Filson Family Farm

Filson Family Farm

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Martin Van Buren Coplen and Sarah Severns Coplen (Coplen/Copeland lineage)

Martin Van Buren Copeland (Coplen) was born on November 17, 1836 in Coshocton County, Ohio, to James Copeland and Betsy Horton Copeland. Martin was named after President Martin Van Buren, as Martin Van Buren was just elected as the 8th President of the United States in the same year of Martin’s birth. Additionally, his father James was an avid Democratic Party supporter.

Martin Van Buren Copeland (Coplen) late 1800s
Filson Family Private Photo Collection
Martin or “Van” as many called him, was raised on an Ohio farm along with ten brothers and sisters. His family and the Severns family were lifelong friends, and soon Martin fell in love with Sarah E. Severns, who lived down the road. In 1858 at the age of 22, Martin married Sarah, age 21. Sarah was born in 1837 and was the daughter of William Severns and Hannah Treadway Severns.

Coshocton County, Ohio Marriage Records 1858, Family Search.Org
By 1860 many other Coplen family members from Coshocton County, Ohio relocated to Fulton County, Indiana, along with other families such as the Meredith and Severns families.

If you recall from my previous writings, Martin’s Uncle Asa Coplen moved to Fulton County, Indiana in 1840 and established the little town of Bloomingsburg, Indiana. Today the tiny town is known as Talma, Indiana. During this time, many of the Coplen family members modified their name from Copeland to Coplen. It was not uncommon for a regional accent to modify the sound of a name and because many pronounced Copeland as Coplen, the family members started to use the phonetic spelling.

In 1858 Martin and Sarah gave birth to their first son, Wilson. In 1860, they packed up the wagon and took the thirteen-day journey across the Ohio Valley and into the timberland of Indiana.

When the Civil War began in 1861, many men in Fulton County volunteered. Martin was not asked to serve, so he was able to stay home. In 1863 he registered under the guidelines of the mandatory draft, but once again, was never called upon.

Over time, Martin purchased 370 acres of land from his Uncle Asa among others, and began to clear the lumber and cultivate profitable farmland. The dense forest was covered with tall timber of beech, walnut, oak and ash trees. The first thing they did was build a small cabin for temporary shelter until they were able to build a larger house. They would employ neighborhood men for 50 cents a day to help construction the house along with a barn and other utility buildings.

New Castle Township, Fulton County, Indiana 1880s
1883 A.L. Kingman Combination Atlas Map of Fulton County, Indiana
Wild game of deer, turkey and squirrel was plentiful and kept them full. They would plant the spring crops and buy from the neighbors what they needed until the next season.

Martin became a prominent farmer and cattleman. In 1867 he and Sarah gave birth to Elmer, my great grandfather. He was to be their last child, but in 1879 they adopted the daughter of a friend, Rosa A. Emmons, who was 14 years old at the time. Sarah was happy to have a female to help around the house and Rosa soon became a member of the family.

In 1873 Martin donated a section of land to build the Bloomingsburg Disciple Church. The church was located a quarter-mile out of town, across the Tippecanoe River, next to a bridge he helped build. It was a rectangular building with a high belfry and a large iron bell which would ring throughout the town. It was white with four large glass windows on each side. The interior walls were papered and surrounded rows of unvarnished pews with slate backing. Three isles divided the room into two columns of seating and there were two wood stoves, one on each side of the congregation. In the front of the church stood the pulpit which held a large Bible ready for the Sunday Sermon. To the left of the pulpit were seats for the choir and a beautiful Reed Organ. To the right of the pulpit, seats for the elders which Martin was one of. The large churchyard was surrounded with hitching posts to place the horses during church service. Since then, the name of the church has changed, and the building has suffered some damage from tornadoes. Today, the Talma Grace Bible Church stands on this piece of land. Up to the 1960’s, the church baptized their members in the Tippecanoe River across the road.

Bloomingsburg Disciple Church, 1880s,
Fulton County Historical Society Photo Collection
Martin was an honest and resourceful man, evident by the ventures he took in his lifetime.Besides running a farm and raising cattle, he was the owner of a saw mill and grist mill. He was also the County Commissioner for the Third District from 1885 to 1887, running on the Democratic ticket.

The Rochester Indiana Newspaper dated Wednesday, December 7, 1887 wrote that during his term as Commissioner, he ”…proved himself to be a careful, painstaking and safe man for the responsible position which he held. A dollar never went out of the county treasury by direction of the Board to Commissioners without Mr. Coplen being fully advised as to the benefit of the expenditure and this degree of carefulness and strict fidelity to the taxpayer’s interest was exercised at all times, even though at times he knew a faithful discharge of his duty would make him no friends. Every man who had business with the Board of Commissioners while Mr. Coplen was president will always honor him for his unswerving advocacy of the best interest of the county and the people, and his record is one to which the party that placed him in office can point with pride."

During his term, Martin and the Democratic management of the county added ventilation and heating to the County Asylum, built iron or substantial wood bridges over the rivers and small streams at every point travel demanded, and added an iron fence and a stone walkway around the courthouse. The county was out of debt and had a considerable fund of money on hand towards building a new jail and improving drainage. The article continued, "Mr. Coplen discharged his duties to the satisfaction of his constituents and is duly credited as being an honorable official."

Growing older, in 1892 Martin purchased a sawmill from Otis B. Holman and a year later, a gristmill from Dr. Newton J. Clymer on 7 acres of land between the Tippecanoe River and Talma.   The grist mill was a three story structure painted red with white trim. It was built high to sit on wooden pilings over the mill race. The water from a dam upstream would rush by the mill and turn the wheel to grind the wheat into flour. Elevators would then carry the flour up the floors above to be sifted and stored. Martin could be seen late in the day in his white overalls, white from the dust of the flour. He turned the mill into a successful venture, shipping flour as far as Liverpool, England. He sold the mill in 1900, and it was still in operation until heavy winds blew off the top in 1908.

Bloomingsburg Saw Mill as seen before purchased by Martin.
1883 A.L. Kingman Combination Atlas Map of Fulton County, Indiana

Bloomingsburg Grist Mill 1880s
Fulton County Folks, Volume 2, Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historical Society
Martin is mentioned in the Pictorial Story of America, by Elia W Peattie, Published 1896, the author writes:

Martin Van Buren Copeland [Coplen] farmer and miller of Bloomingsburg belongs to the class of representative American citizens who promote the public welfare while advancing individual prosperity…”

Martin died January 3, 1916 of a stroke, leaving behind a wife and two grown sons. A year earlier Martin and Sarah decided to sell the Talma farm and move to Argos, Indiana to live with their son Wilson and his wife Ellen Burkett Coplen. Upon Martin’s death it was of the utmost importance to Sarah that all of her husband’s debts be paid to keep their family’s reputation for honesty intact.

Sarah could not read or write, as was evident by the mark she made on Martin’s death records.  Martin left enough land in Marshall County to help Sarah live the rest of her life in a comfortable manner. She was the woman by the side of my Great Grandma Frances, to bring my Grandma Grace into this world, along with her other siblings. She loved basket weaving, having won first place in a fair and was a very religious woman. 
Sarah Severns Coplen late 1800s
Filson Family Private Photo Collection
Both Martin and Sarah were laid to rest in Reichter Cemetery in Fulton County, Indiana.

Filson Family Private Photo Collection

(1) There are two Sarah Severns Coplens' that resided in Fulton County during the 1800s. The other was the wife of Isaac Coplen and should not be confused with this Sarah.