The Bloodline

On Christmas day, my grandfather, George Coggin, gave me a priceless gift – a small, portable book shelf. He explained to us that the wood came from an abandoned family house and was at least 172 years old. I appreciate useful things – the books on my hutch at school had been falling over all first semester – and I’m a nostalgic at heart, so this present was fitting. It’s sturdy, handy, and sentimental; what more could you want? 
In his thick North Carolinian accent, Hoffa George told my siblings and me, “Now, each o’ the shelves have a number on the bottom. Every body in the Coggin bloodline – your Aunt and Mama, cousins, and each of you – get one. The number corresponds with your descending age.” My grandmother, Mama Carol, was quick to point out that she and Hoffa did not have a shelf. “‘Course not,” Cain rebuked. “You’re not in the bloodline!” For the rest of my grandparents’ visit, the bloodline jokes continued. In line for dinner – “I guess the royal bloodline should go first.” Admiring some homemade artwork – “I bet that talent flows down from the Jones bloodline.” It was cute, but when break ended, I forgot about it.
…That is, until this past weekend, when I visited my grandparents in Greensboro, NC.  Mama Carol had redecorated the room I stay in, exclusively using family trinkets and pictures from her side of the family. She pronounced this the Jones family room, where her bloodline was represented. I don’t know how long the bloodline antics will continue, but on Saturday I did gain an appreciation for my real bloodline. Along with a relaxing retreat with family, I specifically made this trip so Hoffa George could take me to the old family graves in Montgomery County.
Most people, including myself, don’t begin to appreciate family history until it’s too late. You get old, and all the people you need to ask questions to are dead. I have spent little time diving into my ancestry, but fortunately, I have the luxury of profiting from the decades of research my grandfather has conducted. There’s something about knowing where I come from that is very fulfilling. It’s more than saying that you’re from England or the Netherlands  or Russia. Understanding the people I descend from solidifies lengthy identities I have no control over. Prejudice and class, wealth and poverty, selfishness and sacrifice. It reminds me how cultures change and how I am a product of my times. This past weekend I was reminded that I come from others. Yeah, duh. Think about it though. The lineage of ancestors is not just a long list of names. They were people, and each of them had specific quirks, adventures, and loves. I think about how much I value my life – all the thoughts I have, the relationships I share, the problems I struggle with. They did too! And odds are, their lives were a heck of a lot tougher than mine is. Each day was a challenge.They worked hard to live, facing war and poverty and circumstance.
This blog post is about what Hoffa George shared with me, my parents, and my brother Cain last Saturday. If you read through the whole thing, I’m impressed. Family history is one of those things that is a lot more interesting when you’re a part of it. This time, I am unforgiving about its length. This post is just as much for myself as for any reader. I don’t want to forget, and I need some good documentation.
File:Map of North Carolina highlighting Montgomery County.svg
Montgomery County, NC, where over six generations of my family lived (and still do).
My grandfather grew up in Star, North Carolina. Never heard of it? Yeah, neither has anyone else. It’s one of those small dying towns they tell you not to blink in as you drive through – you might miss it. It did have a heyday – before textiles were outsourced to Mexico, and now China, Star was a bustling mill town with 800 inhabitants and 2,400 workers. It used to be lively. On the weekends, people gallivanted through Main Street. They were out having a good time, and shops would stay open until 11 pm. Today almost every shop is boarded up; the place is all but deserted. There is no economy, no reason to be there, so people aren’t. In the surrounding area of this depressed American ghost town, though, five generations of my family staked land and settled.

The Eighth Generation

We began with John Coggin, my great, great, great, great, great grandfather.Pulling off to the side of a road, all I saw was forest. Hoffa George pointed to a tall tree in the woods about 100 yards away. That’s where our first graveyard was.
I’m glad I wore pants. After struggling to follow my fit 81-year old grandfather through thickets of thorny bushes, we came to an overgrown graveyard outlined by a wall of built-up rocks. There were slate slabs aimlessly sticking out of the ground, some in better shape than others, marking bodies from the late 1700’s. John moved to North Carolina in 1751 from Isle of Wight County, VA. During this period, there was tons of unclaimed land everywhere. If you were willing to survey it, you could file a land grant and become a property owner. Three different land grants accrued him 500 acres. At the time of his death, he was married to Allyss Elizabeth Benson, but it is possible that his first wife was Ann Powell. It is documented that he had 16 children.

“Hear lieth the body of John Coggin”
~1724-1793
My Great Great Great Great Great (that’s FIVE “greats” people!) Grandfather

Cain and I tried to do a grave rubbing. This was the best we could do.
Uwharrie River. This low water bridge is built so that when it floods, the water runs right over it.

The Seventh Generation

Next stop was John’s son – Burrel Coggin. This grave site – though still out in the middle of nowhere, was in much better shape. Burrel entered 100 acres on Beaver Dam Creek when he was 15 years old. He married Lethe Tucker at the age of 21. He later entered 45 acres of land and 50 acres of land. He had twelve children. The 1810 US census record 15 household members, including three slaves.

“Burrel Coggin was born March 2, 1764 and married December the 24 Day 1789, and deceased…”
1768-1814
My Great Great Great Great Grandfather

The Sixth Generation

Grave Markers are improving! But they added on an “S”?
(1792-1870)
My Great Great Great Grandfather

These graves were fenced off and manicured.. Burrel’s son William married Elizabeth Cochran Coggin. Their first child, Louisa, drowned at the age of 2.  Burrel served during the War of 1812, served as a justice of the peace, and was involved in county and affairs for much of his life. By 1860 he owned over 1000 acres of land, where a family home was built (I saw bricks from the site!) and ten children were raised. A heavily traveled road went straight through his property, and he would regularly sell and barter products from his farm.

Apparently, he also had a profitable distillery trade, selling spirits and brandy for 25 cents a quart. As a hard-shell Baptist and firm believer in predestination, he found it futile for anyone to attempt to gain salvation who was not already chosen by God. His zeal for the church was also lessened by the fact that he was the missionary cause. Due to the temperance movement at the time, he was not highly favored at Laurel Hill Baptist Church. William seems to have “withdrawn” over theological issues. More likely, he had greater pocketbook issues than theological ones, as many of the church members were regular beverage customers. Nonetheless, the church records a “dismissal,” and this break shifted many current and future family members to the Methodist Church.

At this time, slave ownership was also a way of life. 21 slaves are recorded in the family Bible; the 1860 census lists William as the owner of 14 slaves and his son Abraham as owning 5.

Elizabeth Cochran Coggin
(1978-1865)
Married to William Coggin

It’s said that William’s wife, Elizabeth, died of a broken heart. After Louisa drowned, she went on to lose two sons and one son-in-law who all died in the Civil War – or as they probably would have said, the “War of Northern Aggression.” Being a mother during this time had to be so difficult.

The Fifth Generation

Burrel Titus Coggin
(1828-1896)
My Great Great Grandfather

We have entered the era of photography!

Sons of William and Elizabeth, Hoffa George is currently writing a book about the four Coggin brothers, Abraham (Abram), Burrel Titus, William B., and Jeremiah. Abraham was wounded at Antietam on September 17, 1862, captured by Union forces, and died from the wounds in a Union hospital in a house near the battlefield which still stands today. Jeremiah was captured at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. As a prisoner of war, he was transferred to several facilities and died in March of 1865. He was one of the “Immortal Six Hundred,” who were harshly treated for similar treatment of Union prisoners of war.  
This is the pistol Burrel Titus used during the Civil War. 
This is the abandoned Coggin house close to Burrel Titus’ grave. It has had several additions, but was originally the home place of Burrel Titus. His son, George Wallace Coggin, was born and grew up here.It hasn’t been taken very good care of recently, but Hoffa George says as long as a house has a good roof on it, it is preserved pretty well.
Growing up, George picked up a little bit of foul language from the slaves. One day when Burrel Titus was an older handicapped man, he was sitting on the porch mocking his adolescent son and instructing him on the commands for the mule work in the field – ha, gee, woo, get up. George mumbled under his breath, “Kiss my ass.” Apparently, B.T. ‘s hearing belied his age and he yelled back, “If I could get over to you, I’d kick your ass!” 
Abraham also had sexual relations with a slave named Tabeth and fathered Jane Coggin. After the War ended, she married a former slave and their daughter’s name was Rose. My grandfather is an expert researcher, and was able to find an elderly Rose several years ago! He went up to her front door, knocked, and introduced himself as George Coggin. Without missing a beat, Rose greeted Mr. Coggin, saying, “I expect my people belonged to your people in slavery times.” They kept in touch, and when Rose died several years ago, Hoffa George was invited to sit with the family during the funeral.

The Brothers

We went inside the Coggin house to explore. On the second floor, I found where the wood was taken from to make my Christmas shelf!

The bottom of the shelf I got for Christmas. Note the #005 –
I am  the fifth oldest in the “bloodline” who was gifted with a shelf.
This is where the wood panels came from for the Christmas shelves.

The Fourth Generation

My Great Grandfather

Our last stop of the day were the graves of my great grandfather and great grandmother. The dates are beginning to seem comprehensible. So think about it – when did your great grandparents live? They probably weren’t alive in the 19th century. George Wallace literally robbed his bride from the cradle. The story goes that he was a family friend of the Rushes. At the age of 25, he went over to visit the new born baby; holding her in his arms, he swore he would come back and marry her some day. He did. I can’t decide if this is romantic or creepy. Or true. Regardless, the 25 year age difference stands.

George Wallace Coggin lived in changing times. In the prime of his adulthood, the government began to be more influential. He didn’t have much patience with government regulation of any kind. In his years as a young man, laissez faire was literal, and there was very little government interference. He was a good businessman who had a gift for estimating timber. He also had a great sense of humor and was quite the story teller.

This is my great grandmother, Granny Tom. Blessed with a long life of 98 years and dying of natural causes, I remember visiting her in Barnwell, SC as a child. Mama still talks about how good her homemade biscuits were. I was 9 years old when she died, and her funeral was the first one I had been to. I didn’t really know what to think about the viewing, where I looked at her dead body in the open casket before the funeral.

The Second & Third Generation

These faces look familiar! David Jamison Cain Compton (father), Debbie Coggin Compton (mother), and George William Coggin (grandfather). After writing about so many dead people, I’m struck by the fact that in 100 years, this picture, too, will seem archaic and distant. Beyond being one of the most down-to-earth, good-hearted people I know, I’m so grateful to Hoffa George for caring about the Coggin ancestry. He has kept great records, practiced the art of the historian well, and shared with me the deep value of the Bloodline.
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2 thoughts on “The Bloodline

  1. My name is Jessica coggins. We were coggin as well,, until my great grand father. I would love to chat genealogy sometime.

    Like

  2. Jeremiah was my GG grandfather. I know he died in the Civil War, but thought he was from MS so may be a cousin. Love your story and the way it is written.

    Liked by 1 person

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