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.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.