Tag Archives: Caleb Coffin

Caleb Coffin & Deborah Alden, Nantucket & Orange County, NY, 1700s: 12 for ’22

Blog posts definitely work as “cousin bait,” although the person who contacted me wasn’t exactly a cousin.

She had found my post about my 5X great grandparents, Joseph Coleman and Eunice Coffin, both born in Nantucket, Massachusetts and who moved to Orange County, New York at the start of the American Revolution.

When I wrote about the Colemans, part of their story is that I proved that Joseph Coleman didn’t die on 17 April 1775 in spite of the Nantucket Vital Records (part of the Massachusetts series known as the ‘tan books’) say so. His ‘death date’ was actually the day he and Eunice sold their land in Nantucket before leaving for New York.

Caleb Coffin was Eunice’s older brother and they were the 4th and 5th children born to Cromwell Coffin and Ruth Coffin, who were distant cousins.

Caleb Coffin was baptized on 22 July 1739 in Nantucket. I was aware that he married Deborah Alden, born 7 August 1748 in Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of Briggs Alden and Mercy Wadsworth, on 12 February 1767 in Duxbury.

Yes, it is that Alden family. Deborah was the 2X great granddaughter of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.

Her interest was piqued because Caleb and Deborah Coffin also left Nantucket, not long before Joseph and Eunice Coleman, but also settled in Newburgh, Orange, New York.

She was hoping that I might be able to fill in some details about Caleb’s and Deborah’s life and perhaps why they left Massachusetts for New York.

It turns out that was easier said than done, but I need to start at the beginning.

Caleb and Deborah were the parents of four known children, with at least the three daughters born in Nantucket:

1. Salome, born 15 April 1768
2. Hannah, 4 February 1770
3. Caleb, born between 1772-1778
4. Fanny, 20 December 1773

As you can see, birth records are found for the three girls, but none has been found for Caleb Jr.  and no sources that give his age seem to have been found. It is possible that he was born between 1775, when the family left New York, and 1778, when his father died.

However, being one of the most famous Mayflower families means Alden descendants have been well documented.

The goal of this post is to focus on any new facts that might be learned about Caleb Coffin’s life.

First, he was called “captain,” and he was undoubtedly a mariner. Whether he died at sea or in the colonies is unknown. It’s also not known whether he died of illness or an act of war during the American Revolution.

What is known is that Caleb signed a pledge, likely in the spring of 1775 and definitely before 14 July 1775, to support the patriot cause if and when war erupted:

Furthermore, his widow, Deborah, married (2) Isaac Belknap, also a mariner and a patriot, on 10 September 1778.

Why did the Coffins feel the need to leave Massachusetts, where both the Coffin and Alden families had lived for a century and a half?

Historians have written that Nantucket residents felt extremely vulnerable when faced with the prospect of war with England. As with any location in that time period, there were those who supported England and those who supported independence.

Regardless of political leanings, residents felt that defending themselves on an island would be a dangerous proposition. Newburgh, New York is right on the Hudson River and a number of Nantucket families chose to make a new home in Newburgh, where their seafaring jobs could continue.

My own 5X great grandfather, Joseph Coleman, saw the winds of war approaching. I don’t think it was any coincidence that his deed of sale was dated 17 April 1775 – just two days before the ‘shot heard ’round the world’ at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Safety for family was obviously a primary concern.

What happened to Caleb in the intervening three years?

First, there are no land or probate records to be found in Nantucket mentioning Caleb Coffin. If he owned any real estate, he may have casually sold his property to a close family member before he removed from Nantucket.

Being a mariner, Caleb would have been on the ocean for extended periods of time. He may even have returned to Nantucket and transacted business there. However, Nantucket court records have a gap during the Revolutionary War years. It’s possible that court sessions were held, but the records taken to a clerk’s home for safekeeping and then lost to time.

As for Orange County, New York records, there is the same problem  with missing records. The courthouse burned in 1774 and no extant records are found there until 1787.

A page by page search from 1787 into the 1790s (no indexes have been found) revealed no mention of Caleb Coffin or Deborah (Alden) (Coffin) Belknap.

One interesting item was found – not in Nantucket or Newburgh, but in the Supreme Court of the County of New York, which is Manhattan.

On 17 June 1790, Josiah Barker, who was a respected and well-to-do merchant in Nantucket, sued the Estate of Caleb Coffin, deceased, with executrix Deborah Belknap and Isaac Belknap as representing the estate.

Further searching in court minutes found, confirming that it was the estate of the correct Caleb Coffin:

A call to the New York State Archives confirmed that the papers pertaining to this lawsuit still exist.

It turns out that Caleb Coffin contracted several large debts in his lifetime, which his executrix either chose not to pay after his death or, possibly, his estate didn’t have enough money to settle with Josiah Barker.

The transcription of the two pages in the file is lengthy and somewhat repetitive:

Plea [torn]

of New York, at New York, of the Term of january in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety
Witness Richard Morris Esquire
Chief Justice  McKesson

Columbia SS, Josiah Barker puts in his Pl [torn]
against Isaac Belknap and Debor [torn]

Testament of Caleb Coffin deceased in [torn]

Columbia ss. Be it remembered that heretofore that is to say, in the Term of October last part, before the People of the State of New York, at Albany the Court of the said People then there, his certain bill against Isaac Belknap and Deborah his Wife Executrix of the last Will and Testament of Caleb Coffin deceased, being in Custody &c of a Plea of Trespass on the Case, and there are Pledges for the Presentation thereof to wit, John Doe and Josiah Barker complains of Isaac Belknap and Deborah his Wife Executrix of the last Will and Testament of Caleb Coffin deceased in Custody &c for that whereas the said Caleb in his Life Time, to wit, on the twenty seventh Day one thousand seven hundred and seventy four, at Nantucket in the late Province of Massachusetts Bay now Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that is to say, at Claverack in the County of Columbia, was indebted to the same Josiah in the Sum of one hundred and nine Pounds, tin shillings and nine Pence one Farthing lawful Money of the and one Farthing Lawful Money [sic] of the State of New York for divers Goods to the said Caleb in his Life Time at his special Instance and Request, and being so indebted the said Caleb in Consideration thereof afterwards, to wit, the same Day and year above said, at Nantucket aforesaid, that is to say, at Claverrack aforesaid in the County of Columbia aforesaid, assumed upon himself and then and there faithfully promised to said Josiah that he the said Caleb wants will and truly pay to him the said Josiah the said Sum of Money above mentioned when he should be afterwards thereunto required and whereas also the said Caleb in his Life Time, afterwards, to wit, and same Day and Year abovesaid, at Nantucket aforesaid, that is to say at Claverack aforesaid in the County aforesaid, and a certain Note in Writing, with his own proper Hand thereunto subscribed bearing Date the same Day and year abovesaid, and then and there delivered the said Note to the said Josiah Barker, Richard Mitchell Junior and Jonathan Burnell by which said Note the said Caleb in his Life Time promised to pay to the said Josiah Barker, Richard Mitchel Junior and Jonathan Burnell by the Name of Josiah Barker &c or Order on Demand seventy five Pounds four Shillings and nine Pence three Farthings lawful Money of the Province of Massachusetts Bay aforesaid, of the Value of one hundred Pounds six Shillings and five Pence lawful Money of the State of New York, with Interest, there on ’till paid for Value recorded and the Said Richard Mitchel Junior and Jonathan Burnell afterwards and before the Payment of the said Note Sum of Money mentioned in the said Note, or any Part thereof, to wit, on the first Day of November in the year last abovesaid, at Nantucket aforesaid, that is to say, at Claverack aforesaid, in the County aforesaid, by a certain Indorsement in Writing, then and there made with the said Note, and then and there Subscribed with the proper Hands of the said Richard Mitchel Junior and Jonathan Burnell assigned their Property in the aforesaid Note to the said Josiah Barker, and by the said Indorsement ordered and appointed the aforesaid Caleb Coffin to pay the said Josiah Barker the Contents of the said Notes for Value received awarding it the Form and E[ffect????] of the said Note, whereof the said Caleb in his Life time, afterwards, to wit, the same Day and Year last abovesaid, at Nantucket aforesaid, that is to say, at Claverack foresaid in the County of Columbia aforesaid Notis by Reason where of and also by Force of the Act in such Care made and provided, the said Caleb Coffin in his Life Time afterwards became chargeable and liable to pay the aforesaid Josiah Barker the said Sum of Money in the said Note mentioned, awarding to the Form and Effect of the said Note and Indorsement and the said Caleb Coffin in his Life Time being so liable, in Consideration thereof, afterwards, to wit, the same Day and Year last abovesaid, at Nantucket aforesaid, that is to say, at Claverack aforesaid in the County of Columbia aforesaid, understood and then and there faithfully promised the said Josiah Barker that he the said Caleb Coffin would will and truly pay and content to the said Josiah the said sum of Money in the said Note mentioned and awarding to the Tenor and Effect of the said Note and Indorsement And whereas also the said Caleb Coffin in his Life Time, afterwards to wit, on the first Day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy six at Nantucket aforesaid, that is to say; at Claverack aforesaid, in the County of Columbia aforesaid, was indebted to the said Josiah in the Sum of two hundred & sixty Pounds lawful Money of the Province of Massachusetts Bay aforesaid of the Value of three hundred and forty six pounds thirteen Shillings and [???] Pence Lawful Money of the State of New York aforesaid [??????????????] Money before that Time by the said Josiah to the said Caleb in his Life Time, at his like special Instance and Registered [????????????????????] being so indebted the said Caleb in his Life Time in Consideration thereof afterwards to wit, the same Day and Year last mentioned at Nantucket aforesaid That is to say, at Claverack aforesaid and the County aforesaid understood and then and there faithfully promised the said Josiah [????] last mentioned Sum of Money [?????] required Nevertheless the said Caleb in his Life Time and the said Isaac Belknap

Page 2

and Deborah his Wife, since the Death of the said Caleb not regarding the Promises and Undertakings of the said Caleb in his Life Time made as aforesaid, the aforesaid [???] sum of Money or any Part thereof to the said Josiah[??????] not hath either of them paid not hith{stained] for the same [???] to do the same [stained] Time was afterwards often thereunto required and the said Isaac and Deborah since the Death of the said Caleb [stained] thereunto required both the same to [stained] the said Caleb in his Life Time, and the said Isaac and Deborah since his Death have utterly refused to pay, and the said Isaac and Deborah still do refuse, to the Damage of the said[stained] Pounds and thereof he bring Suit [stained] And now at this Day to wit on the third Tues day in January in this [???] Term to which Day the said Isaac and Deborah had [???] to impart to the said Bill and then to answer &c [???] the People of the State of New York at New York comes the said Josiah by his attorney aforesaid and the said Isaac and Deborah, altho’ at the same Day solemnly demanded come not, nor do they say anything in [Bar/] or Preclusion of the said action of the said Josiah by which the said Josiah remains thereof undefended against them 7c Wherefore the said Josiah ought to recover against the said Isaac and Deborah his Damages by [???] of the [?????????] of the Promises and Undertakings aforesaid, but because it is unknown to the Court of the said People now here what Damages the said Josiah hath sustained by the [Aversion?] aforesaid, therefore the Sheriff is commanded that by the Oath of the twelve good and lawful Men of his Bailiwic he diligently inquire what Damages the said Josiah hath received as well by Occasion of the nonperformance of the several Promises and Undertakings aforesaid as far his Costs and Charges by him about his Suit in that he hath expended – and that he send the Inquisition which [???] thereupon take to the said People at New York, on the third Tuesday in April next under his Seal and the Seals of those by whose Oath he hath take the said Inquisition together with the Writ of the people to him thereupon directed – The same Day is given to the said Josiah at the same Place. At which Day before the said people at New York came the said Josiah by his attorney aforesaid, and the Sheriff, to wit, Cornelius [Hageboom?] Esquire Sheriff of the said County of Columbia returned a certain Inquisition taken before him at the House of Joseph Gordon Inn keeper in the City of Hudson in the said County of Columbia on the nineteenth Day of April in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety: by the Oath of twelve good and lawful Men of his Bailiwic, by which it is found that the said Josiah hath sustained Damages by Occasion of the Nonperformance of the several promises and Undertakings aforesaid over and above his Costs and Charges by him about his Suit in that behalf expended to one hundred and fifty nine Pounds four Shillings and one Penny, and for those Costs that the said Josiah do recover against, the said Isaac and Deborah his Damages aforesaid, by the Inquisition aforesaid in Form aforesaid found, and also seventeen pounds one Shilling and three pence for his Costs and Charges now here, with his Assent of Increase adjudged, which said Damages in the whole amount to one hundred seventy nine pounds five shillings and ten pence to be levied of the Goods and Chattels which belonged to the said Caleb Coffin at the Time of his Death, being in the Hands of the said Isaac and Deborah to be administered and if they have not so much in their Hands then the said seventeen pounds [??] shillings & nine pence for his Costs and Charles aforesaid to be levied of the proper Goods and Chattels of them the said Isaac and Deborah – and that the said Isaac and Deborah in Mercy. &c.

Identification information about the case written down the left side of the paper. The right side of the paper has some tears, but no writing appears to have existed there.

Unfortunately, the items or services purchased by Caleb were not mentioned. He was a mariner, a sea captain. Perhaps they were supplies for a whaling voyage. In any case, the debt was significant and, for whatever reason, widow Deborah, as his executrix, chose not to honor the debt.

Further, Isaac and Deborah Belknap didn’t even bother to show up in court or send an attorney after they were duly given notice by the sheriff.

The outcome? Isaac and Deborah Belknap were ordered to satisfy the debt and were also ordered to pay Josiah Barker’s expenses out of their own pocket if Caleb’s estate was unable to supply the funds.

How I wish the probate records for Orange County, New York has survived the Revolutionary War!

Although Caleb and Deborah Coffin are not my direct line – Caleb was the brother of my ancestress, Eunice Coffin, who married Joseph Coleman, this was a fun BSO to follow.