Is General John E. Coffee Really Buried in Oak Grove Cemetery?
John E. Coffee (December 3, 1782 – September 25, 1836) was a military leader and a Congressman for the state of Georgia.
He was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the grandson of Peter Coffee, Sr. (1716 – November 1771) and Susannah Mathews (1701–1796). He is sometimes confused by researchers with his first cousin John Coffee, who served as a general in the Tennessee militia.
John E. Coffee was eight when he moved with his family to Hancock County, Georgia, in 1800. His parents developed a cotton plantation near Powelton, based on the labor of enslaved African Americans. In 1807, the younger Coffee settled in Telfair County, Georgia, where he developed his own plantation.
As a general in the Georgia state militia, Coffee supervised construction in the 1820s of a supply road through the state of Georgia. It was called "Coffee Road" and enabled the transportation of munitions to the Florida Territory to fight the Indians during the Creek Wars. It is now called the "Old Coffee Road".
John Coffee served as a member of the Georgia Senate from 1819 to 1827. He was elected as a Jacksonian Democrat to the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth U.S. Congresses and served from March 4, 1833, until his death on September 25, 1836. He was re-elected to the Twenty-fifth United States Congress on October 3, 1836, after his death, the news of his death not having been received.
In addition to Old Coffee Road, Coffee County, Georgia, and General Coffee State Park were named in honor of John E. Coffee. Coffee died on his plantation near Jacksonville, Georgia, on September 25, 1836, and was buried there. In 1921 his remains were re-interred in Oak Grove Cemetery, McRae, Georgia. The burial of General Coffee in the Oak Grove Cemetery in McRae holds an intriguing mystery.
General John E. Coffee had a cousin named John R. Coffee. Both Coffees were born in Prince Edward County, Virginia. John R. Coffee moved to Tennessee in 1788 where he became friends with General Andrew Jackson. John R. actually fought a dual on behalf of General Jackson and took a bullet for him after Jackson was criticized in a newspaper.
John R. Coffee was a Colonel, commanding the Tennessee Volunteers in the battles of Alabama and New Orleans. He was appointed Surveyor General of Federal Lands in Alabama. John R. Coffee died in 1833 and was buried on his plantation near Florence, Alabama.
The problem is that the tombstone in the Oak Grove Cemetery is actually the tombstone for John R. Coffee. This error arose when the Daughters of the American Revolution moved John E. Coffee’s remains from Jacksonville to McRae in 1929. The tombstone on the grave in McRae is inscribed simply as Brig. Gen. John Coffee. There is no record of John E. Coffee to have ever met Andrew Jackson nor was he involved in the Battle of New Orleans.
Then where is the tombstone for John E. Coffee. Is it in Florence, Alabama? The answer is apparently “NO.” It seems that the Daughters made an error when they ordered the tombstone. They apparently mistook John E. Coffee for John R. Coffee, the inscription reflects the life of John R. Coffee.