The Coffin cluster

Three new sketches have been uploaded to the Early New England Families database for Tristram Coffin, his mother, and one of his sisters.

Tristram Coffin, age 32, and his wife Dionis (Stevens) Coffin, about the same age, brought their five children – ranging in age from 12 to 1 – from Brixton in Devon to New England by October 1642, when the death of the youngest child was recorded in Haverhill. They had four more children born in New England.

Also travelling with Tristram and his family was his widowed mother, Joan (Kember) Coffin, about age 58, whose husband Peter Coffin had died in 1628 leaving her with seven children and one “on the way.” (That child, unfortunately, died, probably soon after birth.) Although Tristram, then age eighteen and the eldest child, was heir to a significant estate from his father, he would choose to leave England just at the time when the “Great Migration” of Puritans abandoning England because of persecution by the King was ending.

The Puritans were now strong enough to engage with the Royalists supporting the King in the “Parliamentary Wars” that would lead to the overthrow and death of the King, and the establishment, at least briefly, of the “Commonwealth” under Oliver Cromwell. Tristram, who was a Royalist, was removing his family from the dangers of the war. The efficacy of his decision to leave home was almost immediately confirmed by the death of his only surviving brother, John Coffin, in the Siege of Plymouth that began in 1642.

Two of Tristram’s unmarried sisters, Eunice and Mary, also came to New England with the family group. A family manuscript states that Eunice married a William Butler, about whom we know nothing.  He was not the man of that name who settled in Hartford.[1]

Mary Coffin married Alexander Adams, a shipwright of Boston, and they had seven children. After Alexander’s death in 1677, the manuscript tells us Mary married William Wade of Boston, about whom we also know very little, and we do not know what became of them after that.

He eventually became the Governor of Nantucket and was the second richest man on the island – after his son Peter Coffin.

Tristram Coffin was an influential member of the New England community, living in Salisbury, Haverhill, and Newbury before buying, with several of his sons, a large chunk of Nantucket Island. He eventually became the Governor of Nantucket and was the second richest man on the island – after his son Peter Coffin. The family intermarried with other founding families of Nantucket, including the Starbucks. Daughter Mary (Coffin) Starbuck, wife of Nathaniel Starbuck, became a noted Quaker preacher and leader of the Quaker community on the Island.

If we restrict our genealogical story to just one line of descent, we risk missing a great deal of important and interesting family lore.  Much better to start now and make a regular habit of fleshing out your genealogical skeletons with extended family connections while you are researching.  You never know what, or who, you may find!


[1] Romola Johnson Cristal, “The Parkman Family Bible,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 138 [1984]: 134; “The Parkman Manuscript,” The Essex Genealogist 8 [1988]: 172; Robert Charles Anderson, George Freeman Sanborn, Jr., and Melinde Lutz Sanborn, The Great Migration, Immigrants to New England 1634-1635, 3 vols. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999), 1: 516.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

30 thoughts on “The Coffin cluster

  1. Thank you for this article. I spent the summer of 1966 on Nantucket at the Maria Mitchell Observatory, so the Coffin name was familiar to me. Little did I realize that I can connect them to my extended family tree. This Tristram Coffin appears to be the paternal grandfather of the wife of my 8th great-uncle. The couple are Judith Coffin (b. 1653) and John Sanborn (1649-1692).

    1. Judith and John Sanborn are my ancestors through my paternal grandmother. When I discovered that line, I instantly realized that Judith would surely lead back to Tristram, who I already knew I descended 7 times from through my paternal grandfather. My aunt ended up marrying a man who also has Nantucket roots, for five additional lines of descent for my cousins!

        1. But actually they did! The families were all in California by the 1870s, and my uncle’s Nantucket relatives moved to Hudson, New York in the eighteenth century. They just managed to meet and marry in San Francisco many decades later.

  2. Oh, yes, each line has it’s own interesting facts! I now have 25 to 30 loose leaf notebooks FULL of family history because I started long before household computers ! Mercy, who gets them all when I pass on ????!!!!!!

    1. Nancy,

      If nobody else, you can consider leaving them to the NEHGS archives someday. I have run out of space for notebooks, myself, so am trying to scan some of it. Not all the quick, but does fill a need.

  3. Thanks for writing about my ancestor :-). Tristram was my 9x great-grandfather and I am descendant via his daughter Elizabeth (who married Stephen Greenleaf).

    1. Janice, I am also descended from Tristram, but from his son Tristram who married Judith Greenleaf. Considering there were not that many people on the island, I bet Judith and Stephen were probably siblings. We could be double distant cousins. Very interesting.

  4. It’s always exciting to find a blog post about an ancestor. When I took over the family history collection from my grandmother, she added “Oh, my father insisted there was a family named Coffin back there somewhere.” It was my first real search – to find the Coffins!

  5. Just today I walked by the optical shop of Tris Coffin (Montreal; established in 1936 by the current Tris Coffin’s grandfather, of the same name), probably direct descendants. I am not a Coffin descendant, but have numerous lines in my ancestry that intermarried with the Coffins: Kimball of Ipswich; Austin of Dover and Nantucket; Knight of Newbury; Noyes of Newbury; Pinkham of Dover.

    1. I found your comment interesting as I am a direct descendant of Tristam Coffin and an Eye Doctor in Ohio, USA.

  6. My husband, who is a Coffin, and I live on Nantucket on land that has been in the Coffin family since the late 1600’s. He is descended from Tristam 23 times, multiple times from all of Tristam’s children.

    1. Brenda, if someone is descended from Tristram through a child who settled with him on Nantucket, they are usually descended in multiple lines since the marriage pool was limited by everyone staying on the island for generations.

      1. Thank you for all of your awesome genealogical work over these many years! As a descendant of numerous Nantucket ancestors, I settled near Cincinnati, Ohio. I am fascinated by Levi Coffin, descendant of Tristam, who worshipped in our local Quaker Church in the early 1800s, and then migrated to Eastern Indiana to establish an Underground Railroad system. I had another group of Quaker ancestors who founded the Underground Railroad in Goshen, IN to whom Levi sent groups of runaway slaves. Apparently, these two ancestral grandparents were able to get over 3,000 slaves safely into Canada, via Detroit to Ontario. I have always wondered how many freed slaves stayed in Canada after 1870.

      2. I’m descended from Tristram Coffin 7 different ways, and my ancestors left Nantucket 200 years ago! I can’t imagine how tangled the ancestries of those still on Nantucket must be! Jo Beth Folger

  7. Love these blogs and how they help underline the interconnectedness of our extended family. Tristam Coffin appears more than once on my wife’s family tree. And we have visited the several Coffin family homes still extant.

  8. I was so excited to see a mention of Tristram Coffin. I am his 9 times great granddaughter thru his son James.
    In September of this year, my husband & I spent 3 days on Nantucket. It was a bucket list item for me.
    My family descends from Elisha who moved to Nova Scotia in 1770 and then Prince Edward Island.where my great grandmother was born in 1883. My aunt & I visited 1994.

    1. I am also descended from Elisha. My grandfather ,John D. Coffin was born on PEI in the 1880’s , moved to Cape Breton around 1900. I visited Nantucket in 2006, one of the best trips of my life. Frank Coffin

  9. Hello! This is great to see, thanks! I am descended from him through his daughter Mary and Nathaniel Starbuck. While in New Hampshire this summer I went to Dover, NH to see a house reputed to have been built at “Tole End” by Tristram Coffin tho it must have been built be his sone and namesake if they are cerrect about it having been built around 1720. Lovely house. Unfortunately (to my mind) it has been split up into apartments tho that is not evident from the outside.

  10. Thank you for this information! Tristram Coffyn/Coffin is my 10X GGF and I too am a descendant thru his daughter Mary and Nathaniel Starbuck. It is always good to get more information the the family Hx.

  11. If anyone has any information on those enslaved by the Coffin family. Please share! I am the third great granddaughter of Lucy Carey that was enslaved by William Coffin. Since her name was Cary I am guessing may be Coffin purchased her or inherited her. We find one another in NH with surname Cary but as of yet unable to link. A research group also found mention of Lucy having a sister that was also enslaved by William. Any help very appreciated.

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