Nantucket’s Starbucks came from Dover

Although it’s offshore of Cape Cod and close to Rhode Island, Nantucket Island was purchased by investors mostly from the Merrimack River watershed just south of the Piscataqua. Prominently, however, one was from Dover – Edward Starbuck. And his son-in-law, Peter Coffin, was another.

Edward’s the origin of the Starbuck surname in America, a signer of the 1640 Dover Combination, and a prominent figure in Dover’s early history. The name also shows up as Starbird or Starboard.

And, no, these Starbucks weren’t known for their coffee.

Before the arrival of the Quakers, Edward was an elder in First Parish, but historian George Wadleigh cites two curious controversies.

In 1648, “The Grand Jury presented Elder Starbuck for disturbing the peace of the church, and for refusing to join with it in the ordinance of baptism; for which he was admonished and discharged.”

Discharged, we can assume, from the office of elder, and not simply having the charges discharged.

(This was a month before future Quaker Richard Pinkham was ordered to start beating the drum to summon congregants to the Sunday service.)

In 1649, the baptism issue apparently involved the matter of children, perhaps his daughter Shuah, but then spread to his very hairstyle.

“The Court being informed of a great misdemeanor committed by Edward Starbuck of Dover, with profession of Anabaptism, for which he is to be proceeded against at the next Court of Assistants, if evidence can be prepared by that time, and it being very far for witnesses to travel to Boston at that season of the year, appointed Captain Thomas Wiggin and Mr. Edward (George?) Smith to take the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution of Starbuck, whose offence, apparently, was the wearing of his hair beyond the statute length, ‘after the manner of ruffians and barbarous Indians,’ which had been decreed by the Court to be ‘sinful.'”

Let’s note that Anabaptism here doesn’t mean Mennonite. The term was applied to many who objected to the Puritan orthodoxy.

I suspect that some of Edward’s opposition to infant baptism was stimulated by Hansard Knollys before his hasty departure from the First Parish pastorate. Knollys, after all, then became a founder of the Particular Baptists back in England, and as elder, Edward would have been close to him.

Nantucket Island was soon famed for its whalers, and perhaps notorious as a den of Quakers.

I’m uncertain whether Edward had any connection with Quakers in Dover before he removed with his family to Nantucket around 1660, but his Dover-born son Nathaniel definitely identified as a Friend.

In fact, Nathaniel’s wife, Mary Coffin, was a powerful Quaker minister who’s credited with converting the whole island to adopt the faith or at least make it the official town church. Besides, by doing so they wouldn’t be taxed to support an ordained minister.

Mary’s father, Tristram, was one of the island’s proprietors and originally from Devonshire as well as the progenitor of a line in Dover.

Edward Starbuck, meanwhile, was from Derbyshire.

Further connecting the two families as the marriage of Edward’s daughter Abigail to Dover resident Peter Coffin, also prominent in the settling of Nantucket Island and a cousin of Mary.

Another daughter, Sarah, married Joseph Austin, who showed up in Dover around 1647 as part-owner of a sawmill. He was born about 1616 in Dover, Kent, England, and appeared in Hampton, New Hampshire, in 1642.

They had six children before his death on June 27, 1663. She then married Humphrey Varney. Many of her descendants by each husband were Quaker.

Four of the children moved to Nantucket Island: sons Benjamin and Nathaniel and daughters Mary, who wed Richard Gardner, and Deborah, wife of John Coffin.

Their son Thomas remained in Dover and married Ann Otis, daughter of Richard Otis and Rose Stoughton. Together they had fourteen children who then became the stem of the family that proliferated in Dover Friends Meeting.


Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in your choice of ebook platforms at

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary. Its influence is wider than anyone I’ve found has suspected.


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