Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Better Late Than Never

Port of Wilmington

At the tail end of the Civil War, the last supply point available to the South was Wilmington, NC. Protected by Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, which the Confederates held until January 15, 1865, blockade runners could zip in and out with their cargoes unmolested. The port of Wilmington itself was finally captured on February 22nd, thus quickly ending the four year war.

Bombardment at Fort Fisher, January 15, 1865

My children's great-great-great grandfather, Obed Mayo Coffin, was born on Nantucket April 4, 1811 to George & Nancy (Stubbs) Coffin. They are direct descendants of Tristram & Dionis Coffin, original settlers of Nantucket. His mother died when he was only 3 years old, leaving him and his infant sister, Lydia. George married 2 years later, having 5 more children with his new wife. Raised in a family steeped in marine history, Obed himself became a mariner.

Obed's father George Coffin

At some point, Obed moved to Maryland, where he met and married Caroline Marshall, of St. Michaels. They were married in Baltimore on March 14, 1844, where they made their home. (They were actually married by the same minister as my Hopkins ancestors!) By 1850, they have 2 daughters, 5 & 3, and a set of twin infant boys named after Obed's younger half-brothers. By 1860, they are living in St. Michaels, Maryland,  and have another son and daughter.

St. Michaels

As the Coffin Family has a published genealogy, that made my work easy. Except for Obed. All his record said about his death was "d. March 15, 1865 on board a transport." Hmmmmm.....

So after thinking a while, I figured it must have something to do with the Civil War. I hadn't found anything here in Maryland, so I decided to order his military pension record from DC to see if there was one.

Lo and behold, there was! Caroline, his widow, had applied twice, but been rejected both times. Her application told this story:

Obed had "enlisted" as first mate on a chartered schooner named "John" out of New York, in November, 1864. At the time of his death, they were taking provisions for the US Army into Wilmington, NC. In her mind, that meant he was in service of the federal government, and her lawyer argued that point for her in these applications. 


He was injured on March 7th or 8th when the hawser (a thick rope) used to turn and guide his ship through the Cape Fear River, broke and hit him above his left eye, causing a brain injury. He died in a hospital a week later, probably at the US Marine Hospital in Wilmington.

US Marine Hospital, Wilmington

I contacted the VA to figure out where he was ultimately buried, since he wasn't in St. Michaels with his family, and eventually tracked him down to the Wilmington National Cemetery (originally Soldiers & Sailors Field). They sent me a map with his grave location.

Bearing in mind that I've had this info since 1988, I only just today, through RAOGK, got photos of his headstone. His initials are backwards, and he wasn't US Navy, but there he is! (Thanks Buz in NC!)

Obed's grave, bottom left

Poor Caroline, she had 3 children under age 14 when he died and must have worked very hard to support them. She lived until 1912, living with her twins all those years. Her youngest, Greenbury Marshall Coffin (my kids' g-g-grandfather), was quite well known later as a shipbuilder - another story for another day!

1 comment:

  1. Now that is cool that you have a photo of his headstone! Great story.