In a nutshell: We come from Nantucket.
And of course, England before that. Then there was that trip across the pond on a little boat called The Mayflower. But the legacy of women in ministry in our family can be traced to the first non-native settlers of what is now the playground of America’s wealthiest families – Nantucket Island. It might help to understand that Nantucket was not even a blip on our radar screen until April of 2013, when Tami flew to Boston to visit Karen in her temporary winter home on the Massachusetts shore. A cousin on our mama’s side had casually written to Karen, “…you’re in Massachusetts – have you been to Nantucket?” Which caused us to wonder aloud why she would say that. (Our cousin, Jan, is our family tree guru, and must be consulted about all things ancestry. Her website spells it all out.)
So we called Jan. She said something along the lines of, “…because your 8th great-grandmother was Mary Coffin Starbuck, who was known as a great leader and Quaker preacher among the earliest settlers of Nantucket in the 1600’s…” What? You had us at Starbuck.
So, we did what any normal sisters who’ve just realized their ancestry could contain some kind of importance would do – we got up at 4 am, drove two hours to Hyannis to take a two hour ferry ride to Nantucket to explore our Coffin roots, and maybe even find grandma Mary’s final resting place.
What a day filled with discovery that was! We walked the streets of Nantucket and found landmarks our ancestors no doubt frequented, such as the Oldest House and the most likely burial place of Mary Coffin Starbuck. And the cemetery! We found graves galore bearing the names Coffin & Starbuck, and wondered aloud how we had lived so long without knowing about this jewel in our ancestral crown.
As we learned more about Mary Coffin Starbuck’s role in building up the faith of these early Nantucket settlers, we were giddy as we imagined how our mother, Gladys, a great preacher in her own right, would have been delighted to know this information while she was here on earth. We laughed as we imagined the reunion in heaven between these two great women of faith and ministry in our family.
Something was sparked in us that day. Our talks about what we felt God was calling us to do took on a new purpose. We have a legacy to uphold. We have generations to lift up and encourage in the faith. And we have LifeWords to share.
(**Note: After this was posted, our cousin Jan added more fascinating information about our family heritage. What a legacy we have! And what a journey of faith our family has followed! Thanks, Jan, for keeping us informed. Read her comment below for the details.)
From cousin Jan:
I am so glad that you visited Nantucket and found inspiring connections in our roots. But ah, there is more!
Also among the family were our 9th great-grandparents Lawrence & Cassandra Southwick, early Quakers who were persecuted by Puritans for their beliefs. They and their son Josiah and daughter Mary were fined, whipped, imprisoned and finally banished for being Quakers, and their son Daniel and daughter Provided were sentenced by the General Court to be sold into slavery. Fortunately however, they were not. Lawrence and wife Cassandra went to Shelter Island, Long Island Sound, being banished under pain of death in 1659, and died there in the spring of 1660 from privation and exposure. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote two poems about their persecution.
Another 9th great-grandfather was Baptist Reverend Obadiah Holmes. He was fined by the Massachusetts Puritans because he refused to baptize babies and added further irritation by insisting on baptism by immersion only. Holmes refused to pay the fine and was severely whipped (thirty lashes) and carried his scars for life. Holmes said later about the whipping: “…having joyfulness in my heart, and cheerfulness in my countenance…I told the magistrates, ‘you have struck me as with roses.’”
Other ancestors were among the first settlers of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Charter, finally procured from King Charles II in July of 1663, was a miracle document espousing freedom of religion and personal responsibility. Rhode Island became a beacon of light in the New World.
Our 10th great-grandfathers, Richard Warren and Francis Cooke, and his 13 year old son John Cooke, crossed the ocean on the Mayflower in search of religious freedom.
Our 8th great-grand aunt married Charles Dyer, son of William and Mary Barrett Dyer. Mary was hung by the Boston Puritans because she would not renounce her Quaker beliefs. Mary was a close friend and associate of Anne Hutchinson, who was imprisoned, tried, found guilty and banished from Boston because of her beliefs. We are not descended from Mary or Anne, but I am sure that they were known by our ancestors.
We descend from a long line of revolutionaries of deep religious faith and conviction!