Thomas Coffey ~ They Called Him “HellFIRE” ~ #52Ancestors ~ Week 15

Thomas Coffey picThomas Coffey my 2nd cousin 2x removed, was born in Grainger County, Tennessee on December 7, 1852. He married Martha Jane Shockley in 1872. They bought some land in the county and began to farm and raise their 13 children. Life was not easy for the Coffey’s, not because they were farmers, or because they had so many children or the fact that they didn’t have much money. Life was hard because Thomas was a difficult man. There was a saying in Grainger county about the Coffey family: it was said, the reason so many Coffey’s intermarried was that only a Coffey could tolerate a Coffey.  I have found the intermarriage part to be very true.

grainger co tn map

It didn’t help that Thomas has redheaded and a lot of people just assumed he had a bad temper because of that. However, in this case, they were correct! He was always ready for an argument or a fight. As a matter of fact, Thomas was known as the “Meanest Man in Grainger County”. He also earned the nickname “HellFIRE” because of his out of control temper.

Apparently, this temper problem ran in the family. One of his cousins beat her husband to death with a bridal because he forgot to pick up flour at the mercantile. No one wanted to walk past their farm because Thomas would throw stones at them. When he went into town he would sit in front of the stores and he would try to hit any child of any age that walked by with his walking stick.  If they got close enough, he would spit snuff at them, and he had a very good aim.

Thomas Coffey hs 2

At his funeral, his children asked the funeral home to tie a large strap around the casket to make sure that he stayed inside.  They also said that neither God nor the Devil wanted him and that’s why he lived to be 73 years old.  He died on January 3, 1925, and is buried in the Emma Jarnagin Cemetery in Morristown, Hamblen County, Tennessee. The birth date is wrong on his headstone. It is said that his oldest son Caleb wanted to have “HellFIRE” as his dad’s first name on the stone and the stone maker refused. So he gave the wrong month and day of his birth.


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.



10 thoughts on “Thomas Coffey ~ They Called Him “HellFIRE” ~ #52Ancestors ~ Week 15

    1. Eilene, I have always wondered that also. My sister was the meanest person I ever knew and I always wondered why. When I have cousins contact me through the internet that we last saw when we were younger they always ask “Are you the mean one or the nice one?” Thanks for reading the blog!

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