Hugh & Elizabeth Coyan

"My 4th great-grandparents"

Hugh Coyan (1789-after 1860) was born, according to the 1850 and 1860 Jackson county, Ohio census in Maryland in ca. 1790. A record I found in the book "Saint James Parish Register 1787-1815" by Bill Reamy, at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, hints that Hugh may have been born in Harford county, Maryland on September 12, 1789, the son of "Edward and Sarah Cowin" and was christened at the St. James Episcopal Parish.

At this point, the spelling does not bother  me as I am confident the original spelling of my name was not Coyan anyway (I believe it was changed by Edward sometime in the early 1800's while the family was in Washington county, PA - not at all uncommon during that period). Obviously, much research at the Maryland state archives will be needed to hopefully confirm this birth record.

The earliest confirmed record of Hugh appears in 1811 when I uncovered the Washington county, PA tax lists on St. Patrick's Day (how ironic) in 1998. Hugh showed up as a "single freeman". By definition, a single freeman was an unmarried male, at least age 21 - another hint to Hugh's birthdate in the 1789-90 timeframe. Hugh and his father Edward had "vanished" from Washington county records by 1812 (could the War of 1812 had something to do with this???).

There is a 9 year "gap" for records  on Hugh, but while at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh on my next trip there in 1998, I uncovered a reference to Hugh in Beaver county, PA tax records for 1820. At the Beaver county branch of the Carnegie Library I found the tax records for Hugh in Hopewell township of Beaver county from 1820 thru 1823 (I'll scan these later and post them).

Three things to note at this point are that: (1) Hugh and his wife Elizabeth's only son William Coyan was born January 6, 1821, (2) no 1820 U.S. census record for Hugh appeared to exist - always a puzzling thing for me given that Hugh was 30 years old and most likely a "Head of household" and (3) previous research had left us all clueless as to Elizabeth's maiden name. With that in mind, one document that I "stumbled" across in Beaver county Prothonotary court (PA's equivalent of civil court) sheds many clues to some possible answers on these 3  items.

In October, 1820, a Daniel Morgan brought a land dispute to Beaver county court against "Hugh Coin and William McDonald". The document, too poor in quality to scan and  post here, hints that Hugh was occupying this land that William McDonald "thought" he had clear title to (land disputes were VERY common in that time). Further research showed me that William McDonald had clear title to 160 acres that adjoined the disputed land on the Ohio River near present day Alliquippa, Pennsylvania.

My first thoughts were: Why would William McDonald (whom I have confirmed to be about 20 years older than Hugh) "go to bat" in court for Hugh?? People just don't risk themselves in court like that unless there is a FAMILY connection. Could it be that Hugh's wife Elizabeth, now 5-6 months pregnant with their son William, was the DAUGHTER of William McDonald?? I strongly suspect so and I have additional info that hints it as well, but I have yet to "prove" it .

I'll note here that William McDonald was one of the sons of John McDonald,  a Scotch-Irishman, one of the original pioneer settlers of Washington county, PA, a Revolutionary War veteran, and one of the wealthiest land owners of Washington county at the time. John McDonald's will is very interesting reading and gives quite a bit of insight into the family. Note that William must have been somewhat of a "character"!

After finding this document, I became curious about a U.S. census record for Hugh in 1820. Why didn't his name appear in the alphabetical index for PA in 1820? I (and others) had looked for COYAN, COIN, COYN, etc, with no luck. When I found William McDonald's U.S. census record for 1820, I made a startling discovery - the next entry is my gggg-grandfather Hugh!! The census taker who wrote the entry makes it appear to be spelled CAIN - no wonder we had not found Hugh's census record - sure enough, when I went to the 1820 index, there was "Hugh Cain", in Hopewell township. I have seen this several times, where the person who transcribed the census record while compiling an "index" misread letters in a name - an "O" mistaken for an "A" is especially common. 

The next "appearance" of Hugh Coyan is in the 1830 census, where he shows up in Allegheny county, PA. The record shows one child, a male age 10-15 (obviously son William). One puzzling thing is that there is an older female, between 60 & 70 years old, residing with Hugh and Elizabeth. Could this be Hugh's mother Sarah?? We will probably never know...

Hugh and family are present again in the 1840 U.S. census in Moon township of Allegheny county. In the household are a male younger than age 5 (certainly my gg-grandfather Jackson Coyan, born in January 1840), a male age 20-30 (William), a female age 20-30 (William's wife Elizabeth) and a female age 40-50 (Hugh's wife Elizabeth).

At this point I'll note that there are NO land records for Hugh Coyan in Beaver, Washington, or Allegheny counties up to the point that they moved to Jackson county, Ohio  - which confirms to me that he, just like his father Edward (whom no land deeds exist for either) was just a poor farmer trying to make ends meet and feed his family, like most other people in that era.

Between the spring/summer of 1840 (when the census was taken) and the spring of 1842 (when William and Elizabeth's 2nd child, Hugh John, was born in Jackson, Ohio) Hugh and Elizabeth decided to move to Jackson, Ohio. I have studied the 1850 Jackson, Ohio census as well as the 1840 census for Moon Twp., Allegheny county, PA. and one thing I find striking is that MANY OF THE SAME MEN APPEAR IN BOTH CENSUS- so it is my guess that quite a few of the Allegheny county folks from Moon Twp. decided to come to Jackson, Ohio - Hugh and Elizabeth were probably just following "friends"after they had gotten word back from those who had already ventured West.

In the spring of 1844, they came down the Ohio River, settled and later purchased 40 acres of land in Scioto township of Jackson county. The curious thing to note on this deed is that "HUGH's NAME IS NOT ON IT! It appears that Hugh's wife Elizabeth and son William became co-owners of this 40 acres. A couple of possibilities exist here: (1) Maybe Hugh had become "incompetent" due to a stroke (although I would note that he had made the trip from PA. just a couple of years prior and was still alive in the 1860 census, so I don't personally believe this is the case). My theory is that Hugh's wife Elizabeth had come into an inheritance and thus the family now had the money to by some land.

My reason for believing that Elizabeth had received an inheritance is simple and logical - and to date I have found nothing to dispute it and several records that only confirm it. Remember William McDonald? It turns out that he is still alive in the 1840 PA census. I do NOT find him in the 1850 Pennsylvania census - reasonable assumption - he has passed away, since he would have been in his 70's.

It just so happens that I am in possession of a Beaver county deed record whereby John McDonald (again, William's father) had set aside land for William in that county in the early 1800's. That land was to be given to William's CHILDREN upon his (William's) death!! Coincidence - perhaps - but I think not. In truth, we may never know, since William McDonald left no will or intestate record in Beaver county upon his death.  Hopefully, more deed research in Beaver county will answer the question. For now, my belief is that Elizabeth's "share" of the money for this Pennsylvania land is what allowed them to purchase the Jackson county, Ohio farm.

Another question that bothered me for years was "how did the family get from Allegheny county, PA, to Jackson county, Ohio?? I felt that the 2 most likely scenarios were that Hugh and Elizabeth either took a land route via the National Road, which headed due west from Washington, PA., into Zanesville, OH., and then on to Columbus, Ohio. They could have then taken a "road" south from either of those 2 places into Chillicothe (the first capital of Ohio and still a prominent city at the time) and then onto Jackson.

However, it was always my belief that the family took a boat from Pittsburgh down the Ohio River and on to most likely Gallipolis or Portsmouth, Ohio (both bustling river towns at the time and each only 30-40 miles from Jackson county). Why did I believe this? Because Hugh Coyan had a brother, William Theaker Coyan, who was the only son of Edward & Sarah Coyan to stay his entire life in Pennsylvania. It just so happens that one of the documented (I'll post it soon) occupations of William T. Coyan was as a RIVERBOAT CAPTAIN!!

In July, 1999, my "suspicions" were confirmed when I attended the estate auction of my distant cousin Chester Coyan in Bourbon county, Kansas, and had the opportunity to meet Chester's nieces and nephews. A few days after I returned to Ohio, JoAnn Coyan called me and said "I have a piece of glassware in my china cabinet  with a note in it that I want to read to you".

The note had been hand-written by her husband Conley's grandfather, Fernando Coyan, in the 1957. The note stated that "My great-grandmother Coyan carried this pitcher in the bosom of her dress on the boat from Pennsylvania to Ohio".

I nearly dropped the phone as it occurred to me who this lady was - my gggg-grandmother Elizabeth Coyan (Hugh's wife)!!!  What is striking is that if this pitcher was THAT important that she personally carried it with her, then could it be that it had been passed down to her by her mother, grandmother, or Hugh's mother/grandmother.

Could it be that piece of glass came out of Maryland with the family in the 1700's!! According to Fernando Coyan, who wrote the note, it was over 200 years old in 1957! I hope that Conley and Joan can at some point have this pitcher "dated" as to when it could have been manufactured... Here is a picture of that pitcher

More later!!