Tristram Coffin Sr.
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Tristram Coffin Sr. (1608 - 1681)

Governor Tristram Coffin Sr. aka Coffyn
Born in Brixton, Devonshire, Englandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married 1630 in Braxton Parish, Devonshire Englandmap
Descendants descendants
Died at age 73 in Nantucket, Dukes, New York (now Massachusetts)map
Profile last modified | Created 14 Apr 2010
This page has been accessed 17,439 times.
Nantucket Founders and Descendants
Tristram Coffin Sr. was a founder of Nantucket.
Join: Nantucket Founders and Descendants Project
Discuss: nantucket



This profile is part of the Haverhill, Massachusetts One Place Study.

Tristram Coffin is believed born/baptized 11 Mar 1609 at Plymouth, Brixton Parish, Devonshire, England however primary source documentation is lacking[1]. Considered the patriarch of Nantucket his beliefs and actions held considerable influence over the early colony.

Old England

In 1639/40, he was made churchwarden of the parish church (his customary pew in the front of the chancel is marked on a plan made in 1638) and in 1641 a parish constable-holder, one of the offices created under the Elizabethan reforms. A difficulty arose between him and Thomas Maynard of Brixton, gentleman, which in midsummer of 1641 was referred to arbitration. The outcome remains unknown but it is speculated this may be one reason he left for New England.

New England

Tristram belongs among early immigrants whose reason for leaving England is hard to pinpoint. Like Robert Clements, with whom he is said to have come, he had estates in England owning property in Dorset and Devon. He was landed gentry and not a Puritan. He left for New England at age 37 in the year of crisis between Charles I and Parliament bringing with him his wife, five children, his mother and some state two of his unmarried sisters. It is stated that his younger brother John was wounded at the battle of Plymouth Fort and died eight days later. If true it may have been a factor in Tristram's decision to emigrate. Clement and Coffin family tradition places the men coming together on a ship owned by Robert Clement but nothing exists to prove the name of the vessel.

Tristram settled at Salisbury for a few months moving shortly to Haverhill (Pentucket) where with the other inhabitants he obtained of the Indian Sachems the deed of the township.[2][3]

Tristram settled in Haverhill near to the Clements and tradition states again that he was the first person to plough land in the town, having constructed his own plough. With Robert Clement he was made a freeman in Haverhill in Nov. 1645. About 1643 he moved to another part of Haverhill called the Rocks where he was licensed to keep a tavern "Coffins Ordinary"[4] and before 1647 he moved to Newbury then in 1648 to Salisbury, in 1649 to Newbury again and finally in 1654 to Salisbury.[5]

While a resident of Salisbury, before his departure for Nantucket he was a commissioner or Justice of the Peace and signed a Salisbury petition in 1658.[6]


About 1658 Tristram formed a company for the purchase of Nanctucker and moved there in 1659. It is disputed why Tristram went to Nantucket. The probability is that it came through his acquaintanceship with Thomas Macy a cousin of Thomas Mayhew who owned the island by purchase from the agents of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Lord Sterling. Mayhew who was governor of Martha's Vineyard probably wanted Nantucket settled and offered the land very cheaply to Coffin, Macy and their associates. The first records of the proceedings in regard to Nantucket were kept at Salisbury but after the island came under the jurisdiction of New York the records were kept at Albany where they are still to be found.

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. When he returned to Salisbury, 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.

Late in the season of 1659 the first settlers arrived including Thomas Macy and his family, Edward Starbuck, Isaac Coleman, and James Coffin. Tristram built his home near Capaum Pond and resided there until his death.

At a meeting held at Nantucket, 15 July 1661, of the owners residing there it was agreed that each man choose his house-lot within the limits not previously occupied and that each lot shall contain sixty rods square. Tristram appears to have been allowed to make the first selection.

Tristram was 55 years old at the time of his moving to Nantucket. It does not appear that his mother, Joan Coffyn ever lived in Nantucket since she died in Boston in May, 1661. The Rev. Wilson who preached the funeral sermon spoke of her as a woman of extraordinary character. Sewall's Diary which recorded her death says that he "embalmed her memory".

Go here for Nanctucket deeds and related records.


For several years after this Tristram, with his sons, held the controlling interest in the Islands, he being the wealthiest man there except for his son Peter. With his sons he bought the island of Tuckernuck after trying to have his other associates join in the purchase.

Go here for Tuckernuck records.

Tristram assumed the obligation to construct a cornmill, built and maintained it. He employed large numbers of Indians on his land. Nantucket historian Benjamin Franklin Folger says of him: "The christian character which he exhibited and which he practically illustrated in all the varied circumstances and conditions of that infant colony, is analogous to that which subsequently distinguished the founder of Pennsylvania so that the spirit of the one seemed to be but the counterpart of the other."

It has been written that problems with the Native Americans began only after they had been introduced to rum. The first General Court for Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard composed of Tristram Coffyn, first chief magistrate of Nantucket and Thomas Mayhew, first chief magistrate of Martha's Vineyard and two associates from each island enacted a law prohibiting the sale of intoxicating drinks to Indians. The law was occasionally enforced and John Gardner (whose gravestone alone marks the spot where the settlers were first interred) complained to Governor Lovelace, 15 Mar. 1676 that a half barrel of rum had been taken from him by Thomas Macy. Gardner also said that the Indian Sachems stated they would fight if the laws against them were enforced. The letter of Thomas Macy to Governor Lovelace, 9 May 1676 shows the fear of the Indians if strong drink was allowed to be sold to them and he asked the Governor to prohibit any ship coming into the harbor from selling strong drink to Indians. It also seems that the Court on one occasion took possession of all the liquor on the island and dispensed it in small quantities to the settlers.

The town voted to have a harrow for the use of the inhabitants and Tristram was to provide the harrow and he along with Thomas Macy were empowered to see that every man sowed seed "according to order".

In 1675-76 the question of whether New York or Massachusetts would be the governing authority loomed large and the islanders lined up on one side or the other. The feeling for accepting the jurisdiction of Massachusetts instead of New York grew stronger. Tristiam was appointed Chief Magistrate of Nantucket by Governor Andros in 1667 (perhaps in hope of settling the controversy), and again by Governor Lovelace on 29 June 1671. Tristram held the office of Governor until 1680 when John Gardner was appointed.

During his entire residence on Nantucket he resided near Capsum, for the most part at a house that he built and named Northam. His house lot was a tract of the usual dimensions, bounded on the north by Cappam Harbor. The spot where his house was placed is marked by a stone monument. The interests which he and his sons and sons-in-law represented gave him power to control, to a large extent, the enterprises of the island.

Later Life and Death

Tristram in 1680 was brought into Court for an infringement of the Admiralty law. A ship having been cast away was salvaged by the people of the Island while he was magistrate and he neglected to make an accounting satisfactory to the Court. He was penalized for the full amount of her estimated value and this after he had parted with all of his property excepting enough for the old age of himself and his wife. The court evidently thought the fine excessive and remitted a part of it, Capt. John Gardner standing his friend in this. The court accepted £150 in full payment, 6 Nov 1680.

Less than a year later Tristram died on 2 Oct 1681[7] leaving a very small estate as he had given most of it away to his sons and daughter and the fine inflicted by the Court of Admiralty took a large amount of the residue.


Go here for text of the Will with property record citations.


Perhaps the most historically significant descendant is his third great grandson Levi Coffin known as the "president" of the Underground Railroad.

Some branches of the Coffin family were prominent in New England, grouped among the so-called Boston Brahmins. For example, Elizabeth Coffin, daughter of a wealthy merchant from Nantucket, was mother of the prominent Massachusetts industrialists Henry Coffin Nevins and David Nevins, Jr.

Charles A. Coffin (1844-1926) born in Somerset, Massachusetts, became cofounder and first President of General Electric corporation.

In the eighth generation, Elizabeth Coffin (1850-1930), an artist, educator and Quaker philanthropist, was known for her paintings of Nantucket and for helping revive Sir Isaac Coffin's school with a new emphasis on craft.

Reference Materials, Court Records, Old Profile

A free-space page has been created to hold various reference materials, court records, elements of the previous profile, etc. It may be found at Tristram Coffin Free-Space Page


  1. The only citation given by Alicia Crane Williams is Noyes-Gilman, 245 Subscription
  2. Norfolk Co. Deeds- book 2, p.209
  3. Tristram Coffin Free Space Page
  4. A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport and West Newbury- p.43
  5. History of Haverhill- pp.49-50
  6. Mass. Archives- Vol.10, p.45
  7. Wm. C. Folger, "A Record of Births, Deaths, and Marriages on Nantucket, Beginning in 1662," NEHGR Vol. 7:261 :"Mr. Tristram Coffind Died ye 2 Day of October 1681."

See also:

  • Early New England Families, 1641-1700. (Original Online Database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2013. (By Alicia Crane Williams, Lead Genealogist.) Online at 8 page bio.
  • Nantucket Historical Association (Mass., 1898) Vol. 2, No. 1: "Nantucket Lands and Landowners", Page 44
  • S-1990846050: U.S. House of Representative Private Claims, Vol. 1 Author: Publication: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.Original data - House of Representatives. Digested Summary and Alphabetical List of Private Claims Which Have Been Presented to the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.:
  • Old Families of Salisbury & Amesbury Vol 1 p. 103
  • The Coffin Family a 5 a 9 pp 52-53
  • NEHGR 68:129
  • Am. Pub. H. vol 24, p. 150
  • S-2066663088: Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s Author: Gale Research Publication: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.Original data - Filby, P. William, ed.. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research, 2009.
  • S131: List of Freemen of Massachusetts, 1630-1691
  • S132: Ould Newbury : historical and biographical sketches Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - Currier, John J.. "Ould Newbury" : historical and biographical sketches. Boston: Damrell and Upham, 1896.Original data: Currier, John J.. "Ould Newbury" : historical and bi;
  • S133: Nantucket : a history Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - Douglas-Lithgow, R. A.. Nantucket : a history. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, Knickerbocker Press, 1914.Original data: Douglas-Lithgow, R. A.. Nantucket : a history. New Yor; Repository: #R1 NOTE"With illustrations and a map."|||1992 microform edition lacks map.|Includes bibliographical references (p. xi-xii) and index.
  • S134: Wrecks around Nantucket : since the settlement of the island, and the incidents connected therewith, embracing over seven hundr Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - Gardner, Arthur H.,. Wrecks around Nantucket : since the settlement of the island, and the incidents connected therewith, embracing over seven hundred vessels. Nantucket Ma; NOTEEdition statement from p. [7].|||"With additional records to 1930"--Cover.|||1992 microform edition lacks map.
  • S135: The history of Nantucket, county, island and town : including genealogies of first settlers Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - Starbuck, Alexander,. The history of Nantucket, county, island and town : including genealogies of first settlers. Boston: C.E. Goodspeed & Co., 1924.Original data: Starbuc;
  • S136: Early settlers of Nantucket : their associates and descendants Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - Hinchman, Lydia Swain Mitchell.. Early settlers of Nantucket : their associates and descendants. Philadelphia: Printed by J.B. Lippincott Co., 1896.Original data: Hinchman,
  • S137: Nantucket lands and land owners Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - Worth, Henry B.. Nantucket lands and land owners. Nantucket, Mass.: Nantucket Historical Association, 1901-1913.Original data: Worth, Henry B.. Nantucket lands and land own
  • S32: Early settlers of Nantucket : their associates and descendants Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - Hinchman, Lydia Swain Mitchell.. Early settlers of Nantucket : their associates and descendants. Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1901.Original data: Hinchman, Lydia Swain Mit;
  • S35: A sketch of the history of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury, from 1635 to 1845 Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - Coffin, Joshua,. A sketch of the history of Newbury, Newburyport, and West Newbury, from 1635 to 1845. Boston: S.G. Drake, 1845.Original data: Coffin, Joshua,. A sketch of; NOTEMs. notes: p. 306, 379, 416.|||Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Vital Records of Nantucket, Massachusetts to the Year 1850 (NEHGS, Boston, Mass., 1925) Volume 3 Page 318
  • S400: Massachusetts Applications of Freemen, 1630-91 (Name: Operations Inc; Location: Provo, UT, USA; Date: 2000;) Repository: #R3
  • Barney Genealogical Record, Nantucket Historical Association, Research Library & Archives. Personal page - 58 (
  • Coffin, Allen. The Coffin Family: The Life of Tristram Coffyn of Nantucket, Massachusetts, Found of the Family Line in America. Nantucket. Hussey and Robinson. 1881.
  • Coffin Lineage: A Family Living History Worksheet from Richard Coffyn (c1280-??) to Sallie Coffin (1773-1850)
  • Coffin Lineage Worksheet Legutki-1
  • Coffin, Louis, ed. The Coffin Family. (Published by Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket, Mass., 1962). Page 92
  • New England Marriages prior to 1700; page 166 *in Eng, ca 1629"
  • Pope, Charles Henry: "Pioneers of Massachusetts:; page 107 (Coffin).
  • Massachusetts Town & Vital Records 1620-1988; Death, Nantucket, October 2, 1681,
  • Holman, Mary Lovering, Ancestry of Charles Stinson Pillsbury and John Sargent Pillsbury, published 1938. Reference Volume 2, page2 605-615

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Comments: 40

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Should he be PGM? Alicia Crane WIlliams in Early New England Families (2013) says that Tristam, his mother, wife, his two sisters, and 5 children came to New England "before October 20th or 30th, 1642", and that he likely came at the same time as Robert Clements, shown on his profile as immigrating in 1642. Neither Tristam or Robert Clements are shown in Anderson's Great MIgration.

On WikiTree, Tristam and several of his children are shown as PGM, but based on arriving in 1642, should they stay as part of the project?

(edited to add G2G post from 2019 in which it was said he was not part of PGM:

posted by S (Hill) Willson
edited by S (Hill) Willson
Nope, I think he and his children should be removed from PGM.
posted by Jen (Stevens) Hutton
Before removing PGM, I've reached out to Nantucket Founders project to give them a heads up. That project co-manages all of the affected profiles.
posted by S (Hill) Willson
I'm fine with Nantucket being the sole manager of the profiles. When the Nantucket project was added, PGM wanted to remain on as a co-manager...

It would be terrific if you would add me and/or the Nantucket Founders Project as a PM on the free space page. Thanks very much!

Darlene - Leader, Nantucket Founders Project

posted by Darlene (Athey) Athey-Hill
edited by Darlene (Athey) Athey-Hill
I've removed PGM as co-manager of this profile as well as for his children that were also co-managed. T Stanton will need to add you to the free-space page; I wasn't able to adopt it and do so, being that it is a fsp..
posted by S (Hill) Willson
Thanks. I've sent Todd a trusted list request.
Based on the work that Alicia Crane did, and T. Stanton did a careful follow up, it does seem fairly clear that he was not in Salisbury much before 1642. I see no reason to keep him under PGM, especially with the Nantucket project watching over him. I would, however, suggest that the attached FSP be moved over to Nantucket with him.
posted by Bobbie (Madison) Hall
Should the title Gov be used? This was a for a relatively brief period near the end of his life and, as I recall, not in general use other than in official documents.
posted by T Stanton
Several sources I reviewed today had the prefix of Governor for him. As such, I added it, but I have no strong feelings either way. Perhaps the other PMs will weigh in on it..?
posted by S (Hill) Willson
I'm O.K. with or without the title.
A descendant's $.02 (but also, from the POV of a frequent pre-1700 profile researcher): as long as the title is legitimate, it's nice to have it there. It's a shorthand indicating the standing of the individual in the community of their time.
posted by Christopher Childs
hi, was wondering if we could add this bio. by the Pastor, Wm W Newell. (it is on ebooks FREE READ) and the front page is signed by him saying "it is a gift. You have tons of sources so maybe you don't need it. thank you (see Newell-420)
  1. Discourses and Poems of William Newell, Minister of the First Parish in Cambridge: A Memorial Volume William Newell (Pastor of Parish) Jan 1882 --Geo. H. Ellis

middle od 2nd paragh.

posted by Carole Taylor
edited by Carole Taylor
Thanks, Carole. What's the relevance for the profile of Tristram?
posted by Jillaine Smith
His name is in the book because he is the g-g-g grandfather to Eunice Coffin-143 and down the line. Thank you for your response.
posted by Carole Taylor
Carole, on what page is there info on Tristram? Using search function I only found the reference in page 1.
posted by T Stanton
please see Coffin-143 I looked ho/lo and saw no copyright so acopy of 1 page only is there.
posted by Carole Taylor
Brilliantly done, T, take a bow.
posted by Bobbie (Madison) Hall

Very nice. Bob

posted by Bob Keniston Jr.
Rework and rewrite complete. Comments welcome. The huge amount of court documents and records have been moved to a linked free space page.
posted by T Stanton
More random, 60 square rods is .35 + acres.
posted by Bob Keniston Jr.
Random observation: the 60 square rod houselots laid out in 1661 is equal to about 1/3 acre.
posted by Bobbie (Madison) Hall
Jillaine, I see no other takers on the rework offer so putting this on my list and will get too it shortly.
posted by T Stanton
Tristram has a new profile on NEHGS: (membership required), which led me back to this profile which is still very long, needs some editing and sub headers, elimination of duplication etc. Hoping a profile manager or member of the Massachusetts project can take it on. Thanks.
posted by Jillaine Smith
I haven't researched Levi, but since you mention Quakers, he most likely did indeed descend from this family...

Rejected matches › John Coffin (1647-1711)