Delving into Original 18th Century Sources, Part 2

Yesterday, I presented the idea of searching for original 18th century records to look for further clues about the family of Joseph and Eunice (Coffin) Coleman, who lived in Nantucket, Massachusetts in the 1700s.

The sources cited in the Nantucket vital record book were linked to the baptism of three of the Coleman children, Tamar, Elizabeth and Jennette, and to the death of Joseph Coleman, who died of yellow fever in 1775 off the coats of Guinea.


PR38 PR63

The first pertinent record, C.R. 3, states that the baptisms were entered in the books of the First Methodist Episcopal Church.

The other two records noted the death of Joseph, found first in the William C. Folger records, in the possession of the Nantucket Historical Association and in the Hon. Isaac Coffin records, in the possession of the Nantucket Atheneum.

It is important to note here that those repositories held the records as of 1925, when the Nantucket vital records book was published.

My first step, then was to verify that the records were indeed in those places. Both the Atheneum and the Historical Association exist today. I checked WorldCat for the First Methodist Episcopal Church records and this entry appeared:

Note the bottom left corner!
“Sorry, no libraries with the specified items were found.”

This is not a good start. Next, I phoned the Nantucket Historical Association, but left a message, which was returned the next morning. I spoke with a reference librarian, who had already begun to research my request. She told me that the First Methodist Episcopal Church wasn’t established on Nantucket Island until 1796, when the first minister arrived there. I asked about the possibility that earlier records had been lost, but she said she could find absolutely no reference to that church denomination until 1796. That is a full 21 years AFTER the Coleman children were baptized. Hmmm.

Obviously, something is wrong here. The most logical explanation would be that there was a typographical mistake when the book was published and the source was not C.R. 3. That means the children were baptized either at one of the Congregational Churches or the Society of Friends and since the Quakers don’t practice baptism, that leaves either the North or South Congregational Church.

The next step is to try to locate those records, but if you noticed the WorldCat entry description, the First Congregational Church records were included with the First Methodist Episcopal Church in the Church Records Collection:

Churches on Nantucket Collection, 1761-1986

Next step is to see if the Nantucket Historical Association has that set of church records.

However, the William C. Folger collection is, indeed, still housed at the Nantucket Historical Association and archivist Elizabeth Oldham was kind enough to track down the entry about Joseph Coleman’s death:


1739 (born)  – Joseph Coleman died of yellow fever


Entry listing the wife, children and spouses of
Joseph Coleman

The problem here is that no sources are given for this entry, which matches the information in the NHA database online. I have no doubts that the family removed to Newburgh, Orange County, New York and I located marriage records for Tamar, Janette, Mary Ann (Polly) and Elizabeth. However, I have no primary proof of the names of Polly, Eunice and Joseph Jr. I suspect that they might be named in the papers of  Isaac Coffin, Judge of Probate.

I am not at all sure that my Joseph married a Polly. You see, there was an unrelated (as far as I can tell) Joseph Coleman living in Orange County by the 1760s and he had a son, Joseph, born about 1774, close in age to my Joseph and I can’t find a marriage record in Orange County for any Joseph Coleman in the 1790s. It appears that this Joseph Coleman and others in Orange County at the time were descended from William Coleman who settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

I also googled Isaac Coffin to locate where his papers might be. The Atheneum didn’t appear to include them in their collection. It looks like the Isaac S. Coffin papers, 1820-1866, at the Peabody-Essex Museum might be the papers I am looking for, but correspondence from them indicated that they did NOT have this manuscript.

Considering that New England research is so “easy,” this has taken a lot of hours and days. These two posts cover 48 hours, but I have worked on and off for three months just to get this far!

However, I am not yet out of options, as a reasonably exhaustive search to me means leave no stone unturned. There are two remaining “stones” to be turned – the Nantucket Town Clerk and the Nantucket Probate Clerk (even though a search of probate records on microfilm in Salt Lake City yielded no estate administration for Joseph Coleman.)

The first phone call went to the Town Clerk, hoping that maybe that office might have some record, but nothing was located there.

My last hope was the Nantucket Probate Clerk, Susan D. Beamish. Register, who made my day! She discovered a one page probate administration entry for widow Eunice Coleman, who had already removed with her cousin, Benjamin Coffin, and her children to Orange County, New York!

It’s not the manuscript of the Hon. Isaac Coffin, Judge of Probate, but it’s even better because it is the ORIGINAL record!

Joseph Coleman Probate Administration, 1791

Unfortunately, this one page document only mentions widow Eunice Coleman, her deceased husband, Joseph Coleman, mariner, and the fact that she resides in New York. She was given the option to present an accounting either to the court in New York (Orange County) or to the Nantucket Probate Court between April and October of 1791.

I have no idea why it took so long for her to file for letters of administration, when Joseph died in 1775. I could understand if she filed at the close of the Revolution, but that was in 1783. I wonder if son Joseph, turning 21 about that time, had anything to do with the timing?

One thought on “Delving into Original 18th Century Sources, Part 2”

  1. Was Eunice going to remarry? Was there death of a parent, sibling, child or in-law for whom Eunice was going to have some responsibility for estate proceedings? Was Eunice about to sell property?

    These matters are seldom simple.

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