More 17th Century Newbury Paternity Stories: The Coker Family Line, Part II

Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry continues her story showing how paternity cases affected life in the 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony – and, in particular, describes the continuation of the Coker family line. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.

My last story covered Robert Coker, a first settler of Newbury, Massachusetts, who got himself in some hot water with the magistrates in 1641-42 when he contracted himself in marriage with two different maids (see links at the end of this article).

During this time, Coker fathered two children: a daughter Rachel with Miriam (Moulton) King; and a son Joseph with Catherine (Moody?), whom he married. The daughter Rachel was raised by her mother Miriam and her husband Thomas King.

Over time, however, Robert’s transgressions were overlooked, and he was made a constable for Newbury in November 1656 and also served as a jurist for the court. He had more children with Catherine – and their descendants make up generations of the sons and daughters of Newbury.

According to the State Times Advocate, the name Coker has several origins.

An article about the surname Coker, State Times Advocate newspaper article 31 March 1974
State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 31 March 1974, page 78

An image of the Coker coat of arms is found in Sarah Smith Emery’s book Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian (Newbury, Massachusetts: W.H. Huse & Co., 1879, P. 86).

Illustration: Coker coat of arms
Illustration: Coker coat of arms. Credit: Sarah Smith Emery.

Emery’s Aunt Susanna (Little) Adams, widow of Robert Adams, married John Coker, the great-great grandson of Joseph and Sarah (Hathorne) Coker.


  • Robert Coker and Catherine (Moody?)
  • Joseph Coker and Sarah Hathorne (see family tree image below)
  • Hathorne Coker and Tirza Bartlett
  • Samuel Coker and Mary “Martha” Phillips
  • Thomas Coker and Sarah Greenleaf
  • John Coker and Susanna (Little) Adams

The famous writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was from the Hathorne family (he inserted the “w” into his surname). His family tree was printed in Tales, Sketches, and Other Papers by Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by George Parsons Lathrop (Houghton Mifflin, 1883, P. 446).

Photo: Hathorne family tree
Photo: Hathorne family tree. Credit: George Parsons Lathrop.

Emery’s book provides an account of how John Coker won the affection of her Aunt Adams after Susanna became a widow:

“The wealth and superior attractions of Aunt Adams brought her many suitors, but for four years she remained constant to the memory of the early loved. Then it began to be whispered that she showed an inclination to favor the suit of Mr. John Coker.”

According to Emery’s account, Aunt Adams was impressed by Coker’s role as sole provider of his family when his father Thomas Coker died in 1804. Thomas was a housewright and operated a farm in the lower parish of Newbury.

In 1906 the Newburyport Daily News provided a photo of a house built by Thomas Coker in 1796 on Broad Street.

An article about Thomas Coker, Newburyport Daily News newspaper article 26 May 1906
Newburyport Daily News (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 26 May 1906, page 3

I found an 1804 announcement in the Newburyport Herald about the settlement of the estate of Thomas Coker. His son John is the attorney for his widow Sarah Coker, executrix.

An article about Thomas Coker, Newburyport Herald newspaper article 3 July 1804
Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 3 July 1804, page 1

I also found John advertising a house and barn for rent on Broad Street in the Newburyport Herald in 1805.

An article about John Coker, Newburyport Herald newspaper article 22 October 1805
Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 22 October 1805, page 4

Emery wrote:

“John thus was not only the staff of his widowed mother, but the head of a large family of young brothers and sisters. His filial and fraternal devotion won Mrs. Adams’ regard. Handsome, intelligent, highly respected and a practical farmer, the match appeared exceedingly proper as the young man was very well qualified for a companion and protector of the youthful widow.”

The happy couple married in 1805 and one son, Robert Adams Coker, is named after Susanna’s first love.

Note: Just as an online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, helped tell the stories of the Coker family, they can tell you stories about your ancestors that can’t be found anywhere else. Come look today and see what you can discover!

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4 thoughts on “More 17th Century Newbury Paternity Stories: The Coker Family Line, Part II

  1. Ironically, I have recently been researching Coker ancestry in East Coker, Somerset, UK, as an allied family for a brick wall ancestry line for me. Did not know they had EM.

  2. I have Robert Coker as a 10th great grandfather through his daughter Katherine (married Thomas Silver), supposedly born in 1628. Her mother is sometimes listed as Catherine Moody(?) or Catherine Huntington. Was Catherine Moody(?) Robert’s second wife? 1628 doesn’t seem to line up with Robert and Catherine’s marriage timeline of about 1640.

    1. David, according to family wills in the Lunt family and “The Great Migration” records, it may be a Moody. I have not found Katherine Coker as a daughter yet, but will keep looking. Thanks so much for posting.

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