Medway Historical Society
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Medway Historical Society
223 Main Street, Medway, MA 02053
COFFEE DESCENDANTS RETURN TO MEDWAY
April 22– Descendants from
as far away as Washington DC returned to Medway last week to
hear a talk on Revolutionary
War soldier, Ishmael Coffee. The talk presented by the Medway Historical
Society was given by professional genealogist, Marian Pierre-Louis
of Fieldstone Historic Research.
After almost two years of in-depth research, Pierre-Louis revealed
her findings about the life of
Ishmael Coffee who is reputed to be of African American and Native
American ancestry. Prior to the presentation little had been known
about the life of one of Medway’s earliest veterans.
in Needham in 1741, Ishmael Coffee moved to Medway in the 1760s.
first arrived he was “warned out of town”.
This common practice was used by towns to reduce their liability
should newcomers stay in town, fall on hard times and become financially
dependent on the town. Many newcomers, like Coffee, remained in
their new town despite the warning.
In 1768, Coffee married Hannah Gay, a white woman from Wrentham.
They remained in Medway for the rest of their lives and raised
their 17 children, not all of home survived to adulthood.
As the years passed, the burden of poverty and a large family took
a toll on the Coffee family. They increasingly became more dependent
on the town of Medway. During the difficult financial times it
became necessary for the town of Medway to try to recoup the cost
of their care. In 1819, Medway sued the town of Needham claiming
that was his legal place of settlement. Needham, countered however,
saying that the marriage was invalid as interracial marriages were
illegal in Massachusetts.
Surprisingly the judge decided in favor of Medway. Ishmael Coffee
and his wife were actually married in Rhode Island where interracial
marriages were “not unlawful”. The judge demonstrated,
that based on precedent, it was necessary and important to uphold
the laws of other governments.
By carefully searching through town record books and original cash
books from the early 1800s, Pierre-Louis was able to determine
that Ishmael Coffee and his wife died sometime after 1821. That
means that Coffee lived a long life, surviving at least to age
80. More than sixty of those years were spent in Medway.
Fran Donovan, in the Early Medway Settlers & Land Records,
explains that “when our streets were named in 1869, one of
the most sensible choices was to name Coffee Street in his honor,
as he was a responsible citizen, and served with distinction in
the Revolutionary War.” Today, the Ishmael Coffee Estates
are also named in his honor.
The lecture became an impromptu family reunion for the Coffee descendants.
After the talk the family members discussed oral history about
Ishmael Coffee with Pierre-Louis that had been passed down through
their family. Both Pierre-Louis and the descendants were buoyed
and encouraged by the event to continue with their research into
the life of this early Medway resident.
More information about Marian Pierre-Louis and Fieldstone Historic
Research is available at www.FieldstoneHistoricResearch.com. Information
about upcoming programs at the Medway Historical Society can be
accessed at www.MedwayHistoricalSociety.org.