Steven Butler's Family History Website



The Coons Family

By Steven R. Butler

The Coons Family
Martin Coons, Sr. | Martin L. Coons, Jr.
Delilah Coons

The Coons Family

I am related to the Coons family by virtue of the marriage of my 3rd-great-grandfather, John I. Williams, to my 3rd Great-Grandmother, Delilah Coons, daughter of my 4th Great-Grandfather, Martin Coons, Jr. Their daughter, my 2nd Great-Grandmother, Louisa Williams, married my 2nd great-grandfather Thomas W. Jenkins, in Hunt County, Texas, in 1874.

The Coons (also spelled Coonz. Coontz, Countz, Coonce, Cuntz, Koonze, Koontz, or Kuntz) family is German in origin, the first members immigrating in the early 1700s to Virginia, where they reportedly became iron ore miners.

Martin Coons, Sr.
(Abt. 1773--Bef. 1850)

From all appearances, Martin Coons, Sr. was born in Ohio County, Virginia (now West Virginia), near present-day Wheeling, about 1773. His mother was Molly Wheat, a daughter of Conrad Wheat, a German immigrant that arrived in America, at Philadelphia, in 1743.1

Martin's father is said by some researchers to have been Adam Coons, who was reportedly born in New Jersey, and could be a son of one Nicholas Kones, who died in Somerset County, New Jersey in 1746, naming a son, Adam, in his will.2 I think this is unlikely, however, due to the fact that Adam Coons is known to have had two wives, neither of which was named Molly. (Their names were Eve and Rebecca.) I think the reason that some researchers have assumed Adam Coons was Martin's father is only because he is known to have been present in Ohio County, Virginia (now West Virginia) around the time that Martin Coons was born there. Records regarding Wendel Coons, by contrast, are scarce.

According to other researchers, a man named Wendel Coons, who died sometime before 1781, was Martin Coons' father. Wendel himself is said to have been the son of Johan Martin Cuntz (born 8 Nov 1726) and Susannah Sturm or Storm (born 21 Apr 1726). It's said that Wendel was named for Susannah's brother, Johann Wendel Sturm. Wendel's alleged father, Johan Martin Cuntz was born in the Alsace-Lorraine region of present-day Germany, and Susannah Sturm was born in Iggelheim, Rhein-Pfalz-Kreis, Rhineland-Palatinate, also present-day Germany.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find even a single record pertaining to Wendel Coons, much less a marriage license confirming that his wife was Molly Wheat. Therefore, until something can be found, the name of Martin Coons' father will have to remain unknown, or at best, conjecture. All this being said, I think it is still possible that Martin Coons was somehow related to Nicholas and Adam Coons, owing to the fact that he had two brothers with those names, and in olden times, people tended to "recycle" the same names in families.

Our earliest record of Martin Coons, Sr. is from 1781, when he was mentioned by name in the will of his grandfather, Conrad Wheat, Sr., who died in Ohio County, Virginia (now West Virginia), probably that same year. His grandfather specifically identified him as the son of his (Conrad's) daughter, Molly, but did not name the boy's father, who from all appearances was also deceased.3 At that time, Martin was about eight years old.

Although I doubt that Adam Coons was Martin's father, I do think it is possible (although unproven) that they were somehow related. Why? Because Martin Coons had a brother named Adam and also a brother named Nicholas and the older Adam Coons had a son named Nicholas. Perhaps the elder Adam Coons was Martin's uncle?

Whoever Molly Wheat Coons' husband might have been, it is believed, based on circumstantial evidence, that she was the mother of the following named children:

  1. Nicholas Coons, born 1759, died 1821.
  2. Adam Coons, born abt. 1775.
  3. John Coons
  4. Martin Coons (Sr.), born abt. 1773, died before 1850.

The identity of the person or persons that raised Martin to adulthood is unknown, but based on circumstantial evidence, one possible candidate is his uncle, Jacob Wheat, a Revolutionary War veteran who soon after the war was over, moved to Jefferson County, Kentucky, to the Falls of the Ohio, where the city of Louisville is located, almost certainly traveling by flatboat or raft on the Ohio River, since both Wheeling and Louisville are located on its banks. There, in 1784, Jacob Wheat married his first wife, Catherine.4

Another uncle, Conrad Wheat, Jr., could also have acted as Martin Coon's guardian following the death of his parents and grandfather. We know from census, tax, and land records that Conrad too went to live in Jefferson County, Kentucky. In all likelihood, he and his brother Jacob, with their families, traveled there together, with Martin as well.

Although we do not know for certain if Martin Coons' uncle (or any other relative) took him to Jefferson County, Kentucky when he was a boy, or if Martin followed one or more of his uncles there, but we do know that on April 24, 1796, at the age of about twenty-three, Martin Coons, Sr. was married in Jefferson County to one Polly Locke, who was either sixteen or seventeen years old at the time of their marriage.5 The names of Polly's parents are presently unknown. Between 1797 and 1803, Martin and Polly had five children together.6

Between 1796 and 1800, Martin and three other men with the surname Coons-John, Adam, and Nicholas-were listed as Jefferson County taxpayers.7 These men were almost certainly his brothers.

In A History of the Ohio Falls Counties (1882), Martin's brother, Adam Coons, was recognized as "one of the first and most successful tanners in the township." It was reported that his tannery, "in operation for eight or ten years," was "situated on the east branch of Battle creek." It was further said that his "leather was of superior quality and was shipped to Louisville." Unfortunately, there is no mention of Martin Coons in this book.8

In or about 1799, both of Martin's paternal uncles-Conrad Wheat, Jr. and Jacob Wheat-left Kentucky to settle in or near the town of New Madrid, in the Louisiana Territory that then belonged to Spain.9

A Missouri state historical marker, erected at New Madrid in 1953, tells the story of how the settlement, which was located on a bend of the Mississippi River in what is now the state of Missouri, came about and why it attracted land-hungry American settlers.

First American town in Missouri. Founded in 1789 by George Morgan, Princeton graduate and Indian trader, on the site of Francois and Joseph LeSieur's trading settlement, L'Anse a la Graise (Fr. Cove of Fat). Flood and caving banks have destroyed the first site.

Named for Madrid, Spain, the town was to be an American colony. Morgan was promised 15 million acres by the Spanish ambassador, eager to check U.S. expansion with large land grants. Spain did not confirm his grant, but gave land to colonists. Morgan left but he had started American immigration to Missouri.

Town Expansion
French and American settlers contributed to town growth. Here were founded a Catholic church, 1789; a Methodist church, 1810; and here was the southern extent of El Camino Real or King's Highway, 1789. There are over 160 Indian mounds in the county, two near towns.

Two years after French sovereignty over Louisiana had been restored by the 1801 Treaty of San Ildefonso (following thirty-eight years of Spanish rule), American diplomats James Monroe and Robert Livingston, on behalf of President Thomas Jefferson, negotiated the purchase of Louisiana for $15 million. At that time, the Louisiana Territory stretched north from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the U.S. border with British North America (Canada) and as far west as the Rocky Mountains and Spanish Texas. The purchase of this vast territory (more than 828,000 square miles) had the effect of doubling the size of the United States.

Louisiana Purchase ceremony at New Orleans, 1803

Apparently, sometime between 1800 and December 20, 1803--the date that Louisiana was formally ceded to the United States-Martin Coons, Sr., together with his wife and children, as well as his brothers Adam, Nicholas, John, and Jacob, joined his uncles Conrad Wheat, Jr. and Jacob Wheat, as well as his cousin Elias Wheat, at New Madrid. Upon arrival, Martin Coons, Sr. claimed eleven hundred arpents (just over 929 acres) of land on bayou St. John.10

On March 26, 1804, following the United States' purchase of Louisiana, President Jefferson signed into law "An Act erecting Louisiana into two Territories, and providing for the temporary government thereof." This law called for all the ceded land below the 33rd degree of north latitude to be called the District of Orleans and everything above, the District of Louisiana. The law also nullified or voided all Spanish land grants except "any bona-fide grant, made agreeably to the laws, usages and customs of the Spanish Government to an actual settler on the lands so granted, for himself, and for his wife and family." The law also excepted "any bona-fide act or proceeding done by an actual settler agreeably to the laws, usages and customs of the Spanish Government, to obtain a grant for lands actually settled on by the. person or persons claiming title thereto, if such settlement in either case was actually made prior to the twentieth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and three." The only proviso was that "such grant shall not secure to the grantee or his assigns more than one mile square of land, together with such other such grants. and further quantity as heretofore hath been allowed for the wife and family of such actual settler, agreeably to the laws, usages and customs of the Spanish Government."11

The following year-on March 2, 1805, President Jefferson signed "An Act for ascertaining and adjusting the titles and claims to land within the Territory of Orleans, and the District of Louisiana." Section 2 of this law declared: "That to every person, or to the legal representative or representatives of every person, who being either the head of a family, or twenty-one years of age, had prior to the twentieth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and three, with the permission of the proper Spanish officer, and in conformity with the laws, usages and customs of the Spanish Government, made an actual settlement on a tract of land within the said territories, not claimed by virtue of the preceding section, or of any Spanish or French grant made and completed before the first day of October, one thousand eight hundred, and during the time the government which made such grant had Spanish officer, the actual possession of the said territories, and who did on the said twentieth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and three, actually inhabit and cultivate the said tract of land; the tract of land thus inhabited and cultivated, shall be granted: Provided however, That not more than one tract shall be thus granted to any one person, and the same shall not contain more than one mile square, together with such other and further quantity, as heretofore has been allowed for the wife and family of such actual settler, agreeably to the laws, usages and customs of the Spanish Government: Provided also, That this donation shall not be made to any person who claims any other tract of land in the said territories by virtue of any French or Spanish grant."12

The following day--March 3, 1805--a federal law was enacted that changed the status of Upper Louisiana from "district" to "territory."13 Shortly afterward, President Jefferson appointed General James Wilkinson, one of the most controversial and duplicitous figures in American history, as governor of the territory.

Wilkinson first earned notoriety during the American Revolution by conspiring with the infamous Benedict Arnold and others to have George Washington replaced as head of the Continental Army by General Horatio Gates, whom Wilkinson served as an adjutant. After the war, he moved to Kentucky, which was then the western part of Virginia. In 1786 he founded the city of Frankfort. In 1787, during a visit to New Orleans, he allegedly became a Spanish agent and subsequently plotted to separate Kentucky not only from Virginia but also the United States and put it under Spanish dominion. During his short-lived administration of Upper Louisiana-from 1805 to 1806-Wilkinson was accused by his detractors of all manner of shady dealings, including financial malfeasance, as well as setting overly high survey fees and conspiring with former Vice-President Aaron Burr in his treasonous scheme to create a western empire.14 Remarkably, many territorial residents approved of Wilkinson, including Martin Coons, Jacob Coons, Conrad Wheat, Jr., and Jacob Wheat, all of whom signed a memorial that praised the man that many others called a traitor.15 The memorial read:

[December 27, 1805]

Understanding that reports unfavourable to Governor Wilkinson have been diligently circulated] throughout the United States, by which he is represented as unpopular and obnoxious to the People of this Territory, We the undersigned, perfectly satisfied with the Administration of our Governor, and convinced that these Reports, so unfoun[d]ed and injurious to him and ourselves, have taken their origin in a few discontented Spirits, unfortunately in Office in this Territory, in this public manner, evince our Confidence in the Governor, our Approbation of his Conduct and of his general Popularity.16

In 1806, John Coons and Nicholas Coons signed a separate but similar memorial.17

Notwithstanding these memorials, in 1807 President Jefferson replaced Wilkinson with Meriwether Lewis, his former secretary and one of the two leaders of the successful Lewis and Clark expedition, which Wilkson had allegedly attempted to undermine.

The 1805 federal land law provided further for the appointment of two commissioners, per district, "for the purpose of ascertaining within their respective districts, the rights of persons claiming under any French or Spanish titles. &c. grant as aforesaid, or under the two first sections of this act."18 Clement B. Penrose, John B. C. Lucas, and James L. Donaldson were appointed commissioners for the District of Louisiana.19

In compliance with the act of March 2, 1805, the commissioners convened (presumably in St. Louis). Soon after, Martin Coons, Sr. "produced a certificate of survey, dated February 27, 1806." Two weeks later, on March 15, 1806, another settler, Edward Roberts, testified under oath that Coons "did, prior to and on the 20th December, 1803, actually inhabit and cultivate the said tract of land; and had a wife and five children." That same day, the Board approved Coons "eleven hundred arpents of land, situate as aforesaid, provided so much be found vacant there."20

Plat maps of the era show that the acreage awarded to Martin Coons lay inside the same township and range as his uncles' property and nearly adjacent to them, one to the north (Conrad Wheat, Jr.) and the other to the south (Jacob Wheat).

Two years later, on June 20, 1808, another witness, William Cox testified under oath "that, in March, 1803, claimant [Martin Coons] improved, and constantly in habited and cultivated to this time; about eight or nine acres now in cultivation" and that in 1803, he (Martin Coons) had "a wife and five children.21


For some unexplained reason, the 1805 approval of Martin Coons' 1,100 arpent land grant did not stand. On January 4, 1811, the Board of Land Commissioners-Lucas, Penrose, and Frederick Bates, who by this time had replaced Donaldson-issued land certificate No. 567 (signed with a flourish by Penrose) to Martin Coons, Sr. which entitled him to only 300 arpents (about 255 acres) of land, rather than the much larger tract he had originally claimed. They also ordered a survey of the smaller tract to be completed. Almost a month later, on January 31, 1811, the commissioners, gave their opinion "that this claim [of Martin Coons] ought not to be granted."22 Presumably, this final decision was in reference to his original claim for 1,100 arpents, since from all appearances, he did take possession of the smaller tract and lived on it with his family.

Martin Coons land certificate

So, what did this 300 arpent, or 255-acre, land grant look like? Located in the aptly-named township of Big Prairie, it was (and still is) some of the flattest, wide open land that anyone could imagine. To reach it today, first go to New Madrid, Missouri, and then head north on U.S. Highway 61/62. Drive seventeen miles (about 20 minutes) until you reach County Road 828. Turn left on to the county road and stop. You will then be at the northeast corner of Martin Coons, Sr.'s property. This is still farmland. Conrad Wheat, Jr.'s property is just to the north and Jacob Wheat's to the south, and it all looks pretty much the same, very flat and featureless.

In the early nineteenth century, when Martin Coons and his family lived in New Madrid County, this was the very the edge of the frontier. Being newly-settled territory, there were dangers of course, not the least from Indians that understandably resented the encroachment of white people. During this time, one of Martin Coons' Big Prairie neighbors, David Trotter, was killed by Indians at his own farm. Martin's uncles, Conrad Wheat, Jr. and Jacob Wheat, were among a small group of men who unfortunately arrived too late to help Trotter.

The biggest danger though, lay hidden beneath the earth. In late 1811 and early 1812, the New Madrid district was literally rocked by a frightening series of earthquakes that damaged property, changed the landscape in unimaginable ways, and terrified the people, many of who thought that perhaps the final day of judgement had arrived. Interestingly, although no deaths were reported, the Indians believed that one of their prophets or medicine men had brought on the quakes to get rid of the white people. Although this was obviously not the reason why the earthquakes happened, it did, in some case, have the effect of making at least some white people reconsider living in New Madrid County.

The first tremor was felt on December 16, 1811, not long after Martin Coon's smaller tract had of land had been approved. Although we do not have his own version of events, the following account, from Howe's Historical Collections of the Great West provides us with some idea of what it must have been like when the ground began to shake:

This memorable earthquake, after shaking the Mississippi valley to its center, vibrated along the courses of the rivers and villages, and passing the Alleghany mountains died away along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The town of New Madrid in the southern part of Missouri, on the West bank of the Mississippi and the settlement of New Prairie some thirty miles below it, appeared to be near the center of the most violent shocks. The first occurred on the night of the 15th of December, and they were repeated at intervals for two or three months. A gentleman who resided at New Madrid a few years later, derived from eye-witnesses a full account of these disturbances which he has recorded, as follows:

From the accounts, I infer that the shock of these earthquakes must have equaled in their terrible heavings of the earth, anything of the kind that has been recorded. I do not believe that the public have ever yet had any idea of the violence of the concussions. We are accustomed to measure this by the buildings overturned, and the mortality that results. Here, the country was thinly settled. The houses, fortunately, were frail and of logs, the most difficult to overturn that could be constructed. Yet, as it was, whole tracks were plunged into the beds of the Mississippi. The graveyard at New Madrid, with all its sleeping tenants, was precipitated into the bed of the stream. Most of the houses were thrown down. Large lakes* of many miles in extent were made in an hour. Other lakes were drained. The whole country from the mouth of the Ohio in one direction, and to the St. Francis in another, including a front of three hundred miles, was convulsed to such a degree as to create lakes and islands, the number of which is not known. The trees split in the midst, lashed one with another, are still visible over great tracts of country, inclining in every direction and in every angle to the earth and the horizon. The people described the undulations of the earth as resembling waves, increasing in elevation as they advanced, and when they had attained a certain fearful height, the earth would burst, and vast volumes of water and sand and pit coal, would discharge as high as the tops of the trees. I have seen a hundred of these chasms, which remained fearfully deep, although in a very tender alluvial soil, after a lapse of seven years.

One of the lakes formed on this occasion, is sixty or seventy miles in length, and from three to twenty in breadth, and although in some places very shallow, yet in others from fifty to one hundred feet deep. In skimming over its surface in the light canoe, the voyager is struck with astonishment at beholding cane brakes covering its bottom, and immense trees standing far below Him, branchless and leafless.

Whole districts were covered with white sand, so as to become uninhabitable. The water at first covered the whole country, particularly at the Little Prairie; and indeed, it must have been a scene of horror, in these deep forests and in the gloom of the darkest night, and by wading in the water to the middle to fly from these concussions, which were occurring every few hours, with a noise equally terrible to beasts and birds as to men. The birds themselves lost all power and disposition to fly, and retreated to the bosoms of men, their fellow-sufferers in this general convulsion. A few persons sunk in these chasms and were providentially extricated. A number perished, who sunk with their boats in the Mississippi.* A bursting of the earth just below the village of New Madrid, arrested the mighty Mississippi in its course, and caused a reflux of its weaves, by which in a little time, a great number of boats were swept by the ascending current into the mouth of the Bayou, carried out, and left upon the dry earth, when the accumulating waters of the river had again cleared their current.

From the temporary check to the current, by the heavings up of the bottom, the sinking of the banks and sandbars into the bed of the stream, the river rose in a few minutes five or six feet; then as if impatient of restraint, again rushed forward as impetuous as if descending to plunge into a deep abyss. The unhappy crews of the boats near the shore, were overwhelmed, and many perished by the banks caving in upon them, and by the eddies and the whirlpools, from the counter currents.

There were a number of severe shocks, but two series of concussions w^ere particularly terrible; far more so than the rest. The shocks were clearly distinguishable into two classes: those in which the motion was horizontal, and those in which it was perpendicular. The latter were attended with the explosions, and the terrible mixture of noises that preceded and accompanied the earthquakes in a louder degree, but were by no means so desolating and destructive as the other. Then the houses crumbled, the trees waved together, the ground sunk; while ever and anon vivid flashes of lightning gleaming through the troubled clouds of night, rendered the darkness doubly horrible. After the severest shocks, a dense black cloud of vapor overshadowed the land, through which no struggling sunbeam found its way to cheer the heart of man. The sulphurated gases that were discharged during the shocks tainted the air with their noxious effluvia, and so impregnated the water of the river for one hundred and fifty miles, as to render it unfit for use. In the interval of the earthquakes, there was one evening, and that a brilliant and cloudless one, in which the Western sky was a continued glare of repeated peals of subterranean thunder, seeming to proceed as the flashes did, from below the horizon. They remark that the night so conspicuous for subterranean thunder, was the same period in which the fatal earthquakes at Caracas in South America occurred, and they seem to suppose these flashes and that event, part of the same scene.

One result from these terrific phenomena was very obvious. The people of this village had been noted for their profligacy and impiety. In the midst of those scenes of terror, all. Catholics and Protestants, praying and profane, became of one religion and partook of one feeling. Two hundred people speaking English, French, and Spanish, crowded together, their visages pale, the mothers embracing their children, - as soon as the omen that preceded the earthquakes became visible, as soon as the air became a little obscured, as though a sudden mist arose from the east, - all, in their different languages and forms; but all deeply in earnest, betook themselves to the voice of prayer. The cattle, much terrified, crowded about the people seeking to demand protection or community of danger.

The general impulse when the shocks commenced, was to run; and yet when they were at their severest point of their motion, the people were thrown on the ground at almost every step. A French gentleman told me that in escaping from his house, the largest in the village, he found he had left an infant behind, and he attempted to mount up the raised piazza to recover the child and was thrown down a dozen times in succession.

The venerable lady in whose dwelling we lodged, was extricated from the ruins of her house, having lost everything that appertained to her establish ment, which could be broken or destroyed.

The people at the Little Prairie, who suffered most, had their settlement, which consisted of a hundred families, and which was located in a rich and very deep fertile bottom, broken up. When I passed it and stopped to con- template the traces of the catastrophe which remained alter several years, the crevices where the earth had burst were sufficiently manifest, and the whole region was covered with sand to the depth of two or three feet. The surface was red with oxidized pyrites of iron, and the sand-blows, as they were called, were abundantly mixed with this kind of earth, and with pieces of pit-coal. But two families remained of the whole settlement. The object seems to have been, in the first paroxysms of alarm, to escape to the hills. The depth of water that soon covered the surface, precluded escape.

The people, without exception, were unlettered backwoodsmen, of the class least addicted to reasoning. And yet, it is remarkable, how ingeniously and conclusively they reasoned, from apprehension sharpened by fear. They observed that the chasms in the earth were in the direction from southwest to northeast, and they were of an extent to swallow up not only men but houses "down deep into the pit." And these chasms occurred frequently within intervals of half a mile. They felled the tallest trees at right angles to the chasms, and stationed themselves upon the felled trees. Meantime their cattle and their harvests, both there and at ^e\v Madrid, principally perished.

The people no longer dared to dwell in houses. They passed that winter and the succeeding one in bark booths and camps, like those of the Indians, of so light a texture as not to expose the inhabitants to danger in case of their being thrown down. Such numbers of laden boats were wrecked above on the Mississippi, and the lading driven into the eddy at the mouth of the bayou, at the village which makes the harbor, that the people were amply supplied with provision of every kind. Flour, beef, pork, bacon, butter, cheese, apples, in short everything that is carried down the river, was in such abundance, as scarcely to be matters of sale. Many boats that came safely into the bayou, were disposed of by the affrighted owners for a trifle; for the shocks continued daily; and the owners deeming the whole country below to be sunk, were glad to return to the upper country as fast as possible. In effect, a great many islands were sunk, new ones raised, and the bed of the river very much changed in every respect.

After the earthquake had moderated in violence, the country exhibited a melancholy aspect of chasms, of sand covering the earth, of trees thrown down, or lying at an angle of forty-five degrees, or split in the middle. The Little Prairie settlement was broken up. The Great Prairie settlement, one of the most flourishing before on the west bank of the Mississippi, was much diminished. New Madrid dwindled to insignificance and decay; the people trembling in their miserable hovels at the distant and melancholy rumbling of the approaching shocks


The general government passed an act allowing the inhabitants of the country to locate the same quantity of lands that they possessed here, in any part of the territory, where the lands were not yet covered by any claim. These claims passed into the hands of speculators and were never of any substantial benefit to the possessors.

When I resided there, this district, formerly so level, rich, and beautiful, had the most melancholy of all aspects of decay-the tokens of former cultivation and habitancy, which were now mementos of desolation and desertion. Large and beautiful orchards left uninclosed, houses deserted, deep chasms in the earth, obvious at frequent intervals. Such was the face of the country, although the people had for years become so accustomed to frequent and small shocks, which did no essential injury, that the lands were gradually rising again in value, and New Madrid was slowly rebuilding with frail buildings adapted to the apprehensions of the people.231

A little more than a year after the earthquakes, on June 13, 1813, President Madison signed into law "An Act allowing further time for delivering the evidence in support of claims to land in the territory of Missouri, and for regulating the donation grants therein." One of the provisions of this law, which almost certainly caught the attention of Martin Coons, stated:

That every person whose claim to a donation of a tract of land in said district has been confirmed by the board of commissioners appointed for ascertaining the rights of persons claiming lands in said district, and is embraced in their report transmitted to the Secretary of the Treasury, or which has been confirmed by recorder of land tiles, under the third section of the act entitled "An act making further provision for settling the claims to land in the Territory of Missouri," approved June 13, 1812, shall be entitled to a grant for six-hundred and forty acres, notwithstanding a less quantity shall have been allowed to him by the decision of the commissioners or recorder of land titles; Provided, That in no case shall the grant be for more land than was claimed by the party, in his notice of claim, nor for more land than is contained within the acknowledged and ascertained boundaries of the tract claimed.24

New Madrid earthquake

A little less than two years later, Congress passed an earthquake relief act, signed into law on February 17, 1815 by President James Madison, which stated:

That any person or persons owning lands in the county of New Madrid, in the Missouri territory, with the extent the said county had on the tenth day of November, one thousand eight hundred and twelve, and whose lands have been materially injured by earthquakes, shall be, and they are hereby authorized to locate the like quantity of land on any of the public lands of the said territory, the sale of which is authorized by law: Provided, That no person shall be permitted to locate a greater quantity of land under this act, than the quantity confirmed to him, except the owners of lots or ground or tracts of land of less quantity than one hundred and sixty acres, who are hereby authorized to locate and obtain any quantity of land not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres, not shall any person be entitled to locate more than six hundred and forty acres, not shall any location include any lead mine or salt spring.25

In spite of these two new laws, one of which allowed him to increase the size of his property, and the other, to replace any land that had been "injured" by earthquakes, Martin Coons and his family decided to abandon their home in Missouri and relocate. For some reason that has been lost to history, the place they chose for their new home was Jackson County, Tennessee, located about 90 miles slightly northeast of Nashville. In all likelihood, there was already some relative living in Jackson County. There, on May 27, 1816, in return for $400, Martin and his wife, Polly, signed over "all that certain tract or parcel of land containing six hundred and forty acres of land situate lying and being in the county of New Madrid and Territory of Missouri and the Township of Big Prairie and what is called the Bayou St. John below the Big Prairie which said tract of Six Hundred and forty acres of land was originally claimed before the United Bond of Commissioners for the Missouri Territory by and with the name of Martin Coonts" to their attorney, James Tanner. They also gave Tanner full power and authority "to locate on the aforesaid public land in the said Territory any quantity of land which we might have been entitled to by virtue of [an 1815 act of Congress providing relief to earthquake victims] for his own proper use benefit and behoof and that of his and his assignees forever and to sell and convey and transfer the same absolutely to any person or persons whatsoever for such price and consideration which he the said attorney may think fit also with power and authority to our said attorney to self convey and transfer to the United States or any other person authorized to receive the same injured tract of Land situate as in this instrument? aforesaid in the county of New Madrid in the Territory of Missouri in the township of Big Prairie it being the same tract of Land originally claimed before the United States Bond of Commissioners of land claims for the Missouri Territory by and in the name of Martin Coonts."26

Unfortunately, two courthouse fires, in 1872 and 1926, resulted in the loss of most early Jackson County records. Fortunately, there are some surviving federal and state records to which we can turn for information about Martin Coons, Sr. and his family.

One of these is the 1820 federal census, which shows Martin and Polly Coons resident in Jackson County, Tennessee, with one son under the age of ten, two between the ages of ten and fifteen, one sixteen to twenty-five. They also had three daughters under the age of ten, one between ten and fifteen, and two between sixteen and twenty-five, for a total of nine children, four more than they had when they first went to live in Missouri. Martin himself was indicated as being forty-five years of age or more and Polly between the ages of twenty-six and forty-four.

Tennessee tate records show that on June 20, 1824, when Martin Coons paid 12 and cents per acre for fifty acres, (a total of $6.25) located on the Skaggs branch of Jennings Creek. On November 13, 1827, he received a patent, No. 7290, for this property from the State of Tennessee, Sam Houston, Governor.27

On that same date (November 13, 1827), Martin Coons received a second patent, No. 1290, for an additional fifty acres, apparently adjacent to the first tract. As before, he paid 12 and cents per acre, this time on June 30, 1826, for a total of $6.25.28

References to Skaggs Branch and Jennings Creek in these records has led this researcher to conclude that Martin Coons' property was located somewhere south of the present-day rural community of North Springs, Tennessee, about where Skaggs Branch Road and Jennings Creek Road meet, some fourteen miles northwest of Gainesboro, the seat of Jackson County. Skaggs Branch flows northward into Jennings Creek. This is a largely undeveloped region that Martin Coons might still find familiar if he somehow come from the past to visit it today.

On January 3, 1826, Martin Coons assigned twenty-five acres of this property to one Thomas H. Wilson, for which Wilson paid one cent per acre, and was issued a Tennessee state patent, No. 2060, on May 10, 1831.29

Sometime between 1826 and 1830, Martin Coons, Sr., his wife, Polly, and also his third oldest son, Martin Jr., and daughter-in-law, Sarah Van Zandt Coons, moved north to Hamilton County, Illinois-a distance of about 250 miles. What prompted the move is unknown.

The 1830 federal census for Hamilton County, Illinois shows Martin Coons, Sr. and his wife Polly with six of their nine children still living at home: One son age five to nine, another son ten to fourteen, and one from twenty to twenty-nine. There were also three daughters: one ten to fourteen, and two fifteen to nineteen.

The 1830 federal census for Hamilton County, Illinois also listed Martin Coons, Jr., living in close proximity to his parents, with a wife and three daughters under the age of five.

Unfortunately, there are no deed records available for Hamilton County from this time period, to give us some idea of the extent of Martin Coons, Sr.'s land holdings, nor Martin, Jr.'s.

In 1840, when the federal census for Hamilton County, Illinois was taken again, Martin Coons' household included himself, age 60 to 70, wife Polly, also 60 to 70, and three males: one, age 5 to 10, the second, age 15 to 20, and the third, age 20 to 30. In addition to Polly, there was one female, age 20 to 30. Given their ages, it's unlikely that any of the youngest members of the household are Martin and Polly's children. What's far more likely is that one of his sons (although I'm not sure which one), a daughter-in-law, two grandsons are living with Martin and Polly.

Because he is not listed in the 1850 census, and was already quite old in 1840, it appears that Martin Coons, Sr. passed away sometime between 1840 and 1850. Some researchers hold that while making a trip to or from Hamilton County on a riverboat, he somehow fell overboard and drowned in the Mississippi River. They say too that his body was never recovered. While this is not implausible, I have been unable to find any primary source for this information, and unfortunately, none of the aforementioned researchers have provided one. I've searched for mention of the incident in books, public records, and newspaper archives with no luck.

Polly Coons, age 71, was listed in the 1850 census for Hamilton County. Her household included 27-year-old son Hardin or Harden Coons, and 8-year-old Harvey Coons, probably Hardin's son. Polly is not listed in the 1860 census, which indicates that she passed away, probably in Hamilton County, Illinois, sometime between 1850 and 1860


Neither Martin Coons, Sr.'s nor Polly Coons' place of burial is known.

Martin Coons, Jr.
(Abt. 1805 to Aft. 1870)

Martin Coons, Jr. was born about 1805 in New Madrid County. Louisiana Territory (presently the state of Missouri), to where his parents had emigrated two or more years earlier. This is where he lived until after the famous earthquakes of 1811-1812, after which his family relocated to Jackson County, Tennessee, about 1816, when Martin was ten or eleven years old.

About 1824, at the age of nineteen or twenty, Martin was married in Jackson County, Tennessee to Sarah Van Zandt, daughter of another area settler, John Van Zandt


In 1830 or perhaps a little earlier, Martin Coons, Jr. and his wife and three young daughters relocated to Hamilton County, Illinois. It is not known what prompted the move. This is where they stayed until 1849, or sooner, when they moved south to Johnson County, Illinois. Again, it is not known what prompted the move. This is where Martin Coons, Jr. would remain until his death in 1875.

It is generally believed that Martin Coons, Jr. and his wife, Sarah, were the parents of at least seven children, as follows:

  1. Mary (1825-1880)
  2. Delilah (1828-1865); married John I. Williams, 1849.
  3. Isaac (1840-1905)
  4. William (1842-1880)
  5. Susannah (1843)
  6. Sarah M. (1846)
  7. Hugh M. (1847-1919)

Martin L. Coons, Jr. can be found in the 1840, 1860, and 1870 federal census of Johnson County, Illinois, but not 1850. It is believed that the page of the 1850 census which his family's names were recorded has been lost or destroyed.

During the Black Hawk War of 1832, Martin Coons, Jr. served as a private in Captain James Hall's Company, 3rd Regiment, 1st Brigade, Illinois Mounted Volunteers. This company was mustered into service on May 15, 1832 and mustered out on August 13, 1832. The muster roll indicated that Martin Coons lost one bay horse valued at $53. I have been unable to find out if this company took part in any battles, or if Martin Coons was ever compensated for the loss of his horse.

During the Civil War, a Martin L. Coonce enlisted as a private and was mustered out as a sergeant in Company E, 31st Illinois Cavalry, but owing to "our" Martin's age at the beginning of the Civil War (age 60 plus), it seems more likely that the man who served was a different Martin Coons or Coonce.

In 1875, in our last known public record of Martin Coons, Jr., he took steps to have his daughter, Mary, committed to the state asylum for the insane. This is recorded in Johnson County, Illinois probate records.

Because he is not listed in the 1880 census, it is likely that Martin Coons, Jr. died sometime between 1875 and 1880. His wife, Sarah, almost certainly died sometime before 1880 also. Neither his nor her place of burial is known.

Delilah Coons

Not much is known about Delilah Coons, apart from her being a child of Martin Coons, Jr. and his wife, Sarah, and the wife of John I. Williams, who she married in Johnson County, Illinois on December 16, 1849.

Together, Delilah and her husband had the following named children:

  1. Louisa I. Williams (whose entire name, according to family lore, was Louisa Iodine Spicy Ann Susan Elizabeth Ludicy Katherine Williams), born 1850 in Illinois; married Thomas W. Jenkins in Hunt County, Texas, December 12, 1874; died Paris, Texas, 1914.
  2. Benjamin M. Williams, born 1854 in Illinois; married Sarah Jane Busby on September 20, 1877 in Hunt County, Texas; probably died in Hunt County between 1880 and 1900.
  3. Parasetta Margaret Williams, born 1855 in Illinois; married William Henry Baker, November 15, 1881 in Hunt County, Texas; died in Indian Territory, 1905.
  4. John I. Williams, Jr., born 1858 in Illinois; married Sophronia McCameron on September 12, 1878 in Hunt County, Texas; date and place of death unknown.
  5. Cornelius Washington Williams, born 1862 in Illinois; married Mary Ella Kizer on October 28, 1888, presumably in Hunt County, Texas; died in 1937 in Coleman, Texas.
  6. M
  7. artha A. Williams, born 1864 in Illinois. (No record beyond 1880 has been found.)
  8. William T. (Tecumseh?) Williams, born 1865 in Illinois. (No record after 1880.
  9. )

Sometime between the birth of John I. Williams, Jr., in November 1859, and July 11, 1860, during the time when the federal census was being taken for Hunt County, Texas, John I. Williams, Sr. and his family emigrated to Texas, where the census-taker found them, along with Delilah Williams' eighteen-year-old brother, William Coons (or Coontz, as is was spelled in the census), living in or near Greenville, the county seat.

They did not stay there very long, however. Sometime between the summer of 1860 and the birth of Cornelius W. Williamson on September 9, 1862, the Williams family returned to Johnson County, Illinois, perhaps because the Civil War had begun, and also, presumably, because they did not share the secessionist sentiments of their Texas neighbors. In any event, between 1862 and 1865, Delilah Williams gave birth to three more children (see list above), but in 1865, she died, possibly due to complications either during or immediately following the birth of her son, W. T. Williams.

Unfortunately, both the exact date of death and place of burial of Delilah Coons Williams, has been lost to history.


  1. West Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1724-1985, Ohio County Record of Wills 1777-1854, 6-7. Hereafter referred to as "Will of Conrad Wheat." Martin Coons birth year and age has been deduced from census records.
  2. A. Van Doren Honeyman, ed., Archives of the State of New Jersey, Vol. XXX, Vol. II, Calendar of Wills, 1730-1750, 285-6.
  3. Will of Conrad Wheat.
  4. This is on the word of other researchers. I have been unable to find an official record of this marriage.
  5. Jefferson County, Kentucky, Marriage Register 1, 23.
  6. alter Lowrie, ed., Documents Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States in Relation to the Public Lands, Vol. II (Washington, D.C.: Printed by Duff Green, 1834), 480.
  7. Jefferson County, Kentucky Tax Registers for 1796-1800.
  8. History of the Ohio Falls Cities and Their Counties: Vol. II (Cleveland, Ohio: L. A. Williams & Co., 1882), 400
  9. .
  10. Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, Volumes 6, 230.
  11. Clarence Edwin Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume XIII, The Territory of Louisiana-Missouri, 1803-1806 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1848), 313.
  12. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, Volume II (Boston: Little & Brown, 1853), 283-9.
  13. Peters, Vol. II, 324-9.
  14. Ibid., 331-2.
  15. See Burr's Conspiracy Exposed and General Wilkinson Vindicated Against the Slanders of His Enemies (1811).
  16. Carter, 333 & 338.
  17. Ibid., 329.
  18. Ibid., 472 & 484.
  19. Peters, Vol. II, 327
  20. .
  21. Elihu Hotchkiss Shepard, The Early History of St. Louis and Missouri (St. Louis: Southwestern Book & Publishing Company, _1870) 45.
  22. Lowrie, 480.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the Great West, Volume I (Cincinnati, Ohio: Published by Henry Howe at E. Morgan & Co.'s, 1854), 235-9.
  26. Peters, Vol. II, 814
  27. .
  28. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, Volume III (Boston: Little & Brown, 1853), 211.
  29. New Madrid County, Missouri, Deed Book 7, pp. 110-11.
  30. Middle Tennessee Land Grants Roll 108, Book 9, p. 133
  31. .
  32. Middle Tennessee Land Grants Roll 154, Book 3, p. 119.
  33. Middle Tennessee Land Grants Roll 129, Book D, p. 40.24.


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