Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mary Coffin Strarbuck, Daughter of the Light

Some information on Mary Coffin/Coffyn Starbuck (1645-1717) and family. Plus some old articles published in newspapers on Coffin line.

Mary's father, Tristram Coffin
Mary Coffin Starbuck was born Feb. 20, 1645 in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Tristram Coffin (1605-1681) and Dionis Stevens Coffin (1610-1659) 

Cortlandt V. D. Hubbard, Photographer

In 1662, Mary married Nathaniel Starbuck (born in Dover, NH  February 20, 1634) son of Edward Starbuck and Katherine Reynolds. (Note: Nathaniel's sister Abigail Starbuck married Peter Coffin, Mary's brother) Mary and Nathaniel were the first couple to marry on the Island from the new settlement created by these families. The couple also became the leaders in introducing the Quaker faith to the island. Mary was the first woman Quaker minister. She was also called "The Great Merchant" an industrious, clever, and powerful woman. In 1702, John Richardson, a Quaker minister, was speaking at her home and she received a witness that manifested into a deep spiritual driving force of Light that never extinguished. It was in this moment Nathaniel Philbrick asserts that "established a unique fusion of spirituality and covetousness that would make possible Nantucket's rise as a whaling port." Several generations prosper in this industry as well as others.

Mary was a leader--a woman of "strong character and exceptional intelligence." Edward R. Snow Women of the Sea   "The islanders esteemed [Mary Starbuck] as a judge among them, for little was done without her, as I understood...the great woman," 1701 journal entry of John Richardson

She is also known for "Account Book with the Indians," a ledger tracking the credits and debits of 200 Indians, laborers, and whales-men who patronized Mary Coffin Starbuck's store and her later generations, it is a "treasure trove of data about Indian life on Nantucket...covering the years 1662 to1764..."

John Greenleaf Whittier, (1807-1892) the poet, is a 7th generation Coffin, descended from Tristram Coffin, Jr.
 [Manuscript deed of sale (November 14, 1685) of Nashowamoiasuk, now Neck Point of the Edgartown Great Pond, by "Mr. Harrie, Indian of Nantucket" to John Coffin (Mary's brother) for six pounds.From Mr. Larry @4dtraveler]

Below is from The Springfield Daily Republican September 1929

Our Boston Literary Letter. Good Folks and Persecutors. Covenanters, Quakers and Martyrs Andrew Lang's New March 17, 1909 Springfield Republican (Springfield, MA) A larger PDF version can be sent if you post a request or email me


  1. I think you'll find that John Greenleaf Whittier was descended from Tristram and Dionis's daughter Elizabeth who married Steven Greenleaf as well. Tristram, Jr. and wife Judith Greenleaf were siblings of the former couple. Their grandchildren Nathaniel Greenleaf and Judith Coffin married and were great-grandparents of Whittier.

    One thing which I never see is the information that Steven Greenleaf and Elizabeth Coffin were ALSO ancestors of Herman Melville. Their 3x great-grandchildren were 4th cousins JG Whittier and Allan Melvill, Herman's father. Considering Melville's inspiration by the story of the whaleship Essex and his relation to the Coffin family and the unfortunate Owen Coffin of that story, I find this a rather amazing omission.

    Good article, though. I'm descended from 3 of Mary Coffin Starbuck and Elizabeth Coffin Greenleaf's brothers, Peter, James, and Steven.

  2. Thank you! That is very interesting I will do a blog on the Melville connection. Yes I am descended from the same Newbury Coffin/Greenleaf line as J G W as well

  3. Nathanial Starbuck and Mary Coffin-Starbuck were my 9th great grandparents. Ron Starbuck - Houston, Texas. Publisher of Saint Julian Press, Inc., a literary press.