In his 1915 A History of Watauga County, North Carolina, John Preston Arthur wrote about James Aldridge who appeared in Shulls Mill, Watauga Co. c1819 and shortly married [or took up with] Betsy Calloway, an attractive daughter of one Benjamin Calloway. The chapter in which this story appears is entitled "Some Thrice-Told Tales," so use your best judgment in deciding the accuracy of the facts cited.
Arthur wrote that James was already married and had left a wife and five children in Virginia while he hunted in North Carolina. James persuaded Betsy to marry him and a son, Harrison Aldridge was born Dec. 15, 1821. Six more children followed: Jane c1824; Tempe c1825; Ellen c1828; Emeline c1835; Benjamin c1837; and Waightstill c1842.
Sometime - and probably after the birth of Waightstill - the "real wife" of James appeared in the area of Foscoe at the home of Edward Moody seeking directions to the Aldridge home. Before day break the next morning, James was at the Moody place to buy a bushel of wheat. He is said to have told Moody that "the cat was out of the bag at last."
Sometime between 1834 and 1836 A "fur peddler of the name of Price" had spotted Aldridge in Watauga Co. On his return to "Big Sandy" [Kentucky, where the "real wife" had apparently relocated from Virginia] he told what he had discovered, precipitating her travel "on a fine horse" to Watauga in search of James Aldridge.
To me, this story seems a "stretch." Given the perils of the time, a wife abandoned for some 15 years would probably have remarried within a few years, believing that her first husband had been killed.
The tale of the "real wife" is attributed by Arthur to Levi Coffey who was probably Levi Lafayette Coffey, a son of Elisha and Anna Harmon Moody Coffey. Levi was born in Burke Co., NC c1833 and in Watauga by 1859 when he married Temperance "Tempie" Calloway, born c1844 to James and Nicey Gragg Calloway.
Anna Harmon Moody was the daughter of Edward and Frances Carter Moody. Both Edward and Frances were natives of Virginia and may have known James Aldridge prior to coming to Watauga Co.
In a footnote to this chapter, Arthur wrote: "In his genealogical tour through Ashe in 1828, Dr. Elisha Mitchell speaks of a hunter living on the head of the Watauga River with the children of his real wife, who was then residing on the Big Sandy in Kentucky, and his own children by another woman with whom he was then living as his wife. If this refers to James Aldridge, then Betsy Calloway had two children by him after his first wife appeared in the scene, for both Ben and Waightstill were born after 1828."*
I have not found an Aldridge in the 1840 or 1860 Watauga county census. The 1850 census for that county enumerates Elizabeth Caloway [sic] with five children in her household: Ellen, Emeline, Benjamin and Waightstill and William. Within three doors of her residence was that of Harrison Aldridge. William was not listed by Arthur as one of James' and Betsy's children.
Harrison married Jincy Clark c1845, She was born c1827 in NC. Harrison died on Jan. 11, 1905** in Watauga Co. Together they raised at least nine children, one being Harrison, Jr., born Jul., 1864. He married Mary Etta Buchanan c1886 and their son, Samuel Anthony Aldridge (1893-1966) married Lora Destomonia Coffey (1888-1967), a daughter of Joseph Reubin and Martha Elizabeth Gragg Coffey.
James Aldridge (1853-1939), another son of Harrison and Jincy, married Sarah Gragg, daughter of Johnson and Nancy Cuthbertson Gragg. Their son, Arthur Blaine Aldridge (1884-1947) married Rosa Lee Coffey (1886-1946), a daughter of Jesse Filmore and Martha Storie Coffey.
Samuel Columbus Aldridge (1862-1941), a third son of Harrison and Jincy, married Margaret Buchanan c1884. Their son, Horatio Acuff Aldridge (1891-1971) married Byrd Elizabeth "Birdie" Coffey on Feb. 19, 1913 in Watauga Co.
So, how does Levi Coffey relate to the Coffey women who married into the Aldridge clan?
To all three he was a double second cousin, twice removed; a fourth cousin once removed and a fifth cousin once removed. They all descend from Edward and Ann Powell Coffey through their son John and his son Reuben who married Sarah Scott.
*According to ages given in 1850, Benjamin was born c1837 and Waightstill in c1842. Mitchell wrote:
"In the neighborhood is a hunter who has two women living with him; to one of them he owes and to the other he graciously discharged the duties of a husband; one has 3 children, and the other one and another at hand. 'Tis a region for these irregularities. The Leather Stocking of these regions, and whom we would have had as a pilot, but that he is in the woods, has a wife living on Sandy River in Kentucky, and the children of that wife, and another woman living with him here on the Watauga." Earlier in his writings on this topic, he wrote that he was heading for the cabin of "Leather Stocking Aldridge." Leather Stocking seems to be a common term used in the day to describe hunters and woodsmen.
**Arthur wrote that "Harrison, in memory of a faithful dog which saved his life from wild hogs, had that dear friend buried on a ridge above the home of his son, James A. Aldridge, and requested that the be buried there also. His tombstone, surrounded by a substantial stone wall, records the fact that he joined the Baptist Church October 22, 1870, and died January 11, 1905."