Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr.

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Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr.

Birthplace: Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: January 29, 1753 (84)
Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Nathaniel Starbuck, Sr. and Mary 'Great Mary‘ Starbuck
Husband of Dinah Starbuck
Father of Mary Folger; Paul Starbuck; Priscilla Coffin; Elizabeth Hussey; Hephzibah Hussey and 5 others
Brother of Jane Tobey; Mary Gardner; Elisabeth Coffin; Jethro Starbuck; Barnabas Starbuck and 5 others

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr.

The First Two Quaker Meeting-Houses on Nantucket, By Robert J. Leach, originally published in the Proceedings of the Nantucket Historical Association, 1950, p. 24-33:

Apparently no picture, diagram or measurements of the two earliest Quaker Meeting-houses on Nantucket have been preserved. Reconstruction, at least of a plausible approximation, requires a broad knowledge of architectural forms then current in New England, and specific knowledge of Nantucket patterns, and of Friends Meeting-house styles in the early 17th Century. To this body of general and specific principles must be joined the evidences to be found within the minutes of Nantucket Monthly Meeting and its superior bodies in Rhode Island.

After extensive examination of the data at hand, I venture to present in this article my opinion as to the size and appearance of the two structures involved, and a brief sketch of their history.

The first Friends Meetings on Nantucket were held in the living room of the house of Nathaniel and Mary (Coffin) Starbuck, which house, rebuilt, stands on Upper Main Street, known today as the Tobey House. In its living room in 1708 Nantucket Monthly Meeting was born. That room was not used for regular weekly meetings for worship at any time. It was limited to appointed meetings, men's business meetings, and meetings of ministers and elders. The first room used regularly for First-Day meetings was the living room of the Parliament House, built by Nathaniel Starbuck in 1699, the year after the first appointed Friends meeting was held on the island. That was the "bright rubbed room" of the famous John Richardson Journal account. Today, with its dimensions changed, and the Parliament House re-built it stands at the corner of School and Pine Streets, near the Baptist Church, where the dwelling is known as the Austin house. Regular First-Day meetings were commenced there in 1704. Perhaps 50 persons could "jam" into the Tobey House living room, and a hundred persons into the Austin House living room. Neither were adequate to accommodate public meetings in 1708 when the monthly meeting got under way.

At the initial monthly meeting, the men Friends authorized Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr., their clerk, who was also Town Clerk and Clerk of the Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Lands, to procure property upon which they authorized further that a meeting-house should be built. What followed is probably unique in the history of Puritan Massachusetts. Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr., deeded in 1709 one acre of land to the Meeting. In return the Proprietors granted him an equivalent acre to be held by him in fee simple. Indirectly, the town of Nantucket donated the acre to the Meeting There was no organized church on the island at the time to protest this un-orthodoxy. A few Puritan Indian outposts, and an amorphous antinomiar Baptist fellowship did not challenge the action. The latter grouping was, in fact, in process of absorption into the new Society of Friends.

Friends were, however, slow to put up the meeting-house. In 1709, one of the "godfathers" of Nantucket Quakerism, Ebenezer Slocumb of Jamestown, R. I., "agitated" speed in getting construction under way. Slocumb had joined Friends under the preaching of George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, and had built a meeting-house at Jamestown, which is still standing. That meeting-house, with another now standing at Saylesville, R. I., provide the best examples of contemporary New England meeting-houses still standing. In 1704 the Friends of Dartmouth township, Massachusetts, erected a meeting-house at Apponegansett, 30 ft. x 30 ft. Though long since torn down, the dimensions were probably approximate to those of the Nantucket meeting-house in construction during the winter of 1710-1711. As far as I know, the least-spoiled contemporary Friends Meeting-house was that constructed at Great Egg Harbor, N. J., in 1717, and since moved to Seaville, N. J. If we follow the pattern of the New Jersey house and the dimensions of the Dartmouth structure we can approximate the correct appearance of that Nantucket building, which, as far as I am able to determine, stood on the rise of ground directly west and a little north of the Elihu Coleman house, now owned by Elizabeth Frost Blair.

On the north wall of the interior were raised benches surrounded by a ; high rail. These were used by the ministers and the elders. A single aisle ran up from the front door to the steps leading up into the gallery, though two outside aisles connected with side doors, the one on the left (from the vantage-point of the gallery) for men, the one on the right for the women. Rows of benches, plain, with stiff straight backs, and facing the high seats, ran back to the south wall, where two windows of octagonal leaded-paned glass shed light on the plain wide-brimmed hats and the witch-like headdress of the women Friends. (The poke bonnet was a later development.) One window on each side and two over the ministers' gallery completed the simple arrangements. There was no fire place or chimney. Soapstone, heated at home, sufficed.

Open woodwork, unsheathed beams and joists, preserved a functional simplicity for the room which seated about 200 persons. The builder was Capt. Silvanus Hussey, co-ordinator of the Nantucket whaling fleet, son of Stephen Hussey, one-time Barbados planter, and a lawyer disowned for meddling in Proprietary problems. Later, Silvanus Hussey married, as his second wife, a daughter of Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr., and still later succeeded Starbuck as Clerk of the Nantucket Monthly Meeting. Silvanus Hussey's wife was for many years treasurer of the women Friends.

At first waxed paper was used in the windows, most unsatisfactory in winter-time. The War of the Spanish Succession held up supplies until 1714, when the permanent windows arrived from England, presumably. As soon as the meeting-house was completed the town ordered all notices of public gatherings to be posted on its doors, a practice which continued even after the first Town House was constructed in 1717. The most honored guest present at the "dedication" of the meeting-house was Anthony Morris, a merchant prince of Philadelphia, clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends, founder of the William Penn Charter School, and also of the oldest chartered still-operated manufacturing firm in the United States.

In 1716 it was deemed prudent to build a 20-ft. addition to the meetinghouse, which, added to the east wall of the structure, was in effect a "compartment" for men Friends. A movable partition was run down near the middle of the house to allow for both men and women to hold separate business sessions simultaneously. There was a door in the partition for the use of Friends desiring to visit the "other" meeting.

The acre of land next to the meeting-house was used for a burial ground. The first interment occurred in 1709 and the last in 1760 in this particular unmarked spot. Altogether probably two hundred and seventy-five Friends were there interred, though there are no markers. After 1760, burials were made at the Quaker Road graveyard at the west of Main Street in Nan-tucket Town. That property, of course, was the location of the second Nantucket Friends' Meeting-house.

In the interim, however, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, the missionary branch of the Massachusetts State Church, set up a mission outpost on Nantucket in 1725. Following upon the visit of Rev. Nathan Prince in 1722, the Rev. Timothy White appeared, to supervise the construction of the building now known as the "Old Vestry," and a structure recently restored as the original meeting-house of the First Congregational Church. The cost of construction was met in Boston, as was the salary of Timothy White. Until 1765, the old vestry stood on the rise of land south of Capaum harbor (or pond) at the site of the first grave-yard on Nantucket.

The Quaker community was restive, however, from 1725 to 1732 as their enlarged 1716 meeting-house was totally eclipsed in size and elegance by Parson White's church. For example, master carpenter Elihu Coleman received $900.00 (equivalent) in 1728 for the repair of the original house, and in the fall of 1730 Nantucket Friends turned down a request of some Rhode Island Friends to help them build a meeting-house with the explanation that "we are about to build one for ourselves."

In the 18th century each meeting-house was built at a united effort of the Society in that area, not as a financial venture undertaken by the local group. Unfortunately, we have no comprehensive figures on the costs or contributions involved in building the first two meeting-houses. In the first instance, the women Friends donated $250.00 toward meeting a deficit in 1711. The first Treasurer of the meeting, the clerk's bachelor brother Barnabas Starbuck, not only saw through the financing of the first structure, but served as meeting-house caretaker from its erection till his departure from the island in 1721. His nephew, Paul Starbuck, the Clerk's son, then took charge of the meeting properties. Eventually when the second meeting-house was occupied in 1732, the first structure was rented to Benjamin Coffin, the first Quaker schoolmaster, who used the building for educational purposes for three years. Then it burned, at an estimated loss of $4,000. It may be presumed that when completed in 1716, it had cost the islanders and their friends at least that figure.

In the winter of 1722-23, a hurricane of proportions equal to those of 1938 and 1944 had closed the mouth of Capaum harbor, which necessitated a general removal of the town to its present site. Consequently, the committee chosen to fence in the old graveyard in 1731, and to select a site for a meeting-house "for publick worship on Truth's account" settled on the present Quaker Road site. Jethro Starbuck, another brother of the Clerk, was chairman of the location committee. A man possessed of uncommon good sense and dry humor, he acted as chief elder in the meeting. With him served Richard Macy, builder of the Long Wharf, John Macy, Jr., builder of the Town House, Silvanus Hussey, builder of the first meeting-house, Batchellor Hussey, his brother, and Jabez Bunker and Jethro Polger, two young, promising whaling captains.

After the location was approved and an acre purchased from the Pro-prietory, the contract for the new structure was granted to Capt. Silvanus Hussey. All during the winter and spring the great meeting-house took form. When the first house was erected in 1711, perhaps 125 Nantucketers could properly be included as members and attenders of meetings. When the addition was made in 1716, that number had increased to 215. The enlarged meeting-house seated 325, which capacity was soon outgrown. When the great meeting-house was put up the members and attenders totalled 730 persons. Naturally, a very large structure was planned and put up. The seating capacity of the new house was 1,500 persons—835 women and 665 men. And in 1762, when the great meeting-house itself was enlarged, the Quaker community on Nantucket included 2,370 persons.

The new meeting-house extended about 140 feet along the south front, and was broken by three doors and six windows on the ground level. On the second floor were nine windows. All were spaced irregularly but not without symmetry. Some windows were broader than others. Regular small panes replaced leaded glass, though the latter was still common in town. A hip-roof allowed side-wall chimneys to stand free. There were four of these, each with a fireplace, two on either side wall. To the north of each of the four chimneys was a door and between each two chimneys on the ground floor were two windows. Five second-floor windows on the east and west walls completed the lighting arrangements—except for the north wall. Here five of the ground floor windows were small square lights as the high minister's gallery and its overshadowing sounding-board limited available space. Two high doors allowed for summer or emergency exits from the high benches. These would open like porches over these doorways as over the other entrances. Two of the ground-floor north windows were large sized as were the seven windows upstairs. Altogether there were nine exits from the house and, all told, forty-three windows. No wonder so much subsequent repair work consisted of replacing panes of glass.

As the building stood about 70 feet in depth, the women's apartment was broader than it was deep, while the men's room v/as slightly otherwise. A huge upstairs gallery seating 400 persons ran about the east, south and west walls, connected to the main floor by four small, twisting staircases, one in the southeast corner, another in the southwest corner, and two just opposite each other near the south wall partition. As the main middle door opened into the women's room at this point, it allowed for speedy exit from the women's gallery, which was naturally the larger of the two. The upstairs gallery was called the youths' gallery; thus it is proper to speak of the girls' side and the boys' side. From each of the secondary south front entrances ran aisles out from under the youths' gallery straight to the ministers' gallery. The steps up into the high seats themselves, leading to the high doors, more nearly connected with secondary aisles, near the center of the room, aisles which led from the facing seats to the main south front door by an off-set to the east in the women's side, and through a partition from the men's side under the youths' gallery. That particular aisle ran along the shutter, which was cut through by a second door at the foot of the ministers' gallery. A women's aisle ran on their side of the shutter. This plan allowed for three groupings of benches to run from the south wall to the ministers' gallery. Under the youths' gallery they were slightly elevated, and the middle section shortened at the expense of the other women's section. The third section alone was reserved for men. Aisles ran both along the south wall itself, and the edge of the youths' gallery.

On the east or men's side of the house, the under-gallery benches ran at right angles to those in the body of the meeting, a back aisle behind them leading to the front fireplace and the door directly beyond. This section was enclosed by aisles leading from the two east doors, connecting with the aisle i at the edge of the youths' gallery running east and west, and another aisle running along the edge of the youth gallery, north and south. Thus, a fourth section of floor seats was created narrower than the other three, from which side exits were easily made.

North of the front fireplace was a small section of right-angled benches occupying the spot where the facing benches would have extended had I they been built under the large gallery. Special stairway exits from the min-1 isters' gallery emptied opposite these benches. In fact, the men's ministers I usually entered the house by the door just north of the front fireplace. The I clerk's desk was placed on the top level facing bench just east of the high I door, which gave the clerk a "cati-cornered" view of the men's apartment, in-1 eluding the whole sweep of the youth galleries.

The women's clerk's desk stood just west of the high door, giving an equally advantageous sweep of the room. Actually, however, because the [ women's room included a whole section more of middle benches than did the [ men's apartment, the women's clerk's desk appeared to be dead center of I the room, excepting the side gallery and under gallery space. On the west! side of the house—the women's side—the arrangements were identically re-1 versed to the foregoing description of the men's east side.

Upstairs, the benches resembled those under the galleries, except that they were graded at a steeper angle and all cross-gallery aisles were, in fact, • stairways. The south gallery was divided by the great partition, aisles F running up on either side just beyond the entrances to the main staircase, | On the men's side, there was a door at the top of the gallery, leading to the| attic, where was located wooden machinery for hoisting the partition at least* thirty feet in order for meetings to be held jointly as was the case other than! at separate business sessions. Very probably the partition was divided intoK two main 20 ft. sections and two smaller 10 ft. sections, one over the minis-1 ters' gallery and one at the front of the youth gallery. Large posts running! up two floors separated these sections, similar to the posts placed at 20 ftr intervals to support the youth gallery and the ceiling itself.

Large white-pine beams were probably imported from New Hampshire for the rafters in the great meeting-house. Probably, there was no plastering and nothing was painted. In fact, painting of houses did not become general in the colony until after 1740. Very probably the youth gallery wall was panelled as was the wall back of the ministers' gallery, and, of course, the great shutter (or shutters). Otherwise, the plainest of wood-work prevailed. On the other hand, the rough hewn beams left exposed in the first rneeting-house were now probably boarded over.

When the Great Meeting-house was first opened for public inspection in 1732, the most honored visitor was none other than the same John Richardson who had been the means of converting Mary Starbuck to Quakerism. Now a man in his sixties, he returned to witness fruits of labors so tremendous as to equal most success stories in the American business world. He left no extensive journal account, only a phrase "we went to Nantucket, where we met with many innocent plain Friends ... " Did he once more view with mingled emotions the "bright rubb'd room" in the Parliament House?

In 1736, Thomas Chalkley, the Philadelphia merchant who was among the first Friends to visit Nantucket, recorded in his Journal "now it is computed there were above a thousand who went to our meetings." Subsequently, in 1743, Edmund Peckover, of County Norfolk in old England, wrote: "I think their meeting-house will not hold less than fifteen hundred persons, and it was very full when we were there." In 1755 Dr. Samuel Forthegill, the great reforming Friend from Yorkshire in old England, observed 1500 persons at meeting, noting that possibly 400 more were off island whaling at that particular moment. Though no dimensions of the Great Meeting-house have come down to us, I feel reasonably secure in suggesting the definite plan for the building so minutely described above. It had to be that large, and being a Quaker structure in the early Georgian period, reasonably similar to its companion pieces in Rhode Island.

Despite the fact that by 1728, Nantucket was the most prosperous whaling port in the world, the financing of the structure was no small job. When Barnabas Starbuck left town in 1721, the treasurership of the meeting went to Thomas Macy, brother of Richard and John, and also Treasurer of the Town and County. In 1728, however, Macy resigned his post to devote more time to business, and the Clerk, Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr., handled the initial stages of raising funds for the great structure. When the building committee began actual supervision of the raising of the meeting-house, Nathaniel turned over the treasurer's job to the chairman of the committee, in this case his brother, elder Jethro Starbuck. In the summer of 1752, the meeting caretaker Paul Starbuck was named along with his uncle to procure funds for the women's meeting. In 1737, when Nantucket received a request from Dartmouth Friends to help build a meeting-house at Westport, Mass., the islanders refused financial assistance as "we have lately built a large meeting-house and have not finished it."

A platform with posts and roof shelter was constructed about the fore-doors of the meeting-house, running along the south side of the building. The contract went in 1739 to Richard Macy. At the same time he was requested to pave the immediate meeting-house yard with flat cobblestones, to keep down dust and to eliminate mud in rainy spells. Shelter in case of stormy weather was needed. That spring the women had reported "it proving a very Sevier Storm not one Friend able to go out." The porch, if anything, improved the appearance of the building.

Eleven years later the meeting authorized $872.00 to be spent on a "Privy House," four feet square. Then in 1753, Paul Starbuck resigned from his office as caretaker. His aging father the millionaire ex-Clerk Nathaniel Starbuck, died and the huge estate required his undivided attention. Samuel and Edward, Paul's sons, handled repair jobs on the meeting-house in 1753 and 1756, amounting to $654.60 and $179.20. In 1756, a thorough overhaul job was granted to Jethro Coleman, Elihu Coleman's brother, the cost amounting to $352.40. The joint caretakership proved unsuitable, so that in 1758, David Joy, a whaler originally from Dartmouth, was named to the position so long held by Paul Starbuck. Joy was requested to make a thorough survey of the roof, which had sprung a leak alarmingly that winter.

David Joy found that a major re-roofing job was in the offing. Consequently, Barnabas Coleman, a brother of Elihu and Jethro was asked to contact the young people and non-member attenders, to give them an opportunity to help pay for the repairs. Subsequently, it was deemed best to enlarge the Great Meeting-house. As the easiest method of increasing size consisted of pushing the north wall out 20 feet, this was done. The hip roof had to be raised five feet and the ridge-pole decreased in length ten feet. The committee to plan the re-building was composed of David Joy, caretaker, Robert Barnard, nephew of the Macy brothers, and Hezekiah Coffin, a great nephew of Mary Starbuck. Their recommendations called for accommodation of 500 additional seats, a hundred of which were to be located in the extended youth galleries. A total accommodation of 2,000 souls was envisaged; room for 1,115 women and 885 men. The contract for enlarging the meeting-house was granted in 1762 to Philip Pollard, who was asked to work closely with Jonathan Macy, son of the late treasurer, John May, Jr., William Rotch, the leading Friend in the Revolutionary War period, and Capt. William Hussey, son of Capt. Silvanus, and staunch pacifist. The addition probably cost the meeting about $10,000, a figure easily met by over 600 adult members, plus outside assistance. A contemporary meeting-house, under construction in Providence, R. I., was estimated to cost under $22,000, but when completed cost twice that figure.

Although I have not examined the records of Nantucket Quakerism after 1763, it is my opinion that the 1762 enlargement proved reasonably satisfactory until after the Revolutionary War. In 1792, we know that a new North Meeting-house was built, and the 1732-1762 building moved and rebuilt at the corner of Main and Pleasant streets. Very probably, its size was reduced to what it had been when Silvanus Hussey first worked on it. And then in 1834 the building was torn down and its material was incorporated, so tradition goes, in a barn which recently burned on Cape Cod. The accompanying sketches are to illustrate conjectural sizes and appearances, as well as the interior arrangements of the first two meeting-houses of the Society of Friends on Nantucket.



He was a Quaker.


[S131] Ross Coffin, My Father's Shoes.

[S81] Roland L. Warren, Mary Coffin Starbuck & the Early History of Nantucket.

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Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr.'s Timeline

August 9, 1668
Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts, United States
December 31, 1692
Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts, United States
August 29, 1694
Nantucket Island,Nantucket,Massachusetts
May 25, 1696
Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts, United States
September 27, 1698
Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts, United States
November 8, 1700
Nantucket Island, Nantucket County, Province of Massachusetts
June 28, 1704
Nantucket Island, Nantucket, Massachusetts, USA
July 16, 1707
Nantucket Island, Nantucket County, Province of Massachusetts
June 18, 1709
Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts, United States