November 17, 2005

James M. Coffee - A question mark!

James M. Coffee was my great-grandfather. He was born in TN in 1846 or 1847 and moved to Hempstead Co., AR with his parents by 1849. He grew up in that county, and left very few records; not even a marriage record.

James was the second of six children born to Lilburn C. and Sarah Hannah Taylor Coffee. He was married in about 1867 to Mary Elizabeth Bowman. Mary was the daughter of Joseph T. Bowman, one of the signers of the original Texas Declaration of Independence. Joseph was the son of another famous Texan, Jesse B. Bowman, an Alamo defenders who died there on Mar. 6, 1836 when the fortress fell to Santa Anna's forces. Both father and son were members of the Texas Army of the Republic.

A few surviving letters from Mary to her family revealed little about the marriage. In one she asked her brothers about the cost of goods in their part of the country (Texas?), and complained about the cost of a setting of eggs and gingham in her area. She also complained about the reconstruction forces that occupied the so far unidentified area of the south (Arkansas?) in which she and James lived.

She and James were the parents of two children: Sarah Ellen, born Sep. 19, 1869 - died Nov. 15, 1952, and my grandfather, Albert Lilburn, born Jan. 22, 1873, died Mar. 26, 1960.

I know from census records that the family was in Wood Co., TX in 1870. However, sometime after that James disappeared, and there are no indications of the cause. He may have died, or simply abandoned or divorced his family.

I did find a James M. Coffee in the 1880 Kaufman Co., TX census who was of the correct age, and was born in TN. With him was a new wife and two daughters. Sometime later this James M. signed an agreement with a Mr. Bishop of Kaufmann Co. to share crops in return for a place to live. However, this family soon disappeared from the county, never again to be found.

In about 1879 Mary Elizabeth Bowman Coffee married William Watson, with whom she had two additional children, both daughters: Lillie Wes, born Feb. 10, 1880, died Jul. 11, 1959, and Mary Elizabeth, born Aug. 28, 1883, died Feb. 20, 1942.

The May 1880 census for Bowie Co., TX shows the Watsons residing there with the two Coffee children, and Lillie, age 3 months. Living nearby is the Finis E. Ames family, the wife being Mary E. Coffee, sister to James M. Coffee. Bowie Co. courthouses have been burned a few times, and there are few old surviving records which might tell me more about these families.

The story that I have pieced together from descendants of Lillie, who married a Courtney and left descendants in Sequoyah Co., OK, reveals that Mary Elizabeth Bowman Coffee Watson died at or shortly after the birth of her second child in 1883. It was at this time that Mr. Watson returned the Coffee children to their aunt Mary Coffee Ames, and left TX for northwest AR, taking his two natural children with him.

It is said by some of my older cousins who knew our grandfather that he often told them he and his sister Ellen were raised by "a mean aunt." At some point the Ames family returned to Hempstead Co., AR with the Coffee children in tow. The Ames remained there and are buried in a now abandoned cemetery not far from present day downtown Hope.

Sarah Ellen Coffee married twice. Her first marriage was to P. B. Hill on Mar. 21, 1886 in Hempstead Co. Together they had one son, James Walter Hill, born Jan. 3, 1888, died Jan., 1972. Mr. Hill died shortly thereafter, and Sarah Ellen married Johnathan K. Polk Sutton, born Sep. 1846 in TN, died Dec. 5, 1910 in AR. This union produced three children, all daughters: Mamie, born Dec., 1890; Lillian Ann, born Jun. 6, 1894, died Dec. 18, 1964, and Violet M., born Sep. 21, 1899, died Jul. 30, 1979.

Many of this family ventured west to California and some of their descendants reside there today.

Albert Lilburn Coffee married three times. His first marriage was to Della Lenore King, born 1876 to George T. and Mary Elizabeth Woods King, died 1898 in Hempstead Co., AR. This marriage produced two children: Ora West, born Apr. 30, 1894, died May 25, 1969, and Carl Glenn, born Jan. 11, 1896, died Aug. 28, 1950.

His second wife was on Mar. 6, 1899 to Ida Lee Timberlake, born c1873 to Hugh B. and Alice B. McClumery Timberlake. Ida died in about 1902, but gave birth to two children during her short marriage. Her first child was John Timberlake, born Mar. 5, 1900, died Mar. 7, 1928, and Ruby McElvy, born Aug. 8, 1902, died Jan. 5, 1985.

Ora Elizabeth Braley was the third wife of Albert Lilburn Coffee. She was born Jan. 14, 1884 and died Mar. 7, 1984, at the age of 100 years. She was my grandmother, and the only one of his three wives to be born in LA; the other two were natives of Hempstead Co., AR.

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