Abe Books copy of Nantucket's First Tea published by The Inquirer and Mirror Press, Nantucket, 1907 (Authors Ruth Starbuck Wentworth and Roland B Hussey)The above book along with a letter depicting a romance of a young girl and her suitor Captain Norris of Boston. The letter, allegedly written on September 20, 1747 by a direct descendant of the Nantucket Starbuck settlers, Ruth Starbuck Wentworth was published in almost every newspaper and magazine around the country. On bottom of this post is the full letter from 1920 The Denver Post---you can also read An Idyl from Nantucket This is an example how Genealogy and family tradition can be misinterpreted, as one descendant, Alexander Starbuck will point out in his attempt to sort through fact and fiction.
The contents of the letter mention a cousin, Nathaniel Starbuck, JR returning to Boston from a voyage to China. According to The Literary Digest Rebecca represents her grandfather as walking “restlessly up and down the yard" looking for the returning wanderer, and Uncle Nathaniel Starbuck Sr. remarking with pride, “The boy will have many stories to tell."
The Boston Transcript published this story under the heading of “The First Afternoon Tea-Party on Nantucket Isle," and THE DIGEST (issue of December 27) quoted from it under the heading of “Early American Love-Story Retold in an Old Letter." Alexander Starbuck, of Waltham, Mass, a direct descendant, in the seventh generation, of the Nathaniel Starbuck referred to in the story that as a piece of fiction he has no objection to it. “But when it poses as history,” he adds, “as it has in a hundred publications from Maine to California, I object." He forwards also a letter which appears under his name in The Inquirer and Mirror, of Nantucket, in which he presents the following details, as showing the story’s present stage of development: "Grandma" is knitting some stockings for Nathaniel, Jr., “to take on his next voyage." She writes of “Aunt Content” and "Aunt Esther," “Uncle Edward Starbuck's' family,” “Lieutenant Macy," and “Lydia Ann IvIacy," all of whom are to partake of cups of tea brewed from a part of the contents of a large box of the herb procured by Cousin “Nat” in China.
Aunt Content hung a five-gallon bellnietal kettle with a plentiful supply of water on the crane over the fire and dumped in two bowlfuls of tea, to which Aunt Esther added another bowlful for good measure. This mixture was “boiled down to about a gallon.”
When the company, of which there seems to have been a dozen or more, all provided with silver porringers belonging to "grandpa," had gathered to partake of this new refreshment, Cousin Nathaniel inspected it and told her that “a spoonful of this beverage would nearly kill any of us here at the table.”
They were then shown how properly to brew the tea and all went on happily ever after. The letter is dated from “Starbuck Plantation, near Madaket." and the party is assembled on December 31. “to sit the old year out and the new year in.”
Now if this story were only given out as pure fiction it is amusingly interesting,_lmt it is usually invested with a historical halo which is certainly misapplied. I have received many inquiries from time to time regarding it from parties who evidently believed it true. I have received already five letters regarding this particular article, which is only a reprint of what has traveled the rounds of the American press several times in the past thirty-five or forty years.
As a matter of fact, there is little (very little) truth about it, and it is as full of anachronisms as a sieve is full of holes. When Mr. Starbuck first became acquainted with the story, he writes, “it was a modest little affair, occupying the space of perhaps four inches, and published in the Nantucket Mirror of nearly fifty years ago."
Since then it has grown to such size that it has appeared in book form, “a very elaborate edition, really a work of art, largely in Old English text, and brilliantly illustrated in a manner that would assuredly have scandalized Nathaniel and Mary Starbuck and their descendants, nearly all of whom for a century wore the modest garb of Quakers." The writer continues: It is quite noteworthy that some versions of the story give its date as September 20, 1735, and others September 20, 1747, the most of them following the latter date. There was no “Starbuck Plantation" on Nantucket. The Ruth Starbuck Wentworth, the alleged writer, calls Nathaniel Starbuck, Sr., her uncle, so that it would naturally follow that she was a daughter of one of his sisters. He had three sisters: Dorcas Starbuck, who married William Gayer; Sarah Starbuck, who married Benjamin Austin; and Abigail Starbuck, who married (1) Peter Coffin and (2) Humphry Varney; so that no immediate niece of Nathaniel Starbuck, Sr., and cousin of Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr., could have been named Wentworth.
“Aunt Content” and “Aunt Esther” seem also to be unknown quantities in that generation, nor was there any “ Lieu tenant" Macy. Furthermore, no native of Nantucket or resident there was dignified or burdened or distinguished by a middle name for some years after that date.
It will be noticed, too, that this party assembled on December 31, “to sit the old year out and the new year in,” but at that time December was, as its name implies, the tenth month and the new year did not begin until after the middle of March.
Ruth dates her letter September 20, 1747. She is, by her own account, so young that her relatives think her hardly old enough to marry and there were not a few early marriages in those days. Indeed she writes that her cousin mentions her as the “little dumpling of a cousin that he used to toss in the air when he was last at home.”
Assuming, however, that she was nineteen, it is interesting to see where the story leaves us. She would have been ‘ born in 1728. The grandfather (Edward Starbuck), of whom she writes that he “walks restlessly up and down the yard," died in 1690, or thirty-eight years before she could have been born.
“Grandma” died many years prior to that, as nearly as I can determine prior to 1665. “Uncle Edward Starbuck" was a myth. The Uncle Nathaniel, who says “The boy will have many stories to tell," died in 1719, or nine years before ‘the voluble and imaginative Ruth saw the light of day, and twenty-eight years before the date of the letter.
Another interesting reference to this letter is posted an Ancestry.COM board by Elaine Coffin Rebori stating it was found in the papers of Leroy Franklin Dick after his death. It was copied by Mr. Dick who asserted it was written by Ruth Starbuck Wentworth who had left that Island for a New Settlement. This letter has been handed down from generation to generation until it has reached J.C. Starbuck of Carmel, Indiana.
Jim Starbuck responded to Rebori: "Since no one had a middle name or initial that early in our history, the J.C. is patently fictitious, and the New York Public Library long ago exposed this piece as fiction written by Robert Collyer."Here is the family line: Nathaniel Starbuck, Sr., (1634-1719) was son of Edward Starbuck and Katharine Reynolds. He married Mary Coffin, daughter of Tristam Coffin and Dionis Stevens. Nathaniel, Sr. siblings See full Records Starbuck Genealogy Papers
Sources and Further Reading to check out
- Edward Starbuck Minor Descent
- Nathaniel Starbuck Lambert M Surhone, Mariam T Tennoe, Susan F Henssonow Betascript Publishing, May 17, 2011
- Early Settlers of Nantucket: Their Associates and Descendants
- Keeping History "So you say your great-great-great grandfather is Tristam Coffin":
Using the Barney Genealogical Record Georgen Gilliam Charnes
- Photo from Find A Grave contributor Bob Kenney, FIND A GRAVE MEMORIAL. Memorial to the founding mothers of Nantucket Island, erected in 2009 on Cliff Road in Nantucket, Nantucket, Massachusetts USA.
- Historic Nantucket vol. 47, no. 1 (Winter 1998) The Eliza Starbuck Barney Genealogical Record Joan Elrick Clarke
- Starbuck Family by Bill Putnam
- Nantucket Historical Association