From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Coffey, Alvin A.

(born: 1822  -  died: 1902) 

Born in Mason County, KY, Alvin A. Coffey was a slave who was first owned by Margaret Cook. In 1834, he was sold to Henry Duvall, and was later owned by a Dr. Bassett, whom he accompanied along with other members of a party who were journeying to California in 1849. Coffey earned enough money in California to purchase his freedom and that of his wife, Mahala, and their 5 children, who were still in Missouri. But the doctor took the money from Coffey. They both returned to Missouri in 1851. Still a slave, Coffey would return to California 1854 and by 1857 had again earned enough money to purchase his freedom and that of his family; they eventually all moved to Red Bluff, California. Coffey was a homesteader in Tehama County, and his five sons followed in his footsteps: they all prospered. His descendants would continue to prosper for several generations. Alvin A. Coffey was the only African American member of the California Society of Pioneers. He was the son of Larkin Coffey and Nellie Cook. For more see Pioneers of Negro Origin in California, by S. B. Thurman; and contact The Society of California Pioneers about the Autobiography and Reminiscence of Alvin Aaron Coffey.


*Additional information and corrections provided by Jeannette L. Molson, the great great granddaughter of Alvin A. Coffey, and the family historian of over 30 years researching Alvin Aaron Coffey:


One, Alvin Coffey emancipated his wife and five children in 1857. The remaining three children were born in California starting with his son, Charles Oliver Coffey, who was the first of his children born free on 22 Dec 1858.  Verification of the emancipation of his five children, and wife, can be found at the Saint Louis Circuit Court, Vol. 26, page 37 in St. Louis MO. When Alvin Coffey and Dr. Bassett returned to Mo it was in 1851, not 1850.  Basset was the owner who kept Coffey's earnings.  Third, Alvin Coffey returned to California a second time still a slave, but he was not accompanied by his new owner.  His new owner trusted that Coffey would keep his word and allowed him to return to California alone.  When he saved the required amount of $1,000 to purchase his freedom, he did so by notifying his owner that he had the money and the owner, trusting Coffey, sent his freedom papers before receiving a cent.  After his return to Missouri to purchase his wife and five children, Coffey made his last trip back to California in 1857 with his wife, children, and their emancipation papers in hand.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Pioneers of Negro origin in California

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Coffey, Alvin A.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed October 20, 2020,

Last modified: 2017-09-14 18:23:11