Introduction: Cooper

Larry Pearce

The Cooper name has never been far from my consciousness. The first twelve years of my life were lived in Cooperstown, PA; I’ve always loved baseball and associated the sport with it’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY; and James Fenimore Cooper is one of my favorite authors in my favorite genre, historical fiction. Imagine my delight when I discovered that my father’s maternal branch has a Cooper line. Specifically, my Great-grandmother Susan Fleming Moon’s (b.1846) grandmother was Margaret Cooper (b.1787) of Venango County, PA. Her father was John Cooper (b.1751) of Cumberland County, PA. In this article we’ll consider other Cooper families in Pennsylvania and New York State to whom we may be related. We’ll also look at the origins of the name and list some notable Coopers.

First, the Cooper name comes from the Anglo-Saxon refering to an occupation as a maker and repairer of wooden vessels: barrels, tubs, buckets, casks, and vats. Apparently, the Middle English “coop,” “couper,” “cowper,” even copper was borrowed from the Dutch “coper,” “kupper” or “kuiper” for tub or container. The adoption of similar sounding surnames in other countries and languages suggests that this must have been an important trade during the Middle Ages throughout Europe, although the first recorded use of the word dates to the 8th century. Perhaps the Cyprian’s word for bronze, “cyprium,” suggests what the first cups of any value were made of and tells of the trade between the Isles and the Mediterranean.

These are some of the early Coopers of note, according to
• Robert le Cupere (1176) in “The Pipe Rolls of Sussex” and Surrey records
• Selide le Copere (1181) of Norfolk
• Henry le Cupper (1273) of Nottingham
• Willelmus Couper (1379) in “Yorkshire Poll Tax”
• John Cooper (1424) on “The Friary Rolls of York” along with Ricardus Cowper
• Robert Cupper (1425) Bailiff of Yarmouth
• Richard Cooper (1562) of Yorkshire
• William Cooper (1607) married Winifred Cope in London
• Walter Cooper (1619) in “The Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia”
• Humility Cooper (1620) on the Mayflower, 8-year old cousin of Edward Tilly
• Col. Thomas Cooper (1685) served in Cromwell’s army and the Upper House
• Sir Astley Cooper (1768) English surgeon to the royalty from Norfolk

In modern times the following Coopers are worth mentioning:
o James Fenimore Cooper (b.1789) American writer of The Last of the Mohicans
o Gary Cooper (b.1901) actor and multi-Academy Award winner of the 1940s and 50s
o Alice Cooper (b.1948) rock singer, songwriter, and guitarist (born Vincent Furnier)
o D.B. Cooper (?) airplane hijacker who jumped out over the Pacific northwest with $200,000 cash ransom in 1971

While the country of origin of our Cooper line is unknown at this time, we believe our ancestors came from the British Isles. The website claims, “This English occupational name has been prominent among Anglo-Irish gentry since the mid-seventeenth century in four counties, particularly Sligo.” Today, while being the 29th most popular surname in England, the name is 64th most popular in the United States. We know that our John Cooper’s hometown in Cumberland County, PA, was comprised primarily of Scots-Irish. His wife, Mary Jane Jack, was born of such ethnic origins.

We know nothing of John Cooper’s (1751-1806) parents. He and wife Mary Jane Jack (1749-1821) produced at least nine children: James, John, Jr., Robert, Matthew, Andrew, William, Jane, Sarah, and Margaret, of our line. All the off-spring except James were minors when John’s will was written in 1805. It confirms much of what we say here and makes interesting reading. Five of these children died within a year of the writing of John’s will. He died the next year. How did they die? Did these deaths inspire him to write this document and provide for the survivors? He was only in his mid-fifties when he died. Tom Robertshaw is somewhat of an expert on our Cooper and Fleming families. He believes that our John was a pioneer to Mifflin County, PA, by the time it was formed from Cumberland County in 1789, the place recorded as John’s birthplace. If the 1783-87 records of Armaugh Township are referring to this John, he signed a church petition to hire a Rev. James Johnson. Robertshaw reports that the 1790 Federal Census for Cumberland Co. does not list John, the 1800 census and 1802/05 tax lists do. So, there is some confusion and more research to be done. We should note here that John and Cooper, being rather common names, are found throughout the eastern United States at this same time, but we’re wondering, could the John Cooper (b.1710) born in Newtown, Bucks County, PA, be our John’s father or grandfather? That John’s parents, Henry and Mary, were both born in England.

John and Mary Jane’s daughter, Margaret was born in Newton Township, Cumberland County, in 1787, but died in Sugarcreek Township, Venango County, in 1854. Because her parents are recorded as dying in Newton, we believe that it was Margaret’s marriage to Lawrence Carlysle Fleming, of the well-documented Venango County Flemings, that inspired her move. Robertshaw’s research has revealed that one of the largest homes in Newton belonged to a John Fleming. Maybe our Flemings began there too. We believe Margaret’s father-in-law was Jacob, perhaps a relative of John. Margaret and Lawrence had 16 children. At this point the reader is encouraged to consult the Fleming Table of Contents and other related families to continue the 250-year plus saga of our Cooper line.

One of the many confusing items turned up in our historical journey is that Venango County has a Cooperstown, in Jackson Township. It was founded by the pioneer to northwestern PA, William Cooper (b. 1747). At this time we can find no links to our Coopers, but it could have been a brother to our John. The Venango County history books also list a John Cooper as having the occupation of “hatter.” Again, Johns and Coopers are not hard to come by in early regional history. Another William Cooper, a judge and the father of writer James Fenimore Cooper, founded Cooperstown, NY, home of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. That family tree is much more easily documented, however.

Finally, a word about my first home, another Cooperstown, PA, this one in Butler County. First known as Coopertown, it was founded in the mid-1800s by George Cooper, who kept a hotel for travelers on the old Pittsburgh-Butler plank road, Now Rt. 8. He was also a blacksmith. We have no links at present between George and our Coopers. His little settlement began with about a dozen families. Today, a little more populated, Cooperstown has lost its Middlesex Elementary School and Clover Farm grocery store but still boasts its 200-year old Glade Run Presbyterian Church and cemetery. My maternal grandfather ran a successful a produce market along the busy highway there during the Depression and it’s still in business, leased to another proprietor. Another relative ran a chicken hatchery for many years, but it caught fire several times and eventually was never rebuilt.

Another Cooper in Butler County was a pioneer with an unusual name Zebulon (b.1778), who came with his Uncle Nathaniel from New Jersey by way of Washington County in 1796. They settled 500 acres along what is now the famous Slippery Rock Creek. It’s not known if they were related to George, but our Margaret Cooper’s great-granddaughter, Alice Moon (b.1865), married into the Hill family, who were also some of the first settlers in that part of Butler County.

In conclusion, the Cooper name seems to have surrounded me all my live, and finally I am beginning to make some connections. I may not be related to James Fenimore Cooper, and thus claim his writing skills, or have the opportunity to see frontier towns named after my ancestors, but I’m proud to carry the DNA of hard-working, adventuresome settlers who got up every day and did what they had to do to survive. I’m certain that they never suspected that one day, hundreds of years later, one of their descendants would be writing about them. I count it an honor to research and remember their contributions to our American way of life.

Works Cited

“About the Cooper Surname”

“Cooper Name Meaning”

“Cooper Surname Meaning & Origin”

Gibbons, Ken. database GIBE8D

Roberstshaw, Tom. GenForum. 27 August 2001

Thompson, J.V. Journals. Vol. 3, p. 44

Will Book G. p.173. Cumberland Co, Carlisle, PA, 21 June 1805.

Last revised 11/17/18

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