John L. Coleman was born about January 2, 1817, in Brooke County, in present-day West Virginia. His birth has been calculated based upon information which was recorded in his death certificate which was filed in Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, at the time of his death on February 24, 1872. There, his age was listed as 55 years, 1 month, and 22 days.
He is, as of this writing, now believed to be the son of a William and Jane Coleman. Once again, this information has been gleaned from the recorded death certificate. A "William Coleman" does appear in the US Federal Census for Brooke County, Virginia, in 1810. However, this name does not appear in subsequent census records for that area. Additional research of probate and other court records of Brooke County will be necessary to ascertain if the "William Coleman" listed there had a spouse named Jane, and if they are indeed John’s parents.
There are additional Colemans listed in the US Federal Census of 1810 for Brooke County. They are Eleanor, widow of Nathaniel Coleman; David Coleman and John Coleman, sons of Nathaniel and Eleanor Coleman.
The names of William, Jane, and Eleanor Coleman do not appear in the US Federal Census of 1820 for Brooke County. However, David Coleman is listed as the head of a household which consists of several males and females. His brother, an older John Coleman, is also a member of that household.
In the US Federal Census of 1830, David Coleman is once again the head of a household of several people, to include brother John Coleman. One of the males listed (but not by name) in this census could well be the younger John L. Coleman. He could easily have been a nephew of David and John, and resided in that household for one reason or another.
David Coleman was born about November 1792 in Brooke County, a son of Nathaniel Coleman (abt 1757-1810) and Eleanor (maiden name unknown, abt 1754-1828). He was a prosperous farmer in Brooke County. He married Mary Jane Hartford (1798-1880). They had a sizeable family. There were at least nine children: Rebecca (1819-1837), Emma (born about 1821), Salina (1824-1843), Angelina (1826-1843), Clara B. (born about 1827), DeWitt Clinton (abt 1828-1868), Martha (born about 1831), Narcissa (born about 1835) and Mertina Salina (1831-1919). They lived on land, at least a portion of which had been surveyed by Nathaniel Coleman about 1790. David’s name appears on the census reports for the years 1810, 1830, 1840, and 1850. He is listed as the head of household in Wellsburg, Brooke County, Virginia, in the US Federal Census of 1860.
Was "William" part of David's name, either as his first or middle name? Did his spouse, Mary Jane Hartford, commonly go by her middle name? Could David and Mary then be John's parents...and his death certificate is accurate, although misleading?
David Coleman was apparently also a very adventurous individual. He was one of the first in the area, prior to 1825, to participate in the river trade. He transported trade goods via flatboats and keel boats on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Brooke County to New Orleans. The river traffic was the livelihood of such historic figures as Mike Fink. This was a risky, and dangerous business enterprise in that era. Having floated the goods to market and collecting for them, David (and others) then made the hazardous journey back to Brooke County. Sometimes they traveled via steamboat. On other occasions, they traveled cross-country on foot. Still other times they journeyed via sailing ship from New Orleans around the coast of Florida and back to the eastern Virginia seaboard, and then once again cross-country to Brooke County on foot or horseback.
David died on January 14, 1863. His will was probated in the Brooke County, West Virginia court on October 30, 1864.
(Footnote: the name of John L. Coleman is not listed as one of his heirs in this will. Perhaps he had already taken his "inheritance." Or perhaps father and son had a disagreement at some point and David saw fit to remove him from his list of heirs. Or maybe, in accordance with an earlier supposition, David was an uncle, and not John's parent).
David's spouse Mary survived him by an additional 16 years. His brother, the older John Coleman, died on December 2, 1863.
David Coleman was buried in the West Liberty Cemetery, West Liberty, Brooke County, West Virginia. His spouse Mary survived him by an additional 16 years.
His elder brother, that other John Coleman, died on December 2, 1863. He was also buried in the West Liberty Cemetery, West Liberty, Brooke County, West Virginia. Although he remained a bachelor all of his life, there is a stone adjacent to his gravesite which has the following inscription: “Maria, daughter of Walter D. Blair, Consort of John Coleman. Died March 16, 1855.”
Our Family's Descent Through John L. Coleman
We can claim direct descent from John L. Coleman, born in 1817. At the present time, it is not clear what the “L” represented as his middle name. However, there is sufficient reason to believe that it might represent “Lowell.” This is based upon the fact that in a later generation two of his grandsons (William Smith Coleman and John Pearl Coleman) both gave the middle name “Lowell” to sons: Ralph Lowell Coleman and Gilbert Lowell Coleman.
John L. Coleman worked as a farmer for most of his early years, and then developed a trade as a miller. He is listed in the US Federal Census of 1840, residing in the 4th Ward, Wheeling, Ohio County, Virginia. Ten years later he appears in the 1850 Census in District 4, Brooke County, Virginia as a farmer.
Marriage to Mary Bane Harper
He married Mary Bane Harper (1821-1889), daughter of Hugh Harper and Nancy Agness McCampbell, in Lexington, Rockbridge County, Virginia, on November 25, 1852, W. M. McElwee, officiating. By 1860, they were listed in the US Federal Census twice! They were first recorded living in Xenia, Greene County, Ohio, on July 14, 1860. John is listed as head of the household, along with his wife, Mary, and three children: Anna E(lizabeth), H(ugh) R(obert), and James W. John’s trade is recorded as "miller." Also listed as a member of the household is Mary’s father, Hugh Harper, who is recorded as a "cooper," an individual who fashions barrels.
Ninteenth Century Family Mobility
That same year, on September 14, 1860, the household is listed in the 5th Ward, Wheeling, Ohio County, Virginia. The names of Mary, Anna E(lizabeth), Hugh (Robert) and James (William) appear. Also listed is Francis High, an engineer, Thomas Kelly, a moulder, and Hester Kelly, a domestic. At this time Hugh Harper remained behind in Ohio where he resided with one of his sons.
Hugh Harper was involved in the "underground railroad," which operated in that part of Virginia and Ohio. He helped to relocated escaped slaves to freedom in the North.
At the time of the Civil War this portion of Virginia, with residents loyal to the Union, broke away from the parent state and formed the state of West Virginia.
John L. Coleman did not serve during the Civil War. He continued to ply his trade as a miller, helping to process the grain harvests to provide food for the people and soldiers of the Union. The family moved back and forth from West Virginia to Ohio, following the grain harvests.
Two additional children were added to the family during this time period: Luella, born about 1861 in West Virginia, and John A., born in November 1862, in Ohio. John A. died at the age of 1 year and five months on April 25, 1864. He was buried in the Caesar’s Creek Cemetery, Greene County, Ohio. His maternal grandfather, Hugh Harper, died the following month in Xenia, Greene County, Ohio, and was also buried in the Caesar’s Creek Cemetery.
Another son, Calvin O. Coleman, was born on June 18, 1865, while the family was laboring in Crawford County, Ohio,
In the US Federal Census of 1870, the John L. Coleman family appears in New Jasper, Greene County, Ohio. He is listed with assets of $2500...about $75,000 in 2007 dollars!) The household consisted of John, wife Mary, and the five surviving children: (Anna) Elizabeth, (Hugh) Robert, James (William), Luella, and Calvin O.
The family continued its migratory patterns over the next two years. John L. Coleman died of cancer in Urbana, Champaign County Ohio, on February 24, 1872, at the age of 55 years, 1 month, and 22 days. He was apparently buried in Urbana, although as of this writing (2007) the location of his gravesite has not yet been established.
Significant Family Changes
Over the course of the next eight years, there were additional changes for the family. Mary located the family to Concord Township, Champaign County, Ohio, and is recorded there in the US Federal Census of 1880. She is listed as a housekeeper, a widow, with three of the children: (Anna) Elizabeth, age 23, a school teacher; James (William), age 20, a laborer; and Calvin (O.), age 14, at school. Not appearing in the household are Hugh Robert and Luella. However, (Hugh) Robert does appear as a laborer in the household of James Messich in Goshen Township, Champaign County, Ohio. Luella is listed as a servant in the household of Mary Puterbaugh in Xenia, Greene County, Ohio.
According to the records of the Harper family of Rockbridge County, Virginia, Mary Bane Harper Coleman died on March 7, 1889, in Ohio. However, no other documentation has yet been found (2007) to substantiate this date. Her burial location is also unknown.
There is a record of a "Mary Coleman" who married William Healy or Healey, in the adjacent Shelby County, Ohio, in January 1883. This may or may not have been our "Mary Coleman." Additional research is required.
It is not known where...or how long...Anna Elizabeth Coleman (born about 1855) worked as a school teacher in the Concord Township, Champaign County, Ohio, area. In that era, school teachers were normally single females. If she did in fact marry, the name of her spouse and the particulars of that marriage are presently unknown. Also unknown is the date and location of her death, and her place of burial.
Hugh Robert Coleman (March 15, 1858- December 9, 1920) eventually relocated to Springfield, Clark County, Ohio. He is listed there in the US Federal Census of 1900, along with spouse Madge (maiden name unknown) and son George E. Coleman, born October15, 1885.
By the time of the US Federal Census of 1910, Hugh Robert Coleman was residing in Lima, Allen County, Ohio, with a different spouse. He married Anna Rice, an immigrant from Ireland, about 1907. Three step-daughters also resided in the household: . The son, George E. Coleman, had by this time enlisted in the US Army, and was listed in the Census of 1910 as a soldier assigned to Fort Myer, Virginia.
Hugh Robert Coleman worked as a railroad crew foreman for a number of years before becoming the foreman of a lumber mill. Before his death, he was employed as a laborer in a Lima company. He died of heart problems on December 9, 1920, in Lima, Allen County, Ohio. He was buried there in the Woodlawn Cemetery. There is no marker at the gravesite.
Luella Coleman met and married Albert E. Strehli, about 1887. He was a salesman who had been born and raised in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio. They eventually relocated to Lima, Allen County, Ohio. They had no children. Albert died there, at the age of 51, on May 3, 1915. His body was returned to Cincinnati, where it was interred.
Luella worked as a housekeeper in a Lima hotel for the next few years. However, her mental condition deteriorated after Albert’s death. She died in the state mental hospital in Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio, on May 3, 1923, the eighth anniversary of Albert’s death. She was apparently buried on the grounds of the institution.
Calvin O. Coleman married Sylvia Guy. She had previously been married, and was the mother of two children. Three additional girls were born to Calvin and Sylvia: Gladys, Ethel, and Susan. Both Gladys and Ethel died at early ages. Susan was killed by her boyfriend in April 1915, which gave rise to a dramatic court case. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison.
Calvin remarried prior to his death, but his wife’s name is presently unknown. She merely signed "Mrs. Calvin O. Coleman" as witness on the death certificate. He died on May 7, 1929, in Lima, Allen County, Ohio, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery there. There is no marker at his gravesite.
James William Coleman
James William Coleman was born in late 1859, probably sometime between the months of September to November, in present-day West Virginia. This time frame is based upon an annotation made in the 1860 US Federal Census by the census enumerator, George Kemp, on July 14th of 1860, who recorded this information during the interview process in Xenia, Greene County, Ohio. In the household for John L. Coleman, Mr. Kemp shows six residents: John L., age 42, born in Virginia; Mary B., age 39, born in Virginia; Anna E., age 5, born in Virginia; H.R., age 2, born in Virginia; James W., age 9/12, born in Virginia; and Hugh Harper, age 77, a cooper, born in Pennsylvania. (Hugh was the father of Mary Bane Harper, and thus father-in-law to John L. Coleman). Counting nine months back from that July 1860 record, James William would have been born sometime in November 1859.
Uniquely, the John L. Coleman family household was counted twice in the US Federal Census of 1860. In September of that same year, another enumerator, William Martin, interviewed the family while they were living in Wheeling, Ohio County, now present-day West Virginia. In the household at this time were John L. (although he is erroneously listed as "Jno." by the interviewer), age 41; Mary, age 40; Anna E., age 6; Hugh, age 3; James, age 1; Francis High, age 40, an engineer; Thomas Kelly, age 20, a moulder; and Hester Kelly, age 40, a domestic. If the enumerator’s information is correct and he didn’t "round up" James’ age, his birth would have been sometime in the month of September 1859. Although we can’t pinpoint it exactly, based upon the evidence shown in two separate official records, it is reasonable to assume that little James William Coleman was born sometime in September, October or November of 1859. Until an actual birth record is located during continuing research, we will have to accept "bet Sep-Nov 1859" as his date of birth.
This double-counting of the John L. Coleman family during the 1860 Census was due, no doubt, to the fact that the head of the household, in his employment as a miller, had traveled to and from Ohio then back to Virginia in that period of time. His ever-faithful family trudged along to the fertile fields of Ohio, then prepared to spend the fall and winter months in Virginia before beginning the cycle over again the following spring.
His Early Life
James William Coleman, the second son born to John L and Mary, grew up in a hard-working environment. As his father plied his trade as a miller, and moved from location to location, the young James – as shown in official records – traveled along. Maybe the boy spent time in the fields with his father. If so, he saw physical labor at first-hand as the farm workers harvested and threshed the grain in preparation for the milling process. These were long, hot, days as the farmers of an area often gathered together to combine their efforts in harvesting and threshing. The work started in the morning as the first rays of the sun began to warm the fields. Sweaty men used their hand-held scythes to cut the grain. If enough hands were available, others put the grain into windrows, or stacked the sheaves for the drying process until they dotted the fields. Still other men would gather those sheaves and transport them to the area where the threshing took place – separating the precious grain from the chaff. Others would gather the chaff, to be stored in sheds and barns and used as bedding for livestock...or to re-stuff mattresses to be used in the home for human sleeping comfort. James saw, and probably took part, in the traditional "noonings," where the workers and family members paused at mid-day to enjoy a hearty, home-cooked meal, augmented with gallons of cold water drawn from a nearby well, or fresh-squeezed lemonade, or home-brewed iced tea.
Maybe James also accompanied his father to the area where the conversion of the grain to flour actually took place. He would have witnessed a noisy, time-consuming process as the wheat, for example, was slowly ground into life-sustaining flour for bread. Perhaps oxen, or horses, or mules provided the power to turn the huge grinding wheel as it journeyed ‘round and ‘round in circles pressing the grain into dust. Or, maybe the area mill was powered by the force of running water from a nearby stream as it tumbled over and around a waterwheel. At any rate, regardless of the means, James would have breathed in the white, powdery dust with its distinctive aroma. His clothes would have been spotted with the same substance. He would have seen men bagging up the precious flour into huge bags or barrels -- which may have been constructed by his grandfather Hugh -- for storage or for transport to area markets. He would have, best of all, experienced the delicious taste of home-made bread, fashioned by the willing hands of his mother, Mary, as she labored in the family kitchen.
He would have experienced scenic wonders as he traveled – probably by wagon, but possibly on foot or horseback as he grew older – from one point to another in his world which stretched from Virginia to Ohio. He would have looked in awe at the mighty Ohio River as he crossed it, perhaps via ferry, somewhere near Wheeling. He would have wondered where all of that water was rushing to as the currents carried away a piece of driftwood, or maybe one of his small, handmade boats. He would have marveled at the deep, dark forests as he journeyed from one place to another – at the tall and majestic trees as they reached toward the sky and spread their leafy branches to provide cool, inviting shade. He would have been impressed with the miles and miles of fields of grain – wheat, barley, rye, oats, and corn – as they stretched out before him, punctuated by split-rail or whitewashed fences. The old farmsteads dotted the landscape with two-story homes, barns, sheds, milking parlors, and other outbuildings. Flashes of whitewash and barn-red paint added to the various shades of green from the lush vegetation, the golden browns of the ripening grain, and the blue of the sky with its drifting, puffy, white clouds.
He would have seen the awesome spectacle of an electrical storm – although he would not have understood the natural mechanics involved in it – as lightning flashed across the sky and rain pelted the earth with its life-giving moisture. He would have felt the force of the wind as it pushed against his body. He would have jumped at the tremendous crack of the thunder as it rolled across the sky. "One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi..." came from his lips, or echoed in his mind, as he counted the time between the flashes of lightning and the booming thunder to judge the distance to where the force struck the ground.
When not watching all of the activity around him, he was barefoot and shirtless as he trudged along a meandering creek with his father or older brother, Hugh Robert. He dipped his feet into the cool, refreshing water. He caught crawdads with his bare hands and looked with wonder into their beady eyes as he avoided their pinchers. He probably drowned more than one worm as he fished for the trout, and bass, sunfish, bluegills, catfish and carp which abounded in the creeks, streams, rivers and lakes which watered the Ohio landscape. We can only image the excitement he felt when he pulled that first catch out of the water, and held it up with pride for his father or brother to see. Maybe it was so small that it had to be tossed back into the water. Or maybe – better yet – it was large enough to cart home to be shown to Mary, who would then take it and add it to that night’s supper preparations. Battered with flour, seasonings, and perhaps a little milk, then tossed onto a hot stove, it was eventually consumed by a thankful family. A loaf of hot bread, fresh from the oven, was thickly sliced and buttered. Sometimes there would be apple butter – this was, after all, Ohio – or home bottled jam or jelly to smear liberally on the hot bread. Maybe milk fresh from a cow, cooled in a make-shift water-fed cooler, was the "beverage of choice." Potatoes, green beans, corn, squash, turnips, or other savory vegetables – cooked just right with Mary’s eye for attention – were shared as the family gathered around the supper table.
Night came, and darkness descended upon the household as the hours passed by. Mary or John – or perhaps it was the duty of one of the children – lit the candles which separated the interior of the house from the gathering darkness. Perhaps the family gathered in one area of the room as John or Mary read from the family Bible. These were, after all, people with a heritage of Scot-Irish Presbyterianism, brought down through Mary’s Americanized McCampbell line via her mother, Nancy Agnes McCampbell.
James had never known his Grandmother Nancy Agnes McCampbell Harper. Born in 1781 in Virginia, she was descended from the Campbell clan of Scotland. Her great-grandfather, John McCampbell, had "americanized" the Campbell name by adding the "Mc" when he immigrated from Scotland via Ireland to the American continent in the mid-1750s. Nancy married Hugh Harper, born in 1783 in Pennsylvania, on 19 November 1807, in Rockbridge County, Virginia. She resided there for the balance of her life as they raised ten children. Nancy died on 3 October 1846 in Lexington, Rockbridge County, Virginia, and was buried in the Ebenezer Church Cemetery there.
Hugh left home on many occasions to travel with his son-in-law John L. Coleman as the latter moved between Virginia and Ohio. Hugh was a sometime cooper – a craftsman who made barrels – and could find easily find itinerant work. Sometimes he supplemented his income working as a school teacher. Other times he was a bookbinder. Always he was a committed father who provided for his family as he raised them to be descent, honorable people.
He was a passionate individual who saw evil in the slavery which was so obvious throughout Virginia. He did what he could from time to time to assist the "underground railroad" in the efforts of relocating slaves from Virginia to Ohio and beyond in the days preceding the Civil War. He eventually settled in New Jasper, Greene County, Ohio, before his death on May 31, 1864. He is buried in Greene County.
Death A Companion
James was only about four years old at the time of his grandfather’s death. He had already witnessed death in his family – although he surely didn’t comprehend it – when his baby brother, John A. Coleman, died on 25 April 1864, at the tender age of 1 year and 5 months. Maybe he stood with his parents and siblings when the baby’s tiny body was lowered into the ground at Caesar’s Creek Cemetery. Maybe he cried, without even knowing why.
Death was a regular companion of people of that era, and James was not fortunate enough to escape that companionship. When he was only about 12 years old his father, John L. Coleman – whom he had always known to be robust, hard-working, and "there" to provide for his simple wants and needs – contracted stomach cancer and died in Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, at the age of 55. Burial followed swiftly, and Mary was left alone to care for a family which had now grown to five surviving children: Anna Elizabeth, Hugh Robert, James William, Luella, and Calvin. She eventually relocated the family to Concord Township, Champaign County. Hugh and James worked as farm laborers as they grew older to help with the family’s finances. Calvin did likewise as he grew from age seven at the time of his father’s death to teenager. Anna Elizabeth at some point became a school teacher, and taught in a school somewhere there in Concord Township.
From Boy To Man, 1880-1893
By the time of the 1880 Census, James William Coleman was a 20-year old man. He had cast his eyes for someone with whom to spend his years, and his watchful stare had fallen upon Ida Catherine Bruner, daughter of Daniel and Margaret Bruner. He proposed, and the two were married on 15 March 1881 in a simple ceremony, probably conducted at the Bruner family home. He and Ida were to have just a short time together, but they managed to bring six children into the world: Zola Mae, born in 1882; John Pearl, born in 1883; William Smith, born in 1885; Mary Margaret, born in 1887; Viola Augusta, born in 1888; and Claude Alvin, born in 1891.
At any rate, James William Coleman grew into a sturdy, handsome young man. Not tall by any stretch of the word, he was at least "average" for the era. The only existing photo of him, taken about 1890, shows a mature, well-dress young man, with a noticeably receding hairline. His body, although not visible to the eye, was probably muscular and toned as a result of a life of physical labor.
His work – following farm labor and the miller’s trade, like his father – took him far afield of his home in Champaign County. He took his growing family with him on his travels to Kansas and Missouri – two of the children were actually born in Kansas.
It was on one of these frequent trips – in late July or early August of 1893 – that James suddenly developed an illness. The circumstances are not presently known – more research is required – but an article in th_e Democrat_, a Champaign County publication in an edition of 16 August 1893, noted that he had become ill while the family was "out West" and died suddenly. The circumstances as to where his death occurred, or where he was buried, are not covered in the article. All that is known was that Ida had the responsibility of returning her family to reside once again in Concord Township.
Extensive research of public records via the Internet has failed to actually pinpoint the circumstances which surrounded James’ untimely death. However, there is a record of a James W. Coleman who died, along with several other people in the community who were similarly stricken, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Cass County, Missouri. A simple stone, with the inscription "J.W. Coleman" marks the spot which could be the final resting place of our James William Coleman.
(To be continued...next, Ida Catherine Bruner Coleman, family stalwart).