Cornwall Borough resident Bruce Chadbourne moved to Cornwall Manor a few years ago after his retirement, drawn by the history of the mine and the Cornwall Iron Furnace. He has taken to writing a few historical articles, which he’s kindly shared with LebTown for our readers to enjoy in a semi-regular series titled, “Who knew?” We hope you enjoy.
Some readers are very familiar with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s charming novel “Anne of Green Gables,” great summertime reading, and made into movies, sequels and mini-series. When it had been published in 1908, another quite unfinished story of a very real Anne (also spelled with an “e”) continued to unfold in the same era, though not on Prince Edward Island, but with roots that began in Cornwall, Pennsylvania. Her early years are reminiscent of the precocious and self-proclaimed romantic Anne Shirley. To set the stage of this remarkable story, imagine the latter exaggerating with great passion (and with Marilla Cuthbert rolling her eyes) this scene at the close of long life of Anne Coleman Rogers…
“The 52-year-old president bid farewell to his dear old friend Mrs. Rogers and made his way out of Crumwold Hall to the waiting limousine and his wife Eleanor Roosevelt. Returning to his own Hyde Park estate, he had said his good-byes to his ailing neighbor, the sweet, caring lady of the mansion…”
Born Anne Caroline Coleman in Cornwall, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 27, 1858, the elderly woman rested peacefully in her remaining hours, occupying the same room where she had said goodbye to her own mother Susan Ellen Habersham Coleman in 1892. Likewise, she cared for her only brother Robert H. Coleman for six months, who suffered stomach cancer before dying in 1930. She died at age 75, March 2, 1934, in her Hyde Park mansion.
Anne’s Family Tree
“Anne Caroline Coleman” seems a common name for this uncommon woman, whose life and ancestry touched many facets of American history from the 18th to the 20th century. Tradition in the Coleman family repeated names like Robert, Anne, William, Margaret, Sarah, and Edward, across the generations ever since the family founder, her great-grandfather Robert Coleman married Anne Caroline Old in 1773.
The following simplified family tree may untangle this confusing assortment of Anne Carolines: Our Anne had a close cousin in the Freeman line by the same name. Then, her aunt, builder of Cornwall’s Alden Villa, was also Anne Caroline Coleman before marrying Capt. Bradford Alden of the Mayflower Alden line. And her great Aunt Anne Caroline Coleman was sister to Thomas Bird Coleman, both offspring of the Robert and Anne Caroline (Old) Coleman. Our Anne’s brother Robert later honored her by naming his only daughter, her niece, Anne Caroline Coleman.
Confusing possibly to bystanders like us, but not to the memory of this woman who lay dying in the last days of a New York winter early in March of 1934.
Anne Caroline Coleman’s own descendants have described her as the family historian. One might imagine, as she lay there in her final hours that she reflected on the long history of Coleman influence in the birth and growth of America. The first Robert Coleman arriving from Ireland as a teenager became a clerk in Philadelphia to men in the circle of Benjamin Franklin. To these he demonstrated his business acumen and trustworthiness, found his way into the iron business and in time rose to greatness as Pennsylvania’s first millionaire.
Later, he is said to have given counsel to President George Washington on the wisdom in running for a second term, and himself almost elected as U. S. Senator in 1793. He served as a judge in Lancaster. A visitor to Robert Coleman’s death bed in 1825 was the Marquis de Lafayette who wished to honor “the aged patriot and revolutionary officer, Robert Coleman.”
Retired from the iron business, Robert Coleman was still reigned as family patriarch when in 1819 a lawyer named James Buchanan became engaged to his daughter Anne Caroline. The well-known tragic story of their strained relationship ended in her mysterious death. Robert Coleman denied Buchanan, who later became our nation’s only “bachelor president,” the privilege of attending her funeral.
Scarcely a year later Anne’s sister Sarah nearly became engaged to Rev. Wm. Augustus Muhlenberg, distinguished young pastor of the St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster. Robert Coleman, a staunch pillar and churchwarden, engaged Muhlenberg in a power struggle over church affairs (Muhlenberg advocated starting a Wednesday evening service, which Coleman opposed). Coleman consequently forbade the relationship with his daughter.
In 1825 Muhlenberg won the church battle, and Coleman had died but not before stipulating in his will that Sarah’s trust fund and marriage must be approved by her brothers. She fled to her sister Margaret’s home in Philadelphia, and later died in the same mysterious manner as her sister. Edward, her brother, saw to it that Muhlenberg was removed from the pulpit of St. James. Muhlenberg lived on to a celebrated career.
But our Anne’s thoughts were more likely focused on her own happy memories, like those of young childhood visits to her mother’s family homestead in Savannah, Georgia. And what circumstances connected our quaint Cornwall to Savannah?
The year after her great-grandfather’s death, Anne’s father, William Coleman, was born in 1826 at the Coleman estate in Colebrook, where her grandfather Thomas Bird Coleman resided. Soon after, Thomas acquired the rights to the Cornwall Furnace and moved into the Cornwall Estate (now Cornwall Manor) after 1830. His sons William and his older brother Robert W. became young heirs when Thomas died in 1836; Robert W. attained his majority in 1845 with 19-year-old William at his side.
With economic forces depressing the iron market, family adviser Samuel Small of York, Pennsylvania, encouraged William Coleman to travel south to Savannah in search of trading opportunities. Savannah, serving as the shipping conduit to the northern states, had plenty of southern cotton but needed northern iron. There William met Susan Ellen Habersham, married in June 1855 and returned to the north by the end of the year. They lived with bachelor brother Robert W. in the Cornwall (now “Buckingham”) mansion for some time and by 1858 had moved to “The Cottage,” their home in Cornwall center.
Soon she was pregnant with Robert H. Coleman, and the following January she traveled back to the warmer climate of Savannah, giving birth on March 27, 1856. It became “Sue Ellen’s” custom to return to the north in the late spring and back to her extended Habersham family after the year-end holidays. Consequently, our Anne Caroline Coleman, conceived in January, was born in Cornwall on Oct. 27, 1858. When the ”War of the Rebellion” (Civil War) began in 1861 the family would not visit the South again until 1866.
It certainly bears mentioning that Anne’s mother Susan Ellen Habersham brought her own distinguished ancestry to the Coleman marriage. Her great-grandfather James Habersham arrived in Savannah Georgia in 1740 (the same early years of our Cornwall Mine), as a missionary from England in the company of the famous evangelist Rev. George Whitefield; serving in the same region as missionary John Wesley, “father of Methodism,” had a few years before. Having served as president of Whitefield’s Bethesda Orphans’ Home, James’ work was recognized and his role in the colony expanded, ultimately to serving as Governor of the Georgia colony.
He established a commercial house and exported the colony’s first bale of cotton. His first son, James rose to become Speaker of the Georgia Legislature. The family had switched from being royalists to patriots, aiding the fight for Independence. The Habersham name is recognized in the provincial congress of 1775.
James’ second son Joseph, who raided the Royal magazine to provide gunpowder to the colonists, was Sue Ellen’s paternal grandfather. He rose to become Washington’s third Postmaster General in 1795. By her father’s third marriage to Mary Butler Habersham, Sue Ellen’s maternal grandfather was James’ third son John, who also distinguished himself in the Continental Army and later served in many civilian posts in Savannah and Augusta. Her father Robert is described as an “eminent merchant who held high office in the church,” Savannah’s 290-year-old Christ Church, founded 1733 with the establishment of the colony.
A much more detailed history of this illustrious Southern family can be enjoyed in Bulloch’s exhaustive A History and Genealogy of the Habersham Family (1901).
“Our” Anne’s thoughts were probably of warm childhood winters in Savannah, summers in Cornwall, travel to the south by train and steamer, and even memories of carriage rides and skating parties in Central Park of – yes, New York City.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!
Ideas for future history stories? Let us know here.
Do you want to read more stories like this?
If you want to see LebTown continue and expand its history reporting, consider joining LebTown as a member. Your support will go directly towards stories like this and you will be helping ensure that our community has a reliable news source for years to come.
Learn more about membership and join now here.