November 21, 2014

Lewis and Elisabeth Angeline Coffey Van Vleet

Lewis Van Vleet
"In the far-away state of New York, on October 21, 1826, was born a baby boy who was destined to promote the civilization and development of Oregon.  He was the seventh of thirteen children, all of whom lived to manhood or womanhood.  His parents were well-to-do industrious people and with true philosophy enjoyed life as the years passed.  His birthplace was the same substantial Dutch farmhouse in which his father, Peter P. Van Vleet was born February 23, 1799.  He was a descendant of a Hollander who settled in New York early in the seventeenth century and he lived to be over eighty years of age.  The mother, Lois Swarthouse Van Vleet, was born Feb. 5, 1802, and died July 2, 1879, four months after the death of her husband.

"The farm on which Lewis Van Vleet was born was located between Seneca and Cayuga lakes and had belonged to his grandfather, Peter Van Vleet.  One day, when he was six years of age, he was playing with his little brother Edgar, aged four, down by the spring some distance from the house,  The younger lad slipped into the water and Lewis Van Vleet, with all the force of his sturdy young arms, tried to save his brother.  Fortunately, the root of a tree projected somewhat over the spring and, holding on to this, Lewis Van Vleet, with excellent judgment and after several heroic efforts, pulled his brother from the water.  It was about that time that the father of the boys made a trip to Michigan, then a territory, to ascertain the prospects of making a home in that undeveloped section.  The following year the entire family, traveling by canal and with team and wagon, removed to Michigan, the trip being full of interesting incidents which were distinctly remembered by Lewis Van Vleet during his long life.  Hardships were many and conveniences at first few, but the family managed to enjoy life and good health in their new home.  The manner of living was far different from that of the present day, for mother and daughters then spun and wove wool for garments and for household use and also rained and prepared flax for use in their own family.  A tailor made semi-annual visits to supply the family with clothing and the shoemaker came once a year.  Candles were made at home and the cooking was done on the huge fireplace and in the big brick oven.  At Christmas, stocking were hung to receive an apple and doughnut.  Wild turkeys and other game were hunted in the near-by forests.

"It was in Michigan that Lewis Van Vleet began his education and acquired a most beautiful style of penmanship, writing in those days with goose quill pens.  The curriculum consisted of reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic.  The boy mastered his lessons but also managed to take part in the mischief and the fun of the school, which are ever a part of a boy's life.  He early displayed good business judgment and made his start in business with a small white pig.  Later, when he wished to attend a school three miles from his home, he bargained with his father to given him his entire drove of pigs - eight or ten - for the privilege of going to that school.  He earned his first money by riding a horse hitched to the plow with which his neighbors were cultivating their crops.  Working from "sun to sun," he received a shilling each day.  He early cultivated the habit nor only of earning but of saving money and, always making it his rule to spend less than his income, he ever had ready means at his command.  When he was seventeen his father purchased a cow with a propensity for kicking, so that nobody could milk her, until Lewis, promised a 'long tailed' as a reward by his mother, succeeded in the attempt and thus acquired his first 'dress suit,' while his next older brothers, twins, still wore their 'roundabouts.'

"As was the custom in those days, Lewis Van Vleet remained at home, working for his father until twenty-one years of age, when his father gave him five dollars and he started for New York.  He learned the cooper's trade in Oswego and, carefully saving his earnings, was enabled to pursue a course of study in the Oswego Academy, having already realized the value of an education.  By the time his school days were over he had formed the plan of emigrating to the Pacific northwest and in August, 1852, went to Hannibal, Missouri, where he spent the winter.  On the 14th of April, 1853, he started for Oregon, reaching Oregon City in August, and on the 6th of August, 1855, he removed to Clarke [sic] county, Washington, where he secured a homestead claim on which he lived until September, 1868.  In 1871 he removed to Kalama, where he remained for seven years and then came to Portland, where he resided to the time of his death, although he retained his Clarke county property.  It is believed that this homestead is the only one in that county now owned intact by the original patentee or his descendants.

"In Oregon City, on the 3d of February, 1856, the Rev. Harvey K. Hines performed the wedding ceremony that united the destinies of Mr. Van Vleet and Elisabeth [sic] A. Coffey.  Seven children were born to them, those now living being Dr. Louisa V. Wright, of Camas, Washington; Edith, Stella and Lewis, all of Portland; and Felix of Camas.  Two daughters, Lois and Harriet, died in early childhood and Mrs. Van Vleet passed away in Portland, April 12, 1905.

Lewis & Elizabeth A. Coffey Van Vleet

"Mr. Van Vleet had been a resident of the northwest but a brief period when he enlisted for service in the Yakima Indian war of 1855-6, under Captain William Strong, and participated in the unusual experiences of warfare against the red men.  He was greatly interested in public matters and from 1856 until 1859 represented Clarke county in the territorial senate.  In 1860 he was a representative from Clarke county in the lower house and from Cowlitz county in 1871.  He displayed much ability in his public service and left his impress upon the legislation enacted buried his connection with the general assembly.  Appointed United States deputy surveyor in 1856, he thus served for nearly two score years - a record unequaled on the Pacific coast.  For four and a half years he was connected with the land department of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, he particular duty being to appraise the land grands of their corporation.  The Oregon Pioneer Association numbered him among its honored members for many years and he was a prominent Mason, identified with the fraternity for nearly sixty-three years.  He joined the order in Albion, Michigan, in December, 1847, and afterward became a member of Multnomah Lodge, No. 1, at Oregon City, the first Masonic ledge instituted west of the Rocky mountains.  He became a charter member of Washington Lodge at Vancouver in 1857 and aided in organizing the Masonic Grand Lodge in Washington, of which he was made senior grand warden in 1862.  In 1871 he assisted in instituting Kalama Lodge, No. 17, at Kalama, Washington, and was one of the organizers, in 1890, of La Camas Lodge, No. 75, in Clarke county.  In 1893 he joined the Masonic Veteran Association of Oakland, California, and in March, 1901, joined Albina Lodge, No. 101, A. F. & A. M., of Portland, of which he was a member at the time of his death.

"In appearance Mr. Van Vleet was a distinguished looking man, nearly six feet tall, well proportioned and notable erect.  His eyes were blue and in early manhood his hair was black but after his fortieth year it was snow white, contrasting strongly with his ruddy cheeks.  He believed that each person should have a sound mind in a sound body and, that good health might be enjoyed, was judicious in the care of his physical nature and lived 'the simple life.'  He was philosophical in his acceptance of hardships and few persons seemed to obtain such genuine pleasure from life.  He was a splendid example of an ideal husband, father and citizen and his was indeed a well rounded character his strong, manly qualified and extreme gentleness producing perfect symmetry. His kind and loving disposition made him many friends and his love for them, many of whom he had known for years, was tenacious.  He was a public-spirited citizen and managed affairs both great and small with thoroughness and judgment.  While frugal and industrious, he was also generous and, while a self-educated man, he was ever well informed and kept pace with the progress of affairs. Even animals recognized his kindly spirit and those upon his farm would come at his call.  In early days he raised many cattle and would often sell quite a drove to one buyer.  What a surprise to the purchaser to have Mr. Van Vleet go to the bars of the great 'woods pasture' at unusual hours and by giving a call which the cattle well knew, have his entire band answer the summons!  This occurred again and again.  He Mr. Van Vleet loved the old farm upon which he spent many happy years!  It was there, in the old log house in the orchard, that he and his wife 'set up housekeeping' after their marriage.  Unlike many, they used their leisure time in study and self-improvement.  Among their choice early possessions was a large family bible, and unabridged dictionary and a copy of Shakespeare.  These books with astronomy, algebra, history and literature, were carefully studied and thoroughly enjoyed, and as success came to them they had equal pleasure in improving the several homes which they planned and built.  True hospitality was always found under their roof and many beautiful memories remain of family and friends seated around the comfortable fireplace.  An open fire!  That was one of the comforts of life that Mr. Van Vleet always insisted in having in his home wherever he lived.  Mr. and Mrs. Van Vleet traveled life's journey in the most harmonious companionship for nearly fifty years, enjoying the pleasures and bearing the sorrows of life together.  Their children remember the tended care and kind protection with which they were continually surrounded and their triumphs and successes were increased manyfold by the appreciation and enthusiasm with which their efforts were received by their parents.  In moments of discouragement and doubt they turned instinctively toward the father and mother from whom they never failed to receive comfort and help.  These worthy pioneers have completed their earthly pilgrimage but the influence of their lives will continue until shall be no more.  Lewis Van Vleet passed away April 15, 1910, after fifty-seven years devoted to the development of this great western country.  The funeral services were held in the Methodist church in Camas, of which he had been for many years a member, and the last sad rites were performed by Washington Lodge, No. 4, of which he was the last surviving charter member.  Leaving the church, the solemn procession wended it way to the quiet country cemetery on the old Van Vleet homestead, which had been donated by Mr. Van Vleet many years before.  There he was laid to rest by the side of his wife.

"It is fitting that tribute be paid to Mrs. Elisabeth Angeline Van Vleet that her children and friends may ever keep before them her high ideals.  She was born in Missouri, May 8, 1836, and came to Oregon with her father, Joel Coffey, one sister and two brothers, in 1852.  He life history recalls incidents relating to pioneer days over which the twilight of uncertainty has not yet thrown its shadow and the night of forgetfulness has not descended forever.  Those who knew her remember and appreciate the threads of gold which were woven into the web of her life.  He genial smile, he sympathy with all phases of of human experience and her comprehension of all human moods can never be forgotten by those who knew her.  Placed in positions of trust, she filled them with conspicuous ability.  Hers was a life of unselfish service.  Modesty was a leading trait in a character finely matured and altogether admirable.  She conducted herself in her home duties with the same unassuming and dignified demeanor that marked all her acts.  She shirked no duty, sought no notoriety and had a splendid sense of her responsibilities to her associates, her family and her God.  She hated wrong, never compromised with error and had no illusions that swerved her from the straight path of conscious rectitude.  The usual number of sorrows that are the common lot came to her but she bore them silently and patiently.  She possessed, moreover, amiable humor and bright wit and was gifted with a singularly genial disposition.  She was much admired, much loved and much respected and was untiring in her efforts for her friends.  She proved herself a worthy pioneer, devoted in her home, faithful in her service to her children and revealing in her nature also a large interest for others.  She died at her home in Portland, April 12, 1905, and her remains were interred in the family burying grounds at La Camas.  A fitting tribute to her memory was penned by her son, Lewis Van Vleet.

'You can see Mother's grave from the Old Homestead,
The flowers are still fresh and fair,
When in shade the rest of the landscape is wrapt,
The sunbeams are kissing them there.

'She had gone to the rest she has earned so well;
We are left here to live our lives through:
The least we can do to repay her dear love
Is to live as she'd have us do.

'Then her work, where she left it, will not be undone,
But will grow with the passing of years;
And when were are called to her dear arms again,
There'll be smiles, then, instead of our tears.'"

[Note:  The text was copied as presented by the author; e.g., with a minimum of paragraph breaks.  It is from the work of Joseph Gaston, editor, Portland, Oregon, Its History and Builders in Connection with the Antecedent Explorations, Discoveries and Movements of the Pioneers that Selected the site for the Great City of the Pacific (Chicago, IL and Portland, OR: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1911) This couple of many of their Coffey relatives are buried at the Fern Prairie Cemetery in Camas, Clark Co., WA]

Elizabeth Angeline Coffey was a daughter of Joel Coffey, 1789 in TN, died Dec. 10, 1855 in Vancouver, Clark Co., WA.  He was a son of Chesley Coffey, Jr and Margaret Baldwin.  He married Sarah Mackey on Apr. 9, 1818 in Maury Co., TN ("Tennessee Marriages, 1796-1950", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 05 Mar 2013), Joel Coffee and Sarah Mackey, 09 Apr 1818.)  The family was in Booneville, Cooper Co., MO, apparently preparing for movement to the Oregon Territory when Sarah died and was buried there.  She was a daughter of William Lewis and Elizabeth Ashbrook Mackey of Maury Co., TN. Elizabeth Coffey Van Vleet was my fourth cousin, three times removed.

Contact Form


Email *

Message *