Oh Henry! The Long Divorce of Emiline Coleman, Part Three

Part 3: Who is John Coleman?

On Christmas Eve of 1829, a man named John J. Coleman married Emiline R. Williams in Courtland, Alabama. They stood together in a Lawrence county church in front of his family and made solemn vows of chastity and devotion. She hailed from Marengo county, Alabama, some two hundred miles to the south. His people were slightly more local.

The Colemans first arrived in the Mississippi Territory in the fall of 1811, and “with the exception of occasional and temporary absences,” had resided in Huntsville ever since. People moved a lot during this era, after all, the newly depopulated southeastern frontiers weren’t going to settle themselves. So by the internal clock of most Anglo-American colonists, the Colemans were practically native to Madison county – seemingly sprouting from the primordial ooze of the Mississippi Territory and ossifying into a house off Randolph Street.

Although the Colemans didn’t travel much, John Coleman’s marriage to Emiline Williams occurred after seventeen months in Litchfield, Connecticut. He’d only arrived back in Alabama in the summer of 1828, and his bride-to-be was still a 13 or 14 year old girl some 200 miles away. There’s almost no way they had much prior communication and from the relative wealth of both families, coupled with their astounding age difference, it appears that an arranged marriage occurred.

Indeed, we know that John J. Coleman was much older than Emiline R. Williams when they married, not because it is mentioned that her age was 15, but because John traveled to Augusta, Georgia to conduct business for the family in 1816, and managed to stay there for about sixteen months. Now, assuming that he was only 16 or so when this happened (and that is a hell of an assumption because people were still considered legally ‘infants’ and thus unable to conduct most forms of business until the age of 21), then John J. Coleman was, at a minimum, about twice Emiline’s age when they married in 1829.

In order to woo his young bride he showered her with gifts. According to the testimony of Narcissa Coleman, just in 1836, he purchased “a Piano Forte which cost him $200 dollars, a Dressing Bureau which cost 100$, a Gold chain which cost him 75 Dollars, a pair of Gold Earings which cost him 35 Dollars besides a great number of valuable and expensive articles of Dress.”

John J. Coleman had all the money he could need but ultimately found himself unable to compete with a long legged actor from Nashville.

Part Four


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