"Reverend" Mary Coffin was born February 20, 1644/45 in Haverhill, Massachusetts just two years after her parents' arrival from Devonshire, England. She moved to Nantucket Island with her father, Tristram Coffin, who led the colonization of the island in 1660-1661. In 1662 she married Nathaniel Starbuck, a prosperous farmer, local official, and partner with her father in purchasing the area from the Indians. The son of Edward and Catherine (Reynolds) Starbuck, Nathaniel was born February 20, 1633/34 in Dover, New Hampshire and died June 6, 1719 on Nantucket.
Mother of ten children, of whom five daughters and three sons lived to maturity, Mary and her eldest son Nathaniel helped make Quakerism the leading religion on the island sometime after her own conversion from Puritanism by the Quakers of Providence, RI in 1701 at the age of 56. She was a minister, as were her children and grandchildren.
"The islanders esteemed [Mary Starbuck] as a judge among them, for little was done without her, as I understood," wrote Englishman John Richardson, describing his 1701 visit. He bestowed on her the epithet "the great woman," and in the same journal entry deprecated her husband as "not a man of mean parts but she so far exceeded him in soundess of judgment, clearness of understanding, and an elegant way of expressing herself ... that it tended to lessen the qualifications of her husband."
Mary was a "most extraordinary woman, participating in the practical duties and responsibilities of public gatherings and town meetins, on which occasions her words were always listened to with marked respect." For several years, Meetings or worships as well as Nantucket's political affairs were held in the "great fore-room" of her home which became known as "Parliament House," situated on what is now known as Island View Farm between the Macy's and the north head of Hummock ponds.
Despite Mary's involvement in the weighty matters of religion, she did not neglect domestic issues, as evidenced by a letter which Lydia Hinchman quotes in Early Settlers of Nantucket. In the aftermath of a fire experienced by her granddaughter, Eliza Gorham, Mary wrote to her:
Nantucket 17th of 1st mo 1714Dear Child E.G.
These few lines may certify thee that thou art often in my remembrance, with thy dear husband and children, with breathigs to the Lord for you, that you may find rest in all your visitations and trials: and also that there is a trunk filled with goods which is intended to be put on Eben Stewards vessel, in which are several small tokens from thy friends which thou may particularly see by the invoices here enclosed, and by some other marks that are upon the things.
Thy Aunt Dorcas in a new pair of osnaburg sheets, thy Aunt Dinah in a pair of blankets. Thy Grandfather intends to send thee a bbl. of mutton, but it is not all his own, for cousin James Coffin sent hither 17 pieces. Cousin James said he inteded to send thee two or three bushels of corn.
There is likewise sent from our women's meeting £7 which thy uncle Jethro said he would give an order for, for thee to take to Boston.
Sister James told me she intended to send thee two bushels of corn and some wool and likewise that Justice Worth said he would send thee some corn.
More meat and corn will be sent which will be in larger quantities, which thy uncle Jethro STarbuck will give thee an acct. of or to thy husband.
I should have been glad if he had come over with Steward, but I hope we will see him this summer, if not both of you.
So with my kind love to thee and thy husband, children and to all our frds. committing you to the protection of the Almighty who is the wise disposer of all things and remain thy affectionate grandmother.
Mary StarbuckAlthough the first Meeting house on Nantucket was built in 1711, Mary did not live to see the official Nantucket Monthly Meeting be established on May 16, 1780. She died on Nantucket Island September 13, 1717 at the age of seventy-two.
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