Tag Archives: Joseph Coleman

Methodology: Connecting Joseph Coleman & Joseph Coleman as Father & Son

The dog days of summer seemed like a good time to blog a series about my Coleman and Coffin lines. I’ve written several thousand words covering multi-generations of these lines, culminating with the family of Joseph Coleman of Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine, who I wrote about a couple of days ago.

If you’ve followed the details of Joseph the son instead of Joseph the father, you might have noticed that I’ve never mentioned any smoking gun connecting Joseph in Bowdoinham with the family in Nantucket and Orange County, New York.

That’s because there is no one document connecting the two men. Instead, it took years of sorting out the Coleman families, eliminating possibilities and then connecting them on the strength of preponderance of evidence and the Bowdoinham FAN club.

For many years, Joseph Colman/Coleman in Bowdoinham was a complete mystery. It took very little effort to find him marrying Ruth Spurr in 1793 in Roxbury, Massachusetts:

American Ancestors

The land deed detailing the purchase of land in Bowdoinham by Joseph Coleman in 1796, sold by James Bowdoin of Dorchester, Massachusetts, tied this couple neatly together, as there are no other Joseph and Ruth Colemans anywhere around.

Lincoln County, Maine Deed Book 37: 226-227

During the next two decades, my research on this line consisted of chasing down records for every Coleman family in Massachusetts during the second half of the 18th century. It ended up being a process of eliminating each and every family, one by one. This was all before the internet age.

In 1850, Joseph Coleman stated that he was born in Massachusetts. Of course, that could have meant Maine because Maine was part of Massachusetts in 1770, which is about when Joseph was born.

However, I could find no links between the very few Colemans who were in early Maine and my Joseph.

Next, every book in the Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 series that I could lay hands on, which was most of them over a twenty year time span,  was checked. I read every Coleman genealogy that I could find, which mainly covered William Coleman of Gloucester, Massachusetts and Thomas Coleman of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

I hired a researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society to read some records to which I had no access, including the Massachusetts 1798 Direct Tax. I reasoned that even if my Joseph’s father had died by then, it would still guide me to towns where Colemans lived. Nothing came of that venture except for more possibilities crossed off the list.

It did become quite evident that Joseph as a given name was rare in almost every Coleman family in Massachusetts, with the exception of the descendants of Thomas Coleman of Nantucket. Among that group, Joseph was a popular name.

After all the negative findings, I narrowed my focus to the Nantucket group. Again, I contacted NEHGS and learned about the Nantucket Historical Association and their fabulous online database. Eliza Starbuck Barney compiled information on 40,000 residents of Nantucket covering the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The family of Joseph and Eunice (Coffin) Coleman quickly made itself known. Here was a couple who were exactly the right ages to be parents to my Joseph. Although the births of their children weren’t recorded in Nantucket vital records, it did note the baptism of three daughters in December 1773.

The NHA database also included the most valuable clue of all – that the family removed to Newburgh, Orange County, New York.

Nantucket Historical Association Surname Database

Because of the reference to Newburgh, New York, I was able to prove that Joseph Sr. didn’t die in 1775 off the coast of Guinea and land deeds, along with marriage records, proved the names of his five children, at least those who survived to adulthood. I’ve found no evidence of the existence of a child Eunice and I believe Mary Ann and Polly are the same person.

Now, for the critical steps of connecting Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr. First of all, even though the land deeds say the grantors/ grantees are all residents of that place, I think that might or might not be true. Joseph Sr. was correctly identified as “of Nantucket” in 1774, but in all transactions involving this family, I am not positive that they were residents of where the deeds state they were.

For example, the daughters lived in the town of New Windsor, but were identified as living in Newburgh. At times, Newburgh is identified as part of Ulster County, which it was at an earlier point in history, but was in Orange County at the time the deed was recorded. It doesn’t seem that the county clerk required much proof of residency; he just took the word of the people filing the deed.

Third, knowing that Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr. were both mariners presents an easy way for them to travel back and forth over thousands of sea miles.

Although Joseph Jr. appears in the 1820 census of Bowdoinham, there is a Joseph Coleman in the 1820 census of Calais, Washington, Maine, which is across a narrow strip of water separating it from New Brunswick, Canada. This Joseph Coleman is an older man and has two young men in the household with him.


Being a mariner, Joseph could easily have stopped off in Calais for a while to check it out. Yes, this could be another man entirely, but Calais happens to have some very early tax records from the 1820s that have survived.

Calais Tax List, 1820

In 1821, one Thomas Coleman appeared on the same list:

Calais Tax List, 1821

Coincidence or not, “my” Thomas, Joseph’s son, turned 21 that year.

In 1822, three Colemans appear, Joseph, followed by Thomas and William:

Calais Tax List, 1822

If they are in order of age and are, indeed, father and sons, William would be one of the unknown sons of Joseph and Ruth (Spurr) Coleman.

Thomas Coleman remained on that list through 1823 and then disappears. What happened to “my” Thomas Coleman? Well, he married Mary Elizabeth Astle in Nelson, Northumberland, New Brunswick, Canada on 22 June 1830. If this early Calais family is my Coleman bunch, Thomas headed north.

Thomas might have traveled by land into Canada, but he easily could have sailed all the way to the Miramichi River, which empties into the ocean, and the village of Nelson.

Joseph and William Coleman remained on the Calais tax list until 1825. Joseph would have returned to Bowdoinham. What became of William? I have never found a trace of him. True to form, no Coleman owned land in Calais at this time.

What I can prove, though, is that my Thomas Coleman named his only son, WILLIAM, and sometime before the 1840 U.S. census, he brought his young family back into the United States to live. Thomas and family spent the remainder of their lives in – you guessed it – Calais, Maine. Another proven fact is that both William Coleman and his son, my great grandfather Hartwell Thomas, followed the sea. Captain William Coleman was a tug master along the St. Croix River and Bay of Fundy, while Hartwell became a master mariner. This seems like a bit too much of a coincidence to me.

Here is a comparison of “my” Bowdoinham Joseph and Joseph Jr. in New York. Notice that, aside from a county clerk mentioning that all in the deed resided there, there are no other facts which preclude them from being the same man.

Joseph of Bowdoinham:

1. Born 1768-1772
2. Married Ruth Spurr in Roxbury, MA on 24 August 1793
3. Of Bowdoinham when he bought land there on 22 October 1796
4. Of Bowdoinham when he sold the same land on 19 December 1798
5. 1800 census – Lincoln County, Maine
6. 1820 census – Lincoln County, Maine
7. 1830 census – Lincoln County, Maine
8. 1840 census – Lincoln County, Maine
9. 1850 census – Lincoln County, Maine
10. Died 15 April 1852 and buried in Brown Point Cemetery, Bowdoinham, Maine
11. Had no other relatives with the Coleman surname nearby in Maine
12. No primary documents have been found proving the birth places of Joseph’s children, aside from Thomas’s death certificate (88 years old at death) stating he was from Richmond, Maine.

Joseph of New York:

  1. Birth not recorded, but siblings born c1761-c1775
  2. Deed dated 4 April 1796 names Joseph and his four sisters as heirs of Joseph Coleman. States he is a local resident. (Six months later he is called “of Bowdoinham” if the same man as my Joseph, which is certainly physically possible.)
  3. Deed dated 4 February 1801 again states he is of New York as he records land sale to Isaac Belknap as his share of estate of his father.
  4. NO land deeds found in his name in New York
  5. NO marriage record found for him in New York
  6. Appears in NO census records in New York
  7. NO death/probate record found for Joseph in New York
  8. NO further records of any kind have been located for Joseph inn New York.
  9. Both the estate inventory of his father and that of his mother’s cousin, Benjamin Coffin, supported an on-going continued tie to friends and relatives in Massachusetts based on debtor and creditor lists.

There is nothing in either of these Joseph’s fact lists that precludes them from being the same man. How would Joseph of New York have ended up marrying Ruth Spurr in Roxbury in 1793? Look at the New York Coleman FAN club. Some of his mother’s Coffin cousins lived in the Boston area, specifically Dorchester and Roxbury. The 1790 Roxbury census includes Isaac Belknap, not his brother-in -law, but a cousin by marriage.

Isaac Belknap, Roxbury, MA 1790

That’s not to mention all of his mother’s cousins and extended family ties in the Boston area. Being a mariner, access to Boston was simple!

Assuming that Joseph in Bowdoinham is one and the same person, aside from buying his 1796 property from James Bowdoin, who lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts, what would make Joseph traipse off to the wilds of southern Maine and the tiny village of Bowdoinham? Again, check out his Bowdoinham FAN club through the only records available – the censuses. In 1800, the Bowdoinham census is just three short pages. Although there are no Colemans living nearby (since he had no brothers, that isn’t so odd), there are multiple Coffin families, a Bunker family (related by marriage)  and one John King (his maternal grandmother had married William King, who did have a son John) and Joseph’s neighbor was Isaac Gardner, who would have been a cousin on his mother’s side of the family.

I haven’t researched the other early Bowdoinham residents, but no doubt they included a few other acquaintances of Joseph’s from Massachusetts.

Joseph Coleman Sr., mariner, seemed to be a somewhat restless soul, always on the move. My Joseph had some of the same wandering spirit and the love of the sea continued down through my line to my great grandfather.

I’ve had a couple of top-notch, professional researchers agree with my conclusion that Joseph Coleman of Bowdoinham, Maine and Joseph Coleman of Newburgh, New York are one and the same man. What do you think?








Joseph Coleman (c1770-1852) of Bowdoinham, Maine & Wives Ruth Spurr and Hannah (Pottle?)

When I wrote about Joseph Coleman and Eunice Coffin a week or so ago, I mentioned how all the new documents turned my ideas about their lives upside down.

Well, those findings kind of did the same thing to my beliefs and wonderings about Joseph Coleman, their son, and my 4X great grandfather.

Joseph’s and Eunice’s son, Joseph, made his last appearance in the 1850 census:

Joseph Coleman with Daughter Elvira’s Family

Being quite aged, Joseph isn’t listed with any occupation. However, Maine, being wooded and lush with plants, brings to mind the idea that one might be a farmer and, in fact, many of the Prebles’ neighbors were farmers. (I’ll come back later to Dexter’s occupation as a brick mason.)

Many years ago, when I first investigated Joseph and his family, I found very limited records.

First, Joseph, who was living in Roxbury, Massachusetts at the time, married Ruth Spurr on 24 August 1793 in Roxbury.

Marriage of Joseph Coleman and Ruth Spurr, 1793

The Spurr family had settled in Dorchester in the 1600s and Ruth was born there on 2 September 1762, the daughter of John Spur and Rebecca Blackman.

Roxbury and Dorchester are actually neighboring communities, so Ruth wasn’t far from home when she was living in Roxbury.

Ruth was definitely a few years older than Joseph, as his birth year has ranged from 1768-1772. It was a bit unusual for the bride to be 4-10 years older than the groom, particularly for a first marriage.

It was also a bit of an anomaly that Joseph was the only Coleman to be found anywhere nearby (and it took mostly a process of elimination to figure out to which family Joseph belonged, but I digress.)

I also wondered how Joseph came to the decision to settle in Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine, which is where I originally thought they were headed after they married.

James Bowdoin of Dorchester sold to Joseph Coleman of BOWDOINHAM land for just five shillings in consideration of their friendship. (He was already a resident of Bowdoinham before he bought this land!) That doesn’t seem like a lot of money for 49 acres of land, which is what he purchased. It’s the equivalent of about $30 today.

Even more surprising to me was the fact that just two years later, Joseph sold this same piece of land to Joseph Robinson for $250, which seems to be a hefty profit.

The next surprise is that Joseph NEVER bought or sold another piece of land in Maine, in spite of appearing in each and every census from 1800 through 1850, with the exception of 1810!





If Joseph was a farmer, why wouldn’t he have bought more land? I can’t imagine him wanting to rent for half a century. His known sons didn’t buy a single piece of land in Maine either. How did they make their living?

That seems like a sure tip off that their occupations were something other than working the land. Plus, the family is missing in 1810. I don’t know if they were skipped or they were gone from the area. I’ve never found a clue about that.

Back to my topsy-turvy beliefs about the Joseph Coleman and Eunice Coffin family. Among the records I recently discovered are two land deeds recorded in New York by Joseph Coleman Jr., referencing the estate of his father, Joseph Coleman, deceased.

Orange County, New York Deed Book H: 357-360, 1802
Family Search

There is really only one important detail in this land transaction between Joseph Coleman, selling his share of his father’s estate, to his brother-in-law, Isaac Belknap on 4 February 1801:

The word is divided between two lines: MARINER! Joseph followed his father to a life at sea.

This put an entirely new perspective on Joseph’s life and it certainly explains the lack of land transactions during his lifetime. Although I have no idea if they were skipped or left the area, it could also explain why Joseph isn’t found in the 1810 census in Bowdoinham.

Joseph, I believe, was way more mobile that I ever believed, just as his father was also very mobile. Following the sea was definitely an advantage if one wanted to travel long distances!

The second land deed, filed at almost the same time although drawn up on 9 April 1796, confirmed the relationship of Joseph and his siblings. It’s a bit odd that their mother, Eunice, wasn’t mentioned, as she was living as of 1799.

Orange County, New York Deed Book H: 351-354

As with the first deed, the only important bits of information are that these are the heirs of Joseph Coleman and Tamar Birdsall, Jennet Watts and Mary Griswold are named with their respective husbands.

Joseph Coleman married twice. (1) Ruth Spurr was living as late as 19 December 1798, as she is named in the land deed when Joseph sold his only known piece of real estate.

Joseph’s households have always been a bit confusing, as they have members who appear to be too old to be their children. The 1800 census doesn’t have a female in Ruth’s age range, so it appears she died between 19 December 1798 and the 1800 census.

Joseph married (2) Hannah (Pottle?), no later than 1810 and perhaps as early as 1800 or 1801. Hannah’s birth year isn’t known. She predeceased Joseph, passing away on 6 September 1848. Her gravestone gives an age of 76 years, so born c1772. Census records support a birth from 1770-1780. If she was actually born in 1772, then the female aged 16-25 is too young to be her. Hannah may have been the sister of David Pottle, who lived 6 doors away from Joseph in 1800.

Silas Adams’ History of the Town of Bowdoinham 1762-1912  mentions that the First Free Will Baptist Church, organized 22 October 1825. On 26 September 1840, Joseph and John signed to organize a church which met at Abagadasset School House. Joseph was on the committee to choose a deacon. On 19 October 1840, the church meeting voted to dismiss Joseph, Hannah and John P. to the 4th Church, Raymond District.

Because no marriage record has been found for Joseph and Hannah, I also don’t know if Hannah was a widow when she married Joseph. Do all four of the children in the 1800 household belong to both Joseph and Hannah?

As to a source for Hannah’s maiden name, daughter Elizabeth’s death certificate names her parents as “Colburn” and “Potter.” There were no Colburn or Potter families in the area at the time when Joseph and Hannah would have married, but there was the family of David Pottle, which I mentioned earlier, and who lived 6 doors away from Joseph in 1800.

Because of this uncertainty and the lack of land records for Joseph and his children, the mothers of his children are uncertain. I’ve never been able to figure out who two of the sons and two of the daughters were either!

Children of Joseph Coleman:

NOTE: It is believed that all children were born in Bowdoinham. Thomas Coleman’s death certificate gave his place of birth as Richmond, Maine. However, Richmond was originally part of Bowdoinham and was set off as a new town on 23 February 1823.

  1. Joseph, born c1794; died 18 May 1830, Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine; married Abigail Sedgley (1795-1888), 28 December 1822, Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine
  2. Son, born c1798; died after 1810
  3. Daughter, born c1798; died after 1810
  4. Thomas, born 23 January 1800, Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine; died 9 May 1888, Calais, Washington, Maine; married Mary Elizabeth Astle, 22 June 1830, Nelson, Northumberland, New Brunswick, Canada
  5. Son, born c1802; died after 1810
  6. Daughter, born c1804; died after 1810
  7. Philip B(urril?), born 25 December 1805; died 21 January 1893, Whitestown, Oneida, New York; married Rachel Sedgley, 18 February 1826, Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine
  8. John P., born 25 April 1807; died 19 August 1864, Bowdoinham, Sagadahoc, Maine; married Sarah J. Potter, c1852, probably Maine. She was born c1834; died 1893; married (2) Leonard Preble, who lived next door to Dexter Preble, wife Elvira, child Lydia Ann and Joseph Coleman in 1850.
  9. Elvira, born between August 1809-1812; died 23 October 1886, Bowdoinham, Sagadahoc, Maine; married Dexter Preble, 1 October 1837, Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine
  10. Ruth, born between April 1811-1812; died 18 September 1887, Salisbury, Essex, Massachusetts; married Ezra Morrill, 4 August 1834, Salisbury, Essex, Massachusetts
  11. Elizabeth, born cFebruary 1814; died 24 December 1899, Richmond, Sagadahoc, Maine; married Sewell Preble, 24 October 1841, Bowdoinham, Lincoln, Maine

How did I eventually piece together Joseph the father with Joseph the son? That’s an entirely different story, which will soon be told.



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.