December 17: Louisa Harrison Coffin (1871)

In the parish register entry that records the 1871 death and burial of Louisa Harrison Coffin are these words – “Mrs. Coffin gave this church its lots of ground on G Street on which the sacred edifice stands.” Almost thirty years after the gift was given, its significance was still being realized. Few other things contributed as much to the founding of Epiphany Parish as this act of generosity. With money in short supply following the financial panic of 1837, Epiphany’s founders were scrambling to find land they could afford. Out of the blue it seems, Miss Louisa Harrison stepped in and offered two city lots she owned with the provision that an Episcopal church be built upon them. The vestry wasted no time in accepting the gift and thanked Miss Harrison for “her truly Christian and munificent donation.” In 1842, Louisa Harrison was single and 27 years old. She was born in Prince George’s County, Maryland to William Dent and Mary Hutcheson Harrison. Little else is known of her early life and specifically how she came to own the G Street lots.

From the time of her gift onward, Louisa appears to have had a close connection with Epiphany. On April 10, 1845, her marriage to John Huntington Crane Coffin was the first wedding in the new church. In 1858, Louisa Coffin donated the baptismal font, which is still in use today. Most of the couple’s six children were baptized and confirmed at Epiphany. Louisa’s oldest daughter and namesake married Richard S. Chew in the church in 1870. Three months before her death, Louisa saw her granddaughter, Louisa Harrison Chew, baptized in the church. Following her death on December 17, 1871, the funeral of Louisa Harrison Coffin was held at Epiphany prior to her interment at Oak Hill Cemetery. Louisa’s youngest daughter, Helen, was the last known member of the family to be associated with Epiphany. Helen’s burial in 1937 was just five years shy of the 100th anniversary of the gift her mother made to the fledgling congregation in 1842.

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