Zebulon B. Coffin

Zebulon B. Coffin was one of the first ancestors I learned about, going back to when I was about age 8 or 9. His picture was in the old-fashioned hard-covered thick-paged photo album that my mother kept in the linen closet. (I don’t know why she kept it there.) Although he was relatively young in this picture, he looks much the way he seems to have always looked.

When I got more serious about genealogy and family history, I figured out that Zebulon was my great-great-grandfather. He was also grandfather to the little girl in the tintype I wrote about earlier who so intrigued me, Mary Alice Dalton. So she and were related, how exciting!

Zebulon was born in Cincinnati, not long after his family had arrived there from Nantucket. He was the second son to carry that name. His next older brother who had been named Zebulon died in August 1814 and my Zebulon was born November, 1815. I wonder what they would have named him if his brother hadn’t died? I don’t know anything (yet) about his earliest life, although I assume he went to school and did what most other boys of the time and place did. When he was about 13 years old his next older surviving brother died at age 18. His remaining two older brothers who were still in the Cincinnati area were 8 and 10 years older than he was. His oldest brother, Telemachus, was 13 years older, and already out of the house and traveling the world. (He will be part of a later Coffin story.)

Zebulon (often listed as Z.B.) was married, to Catherine Elizabeth Justice, in October 1839 a month before his 24th birthday and 2 months before her 18th. I don’t know exactly how they met and courted, but her father owned a business in Cincinnati and was active in the community. Zebulon went into the grocery business around the time of his marriage, and had his own business for his whole working life. He was not listed in the Cincinnati city directory for 1836-37, but was in the 1839 directory. He was a hard worker, who was active in his community and church. He was a member of the Cincinnati Independent Fire Engine and Hose Company, one of the early volunteer fire groups.

fire hydrant opener

In 1846 he was made an Honorary Member for life. The picture is of a large (maybe brass?) tool that was used for opening the water hydrants when a fire broke out. It is engraved with Zebulon’s name and the date 1835.

For much of his adult life, Zebulon was the patriarch of the Cincinnati-based family. His mother died in 1858, and his wife and father in the next ten years. At the time of Catherine’s death, his older daughter was married with a young daughter and his son Henry and younger daughter Katie still lived at home. Henry was just 20 years old and Katie was not yet 14. Henry left home to go to South America right around the time of his mother’s death. This will also be part of a later Coffin story.

Zebulon and his family had moved across the Ohio River to Newport, Kentucky by the time of the federal census of 1850. Susan Justice, his mother-in-law, and Anthony Burton, a young man “adopted” by the family lived nearby or with Z.B, at different times. Daughter Jessie Dalton and her family also lived either next door or with him after he was widowed. The family belonged to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newport and Zebulon and his daughters were active in the Church.

Although Zebulon was widowed for a long time, just about 39 years, there were no family stories or any documentation that he had any other relationship. He never remarried. He kept his store until after his 70th birthday. He got interested in the family history and attended the 1881 family reunion of Coffins on Nantucket. In 1880 he was appointed by the Tristram Coffin Reunion Association along with William E. Coffin as the Executive Subcommittee tasked with creating a Coffin genealogy. He worked long and hard on this endeavor, sending out letters to all Coffins asking for information. It was the resulting manuscript that was the base for the book edited years later by Louis Coffin, entitled “The Coffin Family” which was published by the Nantucket Historical Association.

In continuing to clean out a cardboard box of pictures, albums, and papers that mostly came from my great-aunt Susan, I started thinking about her. She was a big influence in my father’s life and I am curious about her life, so I put this post together, in a first take of how she lived. (That box is now emptied out and off my office floor.)

Susan Ruhama Salt (known as Ruie by the family) was born 28 Mar 1893 in Saltair, Ohio to John Clifford Salt and Kate Coffin Salt. She was the youngest of three, two of who survived to adulthood. Her brother, Henry, was my grandfather. Aunt Susan, as we always knew her, was our stand-in grandmother. How that came to be is part of a family story replete with secrets and various characters that my mother spent years trying to piece together and understand.

Ruie and Henry (both of whom were born after the death of their older sister Anna Catherine before she was 2 years old) were raised by their mother Kate alone from just months after Susan was born. The story about their father, Cliff, was that he had sustained a head injury while cutting ice one winter, which later resulted in his being probated to the state mental hospital. His wife Kate was named his guardian, and he lived the rest of his life there as far as is known. Kate and the children continued to live at the family’s farm until Henry was old enough to be out on his own. Then Kate and Ruie moved into Bethel, a town not very far from their farm so that Ruie could go to the high school in town. Ruie was very studious and made very good grades according to her second cousin. She also played in the all girls’ band (I don’t know what she played). She had a sweetheart while she was in high school but his family moved away from the area so “nothing came of that”. Kate did not approved of Susan’s having boyfriends, for some reason, and she seems not to have had any serious ones after high school.

After Ruie graduated from high school, Kate wanted to move back across the Ohio River to Newport, Kentucky, closer to her father and sister. It was decided by the family that Ruie should study nursing. Although in the beginning she didn’t really want to, she was sent to nursing school at the Speers Memorial Hospital. This hospital was chosen by the family because it was nearby, and because the head was a relative of one of the family’s long-time servants, Sophie Kahrwald. I assume that the reason for sending her to learn nursing was that her mother Kate and she were pretty poor and dependent on Kate’s family. Ruie, by having a profession and ability to work, could help out.

So Ruie, who started going by Susan about this time, went to nursing school. In the beginning it was hard going for her, but she was encouraged to persist and eventually she enjoyed it. The year before she graduated, the Ohio River flooded many of the towns in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio. Here is what the setting looked like.

Speers Memorial Hospital, flooded

In fact, this was part of the huge natural catastrophe of Easter weekend 1913, which included flooding across all or parts of 15 states plus tornadoes. (Here is a site that describes this major disaster.)

Graduating nurses, 1914 (Susan Salt on far right standing)

Susan graduated from nursing school in 1914.

As a young teen I would have loved it if she had been a Frontier Nurse, riding horseback to visit patients in the backwoods, but that isn’t what she did. She worked at the Hospital for several years, and was in the Army Reserves and called to active duty in the Army Nurse’s Corps when World War I created the need for additional nurses. She didn’t serve overseas, but served at the base hospital at Camp Jackson in South Carolina from 1918-1919. She then came back to northern Kentucky and continued to do hospital work. In 1931 she did the course in anesthesia at The Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland and then worked in operating rooms.

Scrubbing up in the OR

Eventually she took on managerial roles and she may have ended up as the superintendent of nurses at the hospital. I am not clear whether she always worked at Speers or whether she moved on to a hospital in Cincinnati. My mother always said she was at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, but so far I have found no evidence of this.

I know that when my father was a college student (in the late 1930s), she was living and working in the Cincinnati/Newport area. She had lived with her mother, Kate, until her death in 1928 and then on her own. She was quite independent for the times, working and living on her own, having a car and traveling. She took my father on several extensive trips of the U.S., both when he was a youngster and when a college student. She stood in for his mother both before and after Grandma Carrie was institutionalized.

In 1939, Susan bought a house in Daytona Beach, Florida. Her Coffin relatives had a house there, which she had been able to spend about 6 weeks each winter in. I think it was in Florida that she first met Bill Liverett, who was the chauffeur and handyman for the Coffin family. The family objected to Susan having any relationship with him. Bill left their employ and joined the Navy, serving from 1942-1945, and after he returned he and Susan married in 1946. By this time the older family members who had objected, and had often ruled Susan’s life, were all dead. My father had married and they had started a family. She was finally freer than ever before to make a choice for herself.

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