John Cowles Cooper

Biography of John Cowles Cooper

John Cowles Cooper
John Cowles Cooper and his residence

A complete history of the town of Adams, or even the county of Jefferson, cannot be written without assigning a prominent place therein to John Cowles Cooper. In the best sense he was public-spirited. His clear views, practical good sense, and energy made him a leader in all those enterprises of a public nature affecting the community or involving the affairs of the church with which he was connected. He lived seventy-six years, and full fifty-five of these were spent in active business pursuits. Until his last sickness, preceding his death but a few weeks, he never ceased from labor. The habit of idleness he despised, and his example illustrated the spirit of industry by which he was animated.

Seventy-six years backwards from 1877, the year of his death, carries us to the period of the pioneer settlement of Adams, when the surrounding county was covered with primeval forests, with occasional openings where some sturdy settler had laid the foundations of a humble home and established the conditions which made possible a life of manly independence.

The boyhood of John C. Cooper had such surroundings, and he grew to manhood with the rising and prosperous community in which his days were spent. His father, Miles Cooper, came to Adams at early day in 1803, from Durham, Connecticut, where he was born, and where his ancestors had lived before him.

Miles Cooper erected a log house on what is now Church street, directly opposite John C. Cooper’s late residence, and afterwards on the same ground erected the first frame building in Adams. John C. Cooper’s mother’s name was Aseneth Cowles, and she was also from Durham, where she was married to Miles. John was the fourth child in a family of nine children. His uncle Abner, elder brother of his father, was a sea captain, and was taken prisoner by the British in the Revolutionary War. George, another brother of Miles, was also a sea captain. John was about fourteen years old at the time of the battle of Sandy Creek, and on that memorable day in the history of our county his eager ears heard the heavy cannonade, and with the fleetness of the forest deer he hastened (running without stopping) to the scene of the conflict.

John C. enjoyed such advantages of education as a new country afforded, which were necessarily limited. He had so much vitality and physical vigor that outdoor employment best suited his tastes, and his boyhood days were spent in the severe work of clearing up a new farm. He had ambition, and not a little of the adventurous spirit. At the age of twenty years, he and his cousin, Manus Cowles, each shouldering a knapsack and gun, on foot performed the long and weary journey to the bank of the Mississippi. Almost the entire distance was through an unbroken wilderness, save occasional intervals of lake, river, and prairie.

In 1823 he purchased a farm in the valley of the Sandy creek, about a mile and a half from the village of Adams, adjoining the farm of his father. The following year, September 15, 1824, he was married to Elvira Fox, daughter of the late Daniel Fox, a centenarian of the same town, — John C.’s farm lying between that of his father and that of his father-in-law. His wife survives him, and in her now centers the tender love of their children. Her noble, womanly qualities endear her to a large circle of relatives and acquaintances. Of this marriage there were nine children, namely, Charlotte, Elvira, Geraldine, Melissa, Levi, Adelaide, Helena, Adelbert, and Dealton. Of these, Charlotte, Elvira, and Helena died in infancy. Adelbert met an untimely death, at the age of thirteen, by the accidental discharge of a gun. Dealton, at the age of eighteen, filled with the spirit of patriotism that was prominently characteristic of his father, enlisted as a volunteer in the 10th Regiment of Artillery. He was made a sergeant on the organization of his company, and in a few months thereafter, by reason of his soldierly qualities, was promoted to be 2d lieutenant. While undergoing the severe hardships and exposures of the service in the trenches in front of Petersburg, Virginia, in the summer of 1864, he contracted typhoid fever, and died at Chesapeake hospital. Fortress Monroe, in August of that year. In the death of each of these bright and most promising sons the father was occasioned a great sorrow that he carried with him to the end of his days. Of the other children, Geraldine is the wife of General Bradley Winslow, of Watertown; Melissa is the wife of W. S. Gilbert, Esq., of Watertown; Adelaide is the wife of Jean R. Stebbens, Esq., of Little Falls.

John Cooper was a successful farmer, and brought his farm into a high state of cultivation. For several years he devoted himself to sheep culture, raising wool and slaughtering sheep for the Kingston market, — hauling the carcasses of the sheep to Kingston in the winter.

In all the business enterprises in which he engaged he was singularly successful. There was but one drawback to his financial success, and that was his generous and sympathizing nature could not resist the appeals of others for aid in a financial way. In consequence of becoming surety upon the obligations of different persons he suffered heavy losses.

In 1831 he connected himself with the Methodist Episcopal church in Adams, although his religious training had been under Presbyterian influence, his mother being a devoted adherent of that denomination, and was one of the six persons (two only being females) who were organized as the Presbyterian church in Adams in 1804. He was an earnest, practical, and consistent Christian, devoted and constant always, — contributing liberally to the support of religion and the denomination with which he was identified. No act of his ever brought a stain upon the faith he had embraced. For a time after his conversion he was a teacher and superintendent of a Sunday school.

His public spirit bad an illustration in the zeal in which he engaged in the great enterprise of constructing the Watertown and Rome railroad, undertaken about the year 1846. He labored almost incessantly for several years in the prosecution of this work, and was for a number of years a director of the company. He had at length the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of his labors in the completed road (and the counties through which it was constructed) in the enjoyment of the manifold benefits it conferred.

With his partner, Philander Smith, he was engaged for a number of years in the introduction and sale, in this northern section of the State, of Wood’s mower and reaper. The business proved successful and remunerative.

In 1853 the Agricultural Insurance Company was organized. Two years later Mr. Cooper became a director and was made its president. These positions he continued to occupy until his death. During his connection with the company it had, as it continues to have, an extraordinary prosperity, which it is not too much to say was largely attributed to his sagacity and prudent counsels. In his early manhood he was connected with the militia, and held a commission as ensign from Governor De Witt Clinton, bearing date Sept. 6, 1825; was promoted and commissioned lieutenant April 28, 1827.

In politics he was a Whig. On the dissolution of that party he transferred his allegiance to the Republican organization. While a Whig his party was in a minority in the town of Adams, but such was his popularity that he was elected supervisor in 1849, and for three years successively thereafter.

As a husband and father he was most kind and considerate, manifesting always a tender regard for his wife and children,— his mind dwelling much upon the means by which to contribute to their comfort arid happiness. He favored heartily the organization of the Thousand Island Park Association, purchased a lot on the grounds of the Association, and has left a substantial monument in the beautiful iron cottage known as ” The Cooper Cottage,” which he erected on his lot for the use of his family.

The life of John C. Cooper was well spent. He was the wise counselor; he was faithful in the discharge of many confidential trusts; the promoter of harmony and kindly feelings among neighbors; the steadfast friend; prompt with ready sympathy always to alleviate the distress of others. In the varied relations he sustained to his church and to the community at large no dishonor ever tarnished his good name. His death occurred January 26, 1877, after a short but painful illness, his sufferings alleviated so far as possible by the loving ministrations of wife and children. For six weeks preceding that event he was conscious that he could not recover, and calmly made all necessary disposition of his worldly affairs, tenderly solicitous for the welfare of those soon to be left without the benefit of his care and protection. In the contemplation of the great change awaiting him he was cheerful and hopeful,— his hope resting not on his own good deeds, but alone upon the merits of his Redeemer, whom he had learned to trust in every hour of need. And in the final hour it was most strikingly demonstrated that

The chamber where the good man meets his fate
Is privileged above the common walks of virtuous life,
Quite on the verge of Heaven.

Source:  Durant, Samuel W. and Henry B. Peirce. History of Jefferson County, New York, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1878. p 264-266.

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