Meet Mary Coffin Starbuck from Suzanne Woods Fisher’s The Light Before Day

Name: Mary Coffin Starbuck

Parents: Tristram and Dionis Coffin 

Siblings: Too many to keep track of!  

Places lived: Moved to Nantucket Island in 1660

Jobs: Wife, mother, ran a trading store for most of my life

Friends: Everyone I met 

Enemies: None that I know of, or care to know of

Dating, marriage: Married Nathaniel Starbuck when I was 17 years old; he is the love of my life 

Children: Ten children, eight of whom lived to adulthood

What person do you most admire? Peter Foulger—a true Renaissance man

Overall outlook on life: Optimistic and realistic, both

Do you like yourself? I am both content and grateful

What, if anything, would you like to change about your life? Other than losing two children to an early grave, there is nothing I lack 

How are you viewed by others? A curious question! John Richardson, an early Quaker preacher said of me, “The Islanders established her a Judge among them, for a little of moment was done without her advice.” 

Physical appearance: Small but mighty

Eyes: Brown

Hair: Once brunette, now salt and pepper

Voice: Gentle in tone, forceful in content

How would you describe yourself? As a woman who has been fortunate to find an important role to play in a man’s world  

Characteristics: Intelligent, logical; some say blessed with wisdom 

Strongest/weakest character traits: It is both—my ability to see what needs to change, and my tolerance in allowing time for change to occur

How much self-control do you have? More with every passing year

Fears: Standing at the grave of one I dearly love and facing life without them

Collections, talents: I have a quick mind for details and accounting

What people like best about you: Friends kindly refer to me as the Deborah of Nantucket

Food, drink: Mullein tea on a cold foggy Nantucket day

Books: The Bible, of course; books are scarce on an island 

Best way to spend a weekend: The same way as every other day

What would a great gift for you be? To have all my children together, under one roof…and all their children, too

When are you happy? Every single day brings a moment of joy

What makes you angry? Mistreatment of those who are less fortunate

What makes you sad? Same as what makes me angry

What makes you laugh? Little children, baby animals…oh, and my husband Nathaniel makes me laugh

Hopes and dreams:For our island to have unity, without oppression (remember, we came from the mainland, where the Puritans fined us for every little infraction)

What’s the worst thing you have ever done to someone and why? While still on the mainland, I stood by and watched friends and neighbors hurl rocks and stones at a Quaker woman 

Greatest success: When Quaker missionary John Richardson came to Nantucket in 1701 and I had a spiritual awakening

Biggest trauma: Burying two of my dear children

What do you care about most in the world?My family, my island, my faith

Do you have a secret? Oh my! There are no secrets on an island

What do you like best about the other main characters in your book?Well, they’re all my great great granddaughters!

What do you like least about the other main characters in your book? Absolutely nothing

If you could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be:To end my life well

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you: Here is an example, taken straight from my journal: 

Stephen Hussey came into the store this afternoon. He settled into Father’s rocking chair by the fire and drank gallons of my mullein tea, talking to every person who came in. He carried his ear trumpet with him, which struck me as ironic for, despite being a Quaker, he is not fond of listening, only of talking. Stephen Hussey never had a thought that he couldn’t turn into a sermon. 

            Today, though, he remained quiet until the store was brimming over with customers. He rose to his feet and announced in his loud shrill voice, “I have a riddle for thee, Mary!”

The store grew quiet, all eyes turned to Stephen, as everyone enjoyed a good riddle, and he enjoyed a good audience.

“What’s gray and old and likes to be everywhere at once?”

“Nantucket fog,” I said, hoping he would now go home. 

“Nay. The answer is…Mary Coffin Starbuck!” He laughed and laughed, thoroughly amused with himself, until tears ran down his cheeks.That man! He sorely tries my patience.

Thanks for allowing this peek into your story, Mary!


Suzanne Woods Fisher
is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than two dozen novels, including Phoebe’s LightMinding the Light, the Amish Beginnings series, The Bishop’s Family series, and The Inn at Eagle Hill series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peaceand The Heart of the Amish. She lives in California. Learn more at http://www.suzannewoodsfisher.com and follow Suzanne on Twitter @suzannewfisher and Facebook at SuzanneWoodsFisherAuthor.