John Coffee (June 2, 1772 – July
7, 1833) was an American planter and military leader. He was considered the
most even-tempered and least selfish of Andrew Jackson's lifelong friends. He
was described as a big awkward man, careless of dress, slow of speech, but
kindly, tactful and wise.
Born in Prince Edward County,
Virginia, Coffee the son of Revolutionary War Captain Joshua Coffee (January
26, 1745-September 8, 1797) and Elizabeth Graves (January 28, 1742-December 13,
1804), and the grandson of Peter Coffee, Sr. (1705-November 1771) and Susannah
Mathews (1701–1796). John Coffee married Mary Donelson,
who was the daughter of Captain John Donelson III and
Mary Purnell, on October 3, 1809. John Donelson III was one of the elder brothers of Andrew
Jackson's wife, Rachel.
Coffee was a merchant and land
speculator. He and Andrew Jackson had been partners in Nashville merchandising
just before Coffee married Jackson's niece. Jackson sold his partnership to
Coffee before the wedding, taking notes for the sale. After the wedding,
Jackson gave Coffee the notes as his wedding present to the couple.
He challenged Nathaniel A.
McNairy for publishing derogatory statements about Jackson. The duel took place
on March 1, 1806, over the Tennessee line in Kentucky. During the course of the
duel, McNairy unintentionally fired before the word, wounding Coffee in the
thigh. In reparation, McNairy offered to lay down his pistol and give Coffee an
extra shot. The weapons used in this duel were later used in the
Jackson-Dickinson duel on May 30, 1806.
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 Alabamians). In December 1812,
Governor Willie Blount had called out the Tennessee militia in response to a
request from General John 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, in advance of the rest of the rest of the
troops, who traveled via flatboats. After the two groups reunited in Natchez,
Wilkinson and the U.S. government disbanded Jackson's troops. All marched back to Nashville to disband, on the march during which
Jackson earned the nickname Old Hickory. They arrived in Nashville on
May 18, 1813.
On September 4, 1813 Coffee was
involved in the Andrew Jackson-Benton Brothers duel in Nashville, knocking
Thomas Benton down a flight of stairs after Benton's failed assassination
attempt on Jackson.
In October 1813, the 2nd was
combined with Col. 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.
In December 1814, his brigade
attacked the British just 10 miles south of New Orleans, stalling them as
Jackson prepared the city’s defenses. Coffee led his brigade, which consisted
largely of Indians and freed blacks, at the Battle of New Orleans, where they
played a key role in holding the woods to the east of the redcoats' column.
Coffee's brigade was the first to engage the British, firing from behind the
trees and brush.
General Coffee was again
Jackson's chosen advance commander in the Creek War. Under Jackson's command,
he 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 the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. David Crockett served under the command of
General John R. Coffee in the Creek War and he served in Congress with General
John E. Coffee. The two Coffees were first cousins.
After the War of 1812, Coffee
began a lengthy career as a surveyor, including being named the surveyor
general of Alabama. He led the survey
work laying out the town of Florence, Alabama. By 1821, Coffee had been
designated by the U.S. federal government to survey and officially mark the boundary between Alabama and Mississippi.
He later moved to and died near
Florence, Alabama. Burial: Latitude: 34.84220, Longitude: -87.69140
Coffee County, Alabama,
Coffeeville, Alabama, Coffeeville, Mississippi and Coffee County, Tennessee are
named in his honor.
John R. Coffee is my 1st cousin 6X removed – David Arthur