A view of Beaufort in the 1860's-from NC Collections, UNC Library, Chapel Hill, NC
Jane Augusta McKinney Coues, known as “Jeannie” to her family and friends, was the wife of Dr. Elliott Coues, the
surgeon and a renowned naturalist who was assigned to Fort Macon Fort in February, 1869. Initially, their living quarters were inside one of the Fort casemates. During their 20 months stay at Macon , Jeannie corresponded frequently with her sister Louise. Here are some excerpts from those letters: Fort Macon
“…I don’t know how to describe
so that you will get my idea of it. It is built on a little island two miles out from the mainland. It is in the form of a hollow pentagon, and has a moat and a drawbridge. On the ramparts are cannons commanding the harbor and ocean called guns en barbette. The fort is turfed over and from the water looks only like high breast works, but in reality it is 40 ft. high. The entrance is called the sally-port and there is a guard of 10 or 15 men stationed there night and day. Fort Macon
…I go over to Beaufort nearly every day in a rowboat to market………. Oysters are only 30 cents a bushel and almost everything else is cheap.
…It is very healthy here and nice places for Edith to play. In fact, Beaufort is the watering place for North Carolina...Warm days she is taken down to the beach and there she rolls over and over, fills her eyes and hair full of sand and makes little mud pies, though she hasn’t attained too much proficiency in the latter. Everything is so clean on the beach that I like to have her there. The sea comes up twice a day and washes away all impurities…I have been taking a hard gallop on the beach this evening, and my hand trembles so I can scarcely write...Elliott keeps two horses and we have splendid canters on the beach. Two days ago we went 10 miles away in a sailboat to see a whale that had been harpooned and was lying on the beach. It was 50 feet long, and when the roof of its mouth was cut off and placed on the beach it formed an arch high enough for me to stand erect under.
Edith is the only child at the Post now and is fast being spoiled. Several of the officers keep a private paper of candy for her and she trots around to the different rooms and asks for “tan tan” every morning as soon as she is dressed.
…It is pretty warm here now, or would be were it not for the sea breeze. I ride my little pony every evening, when it is pleasant.
I believe I told you we were keeping house…we had moved into a little row of cottages just outside the fort in consequence of Elliott’s being the second officer in rank. One of the unmarried officers lives with us. Our dinner today is - a pair of wart chickens, a large baked fish, stuffed with Irish potatoes and eggs, and garnished with slices of lemon, the usual vegetables, and grapes for dessert. My dinner is milk porridge. In a fishing excursion the other day I caught 7 immense blue fish just as fast as I could pull them in.”
According to fort historian Paul Branch, “Coues’ wife Jeannie included a hand-drawn floor plan of her “cottage by the sea” in a
March 12, 1870 letter to her sister, showing their living arrangement. The front right room was occupied by an unmarried officer. The left front room was a common parlor. The rear room on the left was occupied by the Coues family. The right rear room was a common dining room."
After the construction of a Coastal Education Visitors Center (completed 2009) there are plans to fund and reconstruct replicas of the Officers Quarters.