Whatever happened to Mary Jane Hoffstatter?



Farming was the most common occupation  for  the Huffstutter family for centuries and  as far back as we can trace. So I am delighted to tell you our most recent discovery of  a branch of the family who for several generations were members of the cooper trade.  They were a dynasty of  barrel makers.

This discovery that a Hoffstatter was connected to the cooper trade was made by Molloy family researcher Margaret Schweda  related to the Huffstutter family through a marriage several generations back.  Margaret is the great-grand niece of Douglas Giffin who married  Annie Molloy and  Margaret’s great grandmother, Margaret Molloy Nee (1863-1921), was Annie’s sister.

Margaret Schweda found that Douglas Giffin was the son of Isaac Giffen and Mary Jane Hoffstatter.   Examining her discovery Margaret thought it very likely that Isaac Giffen’s wife Mary Jane Hoffstatter was the grand-daughter of Mathew Hoffstatter son of Ulrich Huffstutter.   Accordingly she e-mailed  the Huffstutter Family website and offered to share the Giffin family research.

Up until this time Mary Jane Hoffstatter was a mystery in our family database.  Her line had not been traced and very little was known about her other than the fact she was born about 1826 in Ohio the daughter of John Hoffstatter and Sarah Taylor.  Going over Margaret’s excellent documentation Ray and I  heartily agreed with her conclusions.  Thanks to the efforts of Margaret Schweda we have a complete picture of Mary Jane Hoffstatter [I 944] and her descendants who were coopers.

What is a cooper?

A cooper is a craftsman who builds wooden slatted containers such as barrels, buckets,  or butter churns. There are different kinds of coopers. Although all are referred to by the term cooper, individually they are craftsmen with varying levels of skill, who produce specific containers for use in the home as well as business. For centuries no one could move or store  commodities on land or sea without something functional, strong and dependable to put them in and wooden barrels were the best way to accomplish it.  A skilled cooper was as necessary to any community as a blacksmith.

The “aristocracy” of the cooper world are the most highly skilled called “tight coopers”.  Often referred to as a “Master Cooper”, the casks they produced were designed to keep moisture out for a long storage period. Working with oak wood their casks hold important  items such as gunpowder, flour or whiskey.  The Giffins were Master Coopers.

Mary Jane Hoffstatter’s  family

Mary Jane’s husband, Isaac Giffen, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio where Giffins were among the earliest settlers.  Located on the Ohio River, Cincinnati quickly grew into a major shipping and transportation center.   The variety of goods passing through the city economically demanded active communities of skilled craftsmen whose services were required for commerce both overland and on the river.  This offered .Isaac Giffin the opportunity to learn his craft of cooperage  by serving a long apprenticeship.   As a young man he followed the river traffic along the Ohio River and up the Mississippi River honing his skills as  he journeyed westward. By the time he met Mary Jane Hoffstatter he was a “Master Cooper”, skilled in all types of cooperage.

They were married in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois 4 May 1844.  This was during a very historic era in Nauvoo history.  The Mormons under the leadership of their founder Joseph Smith had settled in Nauvoo about 1840.  There is no evidence that Isaac and Mary Jane were Mormon but at the time of their marriage the Nauvoo Mormon community was  embroiled in disputes with their non-Mormon neighbors.  These conflicts led to the murder of Joseph Smith by an angry mob on 27 June 1844 a little over one month after Isaac and Mary Jane’s wedding. The violence and harassment caused the Mormons under the leadership of Brigham Young  to move west and eventually settle in Utah.  It is easy to imagine that some of the items on that wagon train were contained in barrels and casks made by Isaac Giffen.

Mary Jane and Isaac settled in  Keokuk, Lee County, Iowa  located on the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers directly across from Nauvoo, Illinois.  Keokuk was a major center for outfitting Mormon travelers for the trail to Utah and coopers skills and products were in great demand. The Giffins operated a successful cooperage, remaining in Keokuk the rest of their lives and producing 11 children.  At least four of their sons (James W., John, Douglas, and George) became Master Coopers  and one of their daughters Amanda A. married William M. Lucas, a cooper.

Unfortunately, during the lifetime of the sons the need for cooperage declined and wood barrels were replaced by metal, cardboard and plastic.  But the romance and long history of their craft can be admired and happily included as a chapter in the Huffstutter family saga.

 Connie Graves

30 September 2013