James Asbury Coffey (1827 - 1879)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Gallatin, IL, USA
Death: Died in Dodge City, KS, USA
Managed by: Ian Redding
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About James Asbury Coffey

While Coffeyville was named for Colonel James A. Coffey, he only stayed long enough to help lay out the town and its foundation. Not being one to stay in one place for too long, Coffey made many stops in his 51 years, helped lay out two towns – Coffeyville and Humboldt – fought slavery and set up several trading posts.

Colonel Coffey came to the present Coffeyville with huge wagon trains of merchandise and developed a prosperous business in what was later designated “old Town.”  Colonel Coffey was the principal merchant; N. B. Blanton kept the hotel; Peter Wheeler, an accomplished young physician, administered to the ills of the people; E. Y. Kent presided at the blacksmith’s forge; and S. B. Hickman kept a little store and handled the United States mail.” 
Coffeyville was laid out around Coffey’s trading post which was previously established for the purpose of trading with the Black Dog band of Osage Indians.  The new town was named Coffeyville in honor of its primary founder.  The trading post was situated between 13th and 14th Streets on what is now South Walnut Street.
According to “The Coffey Clan” from 1690 by Frank R. Moore, Coffey’s grandson, Coffey was born November 18, 1827, in Tallatin County, Illinois.  He was the third of 12 children. 
A letter in the book written by Moore’s mother, Coffey’s daughter, said, “He was reared on a farm, and in the year 1848, he bought some land in Gallatin County and began farming and soon after married.  “My mother’s maiden name was Louisa Adelade Ferris Long Carnahan, she was born in Wayne County, Kentucky and her father was a Methodist minister.  Coffey did not care for farming and soon after he was married, he and his wife moved to Harrisburg, Illinois, where four children were born.”  The letter said two of the children died in infancy.
Moore wrote that in early 1854, “it became news that President Pierce had held council with many Indian tribes and accordingly they ceded millions of their acres in Kansas which could be filed on and five years to pay at $1.25 an acre.  This set grandfather Coffey to thinking this would be good “store country” and a location on one of several trails would be good business in this new country; southern Illinois was swampy and there was much sickness.  Grandmother learned that a colony of New Englanders had founded the town of Lawrence and she felt there would be good schools, social gatherings and preaching.
“So they loaded the three wagons, one with merchandise for the new store and the other two with family effects including slips and plants for a garden and a crate of chickens.  Uncle Sales, grandfather’s bachelor brother, went along to help drive, and Mary and Ebby (the Coffey children) took turns riding the pony and with the help of the family dog they herded the loose livestock.” 
While in the Lawrence area, Coffey became involved in the battle over whether Kansas would be a free or slave state.  During the election for a Legislature after Andrew Reeder had been appointed governor of the territory of Kansas, Coffey worked as an election judge.  With Missourians crossing the line and stuffing the ballot boxes 36 “pro slavers” and three “free-staters” were elected, according to Moore.  Also during that election, Coffey was shoved out of his job as election judge.
According to a newspaper story, written by C. C. Drake, commemorating Coffey’s 108th birthday, Coffey “was opposed to the introduction of slavery in the Kansas territory and was with James H. Lane and John Brown in the capture of Washington Creek Fort and at the engagement of Lecompton, part of the time as commissary.”  A copy of the article appears in Moore’s Coffey family history.  The article said Coffey “was twice taken prisoner by pro-slavery parties” but does not give any details of those incidents.
Following the slavery battles, Coffey made his way south working as a commissariat for Lane, who had become a United States senator.  Lane had made good on an earlier promise of making Kansas a free state.
In that position, Moore wrote, “grandfather had gained valuable experience merchandising, and this opportunity as a promoter was soon in evidence.”  Moore writes that Coffey built a store in Humboldt for his brother to operate, a nice home for the family and a church for his father, the Rev. Achilles Coffey.
“Grandfather did not operate any store or spend any time farming.  He hired help to do that.  This new country offered so many opportunities that besides looking after elections, his restless soul did not let him stay at any one place very long.  Government officials recognized grandfather as a very capable man and gave him license to travel the Indian reservations as he pleased.”
According to the Drake article, Coffey learned to fluently speak two Indian languages.  Drake wrote that Coffey and a partner, Oliver Marsh, established trading posts on the Neosho, Verdigris and Arkansas Rivers, “the latter post where Wichita now stands.”  It was in 1857 the firm laid out the town of Humboldt, according to Drake.
Coffey and Marsh sold their business in 1865 and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where they began a wholesale grocery business.  The partnership dissolved in 1868 and Coffey went to Westport landing where he sold merchandise.
Following a stop in Chetopa, according to Drake, Coffey “pre-empted land on the west side of the Verdigris River and almost opposite Parker.  There he built a store and house and erected a sawmill and a grain mill.  He also did some farming north of Coffeyville, but mostly his business was trading with the Osage Indians, a trade he maintained until 1875.”
Coffeyville moved to Dodge City in the spring of 1878 and died there at the age of 51.  Moore’s book contains a copy of Coffey’s obituary as it appeared January 19, 1879, in the Topeka Commonwealth:
“Dodge City Times – James A. Coffey of the firm of Coffey and Marsh, died in this city Monday morning last of pneumonia (sic) after an illness of eight days.  He was an old resident of Kansas.  He resided in Dodge City but three months.  He came to Kansas in the year 1854 and passed through the memorable and exciting struggle in the state during its early years.  He was founder of Coffeyville, Kansas, a thriving town which was named for him.  Colonel Coffey was well known in Kansas and news of his death will be sad tidings for his many friends.  His family has the sympathy in this sad bereavement.”

From Coffeyville's Legacy. Read more at http://www.coffeyville.com/History.htm

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James A. Coffey,

Larned

James A. Coffey was born Nov. 18th, 1827, in Gallatin County, Ill. He is descended from one of three brothers who immigrated from Scotland and settled in America early in the eighteenth century. They settled in Virginia and in the Old Dominion, and in the old dominion serveral generations have been born and reared. General Coffey who served with Gen. Jackson in the war of 1812, was a member of this family. James Coffey, grand-father of James A. Coffey, was born in Virginia in 1773, moved to Tennessee thence to Kentuckey and finally settled in Hamilton County, Ill. where he died in 1853. The grand-father of James A. Coffey was a member of the Lane family of which Sen. James H. Lane, so intimately connected with old John Brown in the Kansas trouble is a living descendent. His father Achilas Coffey was born in Kentuckey in 1804, served as a captain of the Black Hawk War, afterwards entered the ministry of the Baptist Church and has since been active in the organization of churches; is the author of "History of the Baptist in Illinois" a man of rare christian mother (Jane Dean Coffey) was a daughter of Rev. Jacob Dean, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Hamilton County, Ill., where he died of cholera in 1853.

James was the third of twelve children; there was no convenient schools near his residence, and his early education was almost entirely neglected. Not until after his marriage did he learn to write. He was reared on a farm and in 1848, he purchased some land and began farming in Gallapin County. In 1854 he moved to Kansas and settled four miles south of Lawrence. He was opposed to the introduction of slavery into the territory and took part with the free-state men. He was with Lane and Brown in the capture of Washingtron Creek Fort and the engagement at Lecompton. Part of the time he was commissary and suppled the needy and destitute with rations. He was twice taken prisoner by the pro-slavery party and he lost cattle and other stock by the Missourians. In 1857, Gov. Geary having restored peace, he purchased the land where Humbolt is now, and engaged in merchandising. In 1859, Oliver Marsh became a partner in the store and they established trading posts on the Neosho and the Verdiris and Arkansas Rivers, the latter post where Wichita now stands. During his traffic with the Indians he acquired two languages which he still speaks fluently. The firm of Coffey and Marsh engaged in farming and stock dealing. In 1857, they laid out the town of Humbolt, dealt in real estate, sold town lots and improved property. In 1865, they sold their entire business, moved to Kansas City and opened a whole-sale grocery establishment. In the same year, Mr. Coffey took a large stock of goods to the northern part of Decota [sic] Territory and remained with Sioux for one year. In 1868, the firm of Coffey and Marsh, being compelled to pay heavy security debts, was unable to pay dollar for dollar and desolved.

Mr. Coffey went to West Pert, Mo. where for one year he sold general merchandise. In 1869, he went to Chetepa continuing his farming oeprations and trading in stock. In 1870, he pre-empted the land on which Coffeyville Kansas is located, laid it off into town lots and disposed of the property, transferring his stock of goods to that point. He built the first house and the first store in Coffeyville. He also erected the first saw and grist mill in Montgomery County. He afterward built the River Mills. Here he traded with the Osage Indians until 1875. He was foremost in the enterprise for the promotion of the public interests, and on this account, the town, when organized was named in his honor. In the effort to build up and develop the town he lavished his time and money and greatly aided in the construction of the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad. In the spring of 1878, he protected his family from malarial disorders produced by the development of the country and moved to Larned; here he again formed a partnership with Oliver Marsh, and the firm of Coffey and Marsh began the business of general merchants. They also dealt in real estate and stock, having a large stock ranch in Mead County and a large territory in the Panhandle of Texas.

Politically a Democrat, he had always been opposed to the institution of Slavery and during the Kansas trouble was an active assailant of the free-soldiers. He has ever taken a deep interest in local politics, endevoring to secure the best men for the position of trust. Though frequently solicited, he has always refused to accept office; he is a member of the Baptist Church.

He married December 27th 1849 to Miss Louisa A. Carnahan, daughter of James and Mary Carnahan, of Gallatin County, Ill. They have had nine children, seven of whom are still living.

Without early education, without wealth, without influential friends, Mr. Coffey has built up his fortune by his own unaided effort. No man stands higher than he in business circles, and his uniform success is attributed to his industry, enterprise and tenacious adherence to principle. Whether as a business man or guardian of thepublic and political interests of his state and people, he deserved popular credit for his effort in behalf of "Free-Kansas" and will ever be remembered to his credit and honor.

From UNITED STATES BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF Kansas, 1879.

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This article is by C.C. Drake from the Coffeybille paper:

Today is Coffey day in Coffeyville. IT makes the 108th anniversary of the birth of Col. James A. Coffey, founder of the Town of Coffeyvill, which was organized in August 1869, and from which eventually sprange the City of Coffeyville.

Col. Coffey was an adventurous spirit, a typical pioneer, stron on the scent for Indian trade, adaptable to any and all conditions of life, resourceful, energetic, thrifty, restless, nomadic-- a born leader of men; imaginative, picturesque, self-reliant, honest, with initiative. He was fascinated by the glamour of a receding frontier, born in the quietude of an established order, but destined to die within the shadow of Boot Hill at a time when Dodge City was ruled by two-gun men as epitomized by Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Col. Coffey died long before h had reached the so-called allotted span of life, but he lived intensely and the earmarks of his sagacity and the footprints of his restless feel still may be discerned after the lapsing of three-score years of time. He lived in Kansas less than a quarter of a century, yet during that period he had been Soldier, farmer, merchant, miller, stock trader, Postmaster, and had reared a family of talented childer, most of whom are living and holding abiding affection for the community which still pays homage to the memory of their father.

It has been suggested from time to time here that Coffeyville proclaim November 18th to be Coffeyville Day, a day set apart for honoring the memory of this daring founder and for remembering the hunders of pioneer men and women from whom came the heritage that the second, thrid and fourth generations are now enjoying.

At the time of Col. Coffey's decision to establish a trading post here, he procured a patent to a tract of land within what was termed "The Strip," a narrow strip of land lying between the southern border of the Kansas Nebraska territory and the established northern border of the Indian territory. It was several years before deed titles to any of this strip could be obtained. Parker lay wholly within the same strip. The north border of theis strip coincided approximately with the present Twelfth Street in Coffeyville. Deeds could be obtained to land lying to the north of this line-- and herein lay the big secret of the rapid growth of the new Coffeyville.

The Coffey trading post was located at the intersection of the present Fifteenth and Maple Streets. The Coffey home, a long structure, later boxed was located just west of the present M.K.T. right of way on the north side of Fifteenth Street. So colse was this pioneer residence to the right of way that when excavation for the tracks had been completed only room for a narrow pathway was left on the east side of the Coffey house.

Associated with Col. Coffey in the incorporation of a "ton company" were N.B. Blanton, Ed Fagan, John Clarkson and William Wilson.

Historians generally seem to assume that Parker was a thriving town at the time Coffeybille got a start; yet, as a matter of record it is said that the Parker Town Copmany was incorporated in September, 1869, or a month after Col. Coffey had organized his town company. Major H.W. Martin was President of the town of Parker and D.T. Parker of the Southwest Stage Lines Company was Secretary.

But since this day and this sotry are primarily in honor of Col. Coffey, there is presented such facts about the life of the founder of Coffeyville as his daughter, Mrs. Laura Knight, was able to furnish to Mrs. Earl Moulder of this city, one of a group of women interested in organizing a DAR chapter, or circle, about the Coffey family tree. The data follows;

Col. Coffey was born in Gallatin County, Illinois, November 18, 1827. Died Dodge City, Kansas 1879 and was buried there.

His father was Achilles Coffey, born in Kentucky in 1804. He lived in Saline County Illinois. His grandfather was James A. Coffey born in Virgina in 1773, but who, before he died, had lived also in Tennesse, Kentucky, and Illinois. His father's mothers name was Lane.

His mother's father was the Rev. Jacob Dean, resident of Hamilton County, Illinois, who died in 1853.

Col Coffey's wife was Louisa Carnahan, to whom he was married in 1848. She was born Dec 11th 1833, died in Austin Colorado September 18th 1913. His mother was Jane Dean Coffey. Jane Dean and Achilles Coffey raised horses and had slaves. She carried a bunch of keys on her belt. Achilles Coffey was a Captian in the Black Hawk War, and afterwards became a Baptist Minister. He is said to have lived in Coffeyville for two or three years in the early 1870's.

Co. Coffey was the third of a family of 12 children. He learned to write after he was married. He moved to Kansas in 1854 and settled four miles south of Lawrence, Kansas. He was opposed to the introduction of slavery in the Kansas Territory, and was with James H. Lane and John Brown in the capture of Washington Creek Fort, and at the engadgment of Le Compton, part of the time as Commissary. He was twice taken prisoner by pro-slavery parties. In 1859, he became assoicated in buisness with Oliver Marsh. Together they established trading post on the Neosho, Verdigris and Arkansas River, the Latter Post where Wichita now stands. He was said to have aquired two indian launguages, and to have spoken each fluently. In 1857, the firm laid out the Town of Humboldt.

In 1865 Coffey and Marsh sold out their entire business and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where they started a wholesale grocery business. Coffey took a large stock to the Dakota territory and traded with the Sioux Indians for one year. Coffey and Marsh dissolved partnership in 1868 and Coffey went to Westport landing where he sold merchandise. In 1869, Coffey went to Chapopa and did merchandising.

In 1870 he pre-empted land on the west side of Verdigris River, almost opposite Parker. There he built a store and house and erected a sawmill and grain mill. He also did some farming north of Coffeyville , but mostly his business was trading with the Osage Indians; probably written about 1878 said; "Col. Coffey was foremost in every enterprise for the promotion of publich interest and on this account the town of Coffeyville was named in his honor. In the effort to build up and develop the town, he lavished his time and money and greatly aided in the construction of the L.L. and Gulf R. R.(?)" End of article. 

From "An Album of Memories"

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View his tombstone and newspaper article "Trading Post Brought Long-Lasting Fame to Coffey" under the Media tab.

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James Coffey's Timeline

1827
November 18, 1827
Gallatin, IL, USA
1849
December 27, 1849
Age 22
Saline, IL, USA
1851
1851
Age 23
1852
December 11, 1852
Age 25
Harrisburg, IL, USA
1861
1861
Age 33
1870
1870
Age 42
1879
January 13, 1879
Age 51
Dodge City, KS, USA
1879
Age 51
Dodge City, KS, USA