History & Tourism

Literary Mansfield: The Poetry of Salathiel Coffinberry

31 Jul , 2022  


By 1812Blockhouse

This was the first post in our series which looks at the ways in which Mansfielders, past and present, have been involved with books, poetry, music, and other written works. We’ve been calling this series, “Literary Mansfield.”

Our first subject back in 2017 was a resident of Mansfield for some, but not all, of his long life. The saga of Salathiel Coffinberry began in Lancaster, Ohio in 1809; he was the son of that city’s first newspaper editor.

We have added information since then to this narrative to more completely describe this remarkable man.

After a stint in Chillicothe, the family moved to Mansfield, where Salathiel began the practice of law and married for a second time to the equally wonderfully-named Artemisia Cook. He left Mansfield in 1843, and spent the rest of his life in Michigan. Salathiel and Artemisia had six children with names such as Hermia Salathiella, Herman Napoleon, and Estophanta.

scc2The Coffinberry family was certainly creative. Salathiel’s mother penned a poem on the subject of the murder of Levi Jones, killed by Native Americans lying in ambush near what is now the corner of Fourth and Diamond Streets. Salathiel’s brother, Andrew, also an attorney, was a poet; his sister Sarah’s son, Mansfield Hedges Gilkinson, was the first pioneer child born in what is now Mansfield.

A 2014 Mansfield News Journal story, which can be read here, references an occurrence when Salathiil, at the encouragement of his brother, assisted in an experiment whereby his nine year old daughter was tested for “animal magnetism.”

Coffinberry was described as a musician, painter, and poet, and by all accounts had a colorful life. He was also a soldier, serving with the rank of “Brigadier General” in skirmishes along the Canadian border in the 1830s. A Coffinberry family narrative credits him this way, “Many of his productions in both prose and poetry are of a high order of merit. After attaining to years of manhood he acquired a thorough knowledge of the French and German language (sic). His scholarly attainments, together with the great natural versatility of his mind conferred on him powers of conversation that were remarkably rare and fascinating.”

He also was a keen observer. It has been said that the most descriptive account of the face of Johnny Appleseed was that given by Coffinberry in a November 1871 edition of the Richland Shield and Banner:

“John Chapman was a small man, wiry and thin in habit. His cheeks were hollow; his face and neck dark and skinny from exposure to the weather. His mouth was small; his nose small and turned up quite so much as apparently to raise his upper lip.

His eyes were dark and deeply set in his head but searching and penetrating. His hair was black and straight, which he parted in the middle and permitted to fall about his neck. He never wore a full beard but shaved all clean except a thin roach at the bottom of his throat. Hist beard was lightly set, sparse and very black.”

Several of Salathiel Coffinberry’s poems survive. One begins as follows:

ECHO

THOU distant tone dying,
Ah! What canst thou be?
Say, whither aren’t flying
O’er woodland and lea?
Thou sylph of the fountain,
Thou voice of the tree,
Thou nymph of the mountain,
Thou mock of the sea.
Thou art but a shadow
Of music and song,
As o’er the green meadow,
Midst flowerets and odors, thou gamblest along.

Coffinberry ended up as Grand Master for the Masonic Lodge in the state of Michigan, with several of his speeches now in university archives there. He also ran unsuccessfully for Governor. Although dying in Michigan, he is buried in the famous Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, near to where Lincoln gave his famous address.

Sources: FindaGrave, lawlit.net, Ancestry.com

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