Tristram Coffin & Dionis Stevens: Nantucket settlers

(Coastal families/Coffin branch)

* Tristram COFFIN was born in 1609 in Brixton Parish, Devon, England; christened on 11 Mar 1609 in Brixton Parish, Devonshire, England; died on 2 Oct 1681 in Nantucket, MA; buried in Maxey Pond Burying Ground, Nantucket, MA.

Tristram COFFIN married Dionis STEVENS in ABT 1630 in Brixton Parish, Devon, England. They had the following children: Peter COFFIN (b. 1631), Tristram COFFIN Jr. (b. 1632), Elizabeth COFFIN, James COFFIN (b. 12 Aug 1640), Mary COFFIN (b. 20 Feb 1645), ♥ John COFFIN Lieut. (b. 13 Oct 1647), Stephen COFFIN (b. 11 May 1652).

BIRTH: Tristram was the 1st of 6 children born to his parents.

EVENT: Tristram inherited real-estate, rents, lodging, food, a personal income and personal property upon the death of his father, Peter Coffin. In his Will, dated 21 Dec 1627 and proved 13 Mar 1627/8 Peter leaves Tristram the following; “…Item I give and bequeth unto Tristram Coffyn my Sonne one feather bedd pformed my best brasen panne and my best brasen crocke. Item I give and bequeth unto Johan Coffyn my wife y issues pfitts and comodities of all my lands tenements & hereditaments wth y sayd Parish of Brixton dureing her widdowhood she yeelding & paying therefor yearly unto the said Tristram my sonne his heirs and assignes the summe of Fifty shillings of lawful English money at y four usual feasts of the year and also sufficient meate drinke & clothes and convenient lodgings unto y sayd Tristram according to his degree and calling dureing her Widowhood…Item I doe give unto Sonne Tristram All my lands rents reversions services & hereditamts with the appurtenances whatsoever sett lying & being wth in the sayd Parish of Brixton or elsewhere wthin y sayd County of Devon…Item All y rest of my goods chattels and cattells nor before given nor bequethed I doe give and bequethe unto Johan Coffyn my wife…”{D5}

IMMIGRATION: Fourteen years after his father’s death: Tristram Coffin came to New World in 1642 with wife, Dionis; their 5 small children; his widowed mother, Joan Thember; and 2 unmarried sisters.{D2}

The family first settled in Haverhill, then removed to Newbury in 1648, then to Salisbury, before moving to Nantucket in 1659.
“He soon bought land up the Merrimac River. The Indians had rights, but were willing to sell; their chief, Passaconaway gave his consent and there was a deed passed between which involved 14 miles along the river for 3 Pounds and 10 Shillings. That area became Haverhill, MA. He later went back to Newberry, MA, bought land, put in a ferry with an inn. Then he later got a good buy on a big grant near Dover. It was woodland on the Cochecho River. With his sons he established a lumber mill as he never wanted to hold land alone. Tristram had lost faith in England in the quarrels between king and parliament. His land holdings in England dried up. In a talk with Thomas Mayhew he found Nantucket was available; so he approached Edward Starbuck, Thomas Macy and Isaac Coleman as the core of a company which bought Nantucket for 30 pounds and 2 beaver hats. With the lumber mill, they started a small ship building project. That was very convenient to ship materials to Nantucket…”{D2} Also consult, History of Nantucket by Alexander Starbuck and The Coffin Saga by Will Gardner.
The early settler’s lots on Nantucket were about 1,000 feet on a side, while some were quite irregular in shape. Tristram’s house lot was a tract bounded on the north by Cappam Harbor. He called this region Northam or Cappamet. The spot where his house was placed is marked by a stone monument. {D4}

LIVELIHOOD: Tristram was an entrepreneurial businessman involved with land trading, a lumber mill, ship building, shipping, salvaging wrecked ships and commercial fishing. In general, the early families on Nantucket gained a livelihood through a combination farming and fishing related enterprises.

ORGANIZATIONS: Tristram was Chief Magistrate of Nantucket ca 1671-1673. He held a second term as Chief Magistrate in 1777.{D1}

A feud broke out amongst the early settlers of Nantucket. On one side, the Coffin’s and their friends, on the other side, the brothers Richard and John Gardner and their friends. The feud is thought to have developed from the divergent temperaments of Tristram and Capt. John Gardner. Tristram was a natural leader, but had tendencies to be irritable and despotic. Capt. John Gardner was a man of physical courage, rugged honesty and democratic in his dealings, traits that gained him public confidence. {D4}
The estrangement between the Coffin and the Gardner families ended soon after Tristram’s death in 1681. Tristram’s eldest grandson Jethro and Jethro’s brother, Edward, married Mary and Anna Gardner. After 1681, James, another grandson of Tristram, married Love Gardner and later married, Ruth Gardner. Six other children of Richard Gardner married grandchildren of Tristram Coffin, among these, Tristram’s grandson, Samuel Coffin, married Richard Gardner’s daughter, Miriam and became my direct ancestors.{D1)

[Image above: Tristram & Dionis Coffin’s house, originally built by Tristram as a simple structure in about 1654, at 15 High Road in Newbury Massachusetts. The house is well-preserved and is a New England historic site owned by the Historic New England museum. The house is often featured in books about Colonial American architecture. This public domain photograph was taken circa 1907. Added by: Cindy K. Coffin 6/06/2009]

[Image at left: Hearth in Tristram Coffin house, Newbury, MA.]

Early in 1659 Tristram went to Martha’s Vineyard where he took Peter Folger the Grandfather of Benjamin Franklin as an interpreter of the Indian language and went to Nantucket to ascertain the temper of the Indians and the capabilities of the island so that he could report to the citizens of Salisbury. At Martha’s Vineyard he entered into preliminary negotiations with Thomas Mayhew for the purchase of the island before visiting it. After his  visit to the island he made additional arrangements for its purchase and returned to Salisbury where his report upon the condition of the island, the character of the Indians and the advantages of a change of residence, was laid before his friends and associates. A company was organized for the immediate purchase of the whole island allowing Thomas Mayhew to retain a one-tenth portion with some other reservations. Several meetings of the
purchasers were held at Salisbury and general rules for the government of the island were adopted.

[Photos above: Marker locating the previous site of Tristram Coffin’s home by Capaum Harbor, by 1989 a land locked pond near the ocean, on Nantucket Island.]
Among the eight original owners of Nantucket island, he became the most prominent. He was granted first choice of land and in 1659, he settled on the eastern slope of what is now called Trott’s Hills, near Capaum Pond, toward the western end if the island. He was a leader among the first settlers and was
often asked by other inhabitants to transact important public business. He and Thomas Macy were the spokesmen for the settlement and were selected by the settlers go to New York and meet with Governor Lovelace and secure their claim to the Island in 1671. His letters to the Colonial Government of New York are preserved in the Archives of the Department of State at Albany. He built a corn mill and employed many Native Americans who were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island.

BURIAL: Tristram Coffin, Richard Gardner, Edward Starbuck and presumably their wives and others are buried at the old Maxey Pond Burying Ground. A 6+ foot high “Early Settlers Monument” stands at the site with the inscription: “Erected AD 1881 By A Descendant of the First Settlers of Nantucket in Memory of Those Whose Remains Are Buried on this Hallowed Spot Where stood the First Church Gathered Here 1711 Since Removed to where it Now Stands as the vestry of the First Congregational Society…”. The monument also is inscribed with the names of ten early settlers, including those mentioned above. The settlement and church /burial ground at Maxey Pond/Capum Harbor was, in the early days of the settlement, called “Sherburne”. Sherburne was located about two miles west of the present town of Nantucket.

1. The Coffin Family by Louis Coffin, 1962, Nantucket Historical Society, Nantucket, MA., p. 81.
2.”The Anderson Story”, by Mrs. C. J. Davis, Mrs. Cora May Boots and others, printed in 1968.
3. Tristram Coffin’s vital statistics are verified by a 6+ foot tall grave yard monument at Maxey Pond Burying Ground, Nantucket,MA.
4. Nantucket Lands and Land Owners Vol. 2., Bulletin No.1., by Henry Barnard Worth, Published by the Nantucket Historical Assn., 1901.
5. Early Settlers of Nantucket by Lydia Swain Mitchell Hinchman. The original may be found in the District Registry attached to the Probate Division of the Court of Justice of Exeter (in the Arcdeaconry Court of Totnes), England.
Individual source: The Anderson Story, by Mrs. C. J. Davis, Mrs. Cora May Boots and others, printed in 1968. A 67 page genealogical record of the Anderson family from John & Elizabeth Horney Anderson, ca 1800 to 1968.

* Dionis STEVENS was born in 1613; died on 6 Nov 1684 in Nantucket, MA.

Dionis Stevens was daughter of Robert, Esquire of Brixton, England.

EVENT: The records indicate that the Coffin, Starbuck and Macy families found their environment in Massachusetts Bay, far from congenial. Each had their own peculiar problem. Macy had been arrested and charged with violating town regulations see below) , and so had Coffin’s wife, Dionis. It is likely that the family was ready to move to a more liberal neighborhood when the opportunity to settle on Nantucket Island arose.{D1}
In 1683 his wife Dionis was presented at Court for selling beer for 3 cents a quart. The law provided that inn keepers should always be provided with good wholesome beer of four bushels of malt to the hhd., to be sold at not above two cents a quart under a penalty of 40 shilings. It was proved on the testimony of
Samuel Mooers however that she had put six bushels of malt to the hhd. and was accordingly discharged because she had kept the proportion good, After this, Tristram returned to Salisbury and became a County Magistrate.

DEATH: Dionis survived her husband and died on Nantucket Island; however, accounts of her death place the date variably at 16 Oct 1676 and 6 Nov 1684.

1. Nantucket Lands and Land Owners, Vol. 2., Bulletin No.1., by Henry Barnard Worth, Published by the Nantucket Historical Assn., 1901.
Individual source: The Coffin Family by Louis Coffin, 1962, Nantucket Historical Society, Nantucket, MA.


Filed under My family in history, __3. Coastal families

2 responses to “Tristram Coffin & Dionis Stevens: Nantucket settlers

  1. David A. Frederick

    Per your article, you have the following infromation. I believe that should be 1684.
    “Dionis STEVENS was born in 1613; died on 6 Nov 1884 in Nantucket, MA.”

    DEATH: Dionis survived her husband and died on Nantucket Island; however, accounts of her death place the date variably at 16 Oct 1676 and 6 Nov 1684.

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