My Father's Shoes - Our Coffin Story - Introduction

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My Father's Shoes by Ross  Coffin

The Island Register is pleased to present to you the results of Ross Coffin's search for his past, "My Father's Shoes - Our Coffin Story".

Ross writes:""My Father's Shoes" was never meant to be a commercial adventure but instead was a project brought on by my fathers death to help me deal with it. I also have worked with my hands all my life and thought it was time to put the old mind to work and learn some computer and research skills. It was the best move I've ever done (next to marrying my beautiful wife and having our kids). I've really enjoyed the years spent researching with Donna and the Island Register clan, I really feel like a Maritimer, and it gives me pride to say so.

I think the one way to market my book is to offer it free off the net via the Register"

And, so, we are proud to be able to present to you the fruits of Ross's labours, a wonderful manuscript representing many years of research. We must thank him for his generosity, and for thinking of the Register!

© 1998-2006

Ross Coffin,
2325 Century Road,
North Gower, Ontario
K0A 2T0.


To Sarah, Owen and Robert

Who we are, is who we were.

- Intro 1-



The following essay is about our ancestors the Coffins. It traces the story of their 350 years in North America. The following biographies were written in order, from my ancestor, Tristram Coffyn, the first Coffin in America right up to my father, Robert Coffin, who's death inspired me to find out more about our ancestry. In all, the essay covers the ten generations leading up to the present day. Among them are pioneers, judges, members of parliament, whalers, doctors and shipbuilders. Although I speak mainly of my direct ancestors, the research covers a broad range of topics as it was my intent to draw a picture of our early history, describing our ancestors life and times.

The name Coffin is an ancient name. It is thought that the Coffins first originated among the Norse of old Scandinavia before the tenth century and spread to Normandy during the Norse invasion. In the period leading up to the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Coffins of Normandy, were thought to be living at the Chateau Couriton, near Fallaise, on the west coast of France.

The name Coffin, originates from an old Hebrew word meaning "one who sells baskets". Another definition is derived from the Norman word "Coffeyn", which meant guardian of the boundary. Members of the Coffin family were placed in the four corners of the west country to keep the territory in control of William the Conqueror. Early place names bear this out. In the east there was a valley named Combe-Coffin, in the south there was Coffin-Will and in the east Coffin-Ingarly.

Some of the Coffins came to England before the Norman Conquest, and settled in Somerset and Devon. At the time of the Great Survey of all the lands, ordered by William the Conqueror, the Coffins are mentioned in the Doomsday Book, as being in possession of several hides of land, a hide being as much area that a family could utilize in order to substain it's members. The British seat of the Coffins, Portledge Manor, near Bidefore, Devon, was granted to Sir Richard Coffyn, Knight, for services rendered to William the Conqueror. The earliest record of Coffin ownership for Portledge is 1251. Portledge was held by the Coffins for seven centuries, with the eldest son inheriting the estate. Today, the same property is a hotel, and sold only recently out of our ancestors' hands to recover losses due to outstanding taxes.

During the reign of King Henry VIII from 1509 to 1547, Sir William Coffin was a Knight under the famed King. Sir William was an expert at jousting and was the "Master of the Horse" at the

- Intro 2 -

Coronation of Henry's wife Anne Boleyn in 1534. Coffin's wife Margaret, was Anne Boleyn's chambermaid, who along with three other maids, accompanied Anne to the Tower, where the Queen was ordered to be executed for not producing a male heir to the throne. Sir William's education and accomplishments saw him as as a member of the Privy Chamber of Henry VIII, and upon Coffins death, he bequeathed his best horses and prized hawks to the King. It's unclear to tell where William Coffin fits into our direct history, however many speculate that he was an uncle or great uncle to our ancestor, Nicholas Coffyn.

Nicholas Coffyn was the grandfather of our immigrant son, Tristram Coffyn who in 1642 first came to America. Beyond Nicholas, there has never been any proof brought forward to the identity of Nicholas' father, however, there has been much speculation. Therefore, the true history of our ancestry shall start with Nicholas Coffyn.

Nicholas Coffyn was born near Brixton in Devonshire about 1560 and married Joan (last name unknown) in the year 1580. His occupation is unknown as is his father or mother's name. When Nicholas died in 1613 he left five children, Peter, Nicholas, Tristram, John and Anne. His son Peter was our immigrant, Tristram's father. Peter was born in Brixton during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, around 1580. Peter married Joan Thember, born 1584, daughter of Robert and Anna Thember. The Coffyns had six children, Tristram, John, Joan, Deborah, Eunice and Mary. Peter was the Church Warden of St. Mary's Church, in Brixton during the period around 1614. Little else is known of Peter except that he had a farm as stated in his will written, December 1, 1627 and proved March 13, 1628.

"In the name of God, Amen, ye 21st day of December in ye third year of the raigne of our Sovraigne Lord Charles…I Peter Coffyn of the Parish of Brixton in ye county of Devon, being sick of body but in perfect minde and memory, doe make and ordaine this my last will and testament….I give and bequeath unto my sonne one feather bed, my best brasen panne and my best brazen crocke. I give and bequeath unto Johan Coffyn my wife ye issues pfitts and comodities of all my lands tenements and herditaments with in ye sayd Parish of Brixton during her widowhood she yielding and paying therefore yearly unto the sayd Tristram Coffyn my sonne his heirs and assignes the summe of fifty shillings of lawful English money at ye four most usual feasts of the year and also sufficien meat, drink and clothes and convenient lodging unto ye said Tristram according to his degree and calling". In later years Peter`s son Tristram Coffyn brought the Coffin name to America and from Tristram most North American Coffins can trace their ancestry.

- Intro 3 -

My Father's Shoes
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