Coffin Family Organization in Madbury | World Anvil

Coffin Family

The Coffin Family (/ˈkɔ fɪn/) are an aristocratic American family, who have held prominence among New England high society since colonial times. The main stem of the line, the Nantucket Coffins, appears to be extinct, at least since 1902. Among the two remaining branches, the Madbury, New Hampshire Coffins are dominant, with the line of the Boston Coffins appearing extremely attenuated at the current time. There is a Coffin family in Westchester County, New York who claim descent from the New England Coffins, but that claim has yet to be satisfactorily proved.

The New Hampshire house is notable for its marital ties to an astounding number of the country’s finest families. Of course, their ancient interrelation with the Starbucks, now of Seattle, and the Macys, now of New York, is well documented. Less well known, perhaps, are their connections to the Aspinwalls, the Bloods, the Cabots, the Collinses, the Forbeses the Peabodys and the Sargents, as well as numerous other well-respected eastern families.


The Coffin family descends from Sir Richard Coffyn, Knight, originally of Courtition in Normandy, who accompanied Duke William to England during the Conquest of 1066. For his valuable service to the new King, Sir Richard was granted the Estate and Manor of Alwington, later called Portledge Manor, overlooking Bristol Channel near Bideford in Devonshire.

The American house are the descendants of Tristram Coffyn, who led the first European settlement of Nantucket Island. Born into the landed gentry at Brixton in Devonshire c. 11 March 1609/10 (he was not a Puritan, but rather a Roman Catholic, and a Royalist to boot), Tristram emigrated to Boston at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, along with his wife, Dionis, their five children, his two sisters, and his mother.

By 1655, Tristram Coffyn had accumulated substantial wealth through hard work and shrewd business decisions, and moved the family to Salisbury, Massachusetts. In 1658 he crossed thirty miles of ocean in an open boat along with Thomas Macy and Edward Starbuck, landing at Madaket beach on the western end of Nantucket Island. In July of the following year, he and seven other Salisbury investors purchased the island from Thomas Mayhew for £30 and two beaver skin hats. Tristram moved his family there and the following year purchased 1000 acres on nearby Tuckernuck Island from the Wampanoag. This main branch of the family prospered as mariners and merchant traders, making the bulk of their fortune in the whaling trade through the early nineteenth century.

The New Hampshire Coffins trace their line to Tristram’s eldest son, Peter. He was a sea captain and lumber merchant, and one of the original purchasers of Nantucket, said to be the wealthiest man on the island. He left Nantucket with his wife, Abigail Starbuck, in 1663, first for Newbury, Massachusetts, later moving to Dover, New Hampshire. He was given a captain's commission and served in the colonial militia during King Philip's War (1675-78). In 1679 he established a trading post and shipping wharf on land that would eventually become the town of Madbury, New Hampshire. Captain Peter Coffin is considered the founder of the town.

In the eighteenth century, the family was able to build enormous wealth from their timber holdings, lumbering operations and expanding merchant fleet. Several members of the family entered the political arena and became influential in the governments of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and even served at the national level. In the nineteenth century, many Coffins became industrialists, building factories and mills throughout the region. More recently, the family has become increasingly involved in banking and private equity finance.

Most of the current family reside on the 440-acre family estate, known as "Coffinhurst," which sits atop Garrison Hill in Madbury, New Hampshire, and has been the seat of the family since colonial times. They own over 3,500 acres of prime real estate in the town, including all of Coffin’s Landing and nearly the entire village of Center Madbury, as well as many commercial and industrial concerns elsewhere throughout the town. They are great patrons of the arts and education, having endowed three colleges at Litchmoor University, and spend much of their time socializing with the upper classes of Boston, Newport and Martha’s Vineyard.

Many of the family’s “poor relations,” who mockingly refer to themselves as the “Have-naught Coffins,” still live in the Madbury area. Although not as well-heeled as their affluent relatives, they nevertheless play major roles in the life of the town. An example of this is Harlan Coffin, who has been chairman of the Board of Selectmen, and unofficial “Mayor” of Madbury since 1954.

Notable Members of the Coffin Family

Tristram Coffin (1605–1681): English colonist of Salisbury, Pentucket (Haverhill), and Newbury, Massachusetts. Original settler of Nantucket Island.

Capt. Peter Coffin, Sr. (1630–1715): Sea captain, trader and lumber merchant. Original settler of Nantucket. Founder of Madbury New Hampshire. Colonial legislator, royal councilor, and judge.

Mary Coffin Starbuck (1645–1717): Distinguished Quaker preacher.

William Coffin (1699–1775): Merchant, co-founder of Trinity Church in Boston.

Peter T. Coffin (1724–1789): Captain in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War.

John Coffin Jones, Sr. (1750–1829): Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Sir Isaac Coffin (1759–1839): British Naval admiral during the Revolutionary War. 1st Baron of the Magdalena Islands.

John Coffin Jones, Jr. (1796–1861): First Consul General to Hawaii (assigned 1820).

Thomas Coffin Amory (1812–1889): Lawyer and author.

Sarah Coffin Beecher (1815–1897): Noted abolitionist and author. Sister-in-law of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Charles Orcutt Coffin Sr. (1817–1872): Co-founder of Amoskeag National Bank (Manchester, N.H.). Lost at sea aboard the ghost ship Marie Céleste, found abandoned and adrift off the coast of Portugal on December 4, 1872.

Thomas Jonathan Coffin Amory (1828–1864): Civil War general.

Charles E. Coffin (1841–1912): Industrialist. U.S. congressman.

Henry Coffin Nevins (1843–1892): Industrialist.

Charles Albert Coffin (1844–1926): Industrialist. Co-founder and first president of General Electric Corporation.

Edwin Coffin (1878–1931): Industrialist, banker, financier. Co-founder of Merchants Savings and Loan (Dover, N.H.). Murdered in Newport, R.I.; the case was never solved.

Barnaby J. Coffin (1907–1953): Industrialist, banker, financier. Accidental suicide.



Tristram Coffyn Coat of Arms.jpg
Tristram Coffyn Coat of Arms

Extant recte factis praemia
(“There are rewards for doing the right thing”)

Current region
New England, U.S.

Earlier spelling

French for “basket (maker)”

Place of origin
Alwington, Devonshire, England

Aspinwall family
Blood family
Cabot family
Collins family
DePeyster family
DuPont family
Forbes family
Macy family
Peabody family
Roosevelt family
Sargent family
Starbuck family
Vanderbilt family

Religious traditions
Roman-Catholic (N. H. branch)
Episcopalian (Boston branch)

Coffinhurst (Madbury, N.H.)

Coffinhurst Estate
Madbury, New Hampshire

Image Credits:
1. Anonymous Caldwell, via
2. Haasmaster, CC BY-SA 4.0 < >, via Wikimedia Commons


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