Mary (Great Mary) Starbuck
Mary (Great Mary) Starbuck

We talked a bit about Mary Coffin Starbuck  in our previous post but we only touched the surface of the the woman and her life. She was an example to all who came in contact with her and I hope in this post to give a little more insight into who this woman was what what her life was like. Great Mary, as she was called was instrumental in the developing of the Nantucket colony and the building of the Quaker religion on the Island and was considered a top influential leader among the Quakers and the islanders.


When we think of the first settlers of the colonies most likely the first thing that comes to mind is the Pilgrims, the next would perhaps be the Puritans, and then of course the Quakers. In the early years of what later became the United States, Christian religious groups played an influential role in each of the British colonies, and most attempted to enforce strict religious observance through local town rules  and colony governments.  Laws mandated that everyone attend a house of worship and pay taxes that funded the salaries of ministers. In order to become a “freeman” you had to belong to a church. Eight of the thirteen British colonies had  “established,” churches, and in those colonies anyone who sought to practice  a different version of Christianity or a non-Christian faith were often times persecuted.  Differing Christian groups often believed that their own practices and faiths provided unique values that needed protection against those who disagreed, driving a need for rule and regulation.

In Europe, Catholic and Protestant nations often persecuted or forbade each other’s religions, and British colonists frequently maintained restrictions against Catholics. In Great Britain, the Protestant Anglican church had split into bitter divisions among traditional Anglicans and the reforming Puritans, contributing to an English civil war in the 1600s. In the British colonies, differences among Puritan and Anglican remained. In the name of religion we have seen much division, prejudice, and war throughout history.

Between 1680 and 1760 Anglicanism and Congregationalism, an offshoot of the English Puritan movement, established themselves as the main organized denominations in the majority of the colonies. As the seventeenth and eighteenth century passed on, however, the Protestant wing of Christianity constantly gave birth to new movements, such as the Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Unitarians and many more, sometimes referred to as “Dissenters.”  In communities where one existing faith was dominant, new congregations were often seen as unfaithful troublemakers who were upsetting the social order. People were driven from one settlement to another because of their religious beliefs. Take a look at the Mormons and Quakers for instance here in this country. All of this began years before in other countries as well.

New England

Most New Englanders went to a Congregationalist meetinghouse for church services. The meetinghouse, which served many agendas, was a small wood building usually  located in the center of town. Services last most of the day and parishioners sat for hours on long wooden benches.  These meeting houses became bigger and much less crude as the population grew after the 1660s. Steeples grew, bells were introduced, and some churches grew big enough to host as many as one thousand worshipers.

An illustration of a plain, rectangular, white building.

Colonial-Era Meeting House, Sandown, New Hampshire

In contrast to other colonies, there was a meetinghouse in every New England town.

In 1750 the population of Boston numbered about 15000 and had eighteen churches.

In the previous century church attendance varied and  they were often times held in the homes of the colonist. After the 1680s, with many more churches and clerical bodies emerging more organization and attendance was enforced in New England. In even sharper contrast to the other colonies, in New England most newborns were baptized by the church, and church attendance rose in some areas to 70 percent of the adult population. By the eighteenth century, the vast majority of all colonists were churchgoers.

The New England colonists were mostly Puritans, who led strict religious lives. The clergy was highly educated and devoted to the study and teaching of both Scripture and the natural sciences. The Puritan leadership, especially in Massachusetts and Connecticut, included their version of Protestantism into their political structure. Government in these colonies contained elements of theocracy, asserting that leaders and officials derived that authority from divine guidance and that civil authority should be used to enforce strict religious conformity. Their laws assumed that citizens who strayed away from religious customs were a threat to civil order and should be punished, and many were, for their nonconformity.

New England churches operated quite differently from the older Anglican system in England. Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut didn’t have church courts to levy fines on religious offenders, leaving that function to the civil magistrates. Congregational churches most generally did not own  property. The local meeting house was owned by the town and was used to hold town meeting and religious services.  Ministers were called upon to advise the civil magistrates but played no official role in town or colony governments.

In those colonies, the civil government dealt harshly with religious dissenters, exiling the likes of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams for their outspoken criticism of Puritanism, and whipping Baptists or cropping the ears of Quakers for their efforts to convert others to their opinion. Official persecution reached its peak between 1659 and 1661, when Massachusetts Bay’s Puritan magistrates hung four Quaker missionaries.

The actual experience of New England nonconformist varied widely, and punishment of religious opinion was varied. England intervened in 1682 and ended the corporal punishment of dissenters in New England. The Toleration Act was passed by the English Parliament in 1689 and gave Quakers and several other denominations the right to build churches and to conduct public worship in the colonies. While dissenters continued to endure discrimination and financial penalties well into the eighteenth century, those who did not challenge the authority of the Puritans directly were left alone and were not legally punished for their “heretical” beliefs.

As mentioned in previous post, it was due to religious beliefs and persecution that so many of our ancestors came to America, and also the cause for them to relocate time and time again.



Mary was born 20 Feb, 1644 in Haverhill, Massachusetts shortly after her father Tristram Coffin’s  arrival to the American colonies and his settlement there.  She was their seventh child.  Tristram being such an influential character in the development of the colony and a founding father of Nantucket, causes me to question what role he played in the development of his children’s character. So often it is the mother that instills  the most influence in the upbringing of the children and from reading the history of the Coffins it is  common knowledge that he could not have been home much having done so much traveling. It could be that Tristram and Dionis  are both to credit for the upbringing of such influential individuals.

I’m sure watching the struggle of her parents while growing up played a big role in the woman that she became. Raised as a Puritan, Mary, no doubt early on, was raised with strict Puritan beliefs. The Puritans came from England to get away from the church there. Though they considered themselves part of the Church of England, they felt that it was adopting too many Catholic ideals and  that it needed to be Purified.

Mary was fifteen when she moved to Nantucket with her father. Two years later she married Nathaniel Starbuck son of  Edward and Catherine Reynolds Starbuck. She and Nathaniel were the first white couple to be married on the newly developing island.  Nathaniel was a prosperous farmer, local official, and partner with her father in purchasing the area from the Indians. Their first child Mary, born in 1663 was the first white child born on the island of Nantucket. They built their home about  1677  which eventually became known as the Parliament House.  The original site was near Hummock Pond. The house is now a private residence at 10 Pine Street, corner of School Street in Nantucket.

Nathaniel Starbuck
Nathaniel Starbuck husband of Mary

Nathaniel later went into the whaling business and Mary, seeing the need for commerce opened a merchant store. She, unlike her husband was very literate, her handwriting was exquisite, and her mathematical skills exceeded most. She kept detailed accounts on the business and was involved in the lives of nearly every person on the Island, from Wampanoag Indians to housewives to visiting dignitaries. Throughout the years Mary became popularly known as “mother of the settlement” but is most proclaimed for having brought Quakerism to Nantucket and into the lives of the inhabitants there.  It is said that she was an easy and eloquent speaker with a silvery tongue. Her kind and gentle manner and influence gained her great respect from  the neighbors and they looked to her for guidance and advice in every area… ‘ a ‘Deborah’ among them for her wisdom and great ability, she soon came to be called “The Great Woman”. Above all that she and her family were among the wealthiest on the Island.

MARY COFFIN STARBUCK’S “ACCOUNT BOOK   with the Indians” is a sheepskin-covered ledger tracking the credits and debits of the two hundred Indians who patronized her store. She began keeping the account book in 1683 and the book was completed after her death in 1717 by her son, Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr., in 1766.

An example of one account in the book is for Tom Poney [Pone, Pony] who in 1734 and 1735 bought from the general store such items as blankets, corn-meal, meat, thread, tobacco, a great coat,

Account Book of the Starbcks
Account Book of the Starbcks

women’s shoes, candles, molasses, and seed corn among other things. For the same years he was credited for “fish caught at Siasconset,” a “share of a whale got with John Russel,” “share of a whale got with Shubael Folger at Cansco,” fish caught at Shawkemo, and a “share of a whale caught with Jethro Folger.” He was also credited for his labor, “washing sheep” and “plowing two acres.” In 1737 he was even given credit for labor per-I formed by his sister: “carding wool.”

A study of the account book, held in the NHA Research Center, introduces readers to Indian names, their businesses, and the economy of the island. According to Elizabeth Little, “it is a treasure trove of data about Indian life on Nantucket covering the years 1683, when the cod-fishing industry of Nantucket got under way, to 1764, when most of the Indians died of a tragic illness.” It is an invaluable research tool and a lasting document meticulously kept by a great woman of Nantucket.

The population of Nantucket in 1700 was approximately 300 whites and 800 Indians. Short of specie and needing loyal suppliers, traders would advance up to ten pounds of cloth, fish hooks, shoes, shot, kettles, and more in exchange for feathers and fish.  The use of the credit system depended on the courts allowing the Indians to be sued for debt. Mary’s book shows accounts for as many as 200 Indians, who were primarily engaged in cod fishing and fowling but were also performing routine manual labor, and later whaling. In return for their efforts, they received necessary tools, cloth, and supplies.

Mary and Nathaniel raised ten children of whom five daughters and three sons lived to maturity. From this family all of the Starbucks of America are descended.

Introduction to Quakerism

Though being of Puritan faith Mary began practicing what was referred to as “radical spiritualism”.

Hearing of a strong woman with tendencies leaning towards the Quaker faith, English Quakers came to the island in hopes they could convert her to Quakerism. They believed her strength of character and influence among the islanders would help to spread the Quaker faith if only she could be converted. One Friend who especially influenced her was Thomas Story who held meetings in her home which became know as the Parliament House due to the fact that much of the public business was conducted there.

Unlike the Puritan faith the Quakers encouraged equality for all…men, woman, slaves, and Indians, therefore allowing women to minister. Mary would preside over meetings in her home to win many converts to the Quaker faith.  John Richardson an early Quaker preacher said of her, “The Islanders established her a Judge among them, for a little of moment was done without her advice.” She held religious meetings in her home, being herself a Quaker preacher of power and eloquence. “Parliament House hosted the famous John Richardson meeting of 1702 and served for the first decade of active Quakerism on the island as the site of regular Meetings for Worship (1704-1711) and the business meetings that resulted in the formation of Nantucket Monthly Meeting in 1708. Women’s Monthly Meeting also met there from 1708 to 1716.”

Originally published in the Historic Nantucket, Vol 46, No. 4 (Fall 1997) p. 17
Mary Coffin Starbuck’s “Account Book with the Indians” By Helen Stehling

“June 28, 1702. (QN, p13) A visiting minister has come to Nantucket. Mary Coffin Starbuck has issued an open invitation to a meeting for worship that he will hold in her home, known as Parliament House. The preacher is a Quaker, and the few Quakers already living on the island are pleased that one of their number should be attracting so much attention. For some, it is true, the attraction is not as much the preacher as the chance to view the shining woodwork and comfortable appurtenances of Parliament House and the lifestyle of the affluent and influential Starbucks. A storekeeper, Mary is the island’s chief creditor, and few commodities leave or arrive on the island without passing through her hands.

Already people have filled the house, and the benches placed outside the doors have few spaces left. By the time the meeting begins, all the casement windows of Parliament House will have been removed, and virtually all the English settlers on the island will be pressed close to hear. Few forms of entertainment on Nantucket can compare to a visiting minister, and today’s meeting promises to be exceptional. Mary Starbuck is clearly leaning toward Quakerism; perhaps today will bring an open declaration.

Those who have met the minister-John Richardson is his name-report that he is a Yorkshire man, and his manner of speaking is exotic and even a bit unpleasant to most islanders’ West Country ears. The oldest Starbuck son, Nathaniel Jr., has offered hospitality to Richardson; the whole family has been more than a little taken with other Quakers who have come to the island. Father Nathaniel’s own sister has married into a Quaker family and been recognized as a minster herself.

Almost everyone has been to a meeting conducted by one of these Quakers before, and they know that the meeting will begin with a period of silence. When finally it comes, it takes a few moments for the quiet to ripple outward through the windows to the crowd in the yard. After some minutes, people stop shifting where they stand or sit, and a kind of deep tranquility sets in. Even the children are at ease.

The first to speak is James Bates, a Quaker from Virginia. Then at last a low voice is heard, hard and nasal-the Yorkshire preacher. He is not exactly praying, and certainly not preaching in the style of the Baptists and Congregationalists who have come to Nantucket before. There is a kind of rhythm to his speech, and a strange intonation. He is chanting.

As the listeners’ ears become accustomed to Richardson’s strange accent and manner of speaking, they realize that he is talking about Jesus. New Englanders are more comfortable with the temperamental deity of the Old Testament, but they know the parables of Jesus and the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection.

Richardson is talking about Jesus the man-a simple, good man whose words and teachings are not meant to be just cautionary tales against misbehavior. This Jesus is not an impossibly righteous divinity but rather a man whose words of common sense cut through anger, hatred, greed, and envy. The preacher is suggesting in a simple, eloquent fashion that the world could be a much better place-a paradise-if everyone followed these words, if everyone accepted the living spiritual rebirth proclaimed by Jesus. Skeptics raise their eyebrows; they have heard this before. But the Yorkshire Quaker puts the case well. One can almost imagine . . .

Those close to the front can see that Richardson has now turned his attention full on Mary Starbuck, who has begun to weep openly. Inspired by the palpable response of his listeners, Richardson becomes more eloquent, the vision he lays out more beautiful still.

Many are sobbing by now. More than an hour has passed, and for some time now most of the white population of Nantucket has been caught up in the words of the Quaker. Seeing their leaders succumbing to honest emotion, they surrender, too. When Richardson suddenly stops speaking, they hunger for more. His own emotional state, he will later write, is ‘beyond his measure.’

Mary Starbuck’s meeting has been a success, in more ways than anyone could have expected. The Quaker Richardson has shown the islanders a new path. It is not fire and brimstone that will fuse them into a spiritual community, but a simple testimony of peace, honesty, and love. As Mary stands at the meeting’s end, she holds out her hand. ‘This,’ she tells the gathered multitude, ‘is the overwhelming truth.'”

She is said to have been baptized by Peter Folger, in Waiptequage Pond; and  about 1704 she became convinced of the truth as taught by the Friends, and Mary converted to Quakerism at the age of 56, and became one of their most influential ministers. Her family after that generally became Friends, and her son Nathaniel, and daughter Priscilla Coleman, and grandsons Elihu and Nathaniel Coleman, were at a later period Quaker ministers.”

Englishman John Richardson wrote of a meeting at which Mary “Spoke trembling… Then she arose, and I observed that she and as many as could well be seen, were wet with Tears from their Faces to the fore-skirts of their Garments and the floor was as though there was a Shower of Rain upon it”.  Richardson wrote also that [She was a] “most extraordinary woman, participating in the practical duties and responsibilities of public gatherings and town meetings, on which occasion her words were always listened to with marked respect.”

Mary’s oldest son, Nathaniel Starbuck, Jr. (1668-1753), was very involved with his mother in preaching Quakerism.  The Quakers on Nantucket were strong politically and financially, and many were involved in the whaling industry.   (Nathaniel married his first cousin, Dinah Coffin.)

By the time Quakerism was fully established on the island and the island had been able to establish its own yearly meeting, Mary became one of the most celebrated Friends and Quaker leaders on the island.  The Nantucket Meeting was formed in 1708, with Mary serving as an elder and her son Nathaniel Jr. as clerk. Mary became the first recognized minister among the islanders. Although the first Meeting house on Nantucket was built in 1711, Mary did not live to see the official Nantucket Monthly Meeting be established.


Mary Coffin Starbuck died on Nantucket Island November 13, 1717, at the age of seventy-two. Her body was laid to rest in the Friends’ burial ground next to the new meeting house built on land donated by her son and the Nantucket proprietors.



The Quaker (Friends) Meeting House on Fair Street was erected circa 1838 by builder James Weeks and originally served as a Friends school for the Wilburite sect. John Boadle, a Quaker schoolmaster from London, was the teacher, and the school was called “John Boadle’s School.” In 1864, with the decline in the number of Friends on Nantucket, the school was converted into a meeting house and the large South Meeting House next door was sold and removed. The existing meeting house was purchased from the Friends in 1894 by the Nantucket Historical Association and served as its first museum.

Quakerism in America Quakerism had its roots in England in the 1650s, when George Fox gathered together a group of “friends” who felt that the spirit of God, or the “Inner Light,” was within each person and that the worship of God did not require an intermediary (minister or priest). The Society of Friends, as it became known, was vehemently persecuted in England and many Friends died in prison. The first missionaries of the Society of Friends from England arrived in America in 1656, but only in the colony of Rhode Island were they cordially received.

Quakerism in Massachusetts was a radical departure from mainstream Puritan thought. In addition to their doctrinal differences, the seventeenth-century Friends, unlike the quiet, inward-looking Friends of the eighteenth century, were activists. Refusing to recognize rank, take oaths, or pay any kind of church taxes, they opposed the established church. Massachusetts took the strongest measures to suppress Quakerism, including hanging, and even those who communicated with Quakers were subject to fines. It was not until 1661, when Charles II was restored to the throne and ordered that Quaker trials be transferred to England, that pressure lessened in the Bay Colony. By the 1660s, Quakerism was spreading throughout New England, and Rhode Island elected a member of the society as governor. Even Massachusetts was fairly accepting of the Quakers by the beginning of the eighteenth century.

There does not seem to have been any organized religious group in the Nantucket English community during the seventeenth century. Obed Macy, in his History of Nantucket (1835; reprints 1880 and 1972), remarks that “During the first fifty years after the settlement, the people were mostly Baptists; there were some Presbyterians, a few of the Society of Friends.”

Quakerism in early Nantucket The Society of Friends was the first group to formally organize on the island. This firm commitment was a direct outgrowth of the missionary visits of Friends from off-island, including Thomas Chalkley, a Quaker missionary-merchant from Philadelphia, and John Richardson, a well-known English Friend. Between 1704 and 1708, a number of other Friends visited Nantucket from Rhode Island, Long Island, Philadelphia, and England.

In the forty-year period after 1708, the Meeting outgrew a series of meeting houses and expansions. By the late 1750s, the Friends meeting house at the corner of Pleasant and Main Streets served 1,500 persons. In 1762, with the Quaker community having grown to almost 2,400 persons, the much larger Great Meeting House was built at the crossroads of Main Street and Madaket Road.

The Quakers on Nantucket were strong politically and financially; many were involved in the lucrative whaling industry. They were in the majority for most of the eighteenth century, and their devotion to simplicity and strict adherence to traditional ways influenced Nantucket’s architecture, home furnishings, clothing, and social behavior.

Factionalism in Nantucket Quakerism The Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 were disastrous for the Society of Friends. Their doctrine of pacifism led them to read out of meeting dozens who had supported and/or participated in the “American Cause.” After 1820, Quakerism on Nantucket started to decline rapidly, with a great decrease in the number of Quakers by the 1840s. Members were read out of meeting for marrying non-Quakers and for nonattendance. Around 1830, the Hicksite division had a devastating effect on American Quakerism. The Nantucket Meeting broke into factions, with older, more orthodox, Quakers unable to accept the changing times. Three different sects—the Hicksites, the Gurneyites, and the Wilburites—held separate meetings on the island, thus shattering Quaker unity. By the late 1860s there were only a few Quakers on the island, and by 1900, it is said, there were none.

Quakers Today Since 1939, members of the Religious Society of Friends have used the Quaker Meeting House on Fair Street for worship according to the Quaker manner on Sunday mornings during the summer. Since 2000, a small group has been meeting there year round. Although under the oversight of the Friends of the New England Yearly Meeting, the group is without formal organization. Today, the Religious Society of Friends is one of the recognized Christian denominations with about 120,000 members in the United States and perhaps about 200,000 in all other parts of the world. Present-day Friends believe that the old Quaker principles and manner of worship are applicable in modern life.

For further information on current activities of the Nantucket Friends: May to October: 508.257.6101 Off-season: 508.228.1730 Or write to:

Nantucket Friends Meeting PMB 2 2 Greglen Avenue Nantucket MA 02554  The Quaker Meeting House has been the property of the Nantucket Historical Association since 1894.



Mary Coffin Starbuck is mentioned in Quaker Nantucket by Robert J. Leach and Peter Gow on pages 11, 12, 13, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 30, 36, 40, 43, 51, 58, 86, 147, 148, 149, 153, 158, 190 and 196.

Page 11, “Another leading citizen was Nantucket’s first storekeeper, Tristram Coffin’s daughter Mary. The energetic Mary quickly became an important figure in the young settlement, arranging credit and commerce among the growing white population and the Indians. Mary’s husband was Nathaniel Starbuck, whose sister, Sarah Starbuck Austin, was a Quaker minister living on the New Hampshire coast. Nathaniel’s investments in whaling, along with Mary’s profits from the store, became the foundation of one of Nantucket’s early fortunes.”

Page 12, “The next year John Gardner’s own niece Sarah married Joseph Paddock, nephew of Ichabod, in the Yarmouth Meetinghouse. It is doubtful whether her old Puritan uncle attended the ceremony, but he probably offered no objections. In 1698 Mary Coffin Starbuck’s youngest daughter, Hephzibah, stood up in the Apponegansett Meetinghouse (near where New Bedford would later be founded) to marry Thomas Hathaway. Hephzibah, like Puella Hussey Gorham, was soon acknowledged, by virtue of her eloquence in meeting, as a minister. There was no way to prevent this ministering young woman from going to visit her mother, the powerful shopkeeper, and her father, a founder of Nantucket’s whaling industry. Seeing the inevitable at hand and perhaps tired of controversy, John Gardner retired from the magistracy that same year.”

Continuing on page 12, “For nearly forty years Mary Starbuck and others had resisted the establishment of any kind of paid ministry on Nantucket. Denominationally diverse, the English settlement continued to look off island for religious sustenance. Now it was time for visiting Friends, many of whom had important family connections on the island, to try their hands at cultivating Nantucket’s spiritual garden.”

Page 13, “June 28, 1702. A visiting minister has come to Nantucket. Mary Coffin Starbuck has issued an open invitation to a meeting for worship that he will hold in her home, known as Parliament House. The preacher is a Quaker, and the few Quakers already living on the island are pleased that one of their number should be attracting so much attention. For some, it is true, the attraction is not as much the preacher as the chance to view the shining woodwork and comfortable appurtenances of Parliament House and the lifestyle of the affluent and influential Starbucks. A storekeeper, Mary is the island’s chief creditor, and few commodities leave or arrive on the island without passing through her hands.” “Mary Starbuck is clearly leaning toward Quakerism; perhaps today will bring an open declaration.”

Page 16, “Those close to the front can see that Richardson has now turned his attention full on Mary Starbuck, who has begun to weep openly. Inspired by the palpable response of his listeners, Richardson becomes more eloquent, the vision he lays out more beautiful still.”

Continuing on page 16, “Mary Starbuck’s meeting has been a success, in more ways than anyone could have expected. The Quaker Richardson has shown the islanders a new path. It is not fire and brimstone that will fuse them into a spiritual community, but a simple testimony of peace, honesty, and love. As Mary stands at teh meeting’s end, she hold out her hand. ‘This,’ she tells the gathered multitude, ‘is the overwhelming truth’.”

The chapter entitled, “Great Mary’s Children,” on page 21 states, “The first Quaker visitor to Nantucket with explicitly missionary ambitions was Thomas Turner, who arrived in 1698. A former traveling companion of Fox, Turner was accompanied by Hugh Copperthwaite, a Long Island Quaker, and, most probably, by Haphzibah Starbuck Hathaway, daughter

of Nathaniel and Mary Coffin Starbuck. Captain Peleg Slocomb, son-in-law of Christopher Holder, sailed the party to the island. Little specific information survives concerning this visit, but it is reasonable to surmise that Turner and company held an appointed meeting, perhaps at Parliament House, the home of Nathaniel and Mary Coffin Starbuck.”

Page 22, “The arrival on Nantucket of some of Newport’s leading Friends was tantamount to an offer: We in the narragansett region will undertake to defend your interests, in particular your religious freedom. We ask in return that you consider the Quaker way, and that commercial ties between our communities be strengthened. That the island’s storekeeper, Mary Coffin Starbuck, and one of its principal whaling entrepreneurs, her husband, Nathaniel, seemed favorably disposed to Quakerism suggested strongly that a positive response might be anticipated.”

Continuing on page 22, “Another facet of Quaker culture became apparent in 1698 when Joanna Slocomb Mott arrived on Nantucket t o preach. To the two hundred or so who turned out to hear her, the novelty of a female minister, traveling without her husband, must have been considerable, although it was well known that women Friends were welcomed into the ministry. After all, two daughters of the island, Puella Hussey Gorham and Hephzibah Starbuck Hathaway, had already been acknowledged as ministers on the mainland.”

Page 26, “For two years after Richardson’s 1702 visit, appointed meetings were held sporadically at Parliament House by ministers who came to Nantucket. The visitors commonly stayed for several weeks or more, preaching at public appointed meetings as well as passing among Quaker or Quaker-inclined homes and sharing private meetings of the host families. As the Quaker spirit on Nantucket was catalyzed, Mary Coffin Starbuck’s own convincement continued to deepen. From a passive role as benign protective spirit and host to Quaker visitors, she became more and more active in worship. At last she herself became a minister, and surviving reports describe her preaching as powerful and compelling. History has come to know Mary Starbuck as the ‘Great Woman’ or ‘Great Mary,’ and much of Nantucket’s later glory can be attributed to her leadership in bringing to the island a creed that promised community and stability as well as (for a time, at least) unity of purpose.”



1) Nantucket Vital Records to 1850, 5 vols. Boston, 1925-28, Births, page 507, Starbuck, Nathaniel, h. Mary (d. Tristram Coffin 1st and Dionis), s. Edward and Catharine Reynolds, , 1636 [? In Dover, N. H.], P.R. 38.].

2) NVR to 1850, Births, page 302, Coffin, Mary, w. Nathaniel Starbuck (s. Edward and Catharine), d. Tristram and Dionis (Stevens), 20th, 2 mo. 1645 (see Haverhill Vital Records), P.R. 38.

3) NVR to 1850, Births, page 501, Starbuck, Jethro, s. Nathaniell, Dec. 14, 1671. [h. Dorcas (d. William Gayer and Dorcas), s. Nathaniel and Mary (Coffin), 14th, 12 mo., P.R. 38].

4) NVR to 1850, Deaths, page 544, Starbuck, Jethro, h. Dorcas, 12th. 8 mo. 1770, C.R. 4. [h. dorcas (d. William Gayer and Dorcas), s. Nathaniel and Mary (Coffin), a. 98 y. 8 m., P.R. 38. A. 98 y. 8 m. 6 d., P.R. 63].

5) The History of Nantucket, County, Island, and Town including Genealogies of First Settlers by Alexander Starbuck, Charles F. Tuttle Company, publishers, Rutland, Vermont.

6) The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 162 vols., 1847-2009., page 181, 1853, A Record of Births, Deaths, and Marriages on Nantucket, Beginning in 1662, Communicated by Wm. C. Folger, of Nantucket, Corresponding Member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, “Jethro ye son of Nathaniel Starbuck was born ye 14th of Dec. 1671.”

7) NVR to 1850, Marriages, page 396, Starbuck, Jethro and Dorcas Gayer, 6th, 10 mo. 1694. Intention not recorded. [Jethro, s. Nathaniel and Mary (Coffin), and Dorcas Gayer Jr., d. William and Dorcas (Starbuck) (first w.), P.R. 38].


XX) Roland L. Warren, Mary Coffin Starbuck & the Early History of Nantucket (P.O. Box 803,Andover, NY 14806: Pingry Press, 1987). Hereinafter cited as Mary Coffin Starbuck & the Early History of Nantucket.

28. Jordan, John W., Colonial Families of Philadelphia, (Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago 1911), 566-7.

29. No Author, American Genealogical Record, The Robinson, (Genealogical Record Publishing Company, San Francisco, 1897), Vol. 2, p. 198.

30. Frank A. Gardner, MD, Thomas Gardner Planter and Some of His Descendants, (1731, Essex Institute, Salem, MA).

31. Jordan, John W., Colonial Families of Philadelphia, (Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago 1911), 566-7.

32. No Author, American Genealogical Record, The Robinson, (Genealogical Record Publishing Company, San Francisco, 1897), Vol. 2, p. 198.

33. Frank A. Gardner, MD, Thomas Gardner Planter and Some of His Descendants, (1731, Essex Institute, Salem, MA).

34. No Author, American Genealogical Record, The Robinson, (Genealogical Record Publishing Company, San Francisco, 1897), Vol. 2, p. 198.

35. Frank A. Gardner, MD, Thomas Gardner Planter and Some of His Descendants, (1731, Essex Institute, Salem, MA).

36. Macy: Silvanus J. Macy Genealogy of the Macy family from 1635-1868, Albany, Joel Munsell, 79.

37. No Author, American Genealogical Record, The Robinson, (Genealogical Record Publishing Company, San Francisco, 1897), Vol. 2, p. 198.


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Hope you all enjoyed the read. If so let me know in the comments below.

As Always,

Happy Hunting

The Pierce Family Historian


  1. 1.. Your picture of “Great Mary Starbuck” is Mary Gardner Coffin her Husband is Jethro Coffin were part of the second generation the picture is in the Whaling Museum.
    2. The Picture of Nathaniel Starbuck being he was a quaker his picture would
    not have been done or shown. Plus the early would be Nathaniel (3) or Nathaniel (6). Water color portraits did not even start until the med 1750 to1850. also more color would be used. The picture in the Nantucket Library did not have a date on Nathaniel picture.
    I question you on both picture on where you got the information
    Alan Starbuck 13 ph 815-209-6348

    1. There are sources at the bottom of the page. I collected information from several sources and used it to build a profile. The pictures…I found them via google…and yes…after I had already published my page I learned that they were questionable. I believe I removed them from my tree but failed to do so here. But I will. I thank you for bringing it to my attention. Nice to meet you Alan. I strive to have the correct information in my tree so am always appreciative of the input and knowledge of others.

      1. Susan
        I will be needing your help in the future. I am retired, and you know that I am working on the Starbucks history this year, usually it’s my golf game. I have three books that am reading. On Nantucket, Whales and Nantucket ,The Life of an Island by Edwin P. Hoyt. I am working with my grandson to get him writing and reading also in life you make a few mistake, and you go on. In most cases you pick up a friend and you can make life better. We will keep in touch. Thank you Alan

        1. I always appreciate the collaboration of others! I just can’t get enough informations! If I can help in any way I would be more than happy to pitch in. I want to visit Nantucket. Have you been there??? How interesting it would be knowing our fore fathers were responsible!!

          1. Yes, I have been to Nantucket a few times, the island is very interesting. I am13 generation to Edward, my great grandfather & my mother got me interested in Nantucket and our family went out to Nantucket when I was 12. I gave my Dad a copy of the family tree for his 75 birthday. If you visit Nantucket give yourself 3 to 4 days minimum.
            This week I just got the book “Miriam Coffin or The Whale -Fishermen” by Joseph C. Hart with a new Historical Introduction by Nathaniel Philbrick. ( only 13 pages into it ) Each book that I read give me another flavor to Nantucket. Remember the Starbucks were Quakers they were not very interesting in a flashy lifestyle. They were more of the quiet ones of the four families but interesting. If you go to Nantucket you can spend days in the library please call them and tell them the days you will be there, Also a day before you come they will have books on the Starbucks when you get their. The Whaling Museum give a full day their. Walk the Streets but it good to have a car or a bike. Remember to bring a lot of money and have fun also walk some of the beaches. My fore fathers left the island to North Carolina and Virginia, for free farm land in North Carolina. I am working getting information from the Quaker in NC.but it is slow. I hope I have help you. Ps, I got the family Bible from Great Great grandfather it was a big help.

  2. Nantucket Library can not find anything pictures of Mary or Nathaniel, or even the grave sights. It hard to even find pictures of the Starbucks late in the 1792. My family move to NC. & Ohio at that time. I am still working on the “Starbuck Log” and hope to finish it
    by the end of the year.

  3. Greetings: I have recently begun looking over the research done by my uncle in the 1980’s on our family history: the Verney family. According to your research, it appears that your Mary is the sister of our Sarah Starbuck Austin, who later married Humphrey Varney.
    I am the 12th generation of this line. Thanks for the article!

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