Nicholas Coffin

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Nicholas Coffin

Also Known As: "Nicholas Coffyn"
Birthdate: (51)
Birthplace: Butlers Parish, Brixton, Devonshire, England
Death: October 8, 1613 (51)
Butlers Parish, Brixton, Devon, England
Place of Burial: Brixton, Devon, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Peter Coffin and Mary Coffin
Husband of Joan Coffin
Father of Anne Coffin; Eleanor Coffin; Peter Coffin; Nicholas Coffyn, lll; Joan Coffin and 4 others
Brother of Tristram Coffin; Philip Coffin; Lionel Coffyn and Thomas Coffin

Managed by: Noah Tutak
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Immediate Family

About Nicholas Coffin

He "belonged to an ancient family of gentry in Devonshire. During the thirteenth century one Richard Coffyn was granted free warren in the manor of Alwington by King Henry III, and early in the next century the manor was settled upon another Richard Coffyn, from whose day, until the present time the lordship of the manor has remained in the Coffin family. It is one of the rare instances of an English estate being retained for a period of nearly eight hundred years in one family and continuing the original name. The grounds belonging to the manor comprise most of the parish of Alurington, about three thousand seven hundred acres, near the borough of Bideford in North Devon, which Charles Kingsley so graphically describes in his Westward Ho."2


The Coffin line of America can be traced with certainty only to Nicholas Coffyn. Pre-Nicholas lineage is uncertain at best. When ADMIRAL SIR ISAAC COFFIN (Born in America, fought for Britain in Revolutionary war) was being considered for Baronet, He put his best foot forward so to speak, and presented his lineage as nobly as he could, which required some assumptions and suppositions. Apparently the crown bought it, because he got his Baronet, with a new coat of arms.

Because no one seems to refer back to the source material, I have plagiarized it here: This is not a primary source, but it is a compilation of various sources, that are the basis for the "Pre-Nicholas Lineage"

The life of Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin: baronet, his English and American ... By Thomas Coffin Amory


This memoir, in its original form of a discourse, had its limitations of time and topic. Much else might have been added connected with the subject had the occasion allowed. The several histories of Nantucket, the "Life of Tristram Coffin," by Mr. Allen Coffin; of " General John Coffin," by his son, Henry Edward; "The Arms of the Family," by Mr. John Coffin Jones Brown, are well known and accessible. Other sources of information exist in print and manuscript. Bearing in mind that many readers of these pages will find them more instructive if they have at hand what will better explain them, I have borrowed from their pages, under marks of quotation, in the larger part by permission and with grateful acknowledgments. If I have been too bold, I pray their forgiveness. Let me also express my sense of the kindness of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, in permitting me to read what portions of this memoir their limits permitted, in their course, and to have these portions, somewhat extended, inserted in their January Record.

Boston, March i, 1886.

I. ANCESTRY. The name of Coffin is so widely spread over our continent, so many thousands of men and women of other patronymics take pride in their descent from Tristram, its first American patriarch, that what concerns them all, any considerable branch or distinguished individual of the race, seems rather history than biography.

Space forbids my repeating here, as I well might wish, all that has been recorded of their existence in the new world, or that beyond the sea. But what sheds light on Sir Isaac and his immediate progenitors is too germane to my subject to be wholly overlooked. To trace back Tristram to Alwington, follow his fortunes from Plympton in old England to the Merrimack in the new, bring his checkered career to its honored close at Nantucket; to pay due homage to his son James, the upright judge; to his son Nathaniel, the dauntless master mariner, and his wife, Damaris Gayer, the eloquent preacher; to their son William, the much-loved merchant of Boston, senior warden of Trinity; to his son, another Nathaniel, graduate of Harvard and Yale, King's treasurer, and father of Sir Isaac—six generations with Tristram of admirable men, with much to praise and little to censure, is our legitimate purpose, so far as our limits prescribed will permit, before proceeding to our more immediate subject.

Though unlike in character, and of very different experiences from his ancestors, Sir Isaac was too remarkable a man to pass into oblivion. His long life, commencing in 1759 m Boston, and ending eighty years later in Cheltenham, England, was crowded with events, many of historic importance. By his native vigor, doughty deeds, and eminent services he rose to distinguished rank in the British navy, became captain of a line-of-battle ship at the age of twenty-two, and was created a baronet at the age of fortyfour. This not from large means, family influence, or court favor, but that his character and conduct afloat and ashore entitled him to such preferment. Throngs of heroic officers won glory in the same wars that he did, attracted attention by more conspicuous achievements; but his fearless daring, zeal, and ability, and what he accomplished, inscribes his memory high up on the roll of honor, if not on the scroll of fame.

How far life and character are moulded by circumstances, how far by heredity, is a complicated problem, and the horoscope is too largely affected by maternal influences for these to be disregarded. Though bearing all the marks of his paternal stock, Sir Isaac doubtless owed something to the blood mingling in his veins from other sources, and it has been my endeavor to discover these infusions where I can, and one instance should be preserved for the criticism of coming genealogists—a supposed link that may be of use.

Nicholas, father of Peter and grandfather of Tristram, has been regarded as their most remote paternal ancestor ascertained. According to tradition, their line was an offshoot of Alwington, but how, continued a puzzle. Many years ago I bought an old edition of Collins (1758), and while seeking some other information, my eyes fell on the name of Peter Coffin, who about 1560 married Mary, fourth daughter of Hugh Boscawen. Hugh died 1559, at the age of eighty. As the homes of the Boscawens, Tregothnan and Penkeville, lay near Brixton, the home of Tristram, this awakened curiosity, the more that Peter's name was not in the index, and might have escaped the notice of previous genealogical inquirers.

Hugh Boscawen, of one of the most affluent and influential families of Cornwall, married Phillippa Carniinow, of large possessions and royal descent, inheriting, through Philip Courtenay, the unfortunate Marquis of Exeter, Plympton, and other estates near Plymouth, part of which we find the inheritance of Tristram. Hugh had seven sons and seven daughters. The third son, Nicholas, eighty-six when he died in 1626, was the successor of his parents in their estates. His sister Mary, who married Peter Coffin, must have been born about 1545, as there were nine younger children than herself born before 1559, when her father died at the age of eighty. Her brass at Penkeville gives her death in 1622. Her age is not very clearly stated, but apparently as seventy-seven. Her son Nicholas, if grandfather of Tristram, would have been of an age, in 1582, to have been father of Peter, who died 1628, and whose wife Joanna, mother of Tristram, died in Boston, 1661, aged seventy-seven, having been born in 1584.

If thus, or in any other way, connected with the Coffins, the house of Tregothnan is too historical, and associated with too many important events in our colonial annals, not to make it worthy of note. Lord Falmouth, under Queen Anne, Edward, the commander of the British fleet in the second reduction of Louisbourg, in more recent days, have added to the lustre of a name prolific in naval heroes and eminent statesmen. The importance we attach to this supposed connection is that it affords clews to ascertain the relation of Tristram to Alwington, and as Petronel, the sister of Mrs. Peter Coffin, married Peter Mayhowe, a possible explanation how Thomas Mayhew and Tristram Coffin here together planted Nantucket. Tuckett's Devon Visitations, full as to the main male line of Alwington, are being carried back, extended out, and brought down by Colonel Vivyan, who is approaching the Coffins. My suggestions may help his researches, and they are given for what they are worth.

But who was the father of Peter Coffin, who married Mary Boscawen? He must have been born about 1500. If among the recorded members of the family are found individuals whose dates or other known circumstances are inconsistent with the parentage of Peter, that reduces the field of investigation. Sceptical minds reject hypothesis in such researches, but often hypothesis, fairly tested, is the only path to the truth. At Monkley, about ten miles east from Portlege, one of the homes of its junior branches, dwelt at the time James, son of Richard and Miss Chudleigh, whose brother John married Mary Cary. His wife, Mary Cole, was the near kinswoman of William, who married Radigan, daughter of Nicholas Boscawen. Tristram named his sons after his ancestors. James was his fourth son. These circumstances amount to nothing as proof, but may lead to it, or perhaps confirm the conclusion of Mr. Allen Coffin, that the connection with Alwington, if any, is much more remote. Near the close will be found an article on this and other kindred topics, portions of which by his permission I insert.

In the sequel will be found the visitation of the Coffins of Portlege. Its examination will show other grounds on which we rest our faith as to the parentage of Peter. It will be seen that in the sixth generation John Coffin married Philippa, daughter and co-heiress of Phillip Hingston. His eldest son Richard, Sheriff of Devon in 1511 (2 Hen. VIII.), married Wilmot, daughter of Sir Richard Chudleigh, famous in legal annals as party in a leading case which bears his name. This marriage took place about 1510. The Sheriff had three sons, John, James, and Edward. The second, James, born as late as 1512, might well have been father of Peter, who, about 1562, married Mary Boscawen. Their son Nicholas, if born in 1563, would have been old enough in 1585 to have been father of Peter, who, the father of Tristram, died in 1628. Wedlock came early when there were few other distractions. Under favorable circumstances life was often prolonged beyond the average limit; but war, exposure, perhaps inferior medical skill, backwardness of medical science, sufficiently explain why so many failed to live out their allotted span. As the line consists mainly of eldest sons, less time embraced these several generations.

The best known of the brothers of the Sheriff, Sir William, born about 1480, going to Court, stood high in the estimation of Henry the Eighth. Like Raleigh, later from the same province, he won his way by his wit and courage. He was selected in 1519 by the King as one of the eighteen English knights to take part in the tournament before Guines, in France, with a like number of French gentlemen, practised in arms and renowned for prowess. He was Master of Horse at the coronation of Anne Boleyn, and appointed one of the gentlemen of the King's Privy Chamber, filled to the monarch's satisfaction a position of distinction and influence much coveted at Court. He married Margaret, the daughter of Sir George Dimock, the champion of England, and from her, after his death the wife of Richard Manners, descended the later Dukes of Rutland. Sir William took a prominent part in the Parliament, one ecclesiastical abuse being done away with at his instance.* At Standon, a royal manor, of which he was high steward when he died in 1538, stands his monument. He left no children, and by his will devised his lands to his brother Richard's sons, bequeathed his hawks, hounds, and hunting gear to the King. His brothers James and Thomas had children, but the dates confirm the view that his nephew, James, and Mary Cole were the parents of Peter, who married Mary Boscawen.

Doubtless there were other branches of the name, from among which we might look for the ancestry of Tristram. His earliest progenitors in England came over with the Conqueror in 1066. Captain Henry Coffin, in his memoir of General John Coffin, 1880, says that several years before he had visited Falaise, in Normandy, and near that place lay estates owned eight centuries earlier by the Coffins, before they crossed over the Channel to the land of promise. These estates were still the property of their descendants in the female line. Falaise will be remembered as the birthplace of the Conqueror. It is said that the name of Coffin was a corruption or translation of Colvinus, signifying a basket or chest, and that from

  • This act, limiting the amount of mortuaries, the fees of the parish priest for burial, has been counted one of three statutes mentioned by the historians as ecclesiastical reforms which, from the abuses done away and the debates they provoked, helped to bring about the Reformation.

charge of the King's treasure—such employment, like royalty itself, being hereditary—the name attached to the family. The confidence implied by its responsible duties seems explained by the integrity which has been characteristic of all their successive generations. Such virtue was its own reward, and if too generous to be noted for many instances of affluence, they even in that regard were prospered as they multiplied and spread over the earth.

Of the first who came over to England little seems known. Westcote tells us that Alwington in 1085, according to Domesday, was possessed by David De la Bere, and that the heiress of that name brought it to the Coffins. On a subject less grave this might be suspected for a jest, but the authority is proof. Sir William Pole, page 386, states that Sir Richard Coffin held two knights' fees there from Robert, the King's son, in the reign of Henry II. Whether earlier than this or later, flourished branches of that name at Combe Coffin, now Combe Pine, in the east of Devon; at Coffin Well, in the south, and at Ingarley in the west, Sir Hugh, Sir Elias, Sir Geoffry, are mentioned in the records later than the first of a long line of Richards who, with some breaks in the continuity of name and knighthood, held Alwington and dwelt there. At Coffin's Ingarley once stood a noble mansion, with a church near by, surrounded by an extensive deer park. Its lord, Sir Elias, about 1200, bore gilded spurs in token of his military rank, and Sir Hugh, of Combe Coffin, his contemporary, was similarly distinguished. They may have been offshoots of Alwington, or that branch of theirs. From among them might possibly have proceeded our branch in this country, but we think not.

It must not be forgotten that in the pedigree of Coffin in "the Devon Visitations" there is mention made of a Nicholas, who, so far as regards dates, could not have been Tristram's grandfather. Richard, the sheriff, 1511, was born in all probability thirty years at the least before he was made sheriff. His son John, born about 1510, married Mary Cary, and their second son, John, born after 1569, was not of an age before 1589 to be married. His wife was Grace Berry, daughter of Richard of Berrynarbor. Their third son, Nicholas, aged seven when the visitation was made, probably in 1620, must have been born in 1613, in which year Nicholas, father of Peter, who died in 1628, and grandfather of our Tristram, passed away.

It is well also to bear in mind, in connection with this inquiry as to the ancestry of Tristram, that Anna, daughter of Sir William Chudleigh, who died in 1515, married James Coffin, of Portlege, brother of the Sheriff. Her niece Wilmot, daughter of Sir Richard Chudleigh, who died 1558, was the wife of the Sheriff. As the eldest son of Sir Richard Chudleigh, Christopher, was thirty years and more at his father's death, Wilniot might seem to have been much younger than her husband. Still, the expression, " thirty years and more," in legal documents, at the period, was very indefinite. It seemed to leave open the question whether James Coffin and Anna Chudleigh are among the possibilities for the parentage of Peter, great-grandfather of Tristram, James, the Sheriff's son, and Mary Cole, or others yet to be discovered.


But why seek to trace Tristram's lineage to Alwington? The beauty of the place, the character of its long line of proprietors through seven hundred years—one of the very few instances, even in England, in which an estate has remained for so great a length of time in the same family—which has never been sold, sequestered, or confiscated, or passed except by inheritance, will, or family settlement, which has continued not only their chief but constant habitation, suggests a home so enduring, qualities so sterling, that in a world changeable as this it is solacing to every conservative element in our nature to believe we too belong to it.

Alwington extends along the Severn Sea, south of the boundary between Somerset and Devon, fronting the broad Atlantic. The mighty billows roll in majestic force against its cliffs and crags. The domain now embraces thirty-eight * hundred acres, part in fertile farms with substantial steadings; part in park and pleasure-grounds, studded with forest trees in clumps and woods. Its area may have expanded in prosperous days, or been shorn down to provide for junior branches; but its grounds are substantially the same now as under the Plantagenets, or when it first came to the Coffins with the heiress of the De la Beres.

When we call to mind what this beautiful region embraces from the Severn Sea to its southern shores, Exmoor and Dartmoor, which Blackmore and Kingsley have so brilliantly described, its romantic streams and majestic hills, with their wild sublimity—and who has not read " Lorna Doon "—we can well consider it a privilege that such associations cluster about our-own ancestral memories, that the Coffins and so many Americans from Devon have such good reason to be proud of their mother-country, feel deeper interest in their progenitors that they dwelt amid scenes so picturesque. Our kinswoman, Mrs. Johnson, will pardon me if I draw in- part from her own eloquent account of Portlege what will convey a more perfect idea of the place.

The approach from Bideford in Somersetshire south to Portlege, the manor-house of Alwington, extends for four miles along a shaded road, lined on either side with luxuriant hedges, brambled vines, and grasses. Half a mile from the house the road reaches the great gateway, which opens on grounds tastefully disposed; for time and taste and means effect marvels about the old homes of England. Lawns and gardens in a fine state of cultivation spread around, with that depth of verdure and coloring peculiar to the proximity to the sea; for in Devon the grape and peach, if protected, ripen beside the pear and plum.

  • Late census.

The house sets low for shelter from the blasts, and is not conspicuous until closely approached. The spirit of repose that it breathes, of the times that have passed, of the various vicissitudes of sorrow and enjoyment that have cheered or tried its generations, noted for their culture and refinement as they have come and passed from infancy to age, cannot escape your attention in the photograph of the edifice.

About the same distance from the house, along the shore, stretches a beach looking out over the Atlantic, to which a shaded walk from the house winds among ferns and groves thick with shrubs and rich with various verdure. Seats judiciously disposed afford a resting-place for the enjoyment of the view and the breeze. About a mile away stands the old church, bosked in mossy foliage, quiet and secluded, no dwelling in sight, venerable with age, if too substantial for decay. Its pews of oak, black with time, are richly carved, as often seen in these ancient shrines. Here more than twenty generations have brought their children in arms to the font, their dead for sepulchre. Here their blooming maidens, their own or their tenants', have come to be joined in wedlock. The walls and floors of the edifice, as the burial ground around it, are crowded with slabs and monuments that relate, with the same touching simplicity, the annals of them


Within the walls of the mansion, which are of stone, with coigns and buttresses and battlements, windows varied but harmonious, is a large, square entrance hall with gallery on the level of the second floor. This and the spacious dining-room are lined with family portraits; men and women in antiquated garb, representing the blue eyes and characteristic features of the race. Carved doors abound of stately dimensions, and ceilings of faded grandeur, displaying in many colors the emblazonments and quarterings of the family arms and of others of the best, connected with them by marriage. Many are derived from royal and noble progenitors— Pomeroys, Beaumonts, Chudleighs, Courtenays, Prideaux, Carys, Champernouns, Cliffords, Bassets, Damerels, of Devon or adjacent counties. Imagination conjures up the throng of these personages, long mouldered, as on festal occasions they gathered to the banquet or the dance, roamed and wooed by the moonbeams, shot arrows at the targe, let loose the falcon, or rode after the hounds.

The ancient forms and arrangements of the mansion, modified to meet as well the requirements of modern taste and comfort as to retain what is old or quaint, combine to constitute Portlege a most agreeable home to dwell in. It was once famous for its precious and extensive library, its archives rich with the accumulations of many generations. Sad to say, about 1800, in the transfer under a settlement to another branch, the books were mostly sold and many documents dispersed. .There still remain vast coffers of manuscript treasures, which in time must perish, but which should, before too late, be arranged, copied, translated into intelligible language, calendared, catalogued, and indexed. Some antiquary of the family may yet be born to the faith that he can devote his days to no better field of service to posterity than such a task.

Before taking leave of Alwington, as Tristram's progenitors passed off from the ancestral stem, an enumeration of the succeeding generations from John and Mary Cary may be of interest. Their second son wedded Grace, daughter of Richard Berrie, of Berrianarbor; Richard, the oldest, 1569-1617 (forty-eight), Elizabeth, 1571-1651 (aged eighty), daughter of Leonard Loveis, of Cornwall. With the eight sons and seven daughters of Richard, as they grew into life, Portlege must have been gay, and as the daughters, at least, followed in rapid succession to their nuptials, not even what was disagreeable in the Stuart monarchs or the contentions of the land could have cast a shadow so remote from the court and battle-field. When the mother died, in 1651, James, the fifth son and last survivor, erected in the church of Alwington a monument to the memory of his parents, with an inscription which tells in rude rhymes their story. The eldest of the two sons left two daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, and the inheritance passed to a second Richard, 1622-99, "Without an enemy while living, and universally lamented when dead." His wife was Ann Prideaux, daughter of Edmund, of Padstow, 1645-1705, who died at the age of sixty. He was much esteemed, and in 1686 was sheriff of Devon under James II.

The children of the sheriff and Ann Prideaux were Bridget, John, Honora, and Richard. The eldest son married Ann Kellond, travelled extensively over Europe, stood well for character and scholarship, but died at the age of twenty-five in 1703. Honora married Richard Bennett; Dorothy, Richard Pyne, from whom came the Pyne Coffins. Richard, who succeeded his brother John in 1703, for seventy-three years was lord of Alwington, and died there m 1776 unmarried. He settled the estates first on the Bennetts, Robert and Richard, who died without children; and the

eversion went to the Pynes descended from Honora, who took the name of Coffin. The present proprietor, born 1841, was the grandson of Richard, great-grandson of the youngest daughter of the sheriff, who died 1699, and Ann Prideaux, who died 1705. As Mr. Pyne Coffin has a large family of fine healthy children, there seems no chance of any of the male line of the Coffins ever succeeding to Alvvington.

It is believed the male representation of the family rests in some descendant of Peter Coffin, who about 1560 married Mary Boscawen. A few words remain to be said about them. Phillippa Carminow, mother of Mrs. Mary Coffin, was, as already mentioned, co-heiress of that part of the Courtenay estates which escaped forfeiture when the Marquis of Exeter, next to the crown, was beheaded. Plympton, near the home of Tristram, formed part of the Courtenayinheritance which Phillippa Carminow carried to Hugh Boscawen, of Tregothnan, 1469-1559, as his wife. Their home was at Penkevil, not far up the river from Brixton, and is still the home of the Lords of Falmouth, their representatives. Evidence is found in an inquisition of William and Mary, 1558, of the Coffins, of Portlege, holding lands at Plympton, which may have come through the Boscawen's by this marriage, or perhaps may have led to it. At Plympton and Brixton Nicholas, grandfather of Tristram, and Peter, his father, resided ; and Tristram took, by the will of his father, Peter, subject to his mother's life estate, these lands, or a part of them, which it would seem likely came in this way or through the Hingstons.

Many have searched for the ancestral line of Tristram among the records of Devonshire. No one has as yet been able, as already stated, to trace with certainty his pedigree beyond that of his grandfather, Nicholas Coffyn. Sir Isaac, in memorializing the College of Arms, in 1804, for the grant of a coat for himself, represented that he was by tradition descended from the family of Coffin, of the west of England, but that he was unable to ascertain his descent. No doubt seems entertained, however, that the proper investigation of the matter will some time reveal Tristram's true pedigree extending much further back; if not that suggested, what is now unknown will prove as honorable as that which we now know with reasonable certainty.

Tristram Coffyn, of Butler's Parish, of Brixton, County of Devon, England, made his will November 16, 1601, which was proved at Totness, in the same county, in 1602.

He left legacies to Joan, Anne, and John, children of Nicholas Coffyn; Richard and Joan, children of Lionel Coffyn; Philip Coffyn, and his son Tristram; and appointed Nicholas, son of Nicholas Coffyn, his executor. He was probably the great-uncle of the first of the race in America.

Nicholas Coffyn, of Brixton (one account says Butler's Parish), in Devonshire, in his will, dated September 12, 1613, and proved November 3, 1613, mentions his wife Joan, and sons Peter, Nicholas, Tristram, John, and daughter Anne. He was the grandfather of the emigrant to New England, and born about 1560, probably the son of Mary Boscawen. He lived to the end of the reign of the Tudors, and saw the reign of the Stuarts commenced in the person of James VI. of Scotland and I. of England. He died in the reign of James I. (1613). His eldest son, Peter, doubtless succeeded to his estates; and his youngest son, John, acquired some estate, as he made our Tristram his executor. The other sons, Nicholas and Tristram, have not been accounted for; neither has his daughter Anne.

Peter Coffyn, of Brixton, in his will, dated December 1, 1627, and proved March 13, 1628, provides that his wife Joan (Thember) shall have possession of the land during her life, and then the said property shall go to his son and heir, Tristram, "who is to be provided for according to his degree and calling." His son John is to have certain property when he becomes twenty years of age. He mentions his daughters Joan, Deborah, Eunice, and Mary, and refers to his tenement in Butler's Parish, called Silferhay. He was the father of the emigrant.

John Coffyn, of Brixton, an uncle of the emigrant, who died without issue, in his will, dated January 4, 1628, and proved April 3, 1628, appoints his nephew, Tristram Coffyn, his executor, and gives legacies to all of Tristram's sisters, all under twelve years of age. 2



What motives induced Tristram, in 1642, to dispose of so pleasant an abode and come to America can be conjectured, but are not positively known. It has been said that he had been employed as colonel in command of the garrison at Plymouth, but this is not authenticated, and may have referred to his uncle Tristram; but we do know that in its defence his only brother, John, had been slain. Tristram had married, at the early period customary in those primitive times, Dionis Stevens, and had already five children—Peter, Tristram, Elizabeth, James, and John.

As his brother John was killed at Plymouth Fort, it may be that Tristram was in the fight. The Stuarts made sorry kings, and the resistance they provoked to their arbitrary rule seems justified. But England was seething on the verge of twenty years of contention, and Tristram, not over-fond of either party, and imperilled by the part he had taken, with ten women and children in his charge, may have been glad to escape persecution for them and himself in America. Two of his four sisters married in Devon. Two, Mary and Eunice, with their mother, his wife, and five children, accompanied him in 1642, the year King Charles placed himself in open array against the parliament.

That he came in that of the four vessels—Hector, Griffin, Job Clement, and Margaret Clement, belonging to Captain Robert Clement, that came over in 1642, which Captain Clement himself commanded—is well authenticated. It is known that after a brief residence at Salisbury, he moved up the river that year to what is now the next town, Haverhill, to form that settlement with Clement, on land bought from the Sachem Pasconaway.

With this large and dependent family of nine women and children, Tristram crossed the sea, disembarking at the mouth of the Merrimac, where they so long made their home. The births of his other children born in America show the different periods he resided in Salisbury, Haverhill, on the north of the river, and at Newbury, to its south. We have no knowledge of his going far from that neighborhood during the next sixteen years, till he went to Nantucket, though it seems reasonable to suppose that he did so.

The property they brought sufficed to support in comfort the families of his mother and his own, and to establish respectably in marriage, as they grew up, his sisters and his sons. He first settled himself at Salisbury, in the three-mile space between the Merrimack and the New Hampshire border, as fixed by the patent; but removed that year to Haverhill, adjoining Salisbury, up the river, for in 1642, in November, his name is attached to an Indian deed there. There Mary, afterward Mrs. Starbuck, was born, and John the first having died, another took his place. In 1648 Tristram removed to Newbury, where his youngest son, Stephen, was added to the family group. After residing there for several years, during which he was licensed to keep an inn and a ferry over the Merrimack, Tristram returned to Salisbury, where he became a county magistrate.

Salisbury was close to the border of New Hampshire, and his eldest son, Peter, a merchant and king's counsellor in Dover, in that province, not far removed from Salisbury, married, about 1657, Abigail, daughter of Edward Starbuck; and his second son, Tristram, in 1653, Judith, daughter of Captain Edmund Greenleaf, widow of Henry Somerby. The descendants of this marriage of Tristram, Jr.'s, have ever since occupied this fine old mansion which Somerby had left her, or her father, Captain Greenleaf, bestowed.

Edward Starbuck had come over from Derbyshire in 1640, and established himself at Dover. Elder of the Church and Representative, he became a Baptist, and soon after a Quaker. Both he and Thomas Macy are said to have been among the chief promoters of the settlement of Nantucket.* It was no doubt often discussed, and perhaps slowly brought about. Nantucket, an island fifteen miles by four, embracing an area of about thirty thousand acres, lay at the southern extremity of what is now Massachusetts. It was then part of New York, and so remained till 1692. When the project was ripe, and it was concluded to purchase, Tristram, early in 1659, made a voyage of inquiry and observation to the group of islands off the Massachusetts coast with this view. He first visited Martha's Vineyard, whither Thomas Mayhew (1591-1681-90), formerly a merchant in Southampton in England, had, in 1647, removed from Watertown to preach to and convert the Indians. The name of his first wife, Martha Parkurst, he doubtless gave to the vineyard where he so long dwelt gathering souls from the heathen.

  • Fifteen miles by eleven in the widest part, and twenty miles south of the peninsular of Cape Cod, iso miles S.S.E. of Boston. Latitude 41° 13' to 410 21'N.; longitude 69° 56* to 70° 13'. Population, 1820, 7,266. In 1824 Sir Isaac was there; in 1826, 352 vessels engaged in the fisheries, 2,392 in the coasting trade, entered its port. This was before the era of steam.—Lieber*s Enc. Am.

We are inclined to believe, though we have no conclusive proof, that the attention of Tristram was first called to Nantucket by Mayhew, and the question suggests itself whether it had not been from consanguinity that Mayhew proposed or urged the settlement. He held, in 1649, a conveyance of Nantucket, as he did of Martha's Vineyard, from Lord Sterling. Born in 1591, Petronel Boscawen, sister of Mary, may have been his mother or grandmother. That Mary Boscawen was Tristram's great-grandmother seems more than probable. Southampton, by sea, is not far from Plymouth. It is the seaport of Wiltshire. Mayhew named two towns on the Vineyard from places in that county.

Mayhew and Mayhowe bear the same arms, and are corruptions or variations of the same name. If Thomas Mayhew, born 1591, was son or grandson of that Petronel Boscawen, sister of Mrs. Peter Coffin, who married Peter Mayhowe, as mentioned in Collins, Mayhew would have been kinsman of Tristram not remote. Whether this be so or not, Thomas Mayhew, having procured for himself and son, in 1641, from Lord Sterling and Sir Ferdinando Gorges, conveyances of both the islands, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, eighteen years later (July 2, 1659) conveyed Nantucket to Tristram Coffin and his associates, reserving about a tenth part for himself. He sent Peter Folger, grandfather of Benjamin Franklin, who had come with him from Watertown, and was familiar with the Indian languages, with Tristram to explore. Tristram, soon after reaching Nantucket, purchased of Potinot, an Indian sagamore, the island of Tuckernuck, at its westerly end, containing a thousand acres.

Whether James Coffin came with his father, Tristram, at that time, or later in the fall with Thomas Macy, Edward Starbuck, and Isaac Colman, after his father's return to Salisbury, is not clear, but James remained through the winter on the island as they did. May 10, 1660, the sachems of Nantucket conveyed to the associates for j£So a large part of the island,*Peter Folger being witness.



Early in 1660, Tristram, with his family, came to Nantucket. Possibly some delay took place, as regarded them, in providing habitations. It was not long, however, before enough of the settlers and their families had arrived for their security and to plant their crops. Besides Tuckernuck, the Coffins had thus a quarter of the island, and much more in the sequel became theirs. Tristram took the lead from the first among the settlers, and was frequently selected to transact important public business. His letters to the colonial government of New York, of which province Nantucket was then a dependency, are preserved in the archives of the Department of State at Albany.

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Nicholas Coffin's Timeline

Butlers Parish, Devonshire, England
November 1561
Butlers Parish, Brixton, Devonshire, England
Age 12
Brixton, Devon, , England
Age 16
Devon, , England
Age 18
Brixton, Town Plymouth, Devonshire, England
Age 20
Brixton, Devon, , England
Age 20
Brixton, Devonshire, England
Age 22
Brixton, Devonshire, England
Age 24
Brixton, Devon, , England