Mount Allison University

Eliza Brown Coffee

(1835-1884)

Pointe de Bute Cemetery. Credit: Jessica Emin

The origins of the Coffee family is unknown, though John Coffee was born in New Brunswick, circa 1836. Unusually, Coffee is a name that could be an Anglicized version of a West African name, Cuffe, or have been inherited from a white slave owner or employer.

According to William Albert Trueman, “John Coffey, his wife Eliza, two daughters and a niece lived in Point de Bute across from the entrance of the lane to Prospect Farm. Eliza was a Noiles and lived at Tidnish before she married…. The Coffey family left Pointe de Bute and went to Boston. Mrs. Coffey died two years later. Before her death she told her family that she wished to be buried in the Point de Bute Cemetery. Her wish was carried out and her remains were sent to Aulac Station in care of my father who had them buried as she wished.”

Trueman’s timeline is quite accurate: Eliza and John appeared in the 1881 Canadian Census (as Coffe); two years later she was buried. And despite the name Brown appearing on her tombstone, there is additional evidence to suggest she was a Noiles. In this instance, the Noiles family Trueman refers to is that of James and Eliza Noiles of Tidnish, sometimes spelled Niles. According to Rainer Hempel, Noiles was a German family in the region (though there is some evidence of Irish Noiles).

It seems likely that James (1805-1873) and Eliza Noiles (1812-1864) were the James Niles and Elizabeth Surry who married on March 17th, 1829 in Cumberland County, and are buried in the Baxter Cemetery, Lorneville. In 1857 James Niles bought two lots of land, later selling some to Thomas Howe, husband of his daughter Lucy (abt. 1830).  Other Noiles children include Mary (1832-1869, married William Anderson); Susan (abt. 1845-? Married David Brownell); Ruth (abt. 1847); Lydia (abt. 1848-1939, married James Jones); Stephen Henry (1850, married Mary Howard); John Wesley (1853-1926, married Mary Marsh); and Almira “Nelly” (born 1857, married Archibald Martin).

No trace of the Coffee family has been found in New England. But emigration to New England was not an unusual decision for black New Brunswick families at the time. Following the end of slavery in the United States, a number of Westmorland families relocated in the last few decades of the nineteenth century, including in 1886 a family unit headed by Stephen and Mary Noiles, formerly of Dorchester. Boston in particular offered greater opportunities to black families, whether in terms of education, social and economic mobility, fraternal organizations, or civic life. Thus upon arrival the Coffees would have joined a Black Westmorland community that included Andersons, Howards, Newtons—one of whom had resided with them in Westmorland—Surreys, and others. Circumstantial evidence suggests these families retained ties after emigration, providing mutual support and assistance. And yet, no matter what the circumstances were that led residents to seek a better life elsewhere, the example of Eliza Coffee makes clear that some still retained compelling ties to the place they understood as home.


Sources

1851 Canadian Census; 1881 Canadian Census; 1891 Canadian Census; 1901 Canadian Census; 1891 United States Census; 1900 United States Census; Rainer L. Hempel, New Voices on the Shores: Early Pennsylvania German Settlements in New Brunswick; William Albert Trueman, ‘Round a Chignecto Hearth; Amherst marriage records; Cumberland County deeds; CANSA records.

How to cite this page

Harris, Jennifer. "Eliza Brown Coffee." Tracing the Black Presence in Nineteenth-Century Westmorland, New Brunswick. <http://www.mta.ca/faculty/arts/english/faculty/harris/tracing_the_black_presence/eliza_brown_coffee.html> 2011. Date accessed.

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Special thanks to Genie Coates, Elizabeth Cooke-Sumbu, Rhianna Edwards of the Mount Allison University Archives, Jessica Emin, Raylene Fairfax, Brenna Clarke Gray, Susan Hill, Michael Liddell, Andrew Nurse, Al Smith, Daniel Vogel, and the Tantramar Heritage Trust and its members.