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John Coffee

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John Coffee
BornJune 2, 1772
Prince Edward County, Virginia
DiedJuly 7, 1833 (aged 61)
Florence, Alabama
Allegiance United States
Rank Brigadier general
Spouse(s)Mary Donelson

John R. Coffee (June 2, 1772 – July 7, 1833) was an American planter of English descent, and a state militia brigadier general in Tennessee. He commanded troops under General Andrew Jackson during the Creek Wars (1813–14) and during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.

During Jackson's presidency (1829-1833), he appointed Coffee as his representative, along with Secretary of War John Eaton, to negotiate treaties with Southeast American Indian tribes to accomplish removal to the west of the Mississippi River and extinguish their land claims. This policy was authorized by Congressional passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Coffee negotiated the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek of 1830 with the Choctaw, by which they ceded their lands. He started negotiations with the Chickasaw, but they did not conclude a treaty with the United States until after his death.


Born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, Coffee was the son of Joshua Coffee (January 26, 1745 – September 8, 1797) and Elizabeth Graves (January 28, 1742 – December 13, 1804). They were both of English descent.[1]

Coffee's immigrant ancestor, also a Joshua Coffee, had been released from the Old Bailey in London and "transported" in 1730 as an indentured servant to Virginia. He worked in the tobacco fields for 14 years, finally gaining his freedom in 1744. He later served as a captain in the colonial militia.

Marriage and family[edit]

John Coffee married Mary Donelson on October 3, 1809. She was the daughter of Captain John Donelson III and Mary Purnell. One of her paternal aunts was Rachel Jackson, who had married Andrew Jackson in 1794 as young widow Robards. He was elected in 1828 as President of the United States.

Coffee and Andrew Jackson were in business together. Before Coffee's marriage, Jackson sold his partnership in their joint merchandising business to Coffee. He took promissory notes for the sale. After Coffee married, Jackson gave Coffee the notes as his wedding present to the couple.[citation needed]


Coffee was a merchant, land speculator, and surveyor. He was considered to be the most even-tempered and least selfish of Jackson's lifelong friends. Described as a big awkward man, careless of dress, and slow of speech, Coffee was also said to be kindly, tactful and wise.[citation needed] In 1800, he traded a 14-year old enslaved girl named Susana for 175 pecks of salt in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. Susanna would question his kindness, tactfulness, and wisdom.[2]

In early 1806, Coffee challenged Nathaniel A. McNairy to a duel for publishing derogatory statements about Jackson. The duel took place on March 1, 1806, over the Tennessee line in Kentucky. McNairy unintentionally fired before the "word", wounding Coffee in the thigh. In return, McNairy offered to lay down his pistol and give Coffee an extra shot. The weapons used in this duel were also used in the Jackson-Dickinson duel on May 30, 1806.[citation needed]

Militia service in the War of 1812[edit]

At the beginning of the War of 1812, Coffee raised the 2nd Regiment of Volunteer Mounted Riflemen, composed mostly of Tennessee militiamen (and a few men from Alabama). In December 1812, Governor Willie Blount had called out the Tennessee militia in response to a request from General James Wilkinson and the U.S. Secretary of War. Under Jackson's command, Coffee led 600 men in January 1813 to Natchez, Mississippi Territory, via the Natchez Trace. They reached it in advance of the rest of the troops, who traveled via flatboats on the major rivers. After the two groups reunited in Natchez, Wilkinson and the U.S. government disbanded Jackson's troops. They returned to Nashville, reaching it on May 18, 1813. On September 4, 1813, Coffee was involved in the Andrew Jackson– Benton brother's duel in Nashville. He knocked Thomas Benton down a flight of stairs after Benton failed to assassinate Jackson.[3] In October 1813, the 2nd Regiment was combined with Colonel Cannon's Mounted Regiment and the 1st Regiment of Volunteer Mounted Gunmen to form a militia brigade of mounted infantry. Coffee was promoted to brigadier-general and placed in command.

Raid at Black Warrior’s town[edit]

Colonel John Coffee was sent by American commander Andrew Jackson to raid Black Warrior’s town on October 11, 1813. John Coffee found the village abandoned. Coffee and his troops collected 300 bushels of corn, burned the village town, and withdrew to join the main American body.[4]

Battle of Tallushatchee[edit]

Jackson chose General Coffee as his advance commander in the Creek War (concurrent with the War of 1812), during which he commanded mostly state militia and allied Native Americans. Under Jackson, Coffee led his brigade at the Battle of Tallushatchee. John Coffee set out with 900 mounted riders including the Tennessee mounted gunmen. John Coffee and his mounted force surrounded the Indian town of Tallushatchee with the Indians oblivious. A small detachment of mounted Americans led by Captain Hammond moved into plain view and opened fire. The Redstick Indians who were mostly armed with bows and clubs, seeing only a group of horse mounted Americans all charged out of their defensive positions to attack the American riders. Coffee’s detachment feigned a retreat, drawing the Indian Warriors out into the open. The Americans surrounding the village opened heavy fire. The Americans including the American horse riders led by Captain Hammon charged/closed in tightening their circle cornering the Indians. The Indians lost 186 killed including some women and children unfortunately. But this was not the intent of the Americans. The Americans lost 5 killed and 41 wounded. John Coffee’s force took many prisoners including women and children. John Coffee and his forces withdrew back to Fort Strother.[5]

Battle of Talladega[edit]

John Coffee took part in the Battle of Talladega. A friendly pro-American village was under attack by a large army of enemy Indians. Andrew Jackson came to relieve the friendly village with 1,200 infantry and 800 cavalry. Andrew Jackson thought of an ingenious plan. Andrew Jackson ordered his light infantry militia to the left flank and his light infantry volunteers to the right flank, and the rest of his mounted troops on the further flanks. Andrew Jackson sent 3 companies of mounted horse riders under Colonel Carroll to feint a mounted attack and then feign retreat. The trap worked and the enemy charged pursuing the horse mounted American riders. The enemy was surrounded and ensnared in a lethal crossfire, but 700 enemy Indians escaped through a gap. The Americans decimated the Indians. The enemy Indians suffered 299 killed and 110 wounded. Andrew Jackson suffered only 14 killed and 81 wounded. Andrew Jackson and his victorious forces withdrew back to Fort Strother.[6]

Battles of Emuckfaw and Enotachopo Creek[edit]

In the Battles of Emuckfaw and Enotachopo Creek, he was seriously wounded. On January 22, 1814, Jackson was encamped about 12 miles (19 km) from Emuckfaw. At dawn, a strong force of Red Sticks, camped 3 miles (4.8 km) away, attacked Jackson's position but were driven off after about thirty minutes. Jackson sent Coffee with a force of 400 to burn the Indian camp. Upon seeing the strength of their position, Coffee did not attack and returned to Jackson's position. The Red Sticks attacked again. Coffee was seriously wounded when he led a small party to turn their flank. The Creek were driven off with a loss of 54 killed. At this point, Jackson had no choice but to retreat to Fort Strother. Because of the difficulty of the earlier crossing of the Emuckfaw Creek, Jackson took a longer route back to Fort Strother. Even so, the crossing was difficult. On the morning of January 24, 1814, he began to re-cross the creek. When Jackson's artillery was about to enter the ford, alarm shots sounded in the woods. Having anticipated an attack, Jackson had ordered his advance guard to counterattack and attempt an envelopment. The rear guard panicked and retreated. For reasons unknown, the Red Sticks were unable to take advantage of the situation, and a handful of defenders drove them off. Jackson's losses for the two engagements were 24 killed and 71 wounded. The Creek's casualties were 54 killed and an unknown number of wounded. Andrew Jackson and his force withdrew back to Fort Strother.[7]

Battle of Horseshoe Bend[edit]

Andrew Jackson arrived at the last Red Stick village base at Horseshoe bend with 2,000 American infantry, 700 American cavalry, some artillery, 500 Cherokee allies, and Lower Creek allies. There were 1,000 Red Stick warriors making their stand at Horseshoe bend. The Red Stick base was at a peninsula semi-surrounded by a river with the only land exit at a narrow slim neck. The Red Stick made a breastwork at the narrow slim neck. John Coffee and his mounted men circled down river to cut off any who tried to get away. The militia and regulars would lead the main attack. At the slim neck, the Indians formed a log breastwork barricade. The American cannons did little damage to the breastwork. But John Coffee, his mounted men, and pro-American Indians had snuck around successfully to the rear of the Red Stick camp and opened heavy fire. The Red Sticks behind the front breastwork diverted much of their troops to the rear to combat John Coffee’s combined force of mounted men and Indians. The American militia and Regulars swarmed the weakened front of the barricade breastwork. Both sides fired through loop holes at each other, took cover behind their side of the barricades, and attacked each other in melee combat. As the militia and regulars overran the front, the Red Sticks fled to the river rear being shot down by Coffee’s mounted riflemen on the outside bank. Wounded Red Stick warriors hiding in the underbrush were dispatched with bayonets and tomahawks. The Americans gathered the Red Stick women and children and secured them. The Americans found 557 dead Red Stick warriors while an estimated 300 Red Stick warriors were drowned in the river rear. Some 300 women and an unknown number of children were marched toward Fort Talladega to be taken as slaves by Cherokee and friendly Creeks loyal to the American cause. Andrew Jackson adopted an orphaned Creek child and named him Andrew Junior. Later, Red Stick leader William Weatherford surrendered to the Americans. The Creek Warriors lost 800 killed and 206 wounded. The Americans lost 47 killed and 159 wounded. And the Native American allies of the Americans lost 23 killed and 47 wounded. So the Americans and their allies lost 70 killed and 206 wounded in total.

Battle of New Orleans[edit]

Coffee led his brigade, which included free blacks and Native American warriors from allied Southeast tribes, at the 1814-15 Battle of New Orleans. They played a key role in holding the woods to the east of the British column. Coffee's brigade was the first to engage the British, by firing from behind the trees and brush.

Later life[edit]

As payment for his service in the War of 1812, Coffee was granted 2,000 acres of land in Murfreesboro TN, which he later deeded over to his sister Mary. Later after some failed investments, Coffee began work as a surveyor. In 1816 he surveyed the boundary line between Alabama Territory and Mississippi Territory. He later moved to a place near Florence, Alabama.

Jackson was elected President in 1828. Jackson worked toward the removal of Southeast Native American tribes to lands west of the Mississippi River. He appointed Coffee as his representative, along with Secretary of War John Eaton, to negotiate treaties to accomplish extinguishing Native American land claims and their removal. The policy was authorized by Congressional passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Coffee negotiated the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek of 1830 with the Choctaw by which they ceded their Southeastern lands. Coffee started negotiations with the Chickasaw,[8] but the U.S. did not conclude a treaty with these people until after his death.

Coffee died in Florence on July 7, 1833, at age 61.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Coffee County, Alabama, Coffee County, Tennessee, and the towns of Coffeeville, Alabama, Coffee Springs, Alabama (now in Geneva County but formerly part of Coffee County), Coffeeville, Mississippi, and Fort Coffee, Oklahoma,[9] are named in his honor. The Natchez Trace Parkway bridge across the Tennessee River near Florence, Alabama is also named after Coffee.[10]

Research notes[edit]

Researchers often confuse General John Coffee with his first cousin John E. Coffee (1782–1836). He served as a general in the Georgia militia and was elected as the U.S. Congressman from there.

General Coffee is sometimes referred to as John R. Coffee. Some researchers have attempted to document the use of this middle initial in sources. To date, he has been found to have signed his name only as John Coffee in the original papers examined. Scholars believe he did not use the middle initial.

General John (R.) Coffee is buried in the Coffee Cemetery now off State Road 157, northwest of Florence, Alabama.[11]

The legendary Texas Ranger, John Coffee Hays, was a cousin of Mrs. Mary Coffee and named after her husband.


  1. ^ - Edwin C. Bridges, "Turning Points: Becoming Alabama", History News, Vol. 69, No. 1, p. 15
  2. ^ {{ Bill of Sale for Enslaved Girl, Susana, from John Coffe to Jacque Guibourd, February 22, 1800, List of Papers Kept in the Register of Ste. Genevieve, kept by Mr. Jean Baptiste Valle, Given to Thomas Oliver, December 8, 1804, Pursuant to the Orders of Amos Stoddard, Miscellaneous Bound MS #1, Transcribed and Translated by Vermer J. Genot, Works Progress Administration, Sainte Genevieve Archives, 1761 – 1854, Missouri History Museum Archives}}
  3. ^ Augustus Buell, History of Andrew Jackson: Pioneer, Patriot, Soldier, Politician, and President, Vol. I (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1904), pp. 289–290.
  4. ^ "The War of 1812: A Complete Chronology with Biographies of 63 General Officers" by Bud Hannings Page.164.
  5. ^ "Jackson, Crockett and Houston on the American Frontier: From Fort Mims to the Alamo, 1813-1836" by Paul Williams Pages.28-30.
  6. ^ "Jackson, Crockett and Houston on the American Frontier: From Fort Mims to the Alamo, 1813-1836" by Paul Williams Pages.30-31.
  7. ^ "The War of 1812: A Complete Chronology with Biographies of 63 General Officers" by Bud Hannings Pages.189-190.
  8. ^ "Levi Colbert to President Andrew Jackson, 22 NOV 1832" Archived 2011-10-25 at the Wayback Machine, Chickasaw Letters -- 1832, Chickasaw Historical Research Website (Kerry M. Armstrong), accessed 12 December 2011
  9. ^ "FORT COFFEE". Archived from the original on 2008-07-08.
  10. ^ Encyclopedia of Alabama. "John Coffee Memorial Bridge". Retrieved 2021-07-14.
  11. ^ "Historic marker tells Coffee story" TimesDaily. Retrieved 2016-10-25.

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