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John Coffee was born in Prince Edward County, VA, in 1772, the son of Joshua and Elizabeth Graves Coffee. The family moved to NC in 1777. After his father died in 1798, Coffee and other family members moved to Davidson County, TN where he purchased a small plantation and engaged in agriculture, mercantile business and land surveying.
He joined several business partnerships, including one with Andrew Jackson in 1804. On October 3, 1809, Coffee married Mary Donelson, niece of Rachel Donelson, who was the wife of Andrew Jackson. His land surveying business took him to Madison County in the Mississippi Territory where he laid out the city of Huntsville in June 1810. When the War of 1812 was declared, the Tennessee militia was called to activity duty under the command of General Andrew Jackson. Coffee became a Colonel in November 1813 and was shortly promoted to Brigadier-General. He commanded a battalion of Volunteer Mounted Riflemen and later a regiment of Cavalry. The Creek Indians (Red Sticks), with support of the Spanish and British, started the Creek War with the massacre at Fort Mims in 1813. During this war, Coffee's performance was outstanding in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend against the Red Sticks, the Battle of Pensacola against the Spanish, and the Battle of New Orleans against the British. Coffee was promoted
to Major-General and discharged from active duty in early 1815.
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In 1817, Coffee was appointed Surveyor-General of the northern part of the Alabama Territory and moved the Federal Land Office to Huntsville. He continued in that position until his death. From the U. S. Land Office in Huntsville, he surveyed the lands of north Alabama, established the boundary line between Alabama and Mississippi and laid out several towns, including Florence. He helped organize several business including the Cypress Land Company which established the city of in 1818. Coffee purchased 1280 acres of land north of Florence on which he established the Hickory Hill Plantation, including this site. Coffee moved his family to the Hickory Hill Plantation home located near here, in 1819. The plantation produced mainly cotton, corn, fruit trees, and livestock. Also, a cotton gin, sawmill and gristmill were built and operated on nearby Cox Creek. Labor was provided by as many as 85 slaves. In 1823, the Federal Land Office was moved to Florence. The Coffee family consisted of his wife Mary, and ten children: Mary, John Donelson, Elizabeth, Andrew J., Alexander Donelson, Rachel Jackson, Catherine, Emily, William Donelson, and Joshua. In 1820, Coffee joined with neighbors in establishing the first school
in what is now Florence. Coffee died on July 7, 1833, and was buried at this site in the family cemetery. Mary died on December 11, 1871, and was buried near John.