Sunday, 25 January 2015

Alvin Coffey - A Black Pioneer.

Alvin Coffey was a hard-working man with an owner whom he took a trip with across the U.S from St. Louis, MO to California. Coffey drove oxen and throughout his writing does not mention any disliking towards his owner or the fact he was slave, all that is mentioned is that from his trips across country with his owner leads to him saving $7000 needed to buy freedom for himself and his family.

Coffey writes about the journey itself, discussing the length of time it took, the cattle they lost and the sacrifices they had to make on the journey. What I found intriguing was that at one point within his diary he speaks of killing an ox because it is injured and is 'bawling', he kills the ox using a double-barrelled shotgun.
'I said, “Let us go out and kill the ox for it is too bad to hear him bawl.” The wolves were eating him alive. None would go with me, so I got two double-barreled shot-guns which were loaded. I went out where he was. The wolves were not in sight, although I could hear them. I put one of the guns about five or six inches from the ox’s head and killed him with the first shot.'
This got me interested because he was trusted to handle and use a weapon without supervision. I do not yet know the ins-and-outs of the slave-trade and slave-ownership but I do believe it isn't very often that a slave would have been allowed to handle such a weapon, this being said it appears throughout the text that Coffey was treated more like an equal rather than property. 

Furthermore Coffey is able to write this memoir which shows reading and writing skills, and if this text hasn't been edited at all the writing is of quite a high standard. This is impressive for a slave who of his age and location was probably born into slavery, this means he received an education from his owner which is possibly why he was treated as more of an equal as seen previously. 

Another point to pick up on in Coffey's memoir is the fact that he always refers to the group as 'we' which furthers the point of equality he has within the group which included a doctor, his owner and other white men. Continuing on his diary begins with talk of how when they had recently left St. Louis they were receiving reports of 'people dying by the hundreds' in that area from Cholera, this being a place he had left his wife and children. Even still he didn't mention about his worry for his family and this is perhaps because he knew they would have been well looked after whilst he was away. 

To wrap this discussion up by saying just how well respected Coffey was. In his obituary (which can be found in the second source at the bottom of the page) it says Alvin Coffey was a noble man, ever generous to his unfortunate neighbor. Perfectly honest, he paid every debt he owed and was brave.” this was written by his pioneer-society members which would have consisted of many men he worked with regardless of race, meaning the respect Coffey got was not because he managed to buy out of slavery or because he made a name for himself, it was truly because he was a hard-working, noble and brave gentleman.

Source 1:
Source 2:
Source 3 (Image):

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