Tristram Coffin was born 11 March 1605 in Brixton, Devonshire, England, United Kingdom to Peter Coffin (1581-1628) and Joanna Kember (1584-1661) and died 2 October 1681 Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts, United States of unspecified causes. He married Dionis Stevens (1610-1680) 1630 in Brixton, Devon, England, United Kingdom.


Tristram Coffin was one of the founders of Nantucket. Farmer, Ferry Owner, Cofferer, chief magistrate, successful businessman.

Tristram married before coming to America and lived, successively at Haverhill, Newbury, Salisbury and finally on Nantucket Island, where he died.

Church warden, constable, commissioner, colonist, founder of Nantucket Island, first chief magistrate of the Nantucket colony, governor of Nantucket in 1671 and 1677. He was born in Brixton parish near Plymouth, Devonshire, England in 1609. He was the oldest child of Peter Coffin and Joanna Kember. He married Dionis Stevens in 1630.

English Life

Coffyn's early years in England were during a very eventful time. Intellectual freedom was being claimed as a right for each individual. This period was during the reign of James I. Among the names of the day were William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and Oliver Cromwell. It was a period when the Puritans were making large gains in the Parliament.

Tristram had one younger brother, John and four sisters, Johanna, Deborah, Eunice and Mary. When Tristram was 19 his father Peter, died. His will was dated December 21, 1627 and was proved by his widow Johanna on March 13, 1628. In the will it was declared that Tristram was to be provided for according to his degree and calling. Tristram was a farmer and therefore most likely took control of his fathers estate near Plymouth. Two years later Tristram courted and wed Dionis Stevens, daughter of Robert Stevens of Brixton. Dionis Stevens was born in 1609 although other accounts say 1613. Shortly after their marriage, their first child Peter was born in 1631 followed by their son Tristram Jr., born in 1632. During the early 1630's England entered into a storm of conflict with the death of James I and the succession of Charles I. In 1638 the Scots took up arms against the King. The Presbyterians took control of the Commons and this was followed by an all out civil war in 1642. During this period of time Tristram and Dionis had two more children Elizabeth (d.o.b. unknown) and James born August 12, 1639. Dionis was also pregnant with their fifth child.

1642 Migration to America

He was a royalist, and was one of the few, if not the only early settler to come to New England as a consequence of the success of Oliver Cromwell.

In 1640 Coffyn was selected as a Warden of Brixton Parish. Shortly after in November 1640, he leased his farm that was located at Butlass. With the civil war closing in on his family and the wounding and eventual death eight days later of his brother John at Plymouth Fort, Tristram decided to take his family, including his mother and two unwed sisters to safety in Colonial America. Tristram's friend Robert Clement was leaving for America shortly, aboard a small fleet of ships, some of which were owned by Clement. Tristram quickly put his affairs in order and embarked on his journey with his family aboard Clement's ship named "Hector Clement" in the spring of 1642. This proved to be the last time Coffyn was to see his home in England.

In 1642 Tristram emigrated to America with his wife Dionis and five small children as well as his widowed mother and two unmarried sisters. What was the cause of this emigration is not known. Tristram was of the landed gentry and had inherited from his father. But there was political trouble between the king and Parliament and the New World was calling with an ever stronger voice. It is thought that they sailed in one of four ships owned by Robert Clement (the Hector, Griffin, Job Clement and Margaret Clement).

Nantucket Island Sale

The Coffyn family settled in Salisbury, Massachusetts for a while and then moved to Haverhill which had been founded in 1640. In 1659 Tristram investigated Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. With some others they dealt with the Indians and purchased the island of Nantucket. Tristram always got along well with the Indians. By this time some of his children were married and did not move to Nantucket, but some of them moved with Tristram and Dionis. Tristram was appointed the first chief magistrate of Nantucket in 1671.

Newbury Innkeeper

In about 1644, Tristram and his family moved to Newbury MA, where he became a prominent inn keeper and ferryman. In Newbury in 1644 Tristram was granted permission to "keep an ordinary (saloon), sell wine and keep a ferry on the Newbury side of the Merrimack between Newbury and Carr's island." George Carr ran the ferry from Carr's island to Salisbury. This arrangement was confirmed in the town records on December 26,1647: "Tristram Coffin (senior) is allowed to keep a ferry at Newbury side." In September 1653, Tristram Coffyn's wife Dionis Coffin was presented for selling beer, at his ordinary in Newbury, "for three pence a quart." (higher than the set price for beer). Having proved "upon the testimony of Samuel Moores", that "she put six bushels of malt into a hogshead" she was discharged. Dionis was found to be "doctoring" the beer sold at the ordinary.

Contrary to current practice Dionis was making her beer stronger and charging a correspondingly higher price. The law at the time called for beer to be "good wholesome beer of four bushels of malt to the hogshead." Goodwife Coffin is said to have remarked: "I'll have better beer than my neighbors and be paid for it. A fig for the law."

In 1654 or 1655, Tristram returned to Salisbury where he signed his name as "Tristram Coffyn, Commissioner of Salisbury."

Undated photo of the Coffin Home on Nantucket.

On the fifteenth of November, 1642, Passaquo and Saggahew, with the consent of Passaconaway who was leader of the Merrimacs, sold for L3 10s. "to the inhabitants of Pentucket," now Haverhill, a track of land fourteen miles long and six miles wide, "with ye isleand and the river that ye isleand stands in" etc. Among the witnesses to this deed was Tristram Coffyn, who had this year, arrived in New England and had moved from Salisbury to Haverhill.

Tristram is said to have been the first man to use a plow in Haverhill.

Marriage and Family

In 1642 Tristram emigrated to America with his wife Dionis and five small children as well as his widowed mother and two unmarried sisters.

  1. Peter Coffin (1630-1715)
  2. Tristram Coffin (1633-1704)
  3. Elizabeth Coffin (1634-1678)
  4. James Coffin (1640-1720) - original proprietor and first probate judge on Nantucket.
  5. Deborah Coffin (1642-1642)
  6. Mary Coffin (1645-1717) - distinquished Quaker preacher, founder of quaker colony on Nantucket
  7. John Coffin (1647-1711)
  8. Stephen Coffin (1652-1734)


Offspring of Tristram Coffin and Dionis Stevens (1610-1680)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Peter Coffin (1630-1715)
Tristram Coffin (1633-1704) 1 February 1633 Brixton, Devonshire, England 4 February 1704 Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts Judith Kimberly Greenleaf (1625-1705)
Elizabeth Coffin (1634-1678)
James Coffin (1640-1720) 12 August 1640 Brixton, Devonshire, England 28 July 1720 Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts Mary Severance (1645-1720)
Deborah Coffin (1642-1642)
Mary Coffin (1645-1717) 20 April 1645 Haverhill, Essex County, Massachusetts 13 November 1717 Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts Nathaniel Starbuck (1636-1719)
John Coffin (1647-1711) 30 December 1647 Haverhill, Essex County, Massachusetts 5 September 1711 Edgartown, Dukes County, Massachusetts Deborah Austin (1647-1718)
Stephen Coffin (1652-1734) 11 July 1652 Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts 14 November 1734 Nantucket, Nantucket County, Massachusetts Mary Bunker (1652-1724)





Footnotes (including sources)

‡ General
  • Tristram Coffin - Wikipedia Article
Ω Birth
  • Tristram Coffin - Wikipedia Article
₪ Wedding
  • Tristram Coffin - Wikipedia Article
¶ Death
  • Tristram Coffin - Wikipedia Article