I’ve been thinking about my great great grandmother, Catherine Justice Coffin, again. I recently finished reading a book, American Grit edited by Emily Foster. This is a collection of letters from a woman in western Ohio to her family back home in Maryland after she and her husband moved to the wilds of the West to farm. The time period is about the same as for my g-g-grandmother so I thought it would be interesting and might show me something about what life in Ohio was like in those days. Although I think there was a difference between living on a developing farm and living in the state’s biggest city, I felt like I had more of a sense of just how much work day to day life took in that time period. Thanks to Judy for taking it out of her library for me.
Last year, I had started a timeline of Catherine’s life, back around when the COG assignment was to write from a timeline (the 91st COG, just about a year ago). What I quickly discovered was that I didn’t have much beyond dates and places for major life events to bring her to life.
And so, as is typical for me, my FRADD (Family Research Attention Deficit Disorder) kicked in. I never did get the story of my great great grandmother, Catherine, written. An archivist friend, when asked about Yellow Springs Ohio and the old spas, recommended a couple of books. I ended up requesting and reading a book about Mary Gove Nichols life. (Thanks to the library consortium system, I can often get books that my local library doesn’t have.) The connection was that Mary Gove Nichols was born and lived in the same time period as Catherine, and more importantly was the co-owner of the Yellow Springs Spa at about the time that Catherine was there. The title of the book is Shameless and it is a very good description of women’s status in the early to mid 1800s in this country. The Water Cure was popular as a treatment for a number of ills, particularly consumption (which Catherine had). The Water Cure included baths in cold water, drinking lots of water, and healthy meals (lots of vegetables I think) among other prescriptions. The Yellow Springs, in Greene county about 60 miles north of Cincinnati, was already known in the 1830s to have some benefit for those with chronic diseases.Although I don’t have any direct evidence that ties Catherine to the Water Cure, I do have evidence that she died of “pulmonary consumption” in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Catherine Elizabeth Justice was born the 30th of December 1821, in Clermont county, Ohio. This is southwestern Ohio just east of Cincinnati and bordered by the Ohio River on the south. Her father was Jesse Justice Jr., from New Jersey and her mother was Susan Wilcox from Nantucket originally. They met in Clermont county and married in 1818. Their first child, a son, had been born in February 1820 and died as an infant in the fall of 1821 before his sister, Catherine, was born. The family stayed in Clermont county until sometime after the next brother, Theodore, was born in January 1824. Between then and December 1828 the family moved into Cincinnati. The family is enumerated in the federal census of 1830 in Cincinnati. In the mid to late 1820s Cincinnati was growing quickly, and became the first major inland city in the young United States. Incorporated in 1819, Cincinnati had river transport by the Ohio River which was the main route to New Orleans. The population of Cincinnati, or the greater Cincinnati area including Newport and Covington, Kentucky, in 1835 was about 35,000. Jesse Justice opened a grocery shop and became active in the city. By 1834 he was City Marshall.
Between January 1833 and April 1834 3 children of Jesse and Susan died. An infant son died at 3 months old. A 4 year old daughter died of cholera. And a second infant daughter died within a day of being born. Catherine and her brother Theodore were the only living children. Catherine and Theodore were close in age but there is little information in the family vault about him. The last child born to Jesse and Susan, William Harrison Justice, was born in April 1840.
Catherine was 18 years old, married for 6 months, and pregnant with her first child when this last brother was born. She married Zebulon B. Coffin, who also had a grocery shop in Cincinnati, and was involved in the community. Her daughter, Jessie Malvina, was born in November 1840 so was just 7 months younger than her uncle Harrison. At the time of the 1840 federal census, I believe that Catherine and Zebulon must have been living with her parents in Cincinnati. At least, they fit the right age groups for the Jesse Justice family enumerated in Cincinnati; in addition I have not found them enumerated anywhere else separately.
At some point, before the federal census in 1850 but not documented beyond stories, the family adopted (probably not legally) a young boy said to have been found by Harrison in Cincinnati on the street with nowhere to go. The story is that Harrison found Anthony Burton, about age 9, living on the street and told his mother who took him in. In 1850 Anthony was enumerated with the Zebulon Coffin family in Newport, Kentucky (which is directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati). Jesse and Susan Justice and their family lived next door. At the time of the 1860 federal census, Anthony lived in Newport in Susan Justice’s home along with Harrison. Between the two households there were three young people within a year or two of the same age: Jessie Malvina Coffin, Harrison Justice, and Anthony Burton.
There is little passed down in the family lore about Catherine (or Kate as some of her cousins called her) as a person. She and Zebulon had 2 more children, each about 6 years apart. It is likely that she was “delicate”. Much of the picture of Catherine that exists is from a few letters I have, both to and from her. She, along with others in the family, wrote to Anthony while he served in the Civil War. By that time, she was also probably experiencing the effects of her consumption. We know she was only 44 when she died August 31, 1866 in Yellow Springs, Greene, Ohio.
I think the next step in learning about g-g-granmother Catherine’s life will involve looking more closely at these few other documents I have. All of these need to be transcribed. As I remember, I got as far as putting them in sheet protectors, but need to take that next step. I wonder where I put them? I guess finding them and starting to transcribe them could get put on my March Genealogy To-Do List. Maybe.