Joshua Coffin, Esq (1792 - d.)

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About Joshua Coffin, Esq

Joshua Coffin graduated from Dartmouth in 1817 and taught school for many years, numbering among his pupils the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who addressed to him a poem entitled "To My Old School-Master." Coffin was ardent in the cause of emancipation, and was one of the founders of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, being its first recording secretary. He published "A Brief Sketch...", genealogies of the Woodman, Little, and Toppan families, and magazine articles. As an adult, Coffin lived for a time in the downstairs southwest room of the Coffin house on. Joshua numbering among his pupils the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who addressed to him a poem entitled "To My Old School-Master."

Until he was nineteen years of age, the only schools young Whittier had attended were the meagre ones supplied during a small part of the year hy the district. He was accustomed to say that only two of the teachers who were employed in that district during his schooldays were fit for the not very exacting position they occupied. Both of these were Dartmouth students: one of them George Haskell, to whom reference has already been made, and the other Joshua Coffin, who afterward became known as an antiquary and as the historian of Newbury. Coffin was associated with Garrison and Whittier in the beginning of their crusade against slavery, and enjoyed their friendship through life.

Whittier's first appearance in school was before he was of "school age," during a term when Joshua Coffin was teaching in the district. He accompanied his older sister, Mary, and was too young to be placed in any class except that in which the alphabet was taught. The schoolhouse was undergoing repairs at that time, and the school was held in the ell of a dwelling-house now standing. The other part of the house was occupied by a tipsy and quarrelsome couple, reference to which fact will be found in the poem "To My Old Schoolmaster." Some years afterward, in 1821, Coffin was again a teacher in that district, and he spent many of his evenings at the Whittier homestead, a most welcome guest.

There were few books in the house, and most of them not of a kind to satisfy the literary appetite of a boy in his teens, who found poor picking among the dry journals and religious disquisitions of the pioneers of Quakerism.1 There were not more than thirty volumes in all. These and the Bible he had read and re-read until he knew them by heart. It may be readily imagined what a new life was opened to him when a lively student, fresh from college, sat at the fireside and spoke familiarly of other literatures. His teacher brought with him books of travel and adventure, and read them to his mother and aunt, as they sat knitting by the fire. He little thought that the boy of fourteen was the most eager of his listeners. Coffin told wise and merry stories, and read from books such as otherwise would scarcely have entered this strictly Quaker household. One evening the teacher brought a volume of Burns, and read many pages from it, explaining the Scottish dialect as he proceeded. Greenleaf listened spellbound in his corner. Page 41