John R. Coffee (June 2, 1772 – July 7, 1833) was an American planter
and state militia general in Tennessee. He commanded troops under
Andrew Jackson during the
Creek Wars (1813–14) and during
Battle of New Orleans
Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
During his presidency, Jackson appointed Coffee as his representative,
Secretary of War
Secretary of War John Eaton, to negotiate treaties with
Southeast American Indian tribes to accomplish removal, a policy
authorized by Congressional passage of the
Indian Removal Act
Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Coffee negotiated the
Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek
Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek of 1830 with the
Choctaw by which they ceded their lands, and started negotiations with
the Chickasaw, but they did not conclude a treaty until after his
2 Marriage and family
3.1 Militia service
4 Later life
5 Legacy and honors
6 Research notes
8 External links
Born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, Coffee was the son of
Lieutenant Joshua Coffee (January 26, 1745 – September 8, 1797) and
Elizabeth Graves (January 28, 1742 – December 13, 1804). His
grandfather, Peter Coffee, Sr. was Irish and was probably born around
1705. In 1730 he was released from the Old Bailey and "transported" to
Virginia where he labored as an indentured servant in the tobacco
fields for 14 years, gaining his freedom in 1744.
Marriage and family
John Coffee married Mary Donelson, the daughter of Captain John
Donelson III and Mary Purnell, on October 3, 1809. A paternal aunt of
Mrs. Coffee was Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel Donelson Robards.
Coffee and Jackson were in business together. Before John Coffee's
marriage, Jackson sold his partnership in their joint merchandising
business to Coffee, taking promissory notes for the sale. After the
wedding, Jackson gave Coffee the notes as his wedding present to the
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.
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.
At the beginning of the War of 1812, Coffee raised the 2nd
Volunteer Mounted Riflemen, composed mostly of
(and a few men from Alabama). In December 1812, Governor Willie Blount
had called out the
Tennessee militia in response to a request from
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, in advance of the rest 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. All marched back to Nashville
to disband, and on this march Jackson earned the nickname Old Hickory
from his troops. 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
In October 1813, the 2nd
Regiment was combined with Colonel Cannon's
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 consisted largely of 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.
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
His friend and former business partner Jackson was elected President.
Jackson worked toward removal of Southeast Native American tribes to
lands west of the Mississippi River. He appointed Coffee as his
representative, along with
Secretary of War
Secretary of War John Eaton, to negotiate
treaties which would accomplish removal, a policy authorized by
Congressional passage of the
Indian Removal Act
Indian Removal Act of 1830. Coffee
Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek
Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek of 1830 with the Choctaw
by which they ceded their Southeastern lands. Coffee started
negotiations with the Chickasaw, 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
Coffee County, Alabama, Coffee County, Tennessee, and the towns of
Coffee Springs, Alabama
Coffee Springs, Alabama (now in Geneva County
but formerly part of Coffee County), Coffeeville, Mississippi, and
Fort Coffee, Oklahoma, are named in his honor.
Researchers often confuse General
John Coffee with his first cousin
John E. Coffee
John E. Coffee (1782–1836), who was a general in the Georgia militia
and elected as a
U.S. Congressman there.
General Coffee is sometimes referred to as John R. Coffee. Some
researchers have attempted to document the use of this middle initial
in original sources. To date, he has been found to have signed his
John Coffee in the original papers examined. Scholars believe he
didn't use the middle initial.
General John (R.) Coffee is buried in the Coffee Cemetery off State
Road 157, northwest of Florence, Alabama.
The legendary Texas Ranger,
John Coffee Hays, was a cousin of Mrs.
Coffee and was named after him.
^ Augustus Buell, History of Andrew Jackson: Pioneer, Patriot,
Soldier, Politician and President, Vol. I (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1904), pp. 289–290.
^ "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
^ "Historic marker tells Coffee story" TimesDaily. Retrieved
Florence, Alabama on RootsWeb.com
John Coffee at Find a Grave
John Coffee Papers Relating to Negotiations with the Cherokee, Creek,
Chickasaw Nations. Yale Collection of Western Americana,
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.