A Bit More Mystery: Joseph Coleman & Eunice Coffin

That’s me – a dog with a bone! And I can’t let it go!! It’s funny how research can sometimes take you down a completely unexpected path. While piecing together the Coffin families, new information about my Joseph Coleman emerged.

Joseph Coleman married Eunice Coffin, daughter of Cromwell Coffin and Ruth Coffin from last week’s mystery deed.

The lives of Joseph and Eunice (Coffin) were quite straightforward up to 1775. Joseph Coleman was a Nantucket, Massachusetts mariner, likely a whaler, who traveled far and wide – I mean really far to Africa – and was gone from home for long periods of time.

Joseph Coleman was born 30 September 1739. Eunice Coffin was born 18 July 1742. They were born in, married on 24 January 1760, and raised their children together in Nantucket.

At least they did until 1775, when the Nantucket vital records list Joseph’s death from yellow fever.

Source: American Ancestors

The Massachusetts vital records series do give source citations, at least generally. This entry is marked P.R. 38 and P.R. 63, which means Private Record. P.R. 63 is the William C. Folger collection, which in 1910 when this book was published, was housed at the Nantucket Historical Association. It also notes P.R. 63, which corresponds to:

Source: American Ancestors

I’ve spent countless hours trying to locate this manuscript, but I haven’t found any place that claims it in its collection today.

Between the two records, Joseph’s death date is given as 17 April 1775, assuming that April is the fourth month and not July. It’s difficult to tell; no annotations have been made in the record itself.

While in the morass of Coffin deeds, I came across two deeds recorded by Joseph Coleman and Eunice Coffin. Both piqued my interest because of the dates.

Coleman Deed on the Right
Source: FamilySearch

The sale isn’t of any interest, but the date certainly is:

Joseph and Eunice Coleman both personally appeared on 17 April 1775 and the deed was recorded on 24 April 1775!

Joseph may well have died of yellow fever in 1775, but not on 17 April. It looks like I’d be safe saying Joseph died AFTER 17 April 1775, based on the deed date, yes?

Take a look at the second land deed I found for Joseph and Eunice.

Coleman Deed on the Right

This time, Joseph Coleman and wife Eunice, along with Timothy Coleman and wife Mary, are selling land that was part of the estate of their deceased father, Joseph Coleman.

So far, so good here, too, as Joseph and Timothy were sons of Joseph Coleman.

Look at the date, which is problematic for two reasons:

Either the clerk lied when he said “the above named Joseph Coleman & Wife personally Appeared before me. . . .on June Second 1788 or Joseph Coleman didn’t die of yellow fever off the coast of Guinea in 1775 or maybe ever!

Somehow, I don’t think the clerk made up a date, as he also noted the appearance of Timothy and Mary Coleman on 21 March 1789.

The second problem is that Eunice reportedly removed to Orange County, New York with her cousin, Benjamin Coffin, and other friends and relatives no later than 1781, when Joseph’s and Eunice’s daughter, Tamar, married Daniel Birdsall on 7 February 1781 in New Windsor, Orange, New York.

Eunice is last mentioned in 1799 in the will of her cousin, Benjamin Coffin, who died in Orange County, New York, and called her the widow Coleman.

There is no doubt that Eunice and her children removed to Orange County, New York, as there are documents that support their life in that locale.

Until I found this 1788 land deed, I had no evidence that Joseph Coleman ever left Massachusetts unless he went to sea, and, what occupation would a mariner follow in landlocked Newburgh, New York?

It is for certain that Joseph Coleman died before April 1791, as both the probate court in Nantucket and the court in Ulster County, New York (which borders Orange County) note Eunice Coleman as administratrix of the estate of Joseph Coleman, deceased.

These records beg the question then – exactly when and where did Joseph Coleman die?

Phew! I thought I was pretty much finished with researching that one Coleman family.  I need to take a step back and re-examine all of the records I’ve now accumulated about the family of Joseph and Eunice Coleman. Until today, I thought they were a stable family, having lived in Nantucket for generations, and life didn’t really change until Eunice was widowed in 1775 and chose to move the family to Newburgh, New York. That decision was one made by many Nantucket families, as they felt like they were sitting ducks, living on the war front and on an island no less,  during the Revolution.

More on this family is coming up soon.



5 thoughts on “A Bit More Mystery: Joseph Coleman & Eunice Coffin”

  1. That is a curious mystery. I’m still blown away by an ancestor sailing to /from Nantucket and West Africa…in the 18th century! How rare and, I assume, very dangerous for that era.

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