The Coffin family was originally from Devonshire, England, and was somewhat prominent there. Tristram Coffin Sr. was a royalist during the English Civil War. He chose to leave England when the king was deposed and Oliver Cromwell installed. In 1646 the family, with the exception of the two older sons, Peter and Tristram, emigrated, eventually settling on Nantucket. Peter, the eldest son, left for New Hampshire, leaving fourteen-year-old Tristram Jr. the only remaining Coffin in Newbury. It is possible that Tristram was indentured to a local tradesman, as was common. It is also possible that his master was Henry Somerby, whose twenty-eight-year-old widow Judith married the twenty-one-year-old Tristram in 1654.
It was long believed that Tristram brought his young bride to Coffin House in 1654. However, conclusive dendrochronology has since proven this house to date from 1678. Because we know that Judith inherited a substantial house and many possessions from her first husband, it is assumed that the Coffins set up housekeeping in another house on the lower green near the Parker River. It was in the other house that Judith and Tristram raised their ten children and her three Somerby children as well.
Thus the question remains: why would forty-six-year-old Tristram and fifty-three-year-old Judith move house to the upper green? We know that she still owned the Somerby house in 1705, the year she died. The clue may lie in the death of three of her sons, all in adolescence or early adulthood, in the years preceding the 1678 building of this house. Enoch and Joseph Coffin died in 1675 and 1677 respectively. Her only surviving male Somerby child, Daniel, succumbed to a wound inflicted during a planned attack on the Narragansett tribe as part of Metacom’s War (also known as King Phillip’s War) in 1676. Because Daniel stood to inherit a substantial portion of his late father’s estate, his death made a great deal of land available to the Coffins. With only four children still at home, devastated by the loss of three of their sons, the Coffins left the house in which they had begun their married life, and moved to a small house on the upper green, to land that was most likely slated to pass to Daniel Somerby. We also know that two of the Coffin daughters, Deborah and Mary, began married life on October 31, 1677, further reducing the household.
The upper green in Newbury grew rapidly in the 1660s and 1670s as the sons and daughters of the first colonial settlers built homesteads. Stephen Swett built the house at 4 High Road in 1670, and the Atkinson house on the upper green was built in 1664. The carpenters who built all of these houses adapted the building style and methods of England to the growing population of Newbury and the more severe climate of New England.
The original Coffin House, or part of it, survives today as the back section, except for the small addition on the southwest corner, which was added in the nineteenth century. Typical of seventeenth-century New England buildings, the main facade faced south to take maximum advantage of the sun’s warmth in winter. There may have been a porch with a chamber above off the south side of the house originally.