COFFIN James[1]

Male 1664 - 1741  (77 years)


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  • Name COFFIN James 
    Born 9 Jul 1664  Nantucket, Nantucket, Massachusetts Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender Male 
    Died 2 Aug 1741  Nantucket, Nantucket, Massachusetts Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Will (proved) 6 Nov 1741  [1
    James Coffin 
    _UID 6DBD0D38EB9ED5118A064445535400009EDD 
    Notes 
    • James Coffin was born July 9, 1664, on Nantucket Island. He was the first child of the Hon. James Coffin and Mary Severance.

      The birth date of James is surrounded by controversy. Most records show his birth to be between 1667 and 1671, while his parents were living in Dover, New Hampshire. However, the Nantucket VR (P.R. 38) shows his birth as 09/05/1664.

      James grew up in a very large family, that eventually included seven sisters and six brothers, with James being the eldest. Being of the second generation of settlers to the newly established colony, James was exposed to the hardships of developing the first farms on Nantucket. The sandy soil supported little in the way of crops. They brought sheep to the Island, in hopes of exporting the wool to the mainland in exchange for provisions needed to support their colony. Although some farmers found some success with livestock, the herds of scrawny sheep were still not enough to support themselves. During these first few years, about 1665, James' father decided to move the family off the Island, to Dover, New Hampshire where he had land holdings from earlier years, however, with the Indian uprisings during King Philip's War, in the 1670's, the Coffin's moved back on to Nantucket to stay. They returned during the years of development in the fishing industry. John Gardner had been commissioned to develop the fish trade, while the rest were trying their best to develop productive farms. Both Peter Folger and Tristram Coffyn, James' grandfather, were said to have had productive grist mills which indicates that there was some evidence of success with farming, however if the colony was to develop, more would have to be done.

      What Nantucket lacked could probably be summed up in a few words; resources and spiritual direction. The initial goodwill was running thin. It was a time of squabbling between settlers. The full share holders were quarreling with the half share holders. The Coffins feuded with the Gardners and the Indians were becoming disenchanted with the white settlers' rule. Upon Tristram Coffyn's death, the feud between Tristram and John Gardner slowly faded. Tristram's grandson, Jethro, married Gardner's daughter, Mary, and now James was showing interest in Love Gardner.

      In the late 1680's, James was the second Coffin to marry a Gardner. Love Gardner was born May 2, 1672 and was the daughter of Richard Gardner, one of the original settlers. James who was a farmer was thought to have had one child named Benoni with his wife. However, the child died in infancy. Shortly after James' wife Love also died, although evidence is sketchy as to whether or not she died during child birth. Soon thereafter, James courted Love's cousin, Ruth Gardner, daughter of John Gardner. On May 19, 1692, James and Ruth were married.

      At about the time that James and Ruth were married, a group of Nantucket settlers atop of Folly House Hill were observing whales spouting a short distance off shore. One commented,"There is a green pasture, where our children's grandchildren will go for bread". This isn't the first time that the Islanders had taken notice of the abundance of whales off their shores, nor was it even the begining of the New England whale trade, for whales had been captured for over fifty years upon the coast of Long Island and Cape Cod. In the 1670's a whale was captured for the first time in Nantucket, and later on the Islanders took it upon themselves to hire a whaler named James Loper from Cape Cod, to come to the Island to teach the ways of whaling. Up to that time whaling on Nantucket consisted of waiting until a dead whale carcass washed up on shore. All the Islanders would rush for their claim including the Indians. Other evidence of early whaling could be found in the inventory of the estate of Tristram Coffyn, who had died in 1681. It showed 45 lbs. of whale bone, valued at 10d. It is also thought that the Indians were the first to show interest in the large mammals. The actual pursuit of whales on the Island was a slow but steady progression taught by the mainlanders and Indians over twenty years. They showed the settlers the ways in which a whale was to be approached to prevent the animal from getting frightened. Men such as Loper, showed how to extract the oil from the carcass, and where to thrust the harpoon. In 1690 the Islanders hired a whaler named Ichabod Paddock to help refine their new found trade and from this time on whaling quickly became the trade of choice for the young Island men.

      It was no accident that the settlers took to whaling with such ease. The Colony could not survive without a profitable resource. Farming the sandy soil was not very productive, and their livestock were poor in quality. On the other hand their offshore location placed them close to migrating whales and their harbour at Shelburne offered good protection for their boats from bad weather.

      In the beginning of shore whaling the Islanders divided the south shore of the Island into four equal parts, each consisting of three miles of shoreline. Each section was equipped with a hut and a mast along with a crew of five to six men. From the mast the signaller would spot the spray from a spouting whale and the chase would begin. The men would rush to the beach and launch their boats into the surf rowing with all their might. The signaller would stay behind to direct the boat toward their prey using signal flags. As the boat approached the whale the harpooner would drop his oars and ready himself for the kill. Once upon the whale the harpooner would thrust his harpoon into the animal for the capture, meanwhile the rowers would feverishly back paddle to escape any thrashing of the huge tail. Once the kill was completed they had the task of rowing the dead whale back to shore and land it on the beach. The whole hunt start to finish could take hours and needless to say the crew was exhausted by the end of the hunt. Once successfully on shore they would start cutting the whale blubber into cubes and then used a process called "trying out". This consisted of erecting large tripod kettle holders on the beach. They would set fires under the large kettles and boil the chunks of blubber down until the oil separated from the fibres. Then using large ladles they would scoop the oil into barrels and prepare it for shipment. Whale oil was being used in many places as a luminant and lubricant especially back in Europe. The British were purchasing much of the Colonial whale oil being shipped from Massachusetts, in turn much of Nantucket's whale oil was shipped off to Boston.

      James and Ruth's first child, George, was born in 1693. In 1695 Sarah was born, followed by Nathan in 1696 and Elisha in 1699. During these years James was farming and taking care of livestock. The town meetings of March 19, 1707 recorded that "James Jr. was appointed to take account of all fleeces at ye time of sheering". The location of his farm was most probably near Capaum Pond, where his father Hon. James Coffin had property. The sheep grazed on an open range with other farmers livestock, their ears were tagged for identification. During the sheering, the atmosphere was festive and celebrated by most of the Islanders.

      With regards to the ocean trades the Coffin, Gardner, Starbuck, Hussey, Macy and Paddock families were in the forefront of Nantucket's beginnings with fishing and whaling, James' brothers, Nathaniel, Jonathan and Ebenezer were active in the trade during the 1690's and into the 1700's. James is not on record as being involved as a mariner, but it is hard to believe that he was not, at least for part of the season, after all he was married to Captain John Gardner's daughter Ruth, whose family were all fishermen.

      With the whale industry on the rise the town was gradually being shifted from Capaum Harbour to Shelburne. The whale stations along the south coastline were now giving way to whaling sloops anchored in Nantucket harbour. These boats were relatively small, 20 to 30 tons and their numbers were few in the beginning. They would apply their trade just off the Nantucket coast.

      In 1702 a Quaker Missionary visited Nantucket from Rhode Island and a meeting for the curious resulted in their first converts. Mary Coffin Starbuck was the daughter of Tristram Coffyn and became one of the first Islanders to embrace Quakerism in 1704. This was significant not only because of her ties with two of the Islands leading families, the Coffins and the Starbucks, but also because of her valued opinion by all who knew her. Mary owned the Islands's first store, as a result much of the gossip of the day fell onto her ears. Mary, always seeing the good side helped to resolve family problems for the various patrons who came to her store, in turn she gained the settlers respect. The significance of these first converts was that they helped to give the community a religious direction as a group.
      The Quaker faith was a left wing Puritan sect founded by George Fox in England in 1650. Fox believed that a Ministry was not necessary in order to spread the beliefs of the bible. Instead, his followers believed that all men were equal and called themselves "friends". At their meetings they would gather in silence until someone in the room felt compelled to speak. Their belief in such things as refusing to remove their hats and the refusal to wage war got them into trouble everywhere they went. Many were imprisoned or whipped and others were hung. The harsh Puritan rule of the Colonies made laws against those who helped the Quakers in any way. These same laws were what the Islanders were fleeing from when they first came to Nantucket fifty years earlier. Some had even helped the Quakers. So it is not hard to understand why the seeds of the Quaker faith took root in the soil of Nantucket. Most of the Islanders were already Christians of different faiths, mainly Baptists, but the Quaker belief in hard work and plain lifestyle seemed to be more suited to the settlers way of life on Nantucket. As mentioned earlier, what the Islanders lacked was resources and direction, now with the ever increasing whale industry turning profitable, along with their Quaker beliefs in hard work, the Island was beginning to pull away from the mainland's whale trade, in terms of productivity. It was recorded by many visitors that Nantucket was very different from the mainland regarding its flurry of activity and plain dress of its people. It was called a marriage of religion and commerce. In the early 1700's the writer, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, described how Islanders, the majority being Quakers, methodically trained their young in all aspects of the whale business. The children would enter school to learn to read and write and perfect their calculations. Then at age twelve, they would apprentice in trades such as barrel making and at fourteen they would go off to sea. While working on the sloops, they would be taught the art of navigation, along with the steps involved in whaling start to finish. Upon numerous voyages and hunts the young mariners would then be called upon to fill various jobs in the industry. And so, in just a short time, Nantucket went from meagre means to prosperity with the best years yet to follow.

      During these years in the early 1700's, James' father Hon. James Coffin was the Chief Magistrate on the Island. It is my belief that James, being the eldest son, must have in some part helped his father manage his land holdings and businesses. It's known that James Sr. had trading sloops going back and forth from the mainland. These sloops would have needed crews of up to ten men, depending on the size. Wool and whale oil would most likely have been the exports.

      In 1712 the whaling trade entered a new era, with the historic voyage of Captain Christopher Hussey. Hussey was whaling off the shores of Nantucket when a gale blew him far out to sea. Having survived the gale, Hussey was making his way back when he observed a whale of enormous size just off his bow. With a good measure of courage, he attacked the whale and managed to be successful in killing the animal. The whale was not of the "scragg" or "right" species, but was a sperm whale. They found the oil to be of a much better quality, burning cleaner and brighter and so began not only the pursuit of sperm whales by Nantucket whalemen, but also sea ventures further off shore than ever before.

      By 1715, Nantucket had six sloops engaged in the whale trade. Two of these vessels were owned by Coffins, the Nonsuch, 25 tons owned by James' brother Ebenezer and the Speedwell, 25 tons owned by James' son George. Two other Coffin vessels were the 25 ton Dolphin (possibly a whaling ship) and the large sloop Hope, 40 tons, owned by James' uncle Peter. The Hope was a trading vessel.

      By the 1720's James' sons George, Nathan, Elisha and Joshua were all part of the whale trade along with his brothers Ebenezer and Jonathan. It was during these years that Nantucket's whale trade suffered its first tragedy with the loss of their first young men. On April 27, 1722, James and Ruth suffered the loss of their sons Elisha and Joshua. Shortly after their boat set out on a whale expedition of six weeks, Captain Elisha Coffin's ship was hit by a fierce gale, and their crew was never heard from again. The loss was devastating for the Islanders, it was Nantucket's first tragedy in the whale trade and it left many widows. Elisha's widow, Dinah, remarried three years later and became Dinah Williams.

      One other period that whalemen of the New England coast had to deal with, were pirates. Since the early 1600's pirates had preyed on shipping on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean. Most pirates were unemployed seamen and ex-navy sailors, who between wars found themselves with little to do with their time. During wars, countries would hire them to attack the enemy, but most times they would wreak havoc on any easy target. Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Ned Low, were just a few of the thieves of the sea who sailed in the waters of the North Atlantic. Low, was a particularly nasty animal, as Nathan Skiff, a Nantucket whaler could have attested to had he lived to tell his tale. In June of 1723, Skiff was in pursuit of whales about eighty miles off Nantucket, when Ned Low's ship spotted Skiff's sloop. Low, who was described by his own crew as a maniac and brute, immediately chased down the whaling ship. Luckily for some of the whaling crew they were out in their small whale boats when the attack occurred and managed to escape to a distant ship. Captain Skiff was not so fortunate. Low ordered Skiff stripped and proceeded to whip the young Captain around the deck of the boat with a belt. Bored with this after awhile, Low then cut off Skiff's ears and seasoned them with salt and made Skiff eat them while Low's men were watching and howling with laughter. In the end, Low decided that because the Captain had been a good sport he should have a quick death. Skiff was shot in the head and his boat was sunk. The remaining crew were set adrift in a small boat with no water or food and left to perish. Little did Ned Low realize that the Nantucket boys were taught the art of navigation and shortly after the Pirate ship was out of sight and they simple returned to the Island. A few months later Low's men turned on him and set him adrift. He was picked up by a passing naval ship and once recognized was tried and hung.

      James and Ruth had eleven children in all. Their last born was Benjamin born in 1718, Ruth was in her mid forties and James would have been in his late fifties. Whether James embraced the Quaker faith is a question requiring more research, however, most of his children seem to have had connections to it. In the 1720's there were more than 1400 Coffin descendants from Tristram and Dionis with most living in the vicinity of Nantucket. Therefore, the records of who was who becomes somewhat confusing. Their given names give some clue as to their faith. Names such as Elisha, Rebeka, Seth and Uriah, are most certainly biblical names and most probably Quaker names, but it is hard to say what faith they were for sure.

      The 1720's and 1730's saw Nantucket prosper with every year. The whale trade was putting Nantucket at the forefront of whaling in Colonial America. By 1730, Nantucket had a fleet of 25 whaling boats varying in size from 30 to 50 tons. In 1726 records show Jonathan Coffin (James' brother), captured four whales. James' son George captured one and Bartlett captured four. In all 86 whales were captured by Nantucket boats. Soon Nantucket could no longer supply the men needed to crew the boats and they recruited whalers from New York and Cape Cod. The prosperity continued on during the last years of James' life. James Coffin died August 2, 1741 on the Island. His wife Ruth died in Nantucket in 1748. His will was probated on November 6, 1741.
    Person ID I25647  Noyes Family Genealogy
    Last Modified 11 Feb 2003 

    Father Hon. COFFIN James,   b. 12 Aug 1639, Plymouth, Devonshire, England Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 28 Jul 1720, Nantucket, Nantucket, Massachusetts Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 80 years) 
    Mother SEVERANCE Mary,   b. 5 Aug 1645, Salisbury, Essex, Massachusetts Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Married 3 Dec 1663  Salisbury, Essex, Massachusetts Find all individuals with events at this location  [1, 2, 3, 4
    • Spelled Coffyn 3: 10 m: 1663.
    Family ID F10112  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 1 GARDNER Love,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Married Bef 1692  [1
    Last Modified 22 May 2020 
    Family ID F10121  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 2 GARDNER Ruth,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Married 1692  [1
    Last Modified 22 May 2020 
    Family ID F10122  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Sources 
    1. [S539] Book-My Father's Shoes.

    2. [S290] Book-VR Salisbury, MA, p.308.

    3. [S116] Book-Old Families of Salisbury & Amesbury, MA, p.103.

    4. [S116] Book-Old Families of Salisbury & Amesbury, MA, p.314.