Maurice Coffey – Part V – Twilight and the evening bell.


The final chapter about Maurice Coffey begins with someone who he never met. David Adams was born in Ireland in 1835 and came to the United States and became a baker in New Orleans where he married a girl from Ireland named Mary Ann. When the War for Southern Independence began he moved his family to Galveston and joined the 1st Regiment of Texas Heavy Artillery which was composed almost exclusively of Irishmen. He was, in the parlance of the day, lost for the cause and we have not determined his military history or discovered his final resting place – yet. He was Margaret Edythe Young’s maternal grandfather.

David Adams

After his demise his widow became Marianne Byrnes, I am sure in part to distinguish her from her daughter – Mary Ann, by marrying and Irishman in Galveston by the name of Peter Byrnes. The good Mr. Byrnes perished in the yellow fever outbreak following the war and left his widow several rooming houses – one on Mechanic, one on Church and one on Post Office Streets. Probably needing a man around the houses Marianne became just plain Anne when she married Maurice Coffey who would make his daily bread forever more as a proprietor of boarding houses and saloons.

Mary Ann Adams, Marianne Byrnes, Anne Coffey

I sometimes think that every would be historian should be required to spend an hour a week in a cemetery. Part of the benefit no doubt arises from reinforcement of the knowledge of our own mortality but more importantly may be a sense of where we came from, who our people were and how they fit in to the family picture that now includes us but is by no means complete. We now have mausoleums to warehouse the dead – if they receive even that much of a tomb – but in the 19th century cemeteries were built to be visited. Even in the 20th century flowers were regularly placed on graves at birthdays and holidays, prayers were said and family and friends stayed sharp in the memory of those left and it was those habits that helped bring Maurice Coffey to this blog.

Grave of Anne Coffey

Facing 61st Street in Calvary Cemetery is the grave of Anne Coffey, wife of Maurice, who died in childbirth in 1886. Entombed with her is the infant that perished within three weeks of its mother. On the opposite side of the monument is carved simply the name Young and here rests a number of Margaret Edythe Young’s siblings, parents and other relatives. She is the mother of Mary Ann Young and the grandmother of Margaret Edythe Young.

Of her siblings we know that Cecelia Young, an infant, was buried there on June 4, 1890. Fast following Loretta Young, another child, was buried on July 30. Then on December 19, 1890 Maurier Young, another child was laid to rest. At the beginning of the 20th century, for every one thousand live births, six to nine women in the United States died of pregnancy-related complications, and approximately one hundred infants died before age 1 year – and these are only the numbers for recorded instances. Two other children, Clifford Richard Young from September 24, 1896 and Ethel May Young from January 7, 1900, age five months, are beside their brothers and sisters.

Anna Young, who died at 18 trying to save a servant in a fire, sleeps here. When you consider that only four of their children survived to adulthood – and that they lost three young children in the space of six months only to be followed within two years by a horrible fire death – the amazing thing, to modern sensibilities is that they soldiered on, took care of the surviving children, lived their lives, met their obligations and refused to be defeated by life or death.

Unusually for a Catholic Cemetery there is a small verse on Anne Coffey’s monument, A precious one from us has gone, A voice we loved is stilled, A place is vacant in our home, Which never can be filled. Although these verses are commonplace in Victorian cemeteries you will not find many of them on Catholic graves for the same reason you used to never hear a eulogy at a Catholic funeral – the focus is on the death and Resurrection of our Divine Lord and Savior and on our sure and certain hope of our own resurrection and salvation. Under those circumstances any particulars of our own lives look pretty insignificant. The grave of Bishop Byrne a few sections over demonstrates this point with its simple eloquence – he may have lived in the Bishop’s Palace but he rests among his fellow priests.

Grave of Christopher Edward Byrne - Bishop of Galveston

A few feet west of the family monument is the grave of Margaret Edythe Young’s mother, Mary Ann Young, with a marker placed by her daughter Laureene many years after she was buried there. She had originally been buried in a plot belonging to the Bennett family and might have stayed there had it not been for the insistence of her daughter that she be with her “family” – you will die but you never really escape your family.

Mary Ann Young

Next to her mother her father John and brother Johnny share a grave with the father’s a simple marker with his name, the year he was born and the year he died which is all that is needed while the son rests under a military headstone which, in its simplicity, is also a fitting tribute to a man who embodied the finest traditions of citizen and soldier that kept this country great and free for so long.

Capt. John W. Young of the Coastal Artillery

A section further north is the grave of James H. Bennett – Maurice Coffey’s son-in-law – who was,  at various times, a member of Governor Hogg’s administration and the Chief Inspector for the City Board of Health in Galveston. Neither of these positions was apparently as grand as they sound since the first was a political payoff to Maurice who didn’t want to leave Galveston for Austin – but was happy to see his son-in-law go – and the second must have been another political appointment since we can find no evidence to suggest that he knew the first thing about medicine or public health. Having held the position is something of a dubious distinction  since in Galveston the Women’s Health Protective Association was more active than the city health department in demanding enforcement of sanitation ordinances and taking violators to court.

James H. Bennett

About the only thing that is of interest about the grave – an unusual though not unique in a Catholic cemetery – is the fact that the monument is a Woodsmen of the World. When Joseph Cullen Root founded Woodmen of the World in 1890, one of his objectives was to provide a decent burial for all members. Early Woodmen life insurance policies  provided for a death and a monument benefit. Gravestones were originally furnished to members free of charge and later were offered only to those who purchased a $100 rider to their certificates.

Woodmen gravestones vary greatly in size and shape. Some resemble a tree stump, others a stack of cut wood. There are elaborate hand-carved monuments, simple stone markers and stake-type markers driven into the ground. Woodmen gravestones were originally intended to be a uniform design sent by the Home Office to local stone cutters, but not all the cutters followed the design. Some used their own interpretation of the Woodmen design which they felt was more appropriate. The result was a wide range of designs that reflected members’ personal tastes and included elements that were symbolic of Woodmen ceremonies or rituals. A tree stump, part of the Society’s logo, is the most common symbol used on gravestone designs. Many stand approximately four to five feet high. In one Kentucky cemetery, the gravestones started out as a modest Woodmen stump and grew larger with each additional burial. One gravestone is three feet wide with seven branches.

Although you will find some of the stump and a few of the stack type at Calvary Bennett’s is a plain, if solid, monument with the Woodsmen logo carved on the top. Buried near him in an unmarked grave is Margaret Coffey Bennett, Maurice and Anne’s daughter,  Mary Ann Young’s half-sister, Margaret Edythe Young’s half aunt. For those of you who think this is stretching the family bonds a little thin what you have to remember is that women died young, men remarried and families we commingled. Blood may be thicker than water but you would have had a spirited argument convincing these people that they were not related. Just as Mary Ann/Marianne/Anne had changed her name to accommodate her daughter and changing family circumstance Margaret Edythe Young was known to all as Edythe to accommodate Margaret Jane Coffey, who was nine years her senior but who grew up in the Young household. Margaret finished her years in genteel poverty at the Galveston Women’s Home – another gift from Henry Rosenberg to the city.

Margaret Coffey Bennett

The 1900 storm changed so many things about the city that it was as if it had been washed and not just awash. After the storm Robert Waverly Smith – who was married to Jeannie Sealy, John Sealy’s daughter – had put forward a new plan for the city government of Galveston that created a commission that was supposed to eliminate the patronage and practises under which Maurice Coffey had flourished.  Monsignor Kirwin and Home Protective League, lobbied in the state legislature for a law empowering cities to restrict saloons. The crusade and the law received national publicity in the temperance movement that eventually led to prohibition but more immediately put the Coffey brothers on their heels. The family had inhabited the last part of the 19th century but the new century did not know them.

Before Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 if you developed a blood infection that your body could not fight off you died – it was that simple! Early in 1906 Maurice Coffey suffered from kidney failure, developed an infection and died. Although he had been good copy for nearly 30 years there was not even an obituary for him in the News. The Young’s had filled up their family plot – had actually had to purchase additional space for some of the relatives by marriage and members of the next generation who had begun to pass – so there was no room by his beloved wife.

In the next section east his daughter bought a plot so that he could be close to his wife without being too close to his son-in-law and he was laid to rest. No Pythian marker would be allowed there and when the straightened circumstances of widowhood hit her she sold the remaining spaces to the Romana family. It is only by locating their graves that we have any idea of where Maurice Coffey rests. His deeds have not gone totally unnoticed, his story is still worth telling but all of him that started as dust has returned to dust, and rests with the faithful departed. May the perpetual light shine upon them

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