Tag Archives: Eunice Coffin

Joseph Coleman: When Is a Death Record Not a Death Record? When It’s Not!

I feel like I’ve been tossed and turned on the sea. It’s an appropriate analogy, I believe, because Joseph Coleman was a mariner. If you’ve been following my Coffin and Coleman family posts, you’ll remember that I discovered some land deeds that appear to disprove the Nantucket vital record stating that Joseph Coleman died at sea of yellow fever off the coast of Guinea on 17 April 1775.

Death of Joseph Coleman?

On the surface, this looks pretty definite, doesn’t it? It’s in the collection of official Nantucket vital records. Note the P.R. 38 and P.R. 63. Those abbreviations are the sources of this information and mean that this came from private notes and manuscripts. One is the Isaac Coffin collection and the other is the William Folger collection.

I’ve spent months working on Joseph Coleman’s family because Nantucket records are incomplete. Many births aren’t recorded and deaths are missing. Early Nantucket genealogists compiled data to fill in some of these gaps. However, they were human and sometimes made mistakes.

The Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 series for Nantucket contains this caveat for P.R. 38:

P.R. 38

I had always had lingering questions about this family. Eunice never remarried, but supposedly had several small children. How did she survive? It didn’t seem likely that her cousin Benjamin Coffin supported them out of the goodness of his heart. I also wondered about Joseph Coleman’s 1791 probate. Why had so many years passed between 1775 and then with no probate being administered? I could understand it being delayed until the war ended in 1783, but not until 1791. I theorized that perhaps Joseph owned land and son Joseph Jr. came of age, as he married in 1793. Some of my questions have now been answered with the discovery of several new primary documents.

Timelines can be invaluable when there are a number of events and dates. Here is one for the lives of Joseph and Eunice (Coffin) Coleman and it demands a complete retelling of the story of this family’s life.

1739.Sep30 – Joseph Coleman born in Nantucket, son of Joseph & Rachel (Norton) Coleman
1742.Jul18 – Eunice Coffin born in Nantucket, daughter of Cromwell & Ruth (Cromwell) Coffin
1760.Jan24 – Joseph Coleman & Eunice Coffin married in Nantucket
1760-1773 – Tamar, Jennet & Elizabeth born to Joseph and Eunice. The three girls were baptized on 19 December 1773, Nantucket.
1768-1772 – Joseph born to Joseph and Eunice. Age range based on gravestone age and age in 1850 census.
1774.Oct20 – Joseph Coleman of Nantucket purchases land from Morris Flewelling in Ulster County, New York
1775.Apr17 – Death of Joseph Coleman entered in Nantucket vital records, having died of yellow fever off the coast of Guinea.
1775.Apr17 – Joseph, mariner, and Eunice Coleman appeared in person to register a deed of sale to Francis Chase. Deed registered 24 April 1775.
1775 – Mary Ann, estimated birth year, born to Joseph and Eunice
1781.Feb7 – Tamar Coleman married Daniel Birdsall, New Windsor, Orange, New York
1786.Jan31 – Elizabeth Coleman married Isaac Belknap, New Windsor, Orange, New York
1788.June5 – Joseph and Eunice Coleman with Timothy and Mary Coleman, all of Nantucket, sold their share of their deceased father’s estate to Ebenezer Coleman.
1790 – Census shows Henry Watts, male over 16 and one female in a household next door to Benjamin Coffin, Orange County, New York. Henry Watts married Jennet Coleman, c1790.
1790.Jan5 – Joseph Coleman bought land from Thomas Palmer of Ulster County, New York
1791.Apr5 – Probate filed for estate of Joseph Coleman, Eunice Coleman administratrix. Papers filed both in Ulster County, New York and Nantucket, Massachusetts. Probate inventory shows continued contacts in both New York and Nantucket.
1793.Aug24 – Joseph Coleman Jr. married Ruth Spurr of Dorchester, Massachusetts
1795.Feb9 – Mary Ann Coleman married Chauncey Griswold, New Windsor, Orange, New York.
1796.May5 – Birdsall, Watts, Belknap and Griswold heirs + Joseph Coleman sell their shares of estate of Joseph Coleman, deceased.
1796.May5 – before 1799.Mar9 – Tamar (Coleman) Birdsall died.
1799.Mar9 – Benjamin Coffin wrote his will. Bequests given = 1/3 to children of sister Love Coffin, 1/3 to children of sister Jean Ramsdal, 1/3 to widowed cousins Abigail Gardner, Eunice Coleman and Mary Fosdick, sisters and daughters of Cromwell and Ruth (Coffin) Coffin.
1800.May22 – Will of Henry Watts proved. Widow Jennet. Sons Hiram and Harvey, Orange County, New York
1800 – Census shows Jannet Watts, head of household, with 1 F 45+, 1 F 26-44, 1 F 16-25, 2 M -10. Female over 45 may be Eunice. Coleman. No further record found for Jennet (Coleman) Watts or sons Hiram and Harvey Watts.
1802.Apr19 – Will of Benjamin Coffin proved. Eunice Coleman apparently still living.
1806-1810 – Mary Ann (Coleman) Griswold died, probably Orange County, New York
1852.Apr15 – Joseph Coleman Jr. died, Bowdoinham, Lincoln (today Sagadahoc), Maine

Joseph Coleman was robbed of about 16 years of his life by the data in the William C. Folger collection. His children would have grown up without a father and his widow most likely would have had to have remarried to survive.

Instead, this timeline makes it evident that Joseph planned his move to New York in 1774. Was it because of the chance of impending war with England or did he want a change of pace?

Since his occupation was mariner, did he continue that life after removing to New York? How often did he move back and forth between New York and New England?

Being a mariner, did he sail down the Hudson River to New York to access the ocean, or did he travel by land to perhaps Bridgeport or New Haven and sail from there to Nantucket?

By following all my Coffin family leads, I literally stumbled into all these new records for the Coleman family. I’d also searched some of these records in the past, but many more are digitally available now from home.

It’s turned out to be quite a story, as I’ve filled in so many details about the lives of Joseph, Eunice and their children. It looks like Joseph Jr., my ancestor, had the longest lifespan, by far.

This is a perfect example of how following collateral lines and extending the search to include more than vital records can be just the ammunition to crack open a brick wall.






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.