Charles B. Coale (d. 3 January 1879), journalist, was born in Maryland, possibly in or near Bel Air, in Harford County, where he attended school, delivered newspapers, and worked in the Bond of Union and Weekly Advertiser office, run by a printer who was probably a relative. The ages he reported to census enumerators in 1850, 1860, and 1870 suggest that he was born between 1807 and 1809, and the age at death on his gravestone indicates that he was born in 1806 or 1807. The names of his parents are not known, but the Coale family included several Maryland printers and booksellers. On 14 July 1831, while temporarily residing in Washington, D.C., Coale married Julia Ann Sanford, who died on 4 December 1875. They are not known to have had any children. His mother was a Quaker, and in March 1841 Coale, who may have been a Baptist, converted to Methodism.
Coale may have been engaged in journalism as a young man, but not until November 1839 can his whereabouts can be established. In that month he and John W. Lampkin formed a partnership in Abingdon and began publishing the South-Western Virginian, of which Coale was also sometimes editor. On 4 September 1841 Coale entered a new partnership with George R. Barr, and they continued to edit and publish the weekly newspaper, later retitled the Abingdon Virginian, from then until January 1873, when they sold it. Through the paper Coale supported the Whig Party, and he took part in a variety of community affairs. In the 1850s he promoted construction of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which linked Lynchburg with Bristol on the Tennessee border and passed through Abingdon. A charter member of the McCabe Lodge No. 56, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Coale worked with it to establish Martha Washington College, in Abingdon. He served on its board of trustees from 1858 until his death, for part of that time as secretary. Coale also joined the Freemasons and promoted the building of the order's Saint John's Orphan Asylum. In addition to serving on the examining committee of nearby Emory and Henry College, he earned money publishing its catalogs, and for a time during the Civil War he sold insurance for the Lynchburg Hose and Fire Insurance Company.
Like a majority of other Washington County residents, Coale, who owned no slaves, was opposed to secession until Virginia left the Union in April 1861. His newspaper consistently thereafter supported the Confederacy, even though the people of the area had divided loyalties. The Abingdon Virginian continued to appear almost every Friday through 9 December 1864, though it occasionally missed an issue because of a lack of paper. Union forces entered Abingdon on the evening of 14 December and destroyed the newspaper's office and press. Not until after Coale and Barr received material support from Charles William Button, editor of the Lynchburg Daily Virginian, were they able to resume publication on 8 December 1865.
In the autumn of 1875 Coale won election to the House of Delegates as one of two men representing Washington County. During the campaign he recommended reducing the amount of the principal of the antebellum public debt to be paid off to an amount that the state's taxpayers could afford. Coale's two-year term was unremarkable. He sat on the relatively inconsequential Committees on Printing and on Retrenchment and Economy. He introduced an unsuccessful bill to incorporate the Abingdon fire department and a successful bill to amend a section of the town's charter. Coale failed to win a second term in 1877.
Having published a weekly newspaper for more than thirty years, an unusually long time in a relatively small city, Coale resumed his connection with journalism three years after selling his interest in the Abingdon Virginian. He joined forces with Findlay Harris in 1876 to begin another newspaper in Abingdon, the Standard. Between December 1869 and March 1870 Coale published a series of fifteen personal reminiscences in the Abingdon Virginian and the Bel Air Aegis and Intelligencer. In 1878 he completed and published The Life and Adventures of Wilburn Waters, the Famous Hunter and Trapper of White Top Mountain, a biography of a legendary character from the early, formative years of southwestern Virginia.
Charles B. Coale died near the town of Emory in Washington County on 3 January 1879 and was buried in Sinking Spring Cemetery, in Abingdon. No copies of local newspapers survive from the time of his death to give a fully informed assessment of his long career in Abingdon. The inventory of his personal estate compiled several months after his death identified no property other than his library of 361 books.
Contributed by Robert J. Vejnar, II
This biography, with a bibliographical note, appears in John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1998– ), 3:315–316.
Copyright 2006 by the Library of Virginia. All rights reserved.