An American Family History


Tristram Coffin




Tristram Coffin was born on March 11, 1609, Brixton, Plymouth, Devonshire, England. He was the son of Peter Coffin and Joanna Kember.

He married Dionis Stevens about 1630. Dionis was born on March 4, 1609 in Brixton.

Tristram and Dionis' children may have included:

Peter Coffin (1630, married Abigail Starbuck),
Tristram Coffin, Jr.(1632),
Elizabeth Coffin (1634)
James Coffin (1640)
John Coffin (1642),
Deborah Coffin (1642, died young)
Mary Coffin, (1645)
John Coffin (1647), and
Stephen Coffin (1652).

The family emigrated to America in 1642. The group included Tristram, his wife, five children, his mother age 58, and two unmarried sisters, Enice and Mary.

At first they settled in Newburyport, Massachussetts. Then they moved to Haverill, Massachusetts.

After a few years, they moved back to Newburyport, where he operated a ferry and Dionis kept Coffyn's Ordinary.

In the 1650's, he sold his property and moved to Salisbury.

In the late 1650's, he and a few others purchased Nantucket island from Thomas Mayhew for the price of 30 pounds and two beaver hats. He was granted first choice of land and in 1659, he settled on the eastern slope of what is now called Trott's Hills.

Dionis died on October 16, 1676 on Nantucket. Tristram died on October 20, 1681 on Nantucket.









from Boston Evening Transcript, December 13, 1886

How Tristram Coffin and his ancestral line came to be settled in Plympton and its neighborhood is incidental and secondary to the main inquiry as to the parentage of his grandfather Nicholas. The first suggestions were that it might be through the Hingestons, of which family John Coffin of Portlege about 1500 married a daughter, and with which family the Courtenays were also connected; or possibly through Margaret Tretbrife, great granddaughter of Hugh Courtenay, wife was Thomas. Our last conjecture was that possibly Mary Boscawen, whose mother was also a Carminow, brought it to her children through her father Hugh, heir of Thomas, son of his brother John, whose wife was Margaret Tretbrife.

Burke tells us that Margaret Trethrife married Edward Courtenay of Larrock, but does not mention John Boscawen. We now learn that she survived all her husbands, for she had yet another, and in 1555 her share of the Courtenay estate upon the death of the Marquis of Exeter went to her son Peter Courtenay. Collins says her son Thomas Boscawen was six months old when his father died in 1624, but died in infancy. If, as supposed, Margaret bad deceased before him, and he her eldest son, her estate would have gone through him to Hugh Boscawen, the father of Mary.

As it was simply a reasonable possibility, in the absence of any evidence we hope we may be pardoned for having suggested it as one possible solution. This shows how dangerous it may be to follow in genealogical investigations the legal maxim that concerning those that do not appear and those that do not exist, the law is the same. Whether the lands near or in Plympton came to Tristram's progenitors as thus suggested, or were purchased, does not signify, except as a clue to the parentage of his grandfather Nicholas. This way not be settled beyond all question at once, though we hold to our belief; but there seems little doubt, so many are interested, that it will eventually be shown beyond cavil.

We do not suppose that Nicholas Coffin, who was connected with the Chudleigha in 1300 was probably one of Tristram's immediate line. He is not mentioned by Vivian in the Coffin Visitation. He was. I think, a priest, and the residence of a parish priest is not always a help in ascertaining his birthplace, as that is often remote from his care.

It the facts stated do not support the hypothesis hazarded, they may still be worth considering in explanation of what we would like to account for the various family connections between the Boscawens, Carminos and Courtenays may still prove a clue to the settlement of the Tristram ascending line in South Devon. In the division of the Courtenay estates in 1556 among so many, persons having money to invest might have had a chance to purchase and who so likely to become purchasers as they who were thus connected.

It is not to be regretted there are such multitudes interested in the history of the Coffins that this discussion should have taken place, a it may bring to light truths important to them which might fade out of sight. If your correspondent of last Monday, "U," would come and see me or let me know when and where I may call upon him, we can compare the evidences and probabilities without occupying the attention of those less interested. Of course I am bound to be grateful for any aid in my investigation, even though sometime reminded of a familiar Latin motto, Fas est ab hoste doceri.

In reply to the inquiry of "U" as to the authority for saying that Tristram and his family come over to America in the vessel of Captain Robert Clement, he is referred to the Life of Tristram, by Mr. Allen Coffin of Nantucket, not at hand to cite by page. We hope to be able in another number to enlarge on the subject of Captain Clement, with whom Tristram was associated in the settlement of Haverhill.

In the vessel of Robert Clement, commanded by himself, Tristram Coffin came with his mother, wife, sisters and children to America; also Captain Robert's family, John, Lydia. Robert and Sarah. His son Job had come over in 1640 to explore, and the youngest daughter was left behind in the city of Coventry in Warwickshire, and came over ten years later.

Coffin and Clement joined in the purchase of Haverhill with and and others, fourteen miles along the river, from the Sachem Pas-connway and his sagamore. Clement was twenty years older, but very like in character to Tristram, as Chase, author of the History of Haverhill, says, of rare integrity and superior talents. He was the first deputy to the General Court from Haverhill, associate judge and county commissioner.

His descendants have been among the most honored and respected of the place, and several generations have lived on the same estates now or late owned by Jesse, descended from the first Robert. Chase gives the birth of Tristram Coffin in 1609. It is sometimes set down as 1603. This materially increases the probability that Peter and Mary Boscawen were the parents of Nicholas, father of Peter, father of Tristram. 


Edmund Greenleaf was descended from the Huguenots who fled from France on account of the persecutions for their Protestant faith which took place in the sixteenth century. My account says they fled to Devonshire, Eng., from which they came to America in 1635 and settled in Newbury, Mass.

A few years later Tristam Coffin, a neighbor of theirs in England, came also to America and settled in Newbury. Their families intermarried. In the early settlement of Nantucket, in the interesting history of that island, written by Obed Coffin, the names of Stephen Greenleaf and Tristam Coffin appear as two of the ten original company who purchased Nantucket of Thomas Mayhew (also included as one of the company) by bill of sale 2d July, 1659, to them by Thomas Mayhew, who purchased of the Stewards, of laird Starling and Sir Fernando George (?), for "thirty pounds, current pay, and two beaver hats, one for himself and one for his wife", and to which island said Tristam Coffin went, and where some of his heirs still live, or their descendants.

About 1650, Edmund Greenleaf removed to Boston. A copy of his will may be found (it is said) in the probate office. . .

(from Boston Evening Transcript, March 28, 1877)


from American Genealogical Record

Tristram Coffyn (Coffin). Son of Peter Coffyn and Joan Thember. Born in Brixton, near Plymouth, England, about 1605. Married Dionis Stevens, daughter of Robert Stevens of Brixton, about 1630, and emigrated to America about 1642. He lived successively in Salisbury, Haverhill, and Newbury, Mass.; and finally,

with Thomas Macyand others, purchased the Island of Nantucket. See Life of Tristram Cofifyn, by Allen Coffin, Nantucket, 1881, and Macy Genealogy.

He died in Nantucket, 2 October, 1681.

Peter 1631
Deborah (d. S Dec. 1642) 16 Nov. 1642
Tristram, Jr. 1632
Mary 20 Feb. 1645
Elizabeth 1634
John 30 Oct. 1647
James 12 Aug. 1640
Stephen 10 May 1652
John (d. 30 Oct. 1642)


A hogshead is a large barrel or cask holding from 63 to 140 gallons.


from New England Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly, Volume 22

... "Tristram Coffyn's wife Dionis was presented for selling beer," at Coffyn's ordinary in Newbury, "for threepence a quart." Having proved. "upon the testimony of Samuel Moores, that she put six bushels of malt into the hogshead, she was discharged." It was a question of giving strong enough beer for the money; the law fixed the price at two-pence a quart, four bushels of malt to the hogshead. This was in 1653, six years after Tristram Coffyn came to Newburyport from Haverhill, where and at Salisbury he had lived since 1642, when, with his wife, mother, two sisters and five children, he came to Massachusetts from Devonshire. 

His Newburyport home was opposite Carr's Island, by the ferry. "He was a royalist and was, so far as I can ascertain," writes his descendant, Joshua Coffin, the Newburyport antiquarian, to whose history we owe so much, "the only one of the early settlers of Newbury who came to America in consequence of the success of Oliver Cromwell."

In 1659 he went to Nantucket, where he purchased for himself and his associates many thousand acres of land, becoming the head of the great Nantucket Coffin family. His son, Tristram, was perhaps the builder of the famous old Coffin house at Newburyport, which dates from the middle of the seventeenth centurv and which has belonged to the Coffin family, generation after generation, ever since. Perhaps the house was built by this Tristram's wife's first husband, and thus Tristram got his wife and the good house together. . .



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©Roberta Tuller 2020
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