January 22, 2011

Austin Coffey and His Several Wives

It has been somewhat of a struggle to sort out the life and death of Austin Coffey, born c1840 in TN to Elijah and Rebecca Shockley Coffey.  Even now I am not certain that I have his genealogy correct.

Elijah was born on Feb. 23, 1819 (not proven) and married Rebecca Shockley on Jan. 11, 1840.*  They appear in the 1850 Grainger Co. census with Austin, age 10; Molly, age 9; Mira(?), age 7; George, age 2; and Wyatt, age 14.  Wyatt was a Coffey but not, apparently, a son.

Austin was out of his parents house by 1860.  The Grainger Co. census for that year enumerated the family with children Milah (Mira?), age 18; George, age 12; Ambrose, age 9; Samuel, age 4; and Martha E., age 3.

In 1870 we find Mila (Mira?), age 27; Grove (George), age 22; Samuel, age 15; Lacy, male, age 12; Elijah, age 10; and Martin, age 4.

I have not found them in 1880.  Elijah is said to have died in Grainger Co. on July 13, 1890 at age "71 years, 4 months and 20 days."**  Rebecca died Aug. 11, 1890 (unsourced) in Grainger.

Austin married Elvira Wolfe in Grainger Co. on Jan. 7, 1856#.  Some genealogies that I have seen report their divorce on Jan. 24, 1858, but I have not seen a record document.  This would mean that he and Elvira married when he was about 15 years old.  Austin then married Elizabeth Dalton on 20 May 1860 in Grainger Co.  They appeared in the Aug. 13, 1860 Grainger Co. census as "tenants" in the household with the Colby Dalton family.  He was 18 and Elizabeth was 19.

Elizabeth can be found in the 1870 census at Thorn Hill in Grainger Co. with children Hulda, age 9 and Ida, age 6.  Austin was not in the household and cannot be found elsewhere that year.  Perhaps, as it has been suggested, he hid from the census taker! 

There is another marriage record for Austin Coffey to Laura Ambrose on Oct. 19, 1875. He apparently died before 1880 because Laura appeared in the 1880 census of Grainger Co. as a widow.  With her were children Mary A., age 5 and Adie, age 2.

Elvira is said to have given birth to Martha Emeline c1856.  Given that she and Austin married in Jan of that year, perhaps it was a "shotgun" arrangement!?  With Elizabeth Dalton he was the father of Hulda and Ida.  Another source¢ reports that they were also the parents of Lula May, born May 5, 1869.  She married Greenberry Dalton on Oct. 10, 1886 in Grainger Co. and had at least twelve children.  Unfortunately, she never appears in any census record with any of Austin's wives.

The California Death index contains a record for Lula Dalton [Lula Coffee], born 1 May 1868 in VA, died 17 Jun 1948 in Los Angeles in which her mothers maiden name was given as Ambrose and mother's surname as Coffee.  Since Lula was born in 1869, some 5 years prior to Austin and Laura's marriage, it is doubtful her mother's name is correct in this record.  I suppose that she could have been Laura's daughter from a prior marriage and given the Coffey surname.

Laura also appears in the 1890 Veterans Schedule for Grainger Co. as a widow of Austin Coffey.

Hopefully, someone can offer additional information that will help sort out this family a bit more.


*Marriage Bonds and Licenses, 1835-1866, Grainger Co., Tennessee, Book 2, Billie Wyrick Kennerly, Houston, TX

**The graves of Elijah and Rebecca can be found on the north side of Clinch Mountain, Grainger County, Tennessee on property once owned by William Coffey.  The property is one and one-half miles east of Fair View Church and School which was in existence in May, 1938.

Other names transcribed at the time from headstones were Lacy Coffey, born March 30, 1861, died Oct. 27, 1888; William Coffey, born Sept. 3, 1888, Died Oct. 5, 1888; Charley Coffey, no dates; Bettie Coffey, no dates; Oma Coffey, no dates.


The following is the obituary of Elijah Coffey, son of George and Margaret Rucker Coffey from church records.

Elijah Coffey was born February the 23rd 1819 and died July the 13th 1890,  aged 71 years, 4 months and 20 days. He professed faith in Christ in March  1852 and joined the Baptist Church at Cedar Springs. He married Miss  Rebecca Shockley, a member of the same church. He was ordained a deacon  of his church April the 2nd Saturday 1873 and lived a consistent Christian and working member of his church, visiting the sick and administering to  their wants. He was sick about two weeks, bearing his suffering with patience and fortitude. He called his family around him, bade them  farewell, asked the blessings of God and quietly passed away, leaving an affectionate wife and six children to mourn the loss of a good husband and father and a large circle of relatives and friends to mourn his loss. But his wife ceased her mourning in four weeks and one day and followed on over the turbid waters where husband and wife meet to part no more.  But the livings's [sic] loss is the dead's eternal gain. "Asleep in Jesus,  blessed sleep from which none ever wake to weep." Wm. N. Dalton, Church  minutes.

Sources for above include: Virginia L. Peterson, Dorothy Dalton Johns, Bessie H. Johnson, Julia Dalton Harrell, Ella Coffey Carpenter, Wanda Hamblin Deck, R.B. Coffey and Grace McGinnis, Morristown TN (mcginnis@planetc.com), and Bennie Coffey Loftin in her compilation of the family of George Coffey and Margaret Rucker.

Coffey, Elijah – b. February 23, 1819; d. July 13, 1890. Married Rebecca Shockley. Member of Cedar Springs Baptist Church. Ordained Deacon the 2nd Saturday , 1873. Leaves wife, and 6 children. She died 4 weeks and 1 day later. [E-mail from Bernice Mullins to Jack Coffee, subject: Obits, Jul. 16, 2005]


#Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002. Nashville, TN, USA: Tennessee State Library and Archives. Microfilm.

†"Tennessee Marriages, 1796-1950," database, FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org/)

Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002. Nashville, TN, USA: Tennessee State Library and Archives. Microfilm.

¢David B. Trimble, Wolfe and Hickman of East Tennessee (Microfilmed by Brigham Young University: David B. Trimble, 2506 Hartford Rd., Austin, TX 78703, 2006), Page 216.

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