February 16, 2006

The Wild Geese of Eire (Part III)

Part III (actually Part II as submitted by the author) appeared in the Dec., 1990 edition of Coffey Cousins' Clearinghouse newsletter:

My 85-year old father likes to tell a story concerning the mark of our ancestor Fielden Coffey (his great-grandfather) and how it related to a run-in with Pardee Butler along the Missouri River in the vicinity of the present Atchison, Kansas, where I was later born. The Atchison area was over-run by Missourians who were descendants of old-line Virginians. These Missourians, including my Fielden (who had been born in Kentucky), adhered to old mid-southern rules and customs, including occupying land by pre-emption which was technically not open to settlement. Fielden had placed his distinctive mark on a certain tree, intending to sometime cut it and make it into lumber. He was in no particular hurry to cut it, as everyone knew his mark and respected his claim on any trees so marked. Atchison had the first newspaper in the state, aptly named the Squatter Sovereign, one issue of which tells of the tarring and feathering of Pardee Butler, a northern free-soiler who was tied to a raft in his feathered state and sent on an ethereal flight down the Missouri River. My Fielden's encounter with Mr. Butler came when someone came rushing to Fielden's house with the disconcerting news that Butler was cutting down a tree with Fielden's mark on it! My father's interpretation of Fielden's response, although more visually demonstrated than by words, leaves little doubt that Fielden's adrenaline surged. Although short of stature and of generally agreeable disposition, on this occasion, when his distinctive mark was ignored, he was as if challenged in battle, and this proved to be one of the few occasions which he settled with assistance of a gun. I am assured by my father that he did not kill anyone, but that is all that he would say.

Although we see the strange M-like mark on Edward Coffey, Sr.;s personal papers, it takes little imagination to see that this would have been the mark by which he signed chits and notes for the plantation Moseley's Quarter. Today certificates representing enormous wealth in corporate stock are still "signed" by means of a cryptic mark made by the pen of the transfer agent in some financial back room. At the time Edward Coffey signed the M-like mark to his will, he had a vested interest in the plantation of "Mosley's Quarter" to say the least. To what extent his interest was so vested 16 years earlier, when he witnessed a document by signing the same M-like mark, is still a matter of conjecture. To make a different mark for his personal affairs than the mark he made for the plantation would have not only been confusing to all concerned but probably to himself as well. He obviously was known by his mark, which for historical reasons was associated with Moseley's Quarter, regardless of whether at any specific time he may have been overseer or owner.

Descendants of Joel Coffey and Martha Stapp have noted that the names "Woodson Coffey" or "Joel Woodson Coffey" appear in the lines of at least two of Joel's children, although no Woodson ancestor is readily apparent in published genealogies. If only one of Joel's children had named a son Woodson, we might shrug it off, saying that the child must have been named for a highly respected neighbor or godfather of no blood relation. But even in parallel cases in other families, such neighbors or godparents, upon further research, often prove to be blood relations. Woodsons proliferated from Virginia through the South and West and were sometimes Coffey neighbors although no blood relationships have been previously suggested. Let us examine the family of Joel and Martha, as there is evidence that their children may be triple Coffeys in the sense of being descended from Edward Coffey, Sr. in three lines: 1) Edward Coffey, Jr., and a wife who may have been a daughter of a Chesley Martin, 2) Martha Coffey and Joshua Stapp, through their grand-daughter Martha Stapp; and 3) Elizabeth Coffey and John Cleveland through their daughter Jane Cleveland. I am reserving details of these genealogical interpretations for another discussion. (I am myself a descendant of this triple Coffey line through Celia, the daughter of Joel and Martha, but my line is further complicated by a descent through Celia's marriage to Fielding, son of Isaac Nebuzaraden Coffey, of yet uncertain ancestry, but undoubtedly going back again to Edward Coffey, Sr.) The tripling in the Joel-Martha line, for one thing, would magnify the likelihood that any Woodson connection would be in a Coffey line merely because there are fewer non-Coffey lines to contend with. We need to analyze the heritage of Joel's family. Joel has all the appearances of having inherited his parents' wealth under the British primogeniture system. His 14 slaves appearing in the 1787 Wilkes County, North Carolina, census are ten times the average for Wilkes County families of the period. Nebuzaraden has only one and many Coffeys none at all. Only Jane (Graves) Coffey, the widow of John Coffey, came close with 7. Her wealth was preserved by her failure to re-marry. Colonial custom was to leave the estate to the wife only until she re-married or died. Thus, Edward, Jr., and John Coffey (rather than their mother who re-married) inherited Moseley's Quarter. Upon the death of their mother Ann, she willed her possessions to her sons by her last husband (Dooley) and to her daughter or daughter-in-law, Annister, rather than to her earlier sons by Edward Coffey, Sr. Joel's wealth is further confirmed by the lands appearing in his name on tax lists of the period. Joel was likely the prime heir of his father, Chesley Coffey, Sr., who may have died young but was probably the eldest son and prime heir of Edward Coffey, Jr., thought by Coffey genealogists to have been the twin brother of John Coffey, the twins being the inheriting sons of the original Edward Coffey, Sr. That Joel Coffey's full name may have been perpetuated by his grandson Joel Woodson Coffey is suggestive, although only that. Under the British primogeniture system (which was repudiated with the success of the American Revolution), the elder branch of a family was the depository for tradition. A father passed not only his wealth to his oldest son, but a responsibility to be head of the entire group of related families descending from the father. This family headship was in a sense that we can barely comprehend today. It was the senior son who not only inherited the vast proportion of the estate, but who also had an obligation to help junior families out if the fell on hard times. We believe that Irish families adhered to primogeniture, as well. This is all in way of explaining how we would expect Joel to have been trained in family traditions forward. It would not be unusual, therefore, for him to have known the name of his great grandfather of his wife, Martha Stapp. Did anyone in the lineages between the original Edward's mother and Joel or Martha have Woodson as a middle name? Or did they have a Bible record of a Woodson ancestor? Remember, Joel's grandson was named Joel Woodson Coffey and two other grandchildren had Woodson incorporated into their names in some way. Was there a Woodson in Joel's ancestry? If such a Woodson ancestry were in colonial Virginia rather on the other side of the Atlantic, it would have had to have been in the very early generations of the Virginia Woodson family. The patriarch of the Virginia Woodsons settled in the Jamestown colony in 1619 and was killed by Opechanchanough's brutal massacre of 1644, but Mrs. Woodson protected two sons by hiding them, one in a tub, the other in a potato pit. Genealogists have married off the descendants of these two sons to account for the Woodsons living in America between 1619 and the present, although little attention was given to the female lines. We should look for a Woodson daughter of an extremely early generation who may have had an early marriage but was remembered by genealogists only for a second marriage to a person with property. Sarah Woodson, daughter of Robert Woodson and Sarah Ferris, is the likely candidate, particularly since the Ferris family was intermarried with the Washingtons and one of Joel's grandsons was named Meredith Washington Coffey. Is this sheer speculation? Not at all! Although genealogies commonly state that this Sarah Woodson married Edward Mosby, Henry Morton Woodson in his book Historical Genealogy of the Woodsons and Their Connections states that this was Edward Moseley and that the line is untraced. Sarah's father was Robert, one of the little Woodson boys saved from the Indians by being hidden by his mother. Sarah's brother John is known to have been a carpenter. There is evidence that many Coffey connecting families were carpentering families who followed building booms at the edge of settlement, but this topic is reserved for another discussion. Such books spread from the Jamestown colony eventually to Henrico County, up to old Rappahanock (Essex), to Spotsylvania, to Orange, to Albemarle, and eventually into the back country of the Carolinas and from there south and west.

[Frank believed in writing long paragraphs!]

If Edward Coffey was not a Wild Goose in the sense of the 1691 exodus, what was he? It is commonly said that "birds of a feather flock together." Graves women who married Coffeys in two widely separated lines both seem to be descended from Captain Thomas Graves of Jamestown colony. It is significant that a Thomas Graves signed as security for Edward Coffey, Sr.'s widow when she administered Edward's estate. Was he descended from the Captain Thomas Graves mentioned above? If there is a Woodson connection, the progenitor again would be an old-line Jamestown colony Virginian. Could our Coffey ancestors go back this far as well? Descendants of colonial Virginia Coffeys have tried to trace their ancestry by looking at dates when people with names similar to those of their ancestors were supposedly imported to America. Recent research indicates that landgrants given by Virginia for importing settlers often were fraudulently issued, the supposed importees merely being ship's crews who returned to England. It is axiomatic that Coffeys supposedly imported seem to have left no descendants. Paradoxically, Coffeys tracing back to colonial Virginia can find no ancestor who unquestionably was the one who immigrated. Do the Edward Coffey and Peter Coffee lines track back to a common ancestor as some long-deceased Coffeys once claimed? [Recent DNA testing reveals that Peter and Edward were related, but not closely] Descendants of Peter Coffee now have evidence that he was not the Peter Coffee of importation records. Carpentering tendencies of the Peter Coffee line led to John Coffee's boatbuilding which led to a water-freighting partnership with Andrew Jackson, then to the Coffee-Jackson victory in the Battle of New Orleans, and finally to the election of a President. The carpentering connection between the Edward and Peter lines may be partly because of carpentering being a Graves characteristic. This would not explain carpentering in the line of Edward Coffey, Jr., however. Perhaps the Graves met the Coffeys through carpentering in relation to Coffeys and their connections, which is found in another discussion, also explains why these carpenters excelled in the military.

Although our Coffey immigrant ancestor may not have a Wild Goose in the restricted meaning of the 1691 sense, today the term is used for practically any ancestor who fled from Ireland at any date, as shown by the recent article in Town and Country magazine. These Wild Geese intended to fly home to Ireland when conditions permitted. That our ancestor was a Wild Goose in the broad sense of having fled from Ireland is taken for granted from the very Irishness of the name Coffey, for what true Irishman would have willingly left the emerald Isle unless forced by circumstances to do so? Coffey is a true old Irish name, not a "Scotch-Irish" name, and not an Irish name of English origin.

In reviewing the document whereby Ann, the widow of Edward Coffey, Sr., was granted administration of Edward's estate, the very Irishness of the names of all involved simply flows out from the paper. Here was Ann Powell who had become a Coffey, with a Thomas Graves signing as security together with a John Hart. The Irish family of Powell as an alias for MacFullafoil, a Gaelic name freely translated as a "devotee of St. Paul," the Paul part of the name inspiring use of the name "Powell." Hart is exactly equivalent to the family of O'Hart to which belonged the author of the book which takes the Coffey pedigree back to Adam. Graves was a family in the 1659 census of Counties Dublin, Meath and Louth. The Graves family was noted for certain prominent clergymen, one the Anglican Bishop of Limerick. John Graves was sheriff of Limerick. Arthur Graves wrote the ever popular sons "Father O'Flynn."

Historians are intensely interested in early Irish settlers in Virginia prior to the coming of the Scotch-Irish to the Great Valley of Virginia. Of interest is whether the very early Irish existed as isolated families who lost their Irishness amid the predominant English, or whether they associated together with some social binding so as to make an ethic group. If they did make a group, however so small, historians would like to know if they had any effect on development of the country. If Coffeys can ever sort out and document their family history, there may prove to have been significant influence by descendants of early Irish who settled in the Tidewater region of Virginia, long before coming of the Scotch-Irish.

My interest in my ancestor Fielden Coffey being a traveling merchant led me to research traveling merchants in colonial Virginia. There was great interest by historians in a diary of a traveling merchant written shortly after 1800 which revealed that he belonged to a secret society or brotherhood of Irishmen in Virginia which met something like the Masons. Unfortunately no one has discovered who wrote the diary or anything about the society other than that no one had suspected that the Irish had such social connections in Virginia at such an early date. The merchant's route closely corresponded to some of the territory where Coffeys lived. In the Tye river area of old Albemarle County (now Nelson County), with its Coffey connections, he mentioned coming to Crosthwait's as if it were an old stopping point or way-station, which it probably was. Descendants of colonial Virginia Crosthwait/Crosswhites have never discovered whether they are of the English or Irish branch of the family, only that their ancestor came down from Pennsylvania to Spotsylvania County about 1732, possibly descending from the Charles Crosthwayte who settled near Boston in the previous century. Charles had descendants in West Jersey prior to 1700 who were living on the opposite side of the river from the point where the new town of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was being built. If Crosthwaits were of the Irish branch, they would, like the Coffeys, be very early examples of Irish immigrants. A Thomas Crosthwaite once served as Governor of the Bank if Ireland and High Sheriff of Dublin. This is mentioned because a Coffey presently is Minister of Finance of Ireland and has served as Governor of the Bank of Ireland, an interesting parallel. I am reserving an analysis of the fiduciary or "treasurer" meaning behind the surname Coffey for another discussion.

[I hope readers have enjoyed this dissertation by Frank Crosswhite. He never again submitted such work to Coffey Cousins for publication, and I understand that he died within a few years of this publication. That is too bad! Many, if not most researchers today are simply satisfied with copying and/or citing the work of others. Besides the obvious problem with that, neither one has cited a credible source for any of the information. If anyone would like to submit such scholarly work as this paper, please contact me or Bonnie Culley. I was unable to reproduce Edward's "distinctive mark" here, but imagine this: A printed letter E, tilted slightly to the right where it almost appears like the printed letter M, except that the legs of the M do not dip in the middle, but rather go straight across like the spine of the E.]

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