John Coffee

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John Coffee
John R Coffee.jpg
BornJune 2, 1772
DiedJuly 7, 1833 (aged 61)
OccupationPlanter, militia general, merchant, land speculator, surveyor
Spouse(s)Mary Donelson

John R. Coffee (June 2, 1772 – July 7, 1833) was an American planter of Irish descent, and 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]

O'Coffey, O'Coffie, O'Cohey, Coffee, Cos(h)ey and Cowhiy, is an Anglicized form of the old Gaelic O' Cobhthaigh. The Gaelic prefix "o" indicates "male descendant of", plus the personal byname Cobhthaigh [2]

Coffee's immigrant ancestor, also a Joshua Coffee, had been released from the Old Bailey 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 and land speculator. 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 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[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.

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.

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, the Battle of Talladega, and the Battles of Emuckfaw and Enotachopo Creek, where he was seriously wounded; and at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. At the latter, the allied forces conclusively defeated the Red Sticks, traditionalists of the Creek Nation who were allied with the British.

Later life[edit]

After the war and 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,[4] 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,[5] are named in his honor. The Natchez Trace Parkway bridge across the Tennessee River near Florence, Alabama is also named after Coffee.[6]

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 a 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.[7]

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. ^
  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. ^ "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
  5. ^ "FORT COFFEE". Archived from the original on 2008-07-08.
  6. ^ Encyclopedia of Alabama. "John Coffee Memorial Bridge". Retrieved 2021-07-14.
  7. ^ "Historic marker tells Coffee story" TimesDaily. Retrieved 2016-10-25.

External links[edit]

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