The story of John and Affra and their plantation, Comingtee, is included in Lost Charleston.
John Coming (d. Nov. 1, 1695; will dated Aug. 20, 1694) was born into a family of modest means from Devon, England. He worked as a mariner aboard the Carolina, making frequent trips across the Atlantic carrying passengers and cargo bound for the new Carolina colony. On the trip carrying the first permanent English settlers to Carolina in 1669 he met his future bride.
Affra Harleston (c. 1640s-1699) was born into an affluent landed family from Essex whose fortunes fell on hard times following the English civil wars of the mid-17th century. Supporters of the unfortunate Charles I, the family moved to Ireland to escape Oliver Cromwell’s wrath after Charles’ beheading. Affra was probably born there in the mid-to-late 1640s; some sources say 1651. For unknown reasons, she boarded the Carolina during its first stop in Ireland seeking a new beginning. Some sources say she traveled alone, others that she traveled with her brother Charles. If indeed Charles did travel with her, he did not stay long in the Carolinas and returned to Barbados.
John and Affra met and fell in love during the voyage, which was a harrowing one with severe weather that caused Affra to declare she would never cross the ocean again. Some say they were married aboard the ship, though that seems unlikely, as she came aboard as an indentured servant, i.e., a passenger who agrees to become a servant for a defined period of time in return for payment for her passage and a grant of land after her service. Perhaps the couple was “unofficially” married on board, then “officially” reaffirmed their vows after her two years of service were up in 1672.
Affra was undoubtedly of stalwart character, as she carved out a successful life among the first permanent settlers while John continued his maritime career abroad, becoming Captain of first the Edisto and then the Blessing. She survived epidemics and sometimes hostile natives, cleared land, built housing and supporting structures, and managed their several properties until John retired about a decade later.
Though he was still traveling, John began planning for their life together in the Charles Town colony in 1671. Under the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, a free man was granted 150 acres of land for every laborer he brought to the colony. John returned later that year with six indentured servants – five men and one woman – and was awarded 900 acres. In 1675, John was granted, along with another settler, Henry Hughes, 133 acres that today comprise most of Charleston’s historic peninsula. The Comings and Hughes donated half of their holdings on the peninsula for the new city of Charles Town when it moved from Albemarle Point around 1680.
In February 1678, the Comings received a large grant of land in the area where the east and west branches of the Cooper River fork, today part of Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Preserve. This plantation they called Coming’s T, presumably because of the T shape of the fork. Over time its name has been modified with different variations and spellings, and today is most often referred to as Comingtee.
A descendent of the Ball, Harleston and Coming families Edward Ball writes in his book, Slaves in the Family, (1998): “I suspect John and Affra were struck by the fecundity of the swamps, the draperies of moss, the tree canopies and the abundance of game. There were alligators and rattlesnakes, bobcats, and an occasional bear – but there was also easy food for the table, including deer, duck, and possum.”
John eventually retired from his life and returned to Affra in Charlestown, where he remained until his death in 1695. Though married for 25 years, the couple never had children of their own. Instead they sponsored a number of young friends and relatives on voyages to join them in Charleston and took in at least one local orphan if not more, so the house at Comingtee was always full. John was eventually named to Charles Town’s Grand Council.
Affra’s letters to her family in 1696 describe her grief and sense of loss after John’s death. John left everything he had to Affra in his will, dated Aug. 20, 1694. She moved from Comingtee to Charles Town and built a house at the corner of Wentworth and St. Philips streets. On Dec. 10, 1698, Affra donated 17 acres of land south of George Street to St. Philips Church, known as the “Glebe Lands,” or lands belonging to the church.
Affra’s will, dated Dec. 28, 1698, perhaps the date of her death, divided the remaining estate between her nephew, John Harleston, and her husband’s half-nephew, Elias Ball. Author Edward Ball references a letter in which Affra said that John had intended to leave part of their estate to his half-brother William Ball. William, however, was by this time in his 30s and well established in England as a tailor. For whatever reason, he chose not to pull up stakes and move to Charlestown, thus Affra passed the second half of the inheritance to his son Elias Ball.
It is believed that John and Affra are buried in unmarked graves at Comingtee.
The family holdings were reconsolidated when Elias Ball married John Harleston’s sister, Elizabeth. It is through their union that John and Affra Coming’s legacy lives on as evidenced by such place names as the Harleston Village neighborhood and Coming Street, which runs north/south one block east of Glebe Street.