William Cooper, Jr., Captain’s Clerk, Chaplain, 2nd Lieutentant of Marines

William Cooper, Jr. Born in February 1750, William Cooper, Jr. was the oldest surviving son of William Cooper, Esq. (1721-1809) and Katharine Wendell (1726-1796) who were married on 25 April 1745. The senior Cooper, a merchant and Boston Town Clerk from 1761 until his death in 1809, was one of the “Sons of Liberty” and served on many important public committees leading to the American Revolution. William Cooper, Esq. was the son of the Rev. William Cooper, President of Harvard College and minister of Brattle Street Church from 1715-1743 and the oldest brother of the eminent clergyman Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper. Samuel Cooper followed in their father’s footsteps serving as Harvard’s President and pastor of the Brattle Street Church until 1783, baptizing all seventeen children of William Cooper, Esq. Named for his grandfather, father and older brother who died soon after birth in 1746; William Cooper Jr. attended the Boston Latin School between 1758-1765. He was apprenticed to Captain [Patrick] Tracy of Newburyport on 14 May 1766. On 11 May 1775, the Committee of Safety voted, “Mr. William Cooper, jun. … be appointed a clerk to Dr. [Joseph] Warren, president of the [Provincial] Congress.” A letter written by John Adams on 4 January 1776 to his father William Cooper, Esq. recently placed for auction sale may have been the younger Cooper’s first inspiration to serve in the newly created Continental Navy. Adams writes, “the Honourable House will soon receive authentic Intelligence of a considerable naval Force ordered by the Congress to be prepared, as I am well informed they have resolved to build Thirteen Ships five of Thirty two Guns, five of Twenty Eight and Three of Twenty four.” The pension application # S-11139 of Jeremiah Newcomb indicates that Newcomb entered service under Captain John Gill of Wellfleet about 15 March 1776 and sailed from Wellfleet to Plymouth. He then marched to Boston where he served in the artillery as a matross under Captain Gill in Colonel Craft’s Regiment at Castle William, “since called Castle Island.” Newcomb identifies Captain Gill’s 1st Lieutenant as William Cooper of Boston, likely the man who would later become Captain’s Clerk of the frigate Boston. On 30 August 1776, Captain John Gill in command of the Massachusetts privateer schooner Independence with 6 carriage guns, 8 swivels and a crew of fifty captured the ship John under Captain John Hunter only to lose the prize a week later when she was recaptured by the 28-gun British frigate Milford and her Captain John Burr on 8 September 1776. Captain Gill and the Independence were themselves captured later in 1776 by the 20-gun British post ship Camilla. William Cooper first entered service on the frigate Boston as Captain’s Clerk sometime after Captain Samuel Tucker replaced suspended former Captain Hector McNeill in September 1777. When the frigate Boston sailed for Europe on 15 February 1778 with newly appointed Minister to France John Adams aboard; William Cooper, Jr. was carrying a letter to Benjamin Franklin written two days earlier by his uncle the Rev. Samuel Cooper introducing the ambassador to the son of his eldest brother [American Philosophical Society publication (1906)]. William Cooper, Jr. carried with him on the cruise a second letter of introduction, also written on 13 February 1778, from Thomas Cushing of Boston to Silas Deane in Paris recommending him to Mr. Deane’s “friendly notice.” The Diary of John Adams written during this voyage is the primary source for William Cooper’s identification as first lay Chaplain of the frigate Boston. Three weeks into the passage on 8 March 1778, Adams writes, “Sunday. The same wind and weather continues, and we go at seven and half and eight knots. We are supposed to be past the Western Islands. Mr. Barron, our first lieutenant, appears to me to be an excellent officer. Very diligent and attentive to his duty. Very thoughtful and considerate about the safety of the ship, and about order, economy, and regularity among the officers and men. He has great experience at sea; has used the trade to London, Lisbon, Africa, West Indies, Southern States, etc. This morning, the captain ordered all hands upon quarterdeck to prayers. The captain’s clerk, Mr. William Cooper, had prepared a composition of his own, which was a very decent and comprehensive prayer, which he delivered in a grave and proper manner. The officers and men all attended in clean clothes, and behaved very soberly.” Within just a few weeks during the treacherous North Atlantic crossing, a lightning storm almost dismasted the Boston injuring twenty sailors. We know that William Cooper also officiated at burials-at-sea from the 27 March 1778 notation from Adams’ diary, “Friday. On Wednesday evening Mr. Barron died, and yesterday was committed to the deep, from the quarter-deck. He was put into a chest, and ten or twelve twelve pounds shot put in with him, and then nailed up. The fragment of the gun which destroyed him was lashed on the chest, and the whole launched overboard through one of the ports, in presence of all the ship’s crew, after the burial service had been read by Mr. Cooper.” Although ordered to avoid engagements, the frigate Boston found herself chased by three British warships and was finally forced into action against the British privateer Martha, who quickly surrendered. After delivering her supercargo John Adams safely at Bordeaux on 1 April 1778, the vessel cruised off Europe until the Fall. On the homeward bound voyage, Captain Tucker and the Boston captured four prizes before anchoring at Portsmouth, NH on 15 October 1778. Within a week of the frigate’s return, the Rev. Benjamin Balch entered on board the Boston on 28 October 1778. William Cooper, Jr. continued service on the Continental Navy frigate Boston as 2nd Lieutenant of Marines beginning 28 March 1779. The Boston made two cruises in 1779 capturing a total of nine prizes. She sailed on 6 June 1779 in company with the frigate Confederacy bound for Philadelphia under orders to obtain bread and then to cruise off the Delaware Capes. Several prizes were taken while on patrol including the ship Pole, schooner Betsey and sloop William. 2nd Lieutenant of Marines Cooper was placed on the 26-gun Pole with her prize crew and returned to Philadelphia escorted by the Confederacy. It is not presently known if Cooper was discharged in Philadelphia or whether he returned to the Boston, traveling with her when ordered to the defense of Charleston, SC where the ship and crew were captured on 12 May 1780. After his release from captivity, the Rev. Benjamin Balch- last Chaplain of the frigate Boston- would serve again on the frigate Alliance from October 1780 to June 1781. Documents associated with the frigate Boston, some suspected to be in the hand of Captain’s Clerk William Cooper, Jr. are reposited in the Houghton Library at Harvard College in the Samuel Tucker (1747-1833) Papers under call number MS Am 812. Manuscripts in this collection include: Sundry accounts (1778), Muster-rolls, Return of gunner’s stores, Book of orders (1779, 1780), Logbook (1779), List of officers and seamen, Copies of signals done on board (1779), Return of provisions (1780), Letterbook fragment (1778) and Journal (11 February to 9 October 1778). City of Boston records include a marriage between William Cooper and Rebecca Jenkins on 23 March 1780. It is not known if the groom was the former Lieutenant of Marines from the frigate Boston; however, if so the marriage date suggests he did not re-enter service on the Boston after sailing into Philadelphia with the prize ship Pole. It is known that William Cooper, Jr. is recorded as residing in the Hanover Street household of his father or next door in Ward 6 at the time of the 1780 Assessors “Taking Books” of the Town of Boston. If the groom was the subject of this brief bio, no definitive evidence has been found to indicate what happened to his wife; the only suggestion a (Massachusetts) Independent Ledger mortuary notice of 19 April 1784 noting the death of Mrs. Rebecca Cooper, Aged 26. After their service on the frigate Boston, it is possible William Cooper joined the Massachusetts privateer Hannibal in 1780 with crewmate Thomas Balch, son of the frigate Boston’s first ordained chaplain the Rev. Benjamin Balch. The 24-gun Hannibal with her compliment of 130 men was bonded on 8 September 1780 under the command of Jeremiah O’Brien, former commander of the sloop Unity and hero of the capture of the HMS Margaretta, the first British warship to fall into American hands during the first naval engagement of the Revolutionary War. The vessel was owned by Jeremiah’s brother John and William Cooper, Jr. was one of the two witnesses for the bond. Late that year while cruising off of New York, the Hannibal was captured by two British frigates and young Balch was taken on the prison ship Jersey. The name William Cooper also appears among a list of those who languished on the floating dungeon in New York’s Wallabout Bay; however, it has not been determined if this Cooper is the same or whether his imprisonment is associated with the schooner Independence, ship John, frigate Boston or the privateer Hannibal. It is known that William Cooper of Boston sailed with the ship Lyon under the command of Philadelphia’s Captain John Green sometime before the ship was taken by the British on 29 June 1781. The captain and fifteen others were committed to Mill Prison on 31 August 1781 while Cooper and four others from the Lyon arrived by separate conveyance in October. Samuel Cooper, Purser of the frigate Alliance, wrote Benjamin Franklin on 6 March 1782 begging for Franklin to procure his eldest brother’s release. John Green and William Cooper were among a number of the prisoners confined at Mill Prison to write to the President of the Continental Congress on their own behalf on 18 June 1782 requesting release. Owing to their persistence, or more likely the change in public mood in Britain due to the Loss of Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown the previous October, the Rev. Samuel Cooper was able to pen Franklin on 6 September 1782 that his kinsman William Cooper was arrived in Boston “with many others of his countrymen.” Confined at Plymouth on the opposite shore of the Atlantic, William Cooper, Jr. was unable to attend his younger sister Judith’s wedding to Captain Matthew Parke on 9 August 1781. Parke was Captain of Marines on the frigate Alliance which had arrived in Boston on 6 June earlier that Summer. The Alliance sailed for France with Parke aboard on 25 December 1781, returning to New London on 13 May 1782. Sailing again from New London three days before the birth of his first son William Cooper Parke on 7 August 1782; Parke was at sea when his wife died in Boston on 14 September 1782 one month after the birth of their only child. In the Fall of 1787 thirty-eight year old William Cooper, Jr and his twenty-two year old younger brother John, traveled to Cobscook Bay in Easternmost Maine to engage in trade. Purchasing merchandise at several Boston firms, the two opened a trading post at Soward’s Neck in what is presently called North Lubec. The brothers were apparently in business with Colonel John Allan, a British refugee exiled for his support of the rebellious colonies who was appointed by the Continental Congress to be Superintendent of the Eastern Indians from 1777 through the end of hostilities. Allan settled on what is known today as Treat’s Island where he also operated a trading post. Sources indicate that William Cooper, Jr. was drowned in Passamaquoddy Bay on 7 February 1788. The 17 March 1788 edition of the Boston Gazette reveals details of the tragedy, “By a vessel from the Passamaquoday we learn, that on the 20 inst three men having been up the river in a small boat, on their return home a sudden squall came up and overset the boat, by which accident Mr. William Cooper, Jun son of William Cooper, Esq of this town, was unfortunately drowned, age 38.” After the drowning death of his older brother, John Cooper moved to Machias in 1790 where he was appointed first Sheriff of Washington County, serving for thirty years. In that same year, acting as agent for the 245 residents of North Lubec, John Cooper petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to recognize the settlers’ ownership rights. Also in 1790, President Washington authorized the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service, the forerunner of the United States Coast Guard. In response to widespread smuggling in the area, the RCS’s first commissioned officer, fellow Continental Navy veteran Hopley Yeaton was sent to Passamaquoddy where he lived at North Lubec until his death.

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