Coffin, John

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Coffin, John

COFFIN, JOHN. (1756–1838). Loyalist officer. Massachusetts. Elder brother of Sir Isaac, he went to sea as a small boy and at the age of eighteen had been given command of a ship. On 15 June 1775 he reached Boston with a shipload of British troops. Two days later he ferried these soldiers over for the Battle of Bunker Hill, took part in the fighting on land, and for his gallant conduct was given a battlefield commission. After serving successively as ensign and lieutenant, he was promised command of four hundred Loyalists on the condition that he recruit them in New York. Going to New York City after the evacuation of Boston (15 March 1776), he raised and assumed command of the mounted rifle force known as the Orange Rangers and led them in the Battle of Long Island. In 1778 he transferred into the New York Volunteers. The same year he went to the South, where he raised a corps of mounted troops in Georgia. Coffin took part in the action at St. Lucia (December 1778) and Briar Creek (3 March 1779). He is said to have distinguished himself in the action at Savannah (presumably in October 1779). He is also said to have been in the Battle of Camden on 16 August 1780. At Hobkirk's Hill on 25 April 1781, his gallant attempt to capture the American guns was beaten off, and he subsequently was routed by the cavalry of William Washington.

Captain Coffin particularly distinguished himself at Eutaw Springs on 8 September 1781. The Patriots are said to have offered a reward of ten thousand dollars for his head. Whether or not the story is true, Coffin appears to have believed it: after the battle of 8 September 1781, he left the main British army and fought his way to Charleston. He subsequently served under Cornwallis at Yorktown but escaped the surrender there and returned to Charleston, the home of his fiancée, Ann Mathews of St. Johns Island. When the British evacuated Charleston he went to New York City. On 25 December 1782, Carleton promoted him to major in the King's American Regiment, and at about this time Cornwallis presented him with a sword for his services.

Before the British evacuation of New York City, Major Coffin went to New Brunswick (Canada), where he was joined by his young wife and four slaves. Only twenty-seven years old, he started clearing his lands and eventually developed a valuable estate of six thousand acres about twelve miles from St. John. He remained in the British army on half pay, rose steadily in rank, and became a full general on 12 August 1819. Meanwhile, he was a successful member of the assembly and raised three sons, who had active military careers in various parts of the empire and helped establish a century-long pattern of United Empire Loyalist military professionalism. When Coffin died on 12 June 1838, he was the oldest general in the British service.

Another John Coffin, an uncle of the above, constructed the defenses that stopped Montgomery's column in the assault on Quebec on 31 December 1775.

SEE ALSO Briar Creek, Georgia; Eutaw Springs, South Carolina; Hobkirk's Hill (Camden), South Carolina; Quebec (Canada Invasion); St. Lucia, Captured by the British.

                        revised by Robert M. Calhoon