mary. It has been said that this Mary married John Jolliffe but I have seen no record to substantiate it. John Jolliffe appears in the deed records of Nansemond and Isle of Wight cos., VA in 1653 and in Lower Norfolk co. in 1661, the latter being just a renewal of the patent of 1653. I have not yet seen a list of John's children or that he had a dau. named Mary, but I think it likely he did."

"The record of a John Coffee(y) arriving in Elizabeth City co. VA in 1637 with a patentee being Nicholas Hill was misread as the original record clearly says "Coffin". I have found no Coffee(y), John or otherwise in early or middle 1600s in Elizabeth City co., Norfolk co. or any closely surrounding ones, except for a John Coffe(?) on an inquisition or jury in Surry co. in 1669. There was also in the same county an Anthony Koffey(?) on a jury in 1654 and a John Coffer in 1665. The ? after the first two names is not mine, it is of the person recording it from some original. It indicates that this person couldn't read it and was guessing at the spelling. There is also a John Coffin in Isle of Wight co. in 1697 and several Coffers, inclcuding a John about this time."

"Going further north in Virginia the records of Northumberland and Lancaster cos. have several Coffins, Coffers and Coffee(y)s in the mid to late 1600s and early 1700s. None of these seems to be a John except a John Coffin or Coffins in 1669-70. In the early 1700s we find Edward Coffee(y) in Essex co. and later his sons John & Edward, Jr. in Spotsylvania and other counties."

"In sum I have seen nothing to demonstrate that there was a John Coffee(y) in the area where this Jolliffe family lived or a Mary who married a John Coffee(y). If anyone should have any further records on this matter I would appreciate them corresponding with me as I would like to solve this problem. Finally, it should be noted that even if there were a Mary Jolliffe-John Coffey marriage there seems to be no connection with Edward in Essex co. who was most likely an immigrant and indentured servant, and not a son of some Coffey already in Virginia."

More information about various Coffee/y families can be found at:


  1. Wayne Wallace3:36 PM

    Regarding Rebecca Ireland: I have a copy of a land grant giving land to Robert Wallis (my line) and William Ireland in York County, Va. 1642. One of the "passengers" that came over with Wallis and Ireland was Wallis's wife, Rebecca. After reading your post, I wonder if she could be Ireland's daughter? I do not have her maiden name. She was born about 1620.


  2. Wayne, I really cannot respond to your question with any first hand knowledge. I have depended on the in depth research of Dr. Marvin Coffey (now deceased) for assistance in solving this "problem." A lot of Coffey genealogies insist that a John Coffey married a Rebecca Ireland and was the father of Edward Coffey who married Ann Powell. I have not yet seen any research with sources pointing to that particular information.

    You may want to read the blog that pertains to Edward Coffey and him possibly being a victim of the Williamite Confiscation. Those who fled Ireland at that time have been called "Wild Geese" by some.

    Search the older posts for "Wild Geese" and if you can't find it let me know.


  3. Anonymous8:38 PM

    Does anyone know where Robert Wallis and William Ireland came from. I am descended from Robert. I too wonder if Ireland and Rebecca could be brother and sister. It seems from the grant Wallis and Ireland were some how in some sort of business since the grant went to both of them

    Donald Wallace

  4. Beth Ireland7:47 PM

    I have a William Ireland b. 1627 in Boston, MA. he was married to Abigale Greenland but I only have the one children listed of there's which is Abraham Ireland b. 1697 That would make hi dad 70 years old. So I think there might be something wrong with that date nothing is confirmed yet. I believe there is a list of first settlers online to the Virginia Colonies I think it was a Robert Ireland listed in there I find it puzzling that when I search for William Ireland he is on land deeds with others for instance there is a cousin a Aaron WAITE on a deed with him as well in Salem area weird. Now I just received an e-mail tha says Wallis was in Virginia in 1624 so which is is 1642 or 1624? I would like a copy of this deed they are both on please.
    Beth Ireland

  5. Anonymous1:47 PM


    I have a copy of the land grant and it can be found on line at the Library of Virginia archives under Land Grants and Patents on page 812 of book 1. It is hard to read but i have a translation. It was given to Robert Wallis and William Ireland for bringing 14 people to Virginia. They received 50 acres for each person or 700 acres for the 14 people in their party. Hope this helps. I am still trying to figure out where they came from if you have and leads.
    Donald Wallace


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