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A Quaker’s Long Way Home

By George Eastburn

“In 1802 the Miantonomoh was captured and condemned by the Spaniards at Valparaiso. Nantucket lost one of her ships about the same time, which was engaged in whaling and sealing, as the former had been. She was named the Trial, and was commanded by Thomas Coffin, the father of the late lamented Lucretia Mott. Nothing was ever recovered from them.” — F.C. Sanford, “Notes Upon The History Of The American Whale Fishery” (1882)

One day Thomas Coffin, Jr., lost his ship to the Spanish navy.
He and his crew of whaling men sailed halfway around the world, from Nantucket Island, hunting whales.
And halfway around the world in the deep blue Pacific, the Spanish navy took his ship and sailed it to the coast of Chile
with Thomas and his men.

Captain Thomas Coffin, Jr., told his whaling men to go home.
And he stayed. He stayed in Chile, solid as an anchor, to win back his ship.
His men took the highways and byways of the seas back to Nantucket on strangers’ ships, one by one.

A kind family in Chile, in the shadows of a mountainside, took Thomas into their house. And fed him. And taught him to speak in Spanish.
And he went down to win his ship back in a courtroom.
And he spoke to a Spanish judge of how he lost his ship. And he lost his ship again . . . to the Spanish judge . . . .

So, Thomas looked to the mountains that crowd the land of Chile.
And he followed a path that the kind Spanish family showed him.
And he went up and over steep trails, rocky trails, slippery trails.
He went over the mountains that they call “los Andes.”

And he walked down the other side of those Andes mountains. And walked. And walked.
And walked over yellow and green grassy lands and waving grass and steamy grasslands.
And he walked over dirt roads and mud roads. He walked following the Light within him.

A thousand miles, he walked and he found the deep green sea, the Atlantic. And he came to a dock of a ship.
And he told his story and he climbed aboard. And he sailed. And sailed. And sailed.
And landed on the dock in Nantucket one day.
And he walked, step by step, not too far, just up Main Street in Nantucket Town.

And Thomas Coffin, Jr., turned a corner. And he came to the door of his house and knocked.
And a girl opened that door, Lucretia Coffin. And her face began to shine like a little sun. Papa was home!
And they hugged like two ocean waves rising and holding each other.

She did not know that one day she would be Lucretia Coffin Mott, the peaceful fighter for freedom . . . for people across the world.
Or maybe she did, after her papa walked a thousand miles following the Light within and sailed home halfway around the world.

George Eastburn is a member of Abington Monthly Meeting in Pennsylvania and a member of William Penn Charter School’s Board of Overseers in Philadelphia. The longevity of both of these Friends’ communities has given him inspiration to look into historic Quaker roots. In fact, listening to a talk by Friend Dan Turner at Abington Meeting’s Adult Class one First Day is how he first learned that Lucretia Mott’s father, Thomas Coffin, Jr., made his incredible journey across South America to find his way home to Nantucket.

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