Alexander Coffee Coffee was born on June 3, 1821, to Gen. John Coffee and Mary Donelson Coffee of Lauderdale County and was one of nine siblings. John Coffee was a land surveyor in Tennessee and Alabama, a founder of the city of Florence, and a significant figure in the Creek War of 1813-14. His mother was the niece of Gen. Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel, making him Jackson’s great-nephew. He attended the Lorance School in Florence for his early education and later the University of Nashville in Tennessee. Following his education, Coffee returned to Florence to manage the family estates.
In 1840, Coffee entered into a joint venture with Samuel D. Weakley and James Martin as a partner in the manufacturing business Martin, Weakley and Company. Located on Cypress Creek and later renamed the Globe Factory, the holdings included mills for producing cotton thread and cloth. The facility was expanded in the 1850s to include three grist mills for producing flour and cornmeal. By 1860, the mills were employing more than 300 individuals. Coffee married Ann Eliza Sloss in 1844. They had one daughter, Mary, who would marry Edward A. O’Neal Jr., son of Alabama governor Edward A. O’Neal.
During the Civil War, Coffee served in the Confederate Army as a captain of Company C, 16th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He fought in September 1861 at Cumberland Gap (not to be confused with the more famous September 1863 battle) under Brig. Gen. Felix Zollicoffer. Zollicoffer had been a Unionist prior to the Civil War but supported the Confederacy when his home state of Tennessee left the Union. Coffee later fought in the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, where he was forced to take command of the regiment when Col. Alexander H. Helveston was wounded during the second day of battle.
Following Shiloh, Coffee left the service because of poor health. He returned to Florence and continued with his management role at the Globe Cotton Factory. Coffee and his business partners sustained serious financial losses in 1863 when Union Col. Florence M. Cornyn and his 10th Missouri Cavalry burned the mills. Coffee then returned to his farm, Ardoyne, on Gunwaleford Road in Florence to raise crops. In addition to planting cotton, Coffee also set the example of using crop diversification and the latest technology in farm machinery.
Ann Eliza Coffee died in 1871. Five years later, Coffee married Camilla Madding Jones, with whom he had one daughter, Eliza, who died in 1904 at the age of 25. When the city of Florence sought funds to construct a hospital in the mid-1910s, Camilla Coffee gave a sizable donation with the stipulation that it be named the Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital. It opened in 1919 and closed in December 2018.
Coffee died at Ardoyne on May 9, 1901, and was buried in the Coffee family cemetery on Cloverdale Road near Florence. Ardoyne burned in November 1919, leaving little of Coffee’s physical legacy behind except his grave.
McDonald, William Lindsey. A Walk through the Past: People and Places of Florence and Lauderdale County, Alabama. Killen, Ala.: Bluewater Publications, 2003.