Owen Coffin (1802 - c.1821)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Nantucket, Nantucket, Massachusetts, United States
Death: Died in Pollard's whaleboat at sea (South Pacific)
Cause of death: Shot
Occupation: Sailor
Managed by: Erica Howton, (c)
Last Updated:
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About Owen Coffin

The true story that the book (Moby Dick) was partly based on was about two seperate events involving a Nantucket whale ship named the "Essex" and a white whale named Mocha Dick. The Essex was hunting whales on November 20, 1820, 1200 miles north-east of the Marquesas Islands in the south Pacific. Among her crew was a Nantucket boy named Owen Coffin, son of Hezekiah and Nancy Coffin.

Early in the day the crew spotted sperm whales a short distance off and three boats were sent to give chase. Shortly after the hunt began a large whale turned on the Essex and rammed the ship near the bow, sending a shutter through the ship. Badly damaged, the crew tried frantically to fill the hole the whale had made when out of the blue a second crash shook the crippled vessel, once again the ship had been rammed by the whale. First mate Owen Chase later commented in his diary, how the whale calculated his attack. "The blows were placed to do us the most injury, the attack could come from only premeditated violence." Within ten minutes the deck of the ship was awash with water and the crew prepared to abandon ship. They grabbed what little they could before the ship heaved to one side and rested almost fully submurged. Many of the crew were staring in disbelief on the fate that lay ahead. They were 1200 miles from land with three small whale boats and next to no food or water.

After a day of making makeshift sails the three boats set off for South America. As the days past by, hunger and thirst set in causing squabbling among the crew. On the fourth week a small island was spotted however upon their arrival they found little in the way of food or water, so all but three continued on. Five weeks later a storm separated the boats. By early Febuary with all food and water gone they decided to draw straws to determine who was going to be their next meal. The short straw pointed to Owen Coffin, who by now was past the point of caring. With a show of courage he lay his head on the gunwale and commented, "I like it as well as any other" in reference to his unfortunate pick of the losing draw. Then a shot rang out killing the boy instantly. The boy's sacrifice saw his mates successfully through their ordeal until their rescue by another Nantucket whaler a short time later. In the end, eight of the twenty crew were eventually rescued including Owen Chase who kept a diary of the ordeal. Thirty years later, Chase's son lent the diary to Herman Melville during a whale voyage, and from this diary the foundations of Moby Dick were written. (4)

Ancestry

The following is extracted from THE COFFIN FAMILY, by Louis Coffin, p.219; Owen, b 08-14-1802, s/o Hezekiah COFFIN b. 09-12-1775, d. 06- -1815, & Nancy BUNKER, b. 01-11-1778, d. 03-20-1869. (p.201) Hezekiah, s/o Hezekiah COFFIN, b. 08-21-1741, d. 03- -1779, & Abigail Coleman, b. 08-10-1743, d. 04-26-1836. (p.189) Hezekiah, s/o Zacheus COFFIN, b. 01-11-1710, d. 10-22-1797, & Mary PINKHAM, d. 12-24-1788. (p.184) Zacheus, s/o Joseph COFFIN, b. 02-04-1680, d. 07-15-1719, & Bethia MACY, b. 04-08-1681, d. 06-27-1738. Joseph COFFIN, s/o James COFFIN, b. 08-22-1640, d. 07-15-1719, & Mary Severance, b. 08-05-1645. James, s/o Tristram COFFIN & Dionis STEVENS. (3)

External Links

  1. http://www.nantuckethistoricalassociation.net/bgr/BGR-o/p488.htm#i14640
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Coffin_
  3. http://genforum.genealogy.com/coffin/messages/34.html
  4. My Father's Shoes - Our Coffin Story, Pages 26 - 50.
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Owen Coffin's Timeline

1802
August 24, 1802
Nantucket, Nantucket, Massachusetts, United States
1821
January 30, 1821
Age 18
Pollard's whaleboat at sea (South Pacific)
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At sea (South Pacific)