Tristram Coffin (Coffyn), Sr. (1605 - 1681) MP

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Nicknames: "OG Coffyn"
Birthplace: Brixton Parish, near, Plymouth, Devon, England
Death: Died in Nantucket Island, Dukes, Massachusetts
Occupation: One of the founders of Nantucket Island. Farmer, Ferry Owner, Cofferer, chief magistrate, successful businessman.
Managed by: Pamela Carol Kantola
Last Updated:

About Tristram Coffin (Coffyn), Sr.

Tristram Coffyn

The First in The Race That Settled America

In 1642 Tristram emigrated to America with his wife Dionis and five small children as well as his widowed mother and two unmarried sisters. What was the cause of this emigration is not know. Tristram was of the landed gentry and had inherited from his father. But there was political trouble between the king and Parliament and the New World was calling with an ever stronger voice. It is thought that they sailed in one of four ships owned by Robert Clement (the Hector, Griffin, Job Clement and Margaret Clement). The Coffyn family settled in Salisbury, Massachusetts for a while and then moved to Haverhill which had been founded in 1640. In 1659 Tristram investigated Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. With some others they dealt with the Indians and purchased the island of Nantucket. Tristram always got along well with the Indians. By this time some of his children were married and did not move to Nantucket, but some of them moved with Tristram and Dionis. Tristram was appointed the first chief magistrate of Nantucket in 1671.

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Tristram married before coming to America and lived, successively at Haverhill, Newbury, Salisbury and finally on Nantucket Island, where he died.

On the fifteenth of November, 1642, Passaquo and Saggahew, with the consent of Passaconaway who was leader of the Merrimacs, sold for L3 10s. "to the inhabitants of Pentucket," now Haverhill, a track of land fourteen miles long and six miles wide, "with ye isleand and the river that ye isleand stands in" etc. Among the witnesses to this deed was Tristram Coffyn, who had this year, arrived in New England and had moved from Salisbury to Haverhill.

Tristram is said to have been the first man to use a plow in Haverhill. He was a royalist, and was one of the few, if not the only early settler to come to New England as a consequence of the success of Oliver Cromwell.

In about 1644, Tristram and his family moved to Newbury, where he became a prominent inn keeper and ferryman. In Newbury in 1644 Tristram was granted permission to "keep an ordinary (saloon), sell wine and keep a ferry on the Newbury side of the Merrimack between Newbury and Carr's island." George Carr ran the ferry from Carr's island to Salisbury. This arrangement was confirmed in the town records on December 26,1647: "Tristram Coffin (senior) is allowed tto keep a ferry at Newbury side." In September 1653, Tristram Coffyn's wife Dionis Coffin was presented for selling beer, at his ordinary in Newbury, "for three pence a quart." (higher than the set price for beer). Having proved "upon the testimony of Samuel Moores", that "she put six bushels of malt into a hogshead" she was discharged. Dionis was found to be "doctoring" the beer sold at the ordinary.

Contrary to current practice Dionis was making her beer stronger and charging a correspondingly higher price. The law at the time called for beer to be "good wholesome beer of four bushels of malt to the hogshead." Goodwife Coffin is said to have remarked: "I'll have better beer than my neighbors and be paid for it. A fig for the law."

In 1654 or 1655, Tristram returned to Salisbury where he signed his name as "Tristram Coffyn, Commissioner of Salisbury."

In 1659, Tristram and some of his sons were among a company of Salisbury men who purchased nineteen twentieths of the island of Nantucket from Thomas Mayhew.

In 1660 Tristram Sr. with wife, mother and some of his children moved to the island where this branch of the Coffin family continued. Tristram Jr. remained in Newbury with his wife and family.

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Tristram Coffyn was born in 1609 in Brixton Parish, town of Plymouth, Devonshire, England and baptized March 11, 1610. He was the eldest child of Peter and Johanna Coffin.

Coffyn's early years in England were during a very eventful time. Intellectual freedom was being claimed as a right for each individual. This period was during the reign of James I. Among the names of the day were William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and Oliver Cromwell. It was a period when the Puritans were making large gains in the Parliament.

Tristram had one younger brother, John and four sisters, Johanna, Deborah, Eunice and Mary. When Tristram was 19 his father Peter, died. His will was dated December 21, 1627 and was proved by his widow Johanna on March 13, 1628. In the will it was declared that Tristram was to be provided for according to his degree and calling. Tristram was a farmer and therefore most likely took control of his fathers estate near Plymouth. Two years later Tristram courted and wed Dionis Stevens, daughter of Robert Stevens of Brixton. Dionis Stevens was born in 1609 although other accounts say 1613. Shortly after their marriage, their first child Peter was born in 1631 followed by their son Tristram Jr., born in 1632. During the early 1630's England entered into a storm of conflict with the death of James I and the succession of Charles I. In 1638 the Scots took up arms against the King. The Presbyterians took control of the Commons and this was followed by an all out civil war in 1642. During this period of time Tristram and Dionis had two more children Elizabeth (d.o.b. unknown) and James born August 12, 1639. Dionis was also pregnant with their fifth child.

In 1640 Coffyn was selected as a Warden of Brixton Parish. Shortly after in November 1640, he leased his farm that was located at Butlass. With the civil war closing in on his family and the wounding and eventual death eight days later of his brother John at Plymouth Fort, Tristram decided to take his family, including his mother and two unwed sisters to safety in Colonial America. Tristram's friend Robert Clement was leaving for America shortly, aboard a small fleet of ships, some of which were owned by Clement. Tristram quickly put his affairs in order and embarked on his journey with his family aboard Clement's ship named "Hector Clement" in the spring of 1642. This proved to be the last time Coffyn was to see his home in England.

The crossing of the Atlantic took between 60 and 90 days before they arrived in Newburyport Massachusetts, during the summer of 1642. It was a mere twenty years since the pilgrims, aboard the Mayflower had landed at Plymouth. Shortly after their arrival, Tristram secured living quarters for his family and started exploring up the Merrimack River with Robert Clement in search of a good location for a more permanent home. He arrived in a soon to be called settlement named Pentucket, now known as Haverhill Ma. The book "The History of Haverhill" by George Chase states that Clements son, Job Clements had already settled in the area a year earlier, if so, this could be the reason that Coffyn and Clements chose this area. They found the area to have fertile soil with the necessary resources to build a farm, however, it was recorded that the large population of wolves were a problem with the flocks of sheep and a guard had to be posted at all times. In 1641 there were only six homes built in this area Tristram's group of settlers negotiated with the Indians for the property rights and secured a twenty square mile area for the sum of three pounds ten shillings. A copy of this deed is still on record and bares witness to the signatures of Robert Clement and Tristram Coffyn, dated November 15, 1642. Not only is this the first record of the first Coffin immigrant in America, but it also indicates how Tristram spelled his surname, Coffyn, with a "y" instead of an "i".

It was also during this period that John, their youngest child fell ill and died. Dionis was also pregnant with their sixth child who was later named Deborah. She was born the first Coffin child in America, and the third child born in the tiny settlement but was destined for the same fate as the other newborns and died three weeks later. These deaths give evidence to the harsh conditions that the first immigrants must have encountered upon their arrival in the new world. The living conditions were primitive and unforgiving and many families suffered greatly. It was noted that Coffyn was the first white settler to plough land in the area, having made his own plough from materials at hand. A few years after his arrival in Pentucket, his daughter Mary was born, becoming the first Coffin child to be born and survive to adulthood in America. The settlements survival was threatened in the early 1640's when Indian war parties decided to target the settlers homes. They wanted to halt the white invasion but they feared the firepower of the settlers muskets. The plan was to send a small group of Indians to each of the settlers homes at the same time and gain entrance to the houses by pretending to want to trade with each of the settlers. Upon a predetermined signal, the Indians would then jump the homeowners, cut their throats and ransack the house looking for weapons. What the Indians didn't know was that one of their members was a Colonial informant who revealed the plan to British intelligence and the British soldiers along with about forty settlers disarmed the Indians before they could set the plan in motion. The Indians backed away knowing that it would be foolish to try again in the near future.

After only a few years of farming in Pentucket, Tristram embarked on a new direction. It would seem that not only was he a farmer, but he was also a businessman. When the opportunity arose to operate a ferry back in Newbury, he decided to move his family once again. The History of Newbury states that in 1644 Tristram Coffin Sr. is allowed to keep an Ordinary (Tavern) which consisted of selling wine and keeping a ferry and Inn on the Newbury side of the Merrimack River. George Carr kept a ferry on the Salisbury side across from Carr Island. These ferries crossed from Newbury on the south side, between Carr Island and Ram Island, over to the north side of Salisbury. The ferry was operated by Tristram and most likely his older sons Peter and Tristram Jr. in the early years, and as the older boys developed other interests, James took over. In the 1650's Peter left Newbury to go to Dover, New Hampshire, where he became involved in the lumber business. Tristram's daughter Elizabeth wed Stephen Greenleaf in 1651 and resided in Newbury. Tristram Jr. married Judith Somerby in 1653 and became a weaver/tailer and Deacon of the First Parish of Newbury. Tristram Jr. is also the person who brought the Coffin name to the old Coffin mansion in 1654, which still stands in Newbury, housing over eight generations of Coffin descendants up to the 1850's. In 1997 I had the pleasure of visiting Newbury and the Coffin house which is now a historical site. The Coffin house is one of the earliest homes made of wood still standing in New England. It is believed that the father, Tristram Sr., lived here shortly before moving to his new home in Nantucket. In 1735 the first centennial of Newbury was celebrated by the town in the front yard of the Coffin house, under two gigantic elm trees. The Tavern and Inn in Newbury was operated mainly by Dionis, Tristram's wife, and was called "Coffins Ordinary". Not only did she serve the patrons but she was also responsible for making the beverages of the day, which eventually got the Coffyns into confrontation with the law. The laws of 1645 stated clearly that "every person licenced to keep an Ordinary (Tavern) shall always be provided with good wholesome beer of four bushels of malt to the hogshead, which he shall not sell above two pence the ale quart, on penalty of forty shillings the first offence and for the second offence shall lose his licence". Dionis' ale was made with six bushels, giving it a kick that kept them coming back for more. For her troubles she increased the price by one pence and in turn had to stand before the court to defend her actions. Eventually the charge was dismissed, but word spread quickly through Newbury as to where to go for a quality ale. According to the book "Ould Newbury" by John Currier, the Coffins owned forty acres across from Carr Island. In later years the road to the Inn was known as Coffin Lane and was on the west side of present day Jefferson St..

Toward the mid 1650's the ferry crossings were replaced by a floating bridge leaving Tristram little choice but to sell his holding. He moved across the river to Salisbury where records show his name on some documents as Commissioner of Salisbury. It was during these years in the late 1650's that the first plans to relocate his family to a more desirable location were first laid out. Depending on which source one would believe, there are many arguments that have been brought forward as to why Tristram decided to leave Massachusetts. All would have been valid arguments. It was true that the Puritan rule was harsh and prejudice against freedom of choice both religiously and politically. It was also true that the desire to move to an area where fences were not needed for the livestock (that an Island would provide) would be of some benefit. However, In the end, Tristram's desire to keep his family together around him and in their own community outside of the smothering rules of the Puritans probably could have been the driving factor behind his decision to locate to a new home. In talking to his friends and neighbours he found he was not alone in his thinking. Others were also anxious to leave, many for the same reasons as Coffyn. After a short time their ideas took shape and later after meeting it was decided to form a group of associates to pursue matters further. The idea of common pastures and buildings were appealing to many, especially the farmers who were advancing in age. The back breaking life of maintaining a farm could now be shared among the group with common mills and labour supplied by the Indians. How the Island of Nantucket, thirty miles off the south shore of Cape Cod ever came forth as a choice, is once again debatable. Some point out that the connection lies with Thomas Mayhew, the owner of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, was a cousin of one of the associates in Tristram's group, a man named Thomas Macy. Others think that Nantucket simply came up in a passing conversation and caught Coffyn's imagination. At one meeting the decision was made to send Tristram Coffyn, possibly his son James, Edward Starbuck and cabin boy Isaac Coleman on a fact finding mission to meet with Mayhew and view Nantucket to assess its suitability as a home. Early in 1659 the men set out for Edgartown in Martha's Vineyard, the home of Thomas Mayhew.

Thomas Mayhew came to New England before 1632 from Wiltshire England. By 1637 Mayhew was in the town of Watertown, Massachusetts, where he was operating a grist mill. His business enterprises were flourishing by the time the family of John Folger arrived in Watertown. Mayhew had a son named Thomas Jr. who was very religious. Folger's son Peter was close to the same age as Thomas Jr. and the two became friends. They both shared an appetite for adventure, so when the opportunity came forth for the Mayhew's to purchase an Island named Nantucket, from the Earl of Stirling in 1641 for forty pounds, the adventure began. After seeing the Island it was concluded that Nantucket Island was too far off shore and that Martha's Vineyard would be a more suitable island to inhabit, so shortly after Mayhew also bought Martha's Vineyard.

Thomas Mayhew Jr. moved quickly to establish his home on Martha's Vineyard bringing Peter Folger along with him. His mission was to teach the Indians that inhabited the Islands' Christianity. Folger was to be a school master and surveyor. The work was quite successful and the elder Mayhew came to join them in Edgartown. In 1657 Thomas Jr. found it necessary to go to England to stimulate more financial support, however, his ship was lost in a gale on the crossing and he was never heard from again. Mayhew was devastated by the loss of his son, however he decided to continue with his son's mission. Folger on the other hand was looking for a change. His chance came in the form of a shallop sailing into the harbour at Edgartown with Tristram Coffyn on board. It's interesting to note that this simple twist of fate with Coffyn arriving in Edgartown while Folger was searching for a new adventure, brought about the circumstance to which American statesman, scientist and writer, Benjamin Franklin would later be born into. In later years, Folger's daughter, Abiah, of Nantucket, married Josiah Franklin, where in 1706 shortly after moving from Nantucket, gave birth to Benjamin Franklin. In turn this made Peter Folger, Ben Franklin's grandfather.

Tristram's preliminary discussions with Mayhew were favourable. However, Mayhew insisted that if Coffyn's group wanted to purchase Nantucket, the Indians on the Island would have to be included in the negotiations. It was estimated that Nantucket had about 700 Narragansett Indians living in six villages, mostly on the east shore. Today, unfortunately, there is not a single Indian descendant living on the Island. The last Indian descendant died in the 1850's. Nantucket in Algonquin is interpreted as "far away Island". Coffyn realized that without an interpreter he would have problems communicating with the Indians. To address this problem he enlisted the services of Peter Folger who was also a skilled Surveyor. Shortly thereafter, the group left for the Island. The Indians greeted them favourably and although their interpretation of purchasing land proved to be different than the white interpretation, they agreed on the idea. In later years the Indians were surprised to learn the meaning of trespassing, for in their culture no one ever owns property but instead they only had rights to live upon it, yet anyone could travel through it. After achieving their goal, Coffyn and the rest headed back to Edgartown for further negotiations with Mayhew.

Committed to carrying on with his lost son's work, Mayhew had no real interest in Nantucket and therefore agreed to very reasonable terms for the purchase of the Island. The sale price of 30 pounds along with two beaver hats, one for him and one for his wife, was a bargain especially if one considers that after owning the Island for close to twenty years Mayhew was selling it for ten pounds less than he bought it for. The beaver hats incidently were made by Tristram Jr. Today one can only speculate on the mood of the negotiations, but judging by the eventual results, Coffyn and Macy must have respected each other a great deal in order for things to have gone so smoothly. Mayhew did however retain a one twentieth share of the venture so he could have a voice in how the Island affairs were being handled.

Coffin returned home to Salisbury to organize the purchase of Nantucket. Once there, his eight partners ratified the agreement with Mayhew and ten new partners and ten tenant inhabitants were admitted into the company.

Original Owner Partner Selected Half Share Owners

(See attached scan of the actual document of the agreement and purchase terms)

Thomas Mayhew Richard Swain

Tristram Coffin John Bishop

Thomas Macy Edward Starbuck Peter Folger

Richard Swain Thomas Coleman Eleager Folger

Thomas Barnard Robert Barnard Thomas Macy

Peter Coffin James Coffin Joseph Coleman

Christopher Hussey Robert Pike Joseph Gardner

Stephen Greenleaf Tristram Coffin Jr. John Gardner

John Swain John Smith Sam Streton

William Pile Thomas Look Nathaniel Holland

The half share partners were tradesmen who were needed to help develop the settlement. Folger was the interpreter/surveyor who later became the miller. Joseph Gardner was a shoemaker and Nathaniel Holland was a tailor ect. Some of the other half-share holders listed didn't join the group until the later years.

In the fall of 1659 before any formal deed was drawn up with the Indian leaders Wanackmamack and Nickanoose, James Coffin, Thomas Macy and family, Edward Starbuck and Isaac Coleman left Salisbury for Nantucket to take up residence. Macy was in trouble with the Puritan judges for harbouring Quakers during a short rain storm. Nantucket was out of the Judge's legal realm, so rather than stay and face the charges he decided that the sooner he could leave Salisbury the better it would be. Edward Starbuck was Macy's partner in the company and also his best friend. He felt compelled to go with Macy and the rest to see them through what was going to be a tough first winter. James Coffin age 19 went to watch over his father's interests and Isaac Coleman age 13 was probably just looking for adventure.

The first winter on Nantucket proved to be one full of hardships. The crossing was reported to have been a rough one in which the tiny craft was almost lost. During the first winter the Indians were said to have been most helpful in seeing to the needs of the first white settlers on the Island. In the spring of 1660 Edward Starbuck returned to Salisbury to update the rest on the progress of Nantucket. The reports were favourable and others made preparations to relocate quickly.

The freedom enjoyed in Nantucket, by being independent from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was the lure that attracted many from Salisbury. But along with their freedom certain laws and regulations had to be drawn-up to keep the new settlement from deteriorating. For instance one guideline was that Indian land could not be purchased by any individual except for use by all its original purchasers. This would ensure a balanced ownership. The Colony of New York claimed jurisdiction over Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket and so it was with the Governor of New York, Francis Lovelace, that the Colony had to deal within terms of being recognized. By the summer of 1661, records show that the meetings were now being held on Nantucket indicating that many of the settlers had made the move to the Island. The first concerns of many were where their house lots would be located. At a town meeting held July 15, 1661 it was agreed upon that each owner would have the freedom to choose his lot within limits not previously occupied. It was also decided that the lot size for each full share holder would be sixty rods square (a rod consisting of 16?"). It was also agreed that Tristram Coffyn would select first, in which he selected a lot on the north western coastline of the Island at a place known as Cappammet Harbour (today known as Capaum Pond). The original Nantucket record states "Tristram Coffyn, Sr., had his house lot laid out at Cappammet, by the aforesaid lot layers, at Cappamet Harbour head, sixty rods square, or thereabouts, the east side line part of it bounded by the highway; the south side by a rock southward of the pond; the north by the harbour head; the west side bounded by the lot of Tristram Coffin Jr." In the aftermath, once all was said and done, Tristram had succeeded with his wish to live out his days in a free society surrounded by his friends and family, not unlike the communes that arose during the 1960's. To his east side, across Cappamet Harbour was his son Peter who didn't reside on the Island but was a frequent visitor seeing as he had secured the rights to supply the settlers with lumber for their homes. To the west was the lot of his son Tristram Jr., again not a full time resident but a frequent visitor. To the south laid the lots of his daughter Mary and her husband Nathaniel Starbuck. Mary and Nathaniel were very much a part of the Island's development. Mary owned the first store on the Island as well as being regarded in later life as a spiritual leader, having embraced Quakerism. Mary and Nathaniel also had the honour of having the first white baby on the Island during the early 1660's. Also to the south lay the lot of James Coffin. After Tristram, James was the head of the Coffin interests on Nantucket.

The first years of settlement consisted of building houses along with shelters for their livestock, mainly sheep and oxen, as well as developing pastures and common buildings. The Indians helped to develop the farms and taught the settlers a great deal about living on the Island. In turn they were given employment and some formal education. The first years were often regarded as the best years upon Nantucket, in terms of creating a society that flowed in harmony, where one could rely on their neighbours as though they were family. The great grandson of Thomas Macy would later write, "The little community was kind and courteous to each other and hospitable to strangers. The prevalence of good feeling was remarked and felt by all who came among them".

From the beginning Tristram Coffyn and Thomas Macy were the spokesmen for the settlement. In 1671 they were selected by the group to go to New York and meet with Governor Lovelace and secure their claim to the Island. Upon their return the Islanders nominated Coffyn to be Chief Magistrate of Nantucket. The town also selected all other officers except the Chief Military Officer who was to be selected by Governor Lovelace from nominees chosen by the settlement. After a few more years of harmony, or about the early 1670's the first signs of trouble on the Island began to appear. The problems came through the evolution of the two classes of settlers. On one hand they had the full share owners and their partners, who by Nantucket law had two votes each. On the other hand the half share owners only had one vote resulting in less of a say on Island affairs. They viewed themselves just as important as the full share settler. The only thing missing for a revolt by the half share members was a leader. That changed in 1673 when it was decided that the community needed to expand their fishing interests by enlisting the services of a skilled tradesman by the name of John Gardner of Salem, Massachusetts. Gardner was the brother of full share owner Joseph Gardner. Right from the start John Gardner challenged the original owners on most issues and from this began the feud between the Gardners and the Coffins.

Another problem arising on the Island involved the Indians and liquor. Some of the white settlers were taking advantage of the Indians' ignorance regarding liquor consumption. Laws had to eventually be implemented prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol to Indians. John Gardner often ignored these laws which escalated the tension on the Island. Gardner also attempted to buy land from the Indians, however the final blow most probably resulted from a meeting Gardner set up with Gov. Lovelace's replacement, Governor Francis Andros. One of the requirements of the Islanders was to pay taxes to New York. This payment was met by giving the government four barrels of fish. John Gardner convinced the settlers to let him deliver the payment. While there, he met with Governor Andros and in turn convinced the Governor to name the main town in Nantucket, Sherborne, after his home town back in England. He then managed to get himself appointed as Chief Military Officer. This all came about shortly before the Dutch takeover of New York. With the change in governments in New York, Gardners's group declared that past arrangements with the original settlers were no longer valid. The tension ran high for a short period until the Dutch were run out of New York and the old government was reinstated. Upon this action, Tristram and Mathew Mayhew, grandson of Thomas, once again sailed for New York and had their agreements with the government reinstated.

In 1676 Thomas Mayhew became Chief Magistrate on Nantucket with Peter Coffin, a new resident on the Island becoming Assistant Magistrate. Peter and James Coffin had returned to the Island as a result of the conflict on the mainland between the Indians and the white settlers known as King Philip's War. This appointment of Macy and the election of Peter Coffin infuriated the Gardner group. Not only was Peter a "Coffin" he also held government positions back in Dover and was not considered a full time resident of Nantucket. A few years later the tension eased with the elections of James Coffin, John Gardner and Nathaniel Starbuck who would all be elected as Assistant Magistrates. The feud continued toward the late 1670's in a period that would result in Tristram Coffyn being selected as Chief Magistrate by Governor Andros in the hopes of trying to pull the community back together. Coffyn was regarded by most of the settlers as the one person who could rectify Nantucket's struggle with growth. Unfortunately, for everyone, a shipwreck on the Nantucket shoals diverted any plans that Tristram had for the Islanders. In September 1678 a French ship ran aground during a storm, forcing the crew to abandon ship. Shortly thereafter the cargo was salvaged by certain parties and sold for profit. This action put Tristram, who was chief magistrate, in violation with maritime law which stated that the cargo should have been secured until claimed by the owner. In failing to do so, Tristram subjected himself to be responsible for the lost cargo. The courts came down hard on him with a stiff penalty which would ruin him financially. The action cast a dark cloud over Coffyn, who was now in his early 70's. His family rallied to his side but the strain of the penalty along with the feuding years had worn him down. His son James made financial arrangements to pay the fine. In the end, surprisingly, it was John Gardner, who had become the new Chief Magistrate of Nantucket, who stood up to the courts with a touching appeal on Coffyn's behalf. He convinced the courts to reduce the penalty substantially.

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Tristram was born in Brixton, Devon, England in 1609, the son of Peter and Jan Kimber Coffin. Dionis Stevens (or Stephens) was born in Plymouth, England also in 1609, the daughter of Robert Stevens and his wife Dionis. Tristram and Dionis were married about 1629. Tristram was a land owner in England, but as taxes grew heavier and heavier he longed to go where they could have more freedom. He always liked adventure and challenge, and after his brother’s death and civil disruptions, he was convinced to come to America. They had five children (one of whom was James, mentioned above, who was two years old at the time), and left while Dionis was pregnant with her sixth. They sailed to America on a ship owned by Robert Clement, a friend of the family.

They settled in a new section of Massachusetts, first known as Pentucket and later changed to Haverhill. Shortly after their arrival, their five-year-old son John died. Two weeks later Dionis delivered a baby girl, who only lived for three weeks. They had three more children while living in Massachusetts (one of whom was Mary, mentioned above). In addition to farming, they ran a tavern and a ferry on the Merrimac River.

Dionis died in 1676 in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and Tristram died in 1681.

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Founder of the family line of Coffins in America, signed his name Coffyn.

==(See attached image of signature)==

He was the first Chief Magistrate of Nantucket.

Moved to Nantucket in 1661.

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Our Coffin line in America was founded by Tristram Coffin (Coffyn as he always signed his name), who was born in Brixton, a small parish and village, near Plymouth, in the southwestern part of Devonshire County England, in the year 1605. About 1630 he married Dionis Stevens, daughter of Robert Stevens, Esquire, of Brixton, and in 1642, emigrated to America with his wife, five small children, his widowed mother, and two unmarried sisters. It is not known on what ship they took passage but it is generally believed that it was the same ship that brought Robert Clement, who owned the ships "Hector," "Griffin," "Job Clement," and "Margaret Clement". Both men settled at Haverhill in 1642.

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Death date also listed as 2 Oct 1681 in Northam, Capsum Pond, Nantucket, Mass.

Coffin Family Papers, 1661- 1962

Historical Note: Tristram Coffyn (as he signed his name), founder of the Coffin family line in America, was born at Brixton, Devonshire County, England in 1605. He married Dionis Stevens, also of Brixton, in 1642 and emigrated to America with his wife, five small children , his widowed mother, and two unmarried sisters. He lived alternately in Salisbury, Haverhill and Newbury, in the colony of Massachusetts, until 1660 when he came to Nantucket, part of which he, along with eight other men, had purchased from Thomas Mayhew, Sr. then under the jurisdiction of New York, and made arrangements for the purchase of the Island by a group of men whom he organized at Salisbury. Later that year, he brought his family to the Island and remained there until his death in 1681. Tristram Coffyn was the leading spirit among the Islanders at the commencement of the settlement, and the interests which he and his sons and sons-in-law represented gave him power to control to a great degree the enterprises of the Island. Among the sons of Tristram was the Hon. James Coffin (1640-1720) who served as Judge of the Probate Court. Mary (Coffin) Starbuck (1645- 1717), daughter of Tristram, participated in town meetings and was consulted on all matters of public importance. In 1701, she became a member of the Society of Friends and held the first Quaker meeting on Nantucket in her home. Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin (1759-1839), Baronet, was the fifth generation from Tristram. Perhaps his most beneficial and philanthropic act was the founding of the Coffin School at Nantucket. Many of the Nantucket Coffins made whaling voyages; others became involved in local political events and land transactions. Several emigrated to North Carolina, New York and California, drawn by dreams of rich farm lands or gold.

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Tristram and his family plus his mother and his two sisters had moved to Newbury by 1647. Tristram was authorized by the General Court to, "keep an ordinary and also a ferry" to carry passengers from Newbury to Salisbury. By 1652, he was taxed in Salisbury where he signed his name "Commissioner of Salisbury" until 1660. In Salisbury, Tristram, along with Peter Folger, organized a company of 10 proprietors for the purchase and settlement of Nantucket. On 2 July 1659, they agreed to purchase nine-tenths of the island from Gov. Thomas Mayhew for 10 pounds and other considerations plus two beaver hats, one for Mayhew, the other for his wife. At the time, beaver hats were the fashion in Europe and in America. The ten proprietors included our ancestors Christopher Hussey and Stephen Greenleaf. Stephen was Tristram's son-in-law. In July 1661, house lots were awarded and Tristram Coffin was given first choice. For many years, Tristram lived there and he with his son, Peter, held controlling interest in the island. At that time, Nantucket was under the jurisdiction of New York and Tristram was appointed "Governor" of the island in 1671 (Albany Deeds, vol 3:62). Two years later his commission is found in the Massachusetts Records. He held this office until 1680.

Tristram and his wife Dionis (Stevens) Coffin had nine children

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Tristram was the eldest son of Peter Coffin and his wife Joan Kember, and was born at Brixton, a parish near Plymouth in Devon; he was baptised on 11 March 1610. He became a churchwarden of the parish church (where his customary pew in the front of the chancel was marked on a plan made in 1638) and also a parish constable - holder of one of the offices created under the Elizabethan reforms of parochial administration. In 1630 or thereabouts he married Dionis, daughter of Robert Stevens of the same parish.

Tristram may have inherited some property from his father, as he was the executor both of Peter and of his uncle John, whose will was proved in 1628. Records of Devon Quarter Sessions show that he had a legal dispute with a Thomas Maynard, also of Brixton, which in midsummer 1641 was referred for arbitration to Robert Savery and Henry Pollexfen. The subject of the dispute and the outcome of the arbitration are not known. But they may have had a bearing on Tristram's decision in 1642, shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in England, to embark for America - taking with him his wife and 5 small children, his mother and two unmarried sisters. None of them ever returned. It is thought that they sailed in one of four ships owned by Robert Clement (the Hector, Griffin, Job Clement and Margaret Clement).

Tristram is said to have gone first to Salisbury, in what is now Massachusetts, but to have moved soon afterwards to the new settlement of Pentucket (later renamed Haverhill). Later still he moved to Newbury, and then back to Salisbury (1654-5), from where he set out first to Martha's Vineyard and then to Nantucket, intending (it is said) to report on the disposition of the Indians and the possibility of emigrating thither. His report was satisfactory on all counts.

On his return to Salisbury in 1659, a company was organised for the purchase of Nantucket, and the first settlers arrived later that year - Thomas Macy and his family, Edward Starbuck, Isaac Coleman and James Coffin (Tristram's fourth child, and only 19 years of age at the time).Tristram himself seems to have moved to the island in 1660, and to have been given some priority in choosing his house lot at a meeting in July 1661, when it was agreed among the first purchasers that each should be free to choose a lot of 60 rods square. According to Louis Coffin, author of The Coffin Family, his first home was near the Capaum pond, where he lived until his death.

Of the other members of Tristram's family, his mother Joan died in Boston in May 1661, and never went to Nantucket. His eldest son Peter was among the original purchasers, and like his father was allotted land near Capaum; but if he lived there, it seems to have been only for a short time. Two of Tristram's other children, Tristram Jr. and Elizabeth, were (like Peter) married by this time; but although among the original purchasers, Tristram Jr. and Elizabeth and her husband (Stephen Greenleaf), are not thought to have ever lived on Nantucket. However, James Coffin, the third son, was allotted land bounded on the west by the common, and on the south by the lot of Nathaniel Starbuck. Tristram Sr. and his three eldest sons also bought the neighbouring island of Tuckernuck in their own right.

According to the early accounts, Tristram Coffin Sr. was the leading man on the island, and notably so in his dealings with the American Indians who were its aboriginal inhabitants.He is said to have treated them considerately in all ways, and to have employed numbers of them in farming the land he acquired. However, some white settlers foolishly sold rum to the Indians, who soon became drunk and troublesome as a result. As the first chief magistrate of the island, appointed in 1671, Tristram (with his opposite number from Martha's Vineyard, Thomas Mayhew) had to promulgate a law prohibiting the sale to Indians of intoxicating drink - perhaps the first liquor law on record.

Another account:

Coffyn's early years in England were during a very eventful time. Intellectual freedom was being claimed as a right for each individual. This period was during the reign of James I. Among the names of the day were William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and Oliver Cromwell. It was a period when the Puritans were making large gains in the Parliament.

Tristram had one younger brother, John and four sisters, Johanna, Deborah, Eunice and Mary. When Tristram was 19 his father Peter, died. His will was dated December 21, 1627 and was proved by his widow Johanna on March 13, 1628. In the will it was declared that Tristram was to be provided for according to his degree and calling. Tristram was a farmer and therefore most likely took control of his fathers estate near Plymouth. Two years later Tristram courted and wed Dionis Stevens, daughter of Robert Stevens of Brixton. Dionis Stevens was born in 1609 although other accounts say 1613. Shortly after their marriage, their first child Peter was born in 1631 followed by their son Tristram Jr., born in 1632. During the early 1630's England entered into a storm of conflict with the death of James I and the succession of Charles I. In 1638 the Scots took up arms against the King. The Presbyterians took control of the Commons and this was followed by an all out civil war in 1642. During this period of time Tristram and Dionis had two more children Elizabeth (d.o.b. unknown) and James born August 12, 1639. Dionis was also pregnant with their fifth child.

In 1640 Coffyn was selected as a Warden of Brixton Parish. Shortly after in November 1640, he leased his farm that was located at Butlass. With the civil war closing in on his family and the wounding and eventual death eight days later of his brother John at Plymouth Fort, Tristram decided to take his family, including his mother and two unwed sisters to safety in Colonial America. Tristram's friend Robert Clement was leaving for America shortly, aboard a small fleet of ships, some of which were owned by Clement. Tristram quickly put his affairs in order and embarked on his journey with his family aboard Clement's ship named "Hector Clement" in the spring of 1642. This proved to be the last time Coffyn was to see his home in England.

The crossing of the Atlantic took between 60 and 90 days before they arrived in Newburyport Massachusetts, during the summer of 1642. It was a mere twenty years since the pilgrims, aboard the Mayflower had landed at Plymouth. Shortly after their arrival, Tristram secured living quarters for his family and started exploring up the Merrimack River with Robert Clement in search of a good location for a more permanent home. He arrived in a soon to be called settlement named Pentucket, now known as Haverhill Ma. The book "The History of Haverhill" by George Chase states that Clements son, Job Clements had already settled in the area a year earlier, if so, this could be the reason that Coffyn and Clements chose this area. They found the area to have fertile soil with the necessary resources to build a farm, however, it was recorded that the large population of wolves were a problem with the flocks of sheep and a guard had to be posted at all times.

In 1641 there were only six homes built in Pentucket. Tristram's group of settlers negotiated with the Indians for the property rights and secured a large area for the sum of three pounds ten shillings. A copy of this deed is still on record and bares witness to the signatures of Robert Clement and Tristram Coffyn, dated November 15, 1642. Not only is this the first record of the first Coffin immigrant in America, but it also indicates how Tristram spelled his surname, Coffyn, with a "y" instead of an "i". It was also during this period that John, their youngest child fell ill and died. Dionis was also pregnant with their sixth child who was later named Deborah. She was born the first Coffin child in America, and the third child born in the tiny settlement but was destined for the same fate as the other newborns and died three weeks later. These deaths give evidence to the harsh conditions that the first immigrants must have encountered upon their arrival in the new world. The living conditions were primitive and unforgiving and many families suffered greatly. It was noted that Coffyn was the first white settler to plough land in the area, having made his own plough from materials at hand.

A few years after his arrival in Pentucket, his daughter Mary was born, becoming the first Coffin child to be born and survive to adulthood in America. Shortly after Coffyn's arrival, the settlement was threatened when Indian war parties decided to target the settlers homes. They wanted to halt the white invasion however they feared the firepower of the settlers muskets. The Indian plan was to send a small group to each of the settlers homes at the same time and gain entrance to the houses by way of presenting goods for trade. Upon a predetermined signal, the Indians would jump the white men, cut their throats and ransack the house looking for weapons. What the Indians didn't know was that one of their members was a Colonial informant who revealed the plan to British intelligence and the British soldiers, along with about forty settlers disarmed the Indians before they could set the plan in motion.

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After only a few years of farming in Pentucket, Tristram embarked on a new direction. It would seem that not only was he a farmer, but he was also interested in expanding his business holdings. When the opportunity arose to operate a ferry back in Newbury, Tristram decided to move his family once again. The History of Newbury states that in 1644 Tristram Coffin Sr. is allowed to keep an Ordinary (Tavern) which consisted of selling wine and keeping a ferry and Inn on the Newbury side of the Merrimack River. George Carr kept a ferry on the Salisbury side across from Carr Island. Tristram's ferry crossed from Newbury on the south side of the river, between Carr Island and Ram Island, over to the north side to the town of Salisbury. The ferry was most likely a tow ferry with oxen providing the power to pull the craft across the river, with his sons helping to load and disembark the passengers. In the 1650's Tristram's eldest children began to expand their horizons with Peter leaving Newbury to go to Dover, New Hampshire, where he became involved in the lumber business along with holding a variety of public office positions. Tristram's daughter Elizabeth wed Stephen Greenleaf in 1651 and resided in Newbury where the couple eventually had ten children before Elizabeth's early death. Tristram Jr. married Judith Somerby in 1653 and became a weaver/tailor and Deacon of the First Parish of Newbury. Tristram Jr. is also the person who brought the Coffin name to the old Coffin house in 1654, which still stands in Newbury, after housing over 240 years of Coffin descendants.

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Tristram Coffin was the son of Peter Coffin and Joanna Kember.1 Tristram Coffin was born on 4 March 1609 at Brixton Parish, Plymouth,, Devonshire, England.2,3 He was baptized on 11 March 1610.3 He married Dionis Stevens, daughter of Robert Stevens and Dionis (?), in 1630 at Brixton, Devonshire, England.1,2 Tristram Coffin died on 2 October 1681 at Nantucket, Nantucket Island, MA, at age 72.2

He left England when Cromwell's men took over his ancestral manor at Brixton. Coffyn's early years in England were during a very eventful time. Intellectual freedom was being claimed as a right for each individual. This period was during the reign of James I. Among the names of the day were William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and Oliver Cromwell. It was a period when the Puritans were making large gains in the Parliament.

He came to the shores of America with his widowed mother, Joanna, his pregnant wife Dionis, and five children, about 1643, to Newbury, MA, then to Salisbury, MA.

In 1660 they settled at Nantucket, being one of the first ten purchasers of the island. He was commissioned as the first Chief Magistrate of Nantucket on June 29, 1671, by New York Governor Lovelace and by New York Governor Andres in 1677.

In just forty years after Tristram's death his descendants numbered 1,138 born in America. In 1728 the number increased to 1,582. All of them descendants from one couple, Tristram and Dionis Coffin.4,3

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Tristram Coffin was a first-generation immigrant to the United States in his family line. Coming from an ancient family estate called Alwyington, he emigrated to Massachusetts. He and his son were two of the small group of men that purchased Nantucket Island. In Massachusetts he ran a "pub". After purchasing Nantucket, he moved his family and business there. He also owned the ferry to the mainland. He became a leading member of the community on Nantucket.

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Royalist. Came over in 1642. Lived in Salisbury, Newbury, Haverhill. County Magistrate at Salem. Kept the ordinary at newbury in 1653. He and 8 others bought nantuckett from the indians for 30 pounds and 2 beaver hats. farmer. first magistrate at nantuckett in 1671 and again in 1677.

A few websites:

http://www.essexheritage.org/sites/tristram_coffin.shtml

http://www.jacksonsweb.org/coffinnotes.htm

http://thegoldenbasket.com/family.htm

Also, here is a site with full text of book on Coffin history in England

http://www.archive.org/stream/coffinfamilylife1881coff/coffinfamilylife1881coff_djvu.txt'''

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Tristram and Dionis are the founders of the Coffin family in America. They arrived in New England in 1642 aboard a ship owned by Robert Clement, probably the Hector, but perhaps the Margaret Clement or the Job Clement. He signed an indian deed to Haverhill with Robert Clement in 1642. He brought with him from England his mother and two sisters, Eunice and Mary. In 1648 he moved to Newbury, thence to Salisbury in 1654 and in 1680 to Nantucket, where he joined ten others in purchasing the island (Thomas Macy, Christopher Huffey, Richard Swayne, William Pike, Thomas Bernard, Peter Coffin, Stephen Greenleafe, John Swayne, and William Pike) from Thomas Mayhew.

This info from "The Coffin Family" edited by Louis Coffin and published by the Nantucket Historical Society in 1962. There are also Indian deeds for parts of the island.

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  • Name: Tristram COFFIN
  • Sex: M
  • Birth: 1605 in Brixton, England
  • Death: 2 OCT 1681 in Nantucket, R I
  1. Note: Brixton, County of Devon, England with wife, mother and two sisters, Mary and Eunice. 1640
  2. Note: Salisbury in 1642
  3. Note: Nantucket in 1659

Marriage 1 Dionis STEVENS b: in England

   * Married: 1628

Children

  1. Elizabeth COFFIN b: 1629 in England
  2. John COFFIN b: 1630 in England
  3. Peter COFFIN b: 1630 in England
  4. Tristram COFFIN b: 2 MAR 1632 in England
  5. James COFFIN b: 13 AUG 1640 in England
  6. Deborah COFFIN b: 5 NOV 1642 in Haverhill
  7. Mary COFFIN b: 20 FEB 1644 in Haverhill
  8. John COFFIN b: 30 OCT 1647 in Haverhill
  9. Stephen COFFIN b: 11 MAY 1652 in Newbury, Mass.

-------------------- tristram coffin left england when cromwell's men took over his ancestral manor at brixton.

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Tristram Coffin, Sr.'s Timeline

1605
March 11, 1605
Plymouth, Devon, England
1609
March 11, 1609
Age 4
Plymouth, Brixton, Devon, England
March 11, 1609
Age 4
Brixton, Devon, England
1610
March 11, 1610
Age 5
Brixton Parish, near Plymouth, Devon, England
1630
March 11, 1630
Age 25
Brixton, , Devonshire, England
1631
July 16, 1631
Age 26
Brixton, Devon, England, (Present UK)
1631
Age 25
Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts
1632
February 1, 1632
Age 26
Brixton, Devon, England
1640
August 12, 1640
Age 35
Plymouth, Brixton, Devonshire, England
1641
1641
Age 35
Brixton, Devon, , England