Minerva Arledge Coffman vs. Markham G. Coffman
Limestone County, Alabama

Every once in a while when we are combing the historical archives, we come across an intriguing case that makes us want to know more and more and more.... This is such a case.

Minerva Arledge Coffman was the daughter of Isaac Arledge and Anna Bell, who migrated from Fairfield Co, SC to Limestone Co, AL in the 1810s. Minerva was born in the early 1820s, and it appears that her mother died in her childhood; in about 1838 her father Isaac Arledge petitioned the Orphan Court for guardianship of his two daughters, Minerva and Ann Elizabeth:
Limestone Co, AL Orphan Court Minutes 1835-43, p. 208

(no date: c. 1838) It appearing to the satisfaction of the court that Minerva Arledge, an Infant child of Isaac Arledge over the age of fourteen years, has made choice of said Isaac Arledge for her Guardian and applying for letter of Guardianship. It is ordered that he give bond with sufficient securities in the penalty of four thousand dollars. Thereupon the said Isaac Arledge with Cyrus Arledge and Howel C Featherston his securities entered into and acknowledged their Bond in the penalty of said conditions as the law requires, said securities being approved of the court. It is ordered that letters of Guardianship issue to him accordingly.

On the application of Isaac Arledge It is ordered by the Court that he be appointed guardian of Ann Elizabeth Arledge, infant child of said Isaac Arledge (under the age of fourteen years) and that he give bond with sufficient securities in the penalty of four thousand dollars Thereupon came the said Isaac Arledge together with Howel C Featherston and Cyrus Arledge his securities and entered into and acknowledged their Bond in the penalty of said conditions as the law requires, said securities being approved of the court. It is ordered that letters of Guardianship issue to him accordingly.

On 21 May, 1855, in Limestone Co, AL, Minerva married Markham (or Marcum) Greene Coffman, the son of Lovell and Sarah Greene Coffman of Giles Co, TN.  They apparently had a daughter named Mary Ann born around 1858.

Who knows what went wrong? It was by all accounts an abusive and unhappy marriage; in addition, the pressures of the Civil War seem to have had some effect. It's not known what role Mr. Coffman played in the war. However, it appears from these records, as well as the fact that he was married two other times, that he was something of a "ladies' man". These divorce papers provide tremendously interesting insights into gender roles and the legal status of women in the 19th century.

What puzzles me is why the judge dismissed her plea for divorce, in his favor, and then a year later he came back and filed for divorce from HER and won. She failed to appear to contest it. At least she was probably pleased to finally be free from the marriage, but the law took her child away from her and dismissed her request for alimony and the restitution of what had been her inheritance from her father.... It's infuriating that the husband won in both cases, even though Minerva was the one to originally file for divorce. If only we could ask her to tell us her side of the story....

I hope you'll bear with the 19th-century "legalese" and read the gripping story that's told in these documents. I've added punctuation since it was pretty much non-existent in the originals.

Pam Wilson

Limestone County, Alabama, Chancery Court Record 1852-74

p. 306-308. No 1. Minerva G. Coffman vs. Marcum G. Coffman. At a court of Chancery begun and held on the 4th Monday in May 1868, it being the 25th day of said month, for the 5th District of the Northern Chancery Division of the State of Alabama, at the courthouse in the town of Athens, County of Limestone, present the Honorable Samuel K. McSpadden, Chancellor. Be it remembered that heretofore to wit on the 19th day of February 1866 the following bill was filed in the office of the Register in words and figures as follows, to wit:


To the Hon. Samuel K. McSpadden…the complainant Minerva Coffman, by her next friend Leonard P. Walker, a resident citizen of the county of Limestone of the age of 38 years, shows to your Honor that heretofore to wit on or about the [year] of 1855 or 1856 she intermarried with one Marcum G. Coffman in the County of Limestone according to the rules and forms of law applicable to the solemnization of the rights of matrimony between persons intermarrying.

Complainant further states and alleges that after the intermarriage between herself and the said Coffman, and while they were living together as man and wife, the said Coffman received, took possession of, and appropriated a considerable estate, the property of said Complainant, and derived it among from the munificence of Complainant's father and relations, and enjoyed and appropriated the same to his own use legal or illegal, beneficial or prejudicial to Complainant or his family, and as she alleges, so managed, converted and appropriated the same, together with the fruit of his labor, until every part and parcel thereof is wholly lost to complainant or her child, and as she alleges, both herself and child are greatly reduced to want and have not food or raiment, and the Complainant is now suffering with cold and hunger.

Complainant further alleges that the said Coffman, not being satisfied with reducing your Complainant to misery and want, inflicted personal violence by beating, striking, jerking accompanied with harsh, cruel and abscess abuse of Complainant, leaving her body black with bruises and listed of publicly by his harlot.

Complainant also alleges that the said Coffman drove and expelled by force your Complainant  from his house and turned her out of doors without shelter, food or raiment, tho being feeble, with a young daughter at a time when the country was in a state of war filled with armies, soldiers and disorganized, confused and impoverished community with the demoralized and evil condition of society.

Your Complainant further alleges that, not content with his cruel personal treatment, the same Coffman took in his embrace and lived in open adultery [with], and now and yet openly keeps company with, a woman whose name is Catherine or Kitty Smith, for a long time, and now avoids the Sheriff by secreting and absconding on account of an indictment and writ found by the Grand Jury of the county for living in adultery with the said Catherine Smith.

Your Complainant further alleges that the said Coffman that he might inflict a further blow to Complainant and, by far she alleges, the heaviest lick of all, a few days since [when he] secreted himself, and at a time and place when Complainant was deferred of all assistance, and tore rudely, ruthlessly, fiercely and forcibly a little daughter, her only child eight years old, from her arms against the prayers and screams of Complainant, and the tender clutches and crying of the little girl, the only solace and comforter of your Complainant in sickness and health.

Complainant further alleges that the said Coffman, with the view and intent to entirely and certainly impoverish and place beyond the reach of the legal or equitable right of Complainant and the control of the courts, has sold and made way with all the visible property, except a certain tract or parcel of ground lying and situated in the County of Limestone and paid for, if not in whole, in part with the proceeds of Complainant's estate and labor as follows, to wit: 80 acres of land known and called the Ephraim Jackson place west of north of the town of Athens seven miles, and the last year or so in the occupation of one Abr. Flannaghan and now occupied by the said Ab Flannaghan--and is using all his efforts, as Complainant is informed and believes and so charges, to dispose of that, and has now a man occupying the same to the exclusion of Complainant.

In view therefore of the foregoing statements and allegations, Complainant prays your honor to [1st] decree the bonds of matrimony dissolved a vinculi matrimonie now and heretofore existing between Complainant Minerva Coffman and her non husband Marcum G. Coffman; (2nd) That the same Marcum G. Coffman be enjoined from disposing of the said tract of land, directed or intended to be directed in this bill, and that Complainant be placed into immediate possession of the same and a final decree investing her with a fee simple title thereto as a part of the said Coffman's Estate as a home for Complainant, and if need be, a trustee be appointed  and ordered to take possession of said land and place Complainant in and on the same and provide for her services (?) and reduce her suffering; (3rd) That your Honor, by suitable decree or order, direct [that] a competency out of the estate of the said Coffman be reserved and paid and furnished [to] Complainant pending this suit and finally, [that] a suitable, just and equitable portion of the said Coffman Estate [be reserved] for maintenance of Complainant and her child; (4th) And by all means an order or necessary writ for the Secure and return of her daughter to her Complainant, or at least to the custody of some suitable person fit to raise a girl decently and virtuously and deliver from the custody and control of him who is wholly unfit to raise or guard the virtue of a boy, much less a girl child; (5) That a suitable allowance be made for solicitors fees out of the said land or paid by the said Coffman. Complainant further prays that the said Marcum Coffman be made defendant to this bill and that all proper process issue for this purpose to bring him into court and, finally, [that] all such other and further relief be granted and process issued, deems rendered, orders made, writs of injunction granted, trustees appointed, and slips taken as the facts of this bill merits, and she will ever pray--Houston D. Pryor, Solts for Complt

The State of Alabama, Limestone County. Personally appeared before me, John B. McClellan Judge of the Probate Court, Minerva Coffman, who makes that the statements and allegations in the foregoing bill as upon her own knowledge are true and those upon information she believes to be true. Sworn this 23 Jan 1866. Signed Minerva {her X mark} Coffman. John B. McClellan, JPC.

Minerva Coffman, by her next friend Leonard P. Walker, vs. Marcum G. Coffman. Case pending in the Chancery Court for the 28th district of the State of Alabama, In Vacation. It is ordered that your Complainant's entering into bond in the sum of $800 conditioned and payable as presented by section 2975 of the code of Alabama the Register of the 28th district aforesaid, issue a writ of injunction enjoining the Defendant or any due for him from disposing of the issue of land described in the Bill of Complaint until further order by the Court. It is further ordered that Defendant pay to Complainant as alimony the sum of $150 within thirty days from notice of this order and in default thereof it is ordered that John L. Nelson is hereby appointed trustee and as such he is hereby ordered to take charge of said land and deliver possession thereof to Complainant and to report his action in the premises to the next term of this Court. It is further ordered that Defendant pay to Leonard P. Walker, next friend of Complainant, the sum of $100 to assist Complainant to prosecute this suit to a final hearing. It is further ordered that defendant deliver the custody and control of Complainant's child … to Complainant immediately and upon his failure to do so that the Register issue the necessary writ for the secure and return of said child to Complainant. February 1, 1866. Sam K. McSpadden, Chancellor Northern Chancery Div, Ala.


p. 309-311: ANSWER of Marcum G. Coffman (filed Sept. 4, 1866) [PW: I summarize this first section]: Coffman answers a bill of complaint of Minerva Coffman by her next friend LP Walker, filed in the 28th District of the Northern Chancery Division of the state of AL for Limestone County: "The defendant now and at all times hereafter reserving all manner of benefit and advantages to himself of exceptions to the many errors imperfections insufficiencies and false allegations in said bill":

(1) Defendant admits his intermarriage with Minerva Coffman the Complainant, as she has alleged,

(2) "Defendant admits that after their marriage while they were living together as man and wife they did receive from the estate of Cyrus ("Cyrus" crossed out and replaced by "Isaac") Arledge, Complainant's father, a certain Negro woman named Mary and her 4 children, also one small common table and one cupboard being all the property that came into the home from any source in right of Complainant, which was her estate which he so recognized and regarded. That the Negro woman Mary and her children were valueless and expensive, that the oldest of the children was under eight years of age, which together with the general bad health and feebleness of the mother and want of physical ability, they contributed really nothing to the support and maintenance of the family, but was an expense and draft upon the energies and limited resources of the Respondent, upon whom the entire burden of supporting the family was devolved, and as for the statement by Complainant that the defendant had so used, managed, controlled and appropriated a considerable estate the property of Complainant and which, as her bill further alleges, until every part and parcel thereof was lost to Complainant and her child through mismanagement and more figures of speech …But the truth is that all the property which had come into his hands in her right was freely given to her and all of which she carried away with her when she left voluntarily his bed and board--

(3) Defendant denies most emphatically the allegations of personal violence and cruelty as is here charged against him by Complainant in her bill, but admits that he has on various occasions been forced, from the most irritating causes, provoked to use harsh and condemnatory language by the coarse, rude and immodest conduct of Complainant towards Respondent and of which he would not elsewhere speak, but in justice and in vindication of himself and in reference to the false and grossly erroneous charges and allegations of Complainant's bill. It is therefore no fault of his that the veil has been lifted which might forever have shrouded, from the too eager gaze of the world, this mortifying evidence of an unhappy family feud, which in some instances possibly may have had their origin in momentary irritation and should therefore be short-lived in their effects, thus have their ending when they had their big inning in the domestic forum. But the unhappy causes which led to the result of a separation of Complainant and Defendant were not of this sudden and momentary character, but on her part they were chronic and incurable, these emotional sensations had their eternal abiding place deeply seated in the corrupt imagination of a distempered mind as causeless and groundless as they were cruel and heartless towards the defendant and destructive to his peace and happiness. Being by nature jealous and suspicious, every act of Defendant was evilly construed, his conduct misconstrued, his motions maligned, he was frequently assailed with grossest immorality and lasciviousness, even adultery with the best and most respected ladies in the neighborhood by Complainant, not with one alone but with many. These charges were made by Complainant against Defendant in the rudest and most vulgar language, and without cause or proof and contrary to evidence, even without foundation even for suspicion of the existence of facts.

(4) Defendant denies that he drove or expelled Complainant from his house in the manner and under the circumstances charged … that these allegations are wholly untrue, that the general ill temper, irritability superadded to exceptive jealousy on the part of Complainant, her disregard of all conjugal duty, had so far alienated his affections and feelings as to destroy all hope that they could live together in peace and happiness. He had failed in all of his efforts well meant and intended to awaken in Complainant a proper sense of her domestic duties and conjugal obligations, but to all these appeals and efforts she continued incorrigible. In view therefore of these facts, they mutually agreed to separate, which Complainant did voluntarily and willingly, and carried with her the Negroes and the few articles of household furniture being all the property which she owned or claimed in her own right. Defendant avers that he used no force or threats neither in manner nor words towards Complainant, and that her conduct in leaving his house was uninfluenced by fear, threat or expulsion, but was an abandonment of him by her without any sufficient legal excuse or cause on his part, but long meditated by her and afterwards spoken of--

(5) Defendant denies taking to his embrace and living in open adultery with a woman whose name is Catherine Smith, that he is absconding and secreting himself on account of an indictment found against him by the Grand Jury for adultery. These charges and allegations are wholly untrue and false.

(6) Defendant admits as true, but not in manner charged or alleged, that he did take their little daughter Mary Ann, aged about eight years, from the control and custody of Complainant for reasons which in his judgment clearly justified him. Because she was most shamefully neglected in her personal habits and manners, poorly clad, and little or no attention paid to her cleanliness or dress, she was being raised without culture or care. She was permitted and encouraged to associate with Negroes who were chiefly her associates as well as those of her mother the Complainant. In view of his duty and obligations to his infant daughter, he felt it due to her morals, manners, habits and virtues, to remove her from the influences which surrounded her and place her where she would be properly cared for, this Defendant has done. She is now boarding in a respectable family where her personal and moral habits are duly guarded and trained as well as her educational interest promoted. These are the advantages which she now enjoys which would have been denied her if she had remained with Complainant, and as he knows and so charges that she is not a suitable person to have the management and control of this infant daughter, and as her natural guardian submits that under all the circumstances, he is the proper person to take charge of her personal and educational training both in fact and in equity.

(7) Defendant says that it is wholly untrue that he has disposed of, sold, or otherwise made away with his property with the view of impoverishing Complainant as she alleges or to place it without the reach of the Courts in order to defeat any right which she may have to it. The little property which he held before the marriage ["marriage" crossed out, replaced with "war"], like that of his neighbors, was for the most part destroyed during that period and now he has but little else left him but his land, a small tract consisting of eighty acres only. This constitutes the corpus of his estate. He is a poor laboring man. The allegation of Complainant that the 80 acres of land was purchased and paid for in whole or in part with the money or estate of Complainant is wholly untrue. Defendant avers that the purchase of said land was made and paid for long before the intermarriage of Complainant and Defendant.

(8) Defendant further states that the grounds upon which Complainant bases this prayer for a divorce from the bonds of matrimony are wholly imaginary and the allegations to support these causes are untrue and false in fact, and her claim to alimony in said lands apart from other consideration an unjust, unreasonable, exceptive, and greatly disproportionate to any fair right she might assert to an interest in his estate under any other and ever more meritorious and deserving circumstances.

(9) Demurrer. Now for these and other causes this defendant demurs to said bill of Complaint and for cause of demurrer allege (1st) Want of equity (2) Multifariousness (3) Also to the prayer for relief for an order of injunction, also to the prayer for an Ouster to dispossess Defendants tenant, now in possession lawfully of certain lands demanded and claimed in Complainant's bill, and that said Complainant be placed in immediate quit possession of said land of Defendant's is in its nature an ejectment bill cannot be entertained in a court of equity. These several matters being of different natures makes Complainant's bill multifarious.

(10) (Conclusion) In view therefore of these and the many other errors in Complainant's bill contained, Defendant respectfully asks your honor that the various orders made heretofore upon the prayer of this bill, especially that in reference to the custody of his infant daughter Mary Ann, be revoked and annulled, and that the injunction upon his land be dissolved, the relief for which she prays being unreasonable, unconscionable, and unjust be denied her and that Complainant's bill be dismissed. Defendant prays to be hence discharged with his reasonable cost and charges in this behalf most wrongfully sustained.
J.W. Malone, Solicitor for Defendant

p. 312. No. 1. Coffman vs. Coffman. The State of Alabama, Limestone County. Personally appeared before me B. Sanders Register and master of the 28th Chancery district for the Northern division of the state of Alabama Marcum G. Coffman, who makes Oath that the above answer to the bill of complaint of Minerva Coffman by her next friend L. P. Walker is true to the best of his knowledge and belief. Sworn to and subscribed before me this Feby 18th 1867. B. S. Sanders, Register. M. G. Coffman


No. 1. Coffman vs. Coffman. Came the parties by their solicitors and on motion it is ordered that the testimony in this cause be published. May 26, 1868.

No. 1: Coffman vs. Coffman. Came the parties by their solicitors and Complainant's solicitors offered in testimony the depositions of James T. Smith, Charles Hardy, G. Hardy, Peggy Black, A. S. McKinney, J. S. Nelson, Wm Horton, Garmen Gray, B. M. Townsend, Jamimah Flannighan, Hairin Moon, Wm M Harwell and E. Cronson. May 26, 1868.

No. 1 Coffman vs. Coffman. Came the parties by their solicitors and Defendant's solicitors offered as testimony the deposition of William G. Sanderson, Robert E. Coffman, Edward Malone and Franklin Smith. May 26, 1868

No. 1 Coffman vs. Coffman. Came the parties by their solicitors and on motion this cause is submitted upon bill, answer and proof. May 26, 1868.


No. 1 Coffman vs. Coffman. This cause was submitted at this term of the Court for final decree upon bill, answer and proof, and after due consideration, it is adjudged and ordered and decreed that Complainant's bill be dismissed out of this Court. But whilst the testimony will not fully justify a [____?] of Complainant, it discloses a sufficient  amount of bad conduct on the part of respondent to vindicate the justice of taxing him with the costs of this suit. It is therefore ordered and decreed that the respondent pay the costs of this suit to be taxed by the Register for which execution may issue. It is further ordered and decreed that the custody of the child mentioned in Complainant's bill remain with the father and under his control until it arrives at the age of 14 years when it may elect with which parent it will live and until this period the Respondent is charged with the maintenance and education and raising of said child. May 29, 1868. S. K. McSpadden, Chancellor.

p. 313. No. 1 Coffman vs. Coffman. I do hereby certify that the foregoing contains a true and correct copy of the original bill now on file in my office together with a correct transmissal of the answer and order of the Court and the final decree of the chancellor in the foregoing styled cause. Given under my hand August 10, 1868. B. Sanders, Register.

Limestone County, Alabama, Chancery Court Minutes 1852-1874, pp. 402-403:

No. 8. Marcum G. Coffman vs. Minerva Coffman. Bill of Divorce. At a court of Chancery begun and held on the 24 day of May 1869 it being the 4th Monday in said month… present the Honorable William I. Kenner Chancellor. Be it remembered that heretofore to wit on the 2nd March 1869 the following bill was filed in the office of the Register of this Court in words and figures as following, to wit:


To the Honorable Chancellor…
(1st)  Orator Marcum G. Coffman would respectfully represent unto you Honor that he is a resident citizen of the County of Limestone …

(2nd) Orator further charges that about the year 1855 he was married to Minerva Aldridge his present wife in the county of Limestone…, that he continued so to reside with his said wife, the said Minerva, until in the month of November 1863 about which time and against the wishes and approbation of orator she voluntarily abandoned the bed and board of your orator and has so continued her said abandonment up to the felony of this your orator's bill.

(3rd) Orator further charges that his said wife, the said Minerva, after said marriage, continued to reside with orator as his wife, performing the duties as such, until the month of November 1863, at or about which time she voluntarily abandoned orator's bed and board and she has so continued up to the filing of this bill.

(4th) Orator further alleges that his said wife the said Minerva Coffman voluntarily abandoned her bed and board for more than two years next preceding the filing of this

(5th) Orator further alleges that the said Minerva Coffman is a resident citizen of the county of Limestone…

In view of the premises, your orator prays that the bonds of matrimony heretofore existing between your orator and the said Minerva Coffman his wife may be dissolved and he prays for all other and such further remedy as the nature of his case, and the rules of equity, will allow. Your orator further prays that writs of Subpoena and all needful process may issue to make the said Minerva Coffman a party defendant to this petition.

…And therefore that the said defendant may show why your orator should not have the relief hereby prayed, and may upon the oath of  and according to the and utmost of their respective knowledge, remembrance, information and belief full true and perfect answers made to such of the statements or the several interegations hereinafter numbered and set forth as by note hereunder written and say of the allegations, statements and charges in the second paragraph of this bill are not true. Let her answer each paragraph as particularly as though it were specially asked of her again. --Walker and Jones, solicitors

No. 8. Coffman vs. Coffman. Decree per confessee. Chancery Court of Limestone Co, AL. 10 May 1869 Came the Plaintiff in the above cause now pending in said court and prayed for a decree per confessee vs. the defendant Minerva Coffman, and it appearing to the satisfaction of the Register of this court that subpoena has issued and been served upon the said defendant requiring to come forward and plead answer or demur to said for more than thirty days previous to this day, in accordance with law, and she having failed to do so, it is ordered by the Register that the bill of compliant of the said Marcum Coffman be taken and held as in all charges confessed. B. Sanders Register

No. 8 Coffman vs. Coffman. May term 1869. Came the Complainant by his solicitor and on motion this cause is submitted upon bill described, confessed and opined and the testimony in this cause ordered to be published. May 26, 1869.

No. 8. DECREE OF CHANCELLOR. 15 Nov 1869

In Chancery May term 1869. This cause came on to be heard at this time on bill decree per confessee and proof. I find the allegations of the bill sustained by the proof. The Register is ordered to enroll the following decree. It is ordered adjudged and decreed that the bonds of matrimony heretofore existing between Marcum Coffman and Minerva Coffman be and the same is hereby dissolved. It is further ordered that the Complainant pay the costs of this suit. Wm. Skinner.

I, B. Sanders, hereby certify that the foregoing contains a true copy of the original bill in this case together with a correct transcript of the order of court and decree of the Chancellor. Given under my hand Novr. 15, 1869. B Sanders, Register.

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