John Coleman, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of John Coleman

JOHN COLEMAN. Nowhere could one find a life containing a greater inspiration to shoulder one's burdens and walk manfully along the narrow and often rough road of life than in that of John Coleman of Porter county, Indiana. He is not a great artist or writer, not a mighty captain of industry or financier, nor an inventor or statesman; he is now a retired farmer, who has won his success from the soil itself, who has asked favors of no man, and who has won prosperity by industry, thrift and a determination to succeed. Meeting with discouragement of every sort, he faced each disappointment and failure bravely, and when he slipped down a step in the ladder of progress, he only smiled and made up his mind that the next time he had a chance his grasp on the ladder would be but the stronger. He began at the very bottom, and now he is near the top. He has seen the great state of Indiana emerge from a wilderness, and has more than done his share toward making her the great commonwealth she is today. Perhaps the greatest gift he has brought her are his three children into whom he and his wife have instilled their own high principles of honor and integrity.

John Coleman was born in Franklin county, Pennsylvania, on the 15th of April, 1834. He is the son of John and Sarah (Menser) Coleman, who were both descended from good old German stock, and inherited from their ancestors the sturdy qualities of thrift and industry which they bequeathed to their son. They immigrated to this country at an early day, and the father, a millwright by trade, made what was reckoned a comfortable living for those days. The family was large, the children numbering eleven, namely: Alexander, Ephraim, Catherine, Elizabeth, Mary, Harriet, David, John, Nicodemus, Julia Ann and Sarah. Catherine, the eldest daughter, is now living in Winamac, Indiana. She married Thomas Shephard and is now in her eighty-eighth year.

When John Coleman was two and a half years old, in 1836, in the fall of the year, his parents migrated to Ashland county Ohio. This county had not then been in existence long, having been made by cutting off slices from a number of other counties. When young John was old enough to go to school he accompanied his older sisters and brothers to the little log cabin school house, where though they did not learn many things what they did learn they knew thoroughly. Any of them could "spell down" any child of to-day, and as for the multiplication table they could say it in their sleep. During the campaign of 1844, when President Polk was elected, young John Coleman, like most boys, was greatly excited. Whenever a political meeting was held in the vicinity of his home was eager to go. His indulgent father usually humored the lad, and swinging him up on the horse behind himself, away the two would go to hear the speeches for Polk or Clay or Birney, the antislavery candidate. Often, also, John would go with his father to the training camps, where after drill some sort of a fight usually occurred. Here it was that the boy first saw a negro, and the impression made upon him by the shiney black face, the wooly head and the protruding lips, in contrast with the ruddy complexion and straight hair of his antagonist, for a fight was in progress, is one that he has never forgotten. Perhaps the most interesting recollection which Mr. Coleman has of his boyhood is the fact that he helped to carry water for the first engine on the Fort Wayne road, that crossed the Mohican river in Ohio. They filled this engine by hand from pails of water, and little did they dream that this iron horse was to mean a total metamorphosis of condition throughout the whole country. All of John Coleman's brothers and sisters grew up into fine men and women, progressive and unafraid of work. The eldest, Alexander Coleman, built the first house in Columbia City, Indiana. He was a carpenter by trade, and walked all of the way from his home in Ohio to Indiana, carrying his tools on his back.

John Coleman was only eight years old when he began to earn his own living. Times were hard out in this new country, and although the father was not unsuccessful, yet with a family of eleven children it was necessary that each one should help. John Coleman's first venture was digging potatoes at six cents per day. He found a home with Alonzo Priest at Lakeville, Ohio, and there he lived for eleven years. Mrs. Priest proved to be the kindest of mothers and when he was ill watched over him with as great devotion as his own mother could have done. Her kindness and love made an impression on him that has never been effaced, and her influence has lasted throughout his life.

In 1856, the year of the exciting political campaign in which Buchanan and Fremont ran an exciting race for the presidential chair, John Coleman was married. His wife was Miss Ellen Case, a school teacher of Ohio. Renting a small farm, they settled down to an agricultural life, but Mrs. Coleman only lived two years. She left a little baby, Austin B., who grew into a fine man. To add to Mr. Coleman's distress, the two doctors, who had attended his wife during her illness, presented such huge bills that he was forced to give up his property in order to pay them. Five hundred dollars for medical attendance would not be considered an insignificant sum even in these days and in those times it was monstrous. Thus left without wife or home, and with the care of a child, things looked rather black to the young widower. Intensely lonely and craving companionship, he came to Indiana to visit some friends, and one day while walking through the woods his eyes fell upon a sign that read "This land for sale." He determined to purchase the property, and did so, later selling it at a profit of a thousand dollars.

In 1862 Mr. Coleman married again, choosing as his wife Miss Margaret Adams. She was born on the 7th of October, 1840, near Loudonville, Ohio, being the daughter of Edward and Esther (Sayles) Adams. Edward Adams was a well known farmer of that section of the state, and Mrs. Coleman was one of a family of eleven children, as follows: John, Alvina, David, Charles, Margaret, George, Edward, Nehemiah, William, Mary and Joseph. Like her husband, Mrs. Coleman obtained her education in a log school house, where the children sat in long rows on rough benches made of slabs, and where from the tiny windows they could look down the hill over half cleared woods that are now farms long cultivated or thriving towns. Mr. and Mrs. Coleman began their wedded life on a farm in Whitley county. It was a struggle from the beginning, for this was during the period of the Civil war, when everything was very scarce and prices were almost out of reach. The land of the farm was uncleared, but Mr. Coleman was not afraid of hard work, and with the assistance of his wife the little farm soon began to look shipshape. They discovered that they were the lucky possessors of a number of sugar maple trees, so they made some sap troughs and in the spring of the year made six hundred pounds of maple sugar. It happened that one day a soldier appeared, with a pocket full of greenbacks and others reposing in his great boots, and offered to buy Mr. Coleman out. Offering him a thousand dollars more than he had paid for it, the soldier became the owner, and Mr. Coleman moved to Porter county, where the land was new and uncleared. Here he engaged in the cattle business, on a place of forty acres. The land had never been touched by a plough and Mr. Coleman was forced to build a house of logs before he could bring his family hither. Wild game was plentiful, the woods being full of deer, wild geese, turkey and wolves. The young couple worked harder than ever, and success began to come their way. Presently Mr. Coleman found that he had enough to buy a team, and from this time forward his success was notable.

Mr. and Mrs. Coleman became the parents of three daughters, Rhoda, Abbie and Alta. Abbie, a bright, vivacious child, died at the age of fourteen, but the other two grew into noble women. They were educated in the Morrison district school, which was the best in that section. Rhoda is now the wife of Michael Callahan, an employe of the Pennsylvania. They have a fine family of energetic, ambitious boys and girls, six in number: Blanche, Blaine, Guy, Bess, Ray and Archie. Alta Coleman married Wiliam Knoll, who was employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad for a number of years, being a skilled mechanic. He has been engaged in the lumber business for some time now, owning a good saw mill, in which he is head sawyer. Mrs. Knoll is one of the most popular women in the county, her generous nature and attractive personality having won her innumerable friends. Both of the daughters live in Kouts, Indiana, while the son, Austin, lives in Remington, Indiana. His wife was Mary Dwire before her marriage. He is an energetic and progressive man, and has been in the employ of the Pennsylvania Railroad for twenty-eight years. He began his work as an operator, and for the past sixteen years has held the post of agent. His long and continuous service is a proof of his ability and of the satisfactory service he has given the company.

In his political affiliations Mr. Coleman has always been a staunch Republican, and has served for years on the election board. In addition to stock raising and farming, Mr. Coleman has devoted much of his time to bee culture and is a recognized authority on this subject. He has often had as many as fifty stands of bees at one time, and has marketed from fifteen hundred to two thousand pounds of honey in a season. He had a glass box made through which he could study the ways of the industrious little workers, and he has spent hours at a time watching with fascinated eyes the life of these insects. He is therefore in a position to give one valuable information on the subject of bees, and this information has not been garnered from a book but has been obtained at first hand.

Mr. Coleman now owns two hundred and seventy acres of fine land, but he no longer lives on the farm. In 1911 he determined to turn the active management of the farm over to some one else, and prepared to spend the later years of his life in rest. He has had a long and active career and if ever a man deserved a holiday he does. He moved into the town of Kouts and bought a charming little home. Here he and his wife are living not far from their children, surrounded by life-long friends, enjoying the good things of life. He has many happy memories of the days that are past, and we all envy him for he has witnessed an event that the world will never again see, the passing of the frontier. His life is a fair example of what may be accomplished by pluck and endurance, for the circumstances were anything but favorable. To the young men of his community, then, he should serve as an example of the best kind of success, the kind where the watchword is not "Pull," but "Push."

Source: Lewis Publishing Company. 1912. History of Porter County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests. Chicago, Illinois: Lewis Publishing Company. 881 p.
Page(s) in Source: 613-616

This biography has been transcribed exactly as it was originally published in the source. Please note that we do not provide photocopies or digital scans of biographies appearing on this website.

Biography transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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