The Story of Cooperstown
by Ralph Birdsall
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In 1898, a building which stood in the Cooper Grounds next east of the Clark Estate office was removed, and in grading the land workmen found, just beneath the surface, the stump of a locust tree about two feet in diameter. This was about twenty-five feet east of the office building, and about the same distance from Main Street. The stump was pulled out by teams of horses, and beneath it, at a depth of about four feet from the surface, some charred material was found, and a mass of what proved to be, when cleansed of adhesions, American Army buttons of the Revolutionary period. The find was made by Charles J. Tuttle, a well-known mason and contractor of the village, and veteran of the Civil War. The buttons were of different sizes and shapes, some plated in silver, others in gold, while many were of brass. Within a short time the news of the find had spread through the village, and a troop of relic hunters gathered at the spot, but the hole had been filled up without further investigation. At the time of Clinton's encampment, in 1779, there must have been a building whose cellar had been used as a storeroom for military supplies. The charred material suggests that the building was at some time burned. The locust stump tells of a tree that sprang up amid the ruins, flourished, and died, within a hundred and twenty years after the departure of Clinton's troops.

Fenimore Cooper, writing in 1838, said that traces of Clinton's dam were still to be seen. The last of the logs that remained of the old dam were removed on October 26, 1825, in connection with a curious local celebration of the opening of the Erie Canal, which on that day was the occasion of general rejoicing throughout the State of New York. Cannon, placed a few miles apart, from Buffalo to Albany, and thence to Sandy Hook, were proclaiming that Governor DeWitt Clinton, whose influence had so large a share in this great enterprise, had entered the first canal boat at Buffalo, and was on his way to New York. Since Governor Clinton was the son of General James Clinton, under whose command the dam at the outlet of Otsego Lake had been built, it seemed appropriate to the inhabitants that Cooperstown should have a celebration of its own, and could thus most auspiciously begin a project which some bold spirits then had in mind, nothing less than the construction of a Susquehanna Canal, to connect Cooperstown with the Erie Canal at the north, and with the coal fields of Pennsylvania at the south.

On this occasion the villagers gathered in Christ Church for a religious service and to hear an address delivered by Samuel Starkweather, after which they marched in procession to the Red Lion Inn. Here a public banquet was served, and "after the removal of the cloth," says the contemporary account, "toasts were drunk under the discharge of cannon, most of them being succeeded by hearty cheering and animated airs from the band." The hopes which gave importance to this celebration are expressed in two of the toasts proposed, one by Henry Phinney, "The contemplated Susquehanna River Canal"; the other by Elisha Foote, "A speedy union of the pure waters of Otsego Lake with the Erie Canal."

When the company had left the table the whole village marched to the river, and assembled on the shore near the site of Clinton's dam. Boat horns, (sometimes called canal horns) about six feet long, typical of the "long ditch," were then common, and furnished blasts of martial music amid the crowd. The multitude was mustered somewhat after the order of a brigade. One company, consisting of over forty men with wheelbarrows and shovels, known as "sappers, miners and excavators," commanded by Captain William Wilson, marched with their comrades boldly to the scene of action. Lawrence McNamee, president of the day, personating Governor Clinton, threw the first shovelful of dirt. When the last remaining log of the old dam had been removed the procession marched back to the village, while the air was "rent with the huzzas of those who witnessed the first practical essay toward rendering the waters of the Susquehanna navigable for the purposes of commerce," and a nine-pounder upon the top of Mount Vision, at regular intervals, told the hills and valleys around that Cooperstown was rejoicing.[54]

It is almost needless to say that the development of railway transportation put an end to this project for a canal.

On September 2, 1901, another generation of people assembled near the outlet of the lake to witness the unveiling of a marker placed by Otsego Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, Mrs. Isabella Scott Ernst, regent, to indicate the site and to commemorate the fame of Clinton's dam.[55] The crowd approached the bank of the Susquehanna by descending from River Street, where an arch of bunting had been erected. A large float anchored near the western bank was trimmed with flags, bunting, and vines. Directly across the river, on the eastern point of the outlet, the newly erected marker was concealed beneath the folds of an American flag. While a band played "The Stars and Stripes Forever," the spectators who lined the shore saw approaching from beneath the green foliage down the river a canoe paddled by a young man who wore the gay dress and war-paint of a Mohawk brave. Seated with him in the canoe were two little girls, attired in patriotic colors. The three in the canoe were lineal descendants of Revolutionary stock. The young girls were Jennie Ordelia Mason and Fannie May Converse, both descendants of James Parshall, an orderly sergeant who was present at the building of the dam in 1779. The Indian was impersonated by F. Hamilton McGown, a descendant of John Parshall, private, a brother of James Parshall. The canoe was paddled close to the eastern shore, and the three occupants drew aside the flag which concealed the marker, amid the applause of the spectators assembled on the banks. The trio in the canoe then drifted back down the river, and were soon lost to view beyond the overhanging branches.

The marker is a large boulder placed a few feet from the eastern bank of the river at the very outlet of the lake. Surmounting the rock is a ten-inch siege mortar thirty inches in length and weighing 1971 pounds, which did service at Fort Foote, Maryland, during the Civil War. On the western side of the boulder is a bronze tablet marked by the insignia of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and bearing this inscription:


Four years after Clinton's troops had made their famous journey down the Susquehanna, the site of Cooperstown was visited by the most distinguished citizen and soldier in America. For in 1783, at the conclusion of the war, George Washington, on an exploring expedition, passed a few hours at the foot of Otsego Lake. In a letter to the Marquis de Chastellux he says that he "traversed the country to the head of the eastern branch of the Susquehannah, and viewed the lake Otsego, and the portage between that lake and the Mohawk River at Canajoharie." In the same letter he says, "I am anxiously desirous to quit the walks of public life, and under my own vine and my own fig-tree to seek those enjoyments, and that relaxation, which a mind that has been continually on the stretch for more than eight years, stands so much need of."

Weary of war, and longing for some tranquil retreat from the cares of his exalted station, as he looked upon the scene which has become familiar to all lovers of Cooperstown—the peaceful lake, with verdant hills surrounding, and the Sleeping Lion at the end of the vista—the calm beauty of this view, rather than the splendid images of martial triumph, was reflected in the soul of Washington.


[Footnote 36: The Old New York Frontier, pp. 148, 161, 165.]

[Footnote 37: The Old New York Frontier, Chapters III and IV.]

[Footnote 38: The Old New York Frontier, p. 197.]

[Footnote 39: do., p. 257.]

[Footnote 40: The Old New York Frontier, p. 259.]

[Footnote 41: History of Schoharie County, Jeptha R. Simms, 298.]

[Footnote 42: Sullivan's Indian Expedition, Frederick Cook, p. 19.]

[Footnote 43: Journal of Lieut. Rudolphus van Hovenburgh, 4th New York Reg't., Sullivan's Indian Expedition, p. 276.]

[Footnote 44: Sullivan's Indian Expedition, p. 201.]

[Footnote 45: There is a spring in the present grounds of Averell cottage; another in the grounds of the O-te-sa-ga, and a third at the foot of Nelson Avenue.]

[Footnote 46: Lieut. Beatty's journal.]

[Footnote 47: Lieut. McKendry's journal.]

[Footnote 48: History of Schoharie County, 299.]

[Footnote 49: Journal of Lieut. William McKendry, of the 6th Mass. Reg't, of which he was Quartermaster.]

[Footnote 50: Pathfinders of the Revolution, William Elliott Griffis, p. 95. Sullivan's Indian Expedition, p. 386.]

[Footnote 51: McKendry's journal.]

[Footnote 52: The Old New York Frontier, p. 283.]

[Footnote 53: Chronicles of Cooperstown.]

[Footnote 54: History of Cooperstown, Livermore, p. 17. The Freeman's Journal, Oct. 31, 1825.]

[Footnote 55: Otsego Farmer, Sept. 6, 1901.]



On an autumn day in the year 1785 a solitary horseman might have been seen emerging from the forest near Otsego Lake. The old-fashioned novelist who invented the "solitary horseman" as a means of introducing a romance could not have found a better use for his favorite phrase than to describe the approach of this visitor. For with his coming the history of Cooperstown began. Following the trail from Cherry Valley, the horseman came over the hill which rises toward the east from the foot of Otsego Lake. Before descending into the vale, he dismounted and climbed a sapling, in order to gain a glimpse beyond the dense screen of intervening trees. From this elevation he looked down upon an enchanting view of glimmering waters and wooded shores. While he gazed, a deer came forth from the woods near Otsego Rock and slaked its thirst in the liquid that flamed with the reflected red and gold of autumnal foliage. The beauty of this first view always lingered in the heart of William Cooper, and the hill from which he gained it he afterward called "the Vision," in memory of his first impression. To this day the hill is known as "Mount Vision."

In a letter written some years afterwards, William Cooper thus describes his venture into this region:

In 1785 I visited the rough and hilly country of Otsego, where there existed not an inhabitant, nor any trace of a road; I was alone, three hundred miles from home, without bread, meat, or food of any kind; fire and fishing tackle were my only means of subsistence. I caught trout in the brook and roasted them in the ashes. My horse fed on the grass that grew by the edge of the waters. I laid me down to sleep in my watch coat, nothing but the melancholy Wilderness around me. In this way I explored the country, formed my plans of future settlement, and meditated upon the spot where a place of trade or a village should afterward be established.[56]

The Cooper family had settled in America in 1679, coming from Buckingham, in England, and for a century made their home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. William Cooper was born in Byberry township, Pennsylvania, December 2, 1754. He afterward became a resident of Burlington, New Jersey, where he married Elizabeth Fenimore, daughter of Richard Fenimore, whose family came from Oxfordshire, in England.

William Cooper was associated with Andrew Craig, also of Burlington, in acquiring the title of the Otsego tract of land which Croghan had mortgaged to William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin, and had lost under foreclosures in 1773. In January, 1786, Cooper took possession of that portion of the Croghan tract which has since been known as Cooper's patent, under a deed given by the sheriff of Montgomery county, which had been set off from Tryon county, and included the later Otsego. The patent included 29,350 acres, and cost the new proprietors, to obtain it, about fifty cents an acre. Cooper bought out his partner's share in the tract, and soon became sole owner.

It is characteristic of Cooper's energy that he began the settlement of his land in the midst of winter, and had many families resident upon it before the snow had melted, in the spring of 1786. Deeds were given to Israel Guild and several others, who, during the summer, established themselves on spots that are now within the limits of the village of Cooperstown. These places were originally intended as farms, the village having been planned to extend from the lake in a narrow strip southward, rather than across the valley, as its later growth actually determined.

Besides the blockhouse built by Croghan on a site included in the present Cooper Grounds, a log house at this period stood near the corner of Main and River streets, and was occupied by a Mrs. Johnson, a widow, who, with her family, was among the first residents. Near her home she constructed a frame house, the first to be erected in the place. It was purchased by William Ellison, a surveyor, who, during the summer of 1786, removed it to a position near the outlet of the lake, on what are now the grounds of Edgewater. The building was of good size, having two stories, and was used as a tavern until it was pulled down in 1810, when Edgewater was built. In June, 1786, John Miller came, and reaching the bank of the river near the outlet on the east side, felled a large pine across the stream to answer the purpose of a bridge. The stump of this tree was for many years a relic within the grounds of Lakelands. There was a small colony of settlers during this summer, and William Cooper himself came once or twice in the course of the season; but none passed the succeeding winter within the village plot except Israel Guild, who had taken possession of the blockhouse, William Ellison at his tavern, and Mrs. Johnson in her hut of logs.

In the spring of 1787 Cooper arrived, accompanied by his wife, who came, however, only for a short visit. They reached the head of the lake in a chaise, and descended to the foot in a canoe. Mrs. Cooper felt so much alarm during this passage that she disliked returning in a boat, and the chaise was brought to the foot of the lake, astride two canoes, for her homeward journey. Mrs. Cooper's timidity occasioned the building of the first real bridge across the Susquehanna, an improvement which had already been contemplated as a public service. The road beyond the bridge was so rude, and difficult to pass, that when the chaise left the village men accompanied it with ropes, to prevent it from upsetting.

During the spring and summer of 1787 many settlers arrived, a good part of them from Connecticut; and most of the land on the patent was taken up. Several small log tenements were constructed on the site of the village, and the permanent residents numbered about twenty souls. Meantime Cooper had been extending his holdings in adjacent patents, until he had the settlement of a large part of the present county more or less subject to his control. In other parts of the State also he came to own or control large areas of land, until, toward the end of his life, he had "settled more acres than any man in America."

Early in 1788, Cooper erected a house for his own residence. Aside from the log huts it was the second dwelling erected in the place. It stood on Main Street at the present entrance of the Cooper Grounds, looking down Fair Street, and commanding a view of the full length of the lake. The building was of two stories, with two wings. It is represented on the original map of the village, where it is marked "Manor House." This house was removed a short distance down the street in 1799, on the completion of Otsego Hall, William Cooper's second residence in Cooperstown, and was destroyed by fire in 1812.

In 1788 John Howard came, and established a tannery on the north side of Lake Street west of Pioneer Street, near the waters of Willow Brook, which there gurgles to the lake. Howard, who was distinguished as the father of the first child born in the settlement, afterward became captain of the local militia, and is commemorated as a hero in Christ churchyard, where his epitaph recites that he was drowned, July 13, 1799:

"Striving another's life to save He sunk beneath the swelling wave."

It was in the summer of 1788 that William Cooper made a definite plan for the village. Three streets were laid out running south from the lake, and six streets that crossed them at right angles. The street along the margin of the lake was called Front Street (now Lake Street), and the others parallel to it were numbered from Second (the present Main Street) up to Sixth. Of the streets running south, that next to the river was called Water Street (now River Street), and that at the opposite side of the plot, West Street, which is the present Pioneer Street. The parallel street between these two was divided by the Cooper Grounds; the section near the lake was called Fair Street, while south of the Cooper Grounds it was known as Main Street. This last never gained the importance which its name seemed to demand, and is now known as part of Fair Street. The map showing the original plan of the village is dated September 26, 1788.

Aside from the Foot of the Lake, as the settlement was sometimes called, it was known as Cooperton, and Cooperstown,[57] until 1791, when the latter name came into general use, on the designation of this village as the county seat of the newly created Otsego county.

The settlers upon Cooper's tract were mostly poor people, and it happened that their first efforts were followed by a season of dearth. In the winter of 1788-9, grain rose in Albany to a price before unknown. The demand swept all the granaries of the Mohawk country, and a famine aggravated the privations of the Otsego settlers. In the month of April, Cooper arrived with several loads of provisions intended for his own use and that of the laborers he had brought with him; but in a few days all was gone, and there remained not one pound of salt meat, nor a single biscuit. Many were reduced to such distress as to live upon the root of wild leeks; some, more fortunate, lived upon milk, whilst others found nourishment in a syrup made of maple sugar and water. The quantity of leeks eaten by the people had such an effect upon their breath that they could be smelled at many paces distant, and when they came together there was an odor as from cattle that had been pastured in a field of garlic. "Judge of my feelings at this epoch," wrote Cooper, "with two hundred families about me, and not a morsel of bread."

"A singular event seemed sent by a good Providence to our relief," Cooper's letter continues; "it was reported to me that unusual shoals of fish were seen moving in the clear waters of the Susquehanna. I went, and was surprised to find that they were herrings. We made something like a small net, by the interweaving of twigs, and by this rude and simple contrivance we were able to take them in thousands. In less than ten days each family had an ample supply, with plenty of salt. I also obtained from the Legislature, then in session, seventeen hundred bushels of corn."

Those who settled the first farms in the Otsego region had not the means of clearing more than a small spot in the midst of thick and lofty woods, so that their grain grew chiefly in the shade; their maize did not ripen; their wheat was blasted; and for the grinding of what little they gathered there was no mill within twenty miles, while few were owners of horses. Some walked to the mill at Canajoharie, twenty-five miles away, carrying their grist on their shoulders.

William Cooper, after coming to live here, realized that the situation of the settlers was precarious. He brought a stock of goods to the new settlement, and established a general store under Richard R. Smith, son of the Richard Smith who had visited Croghan at Otsego Lake twenty years before. Cooper also erected a storehouse, and filled it with large quantities of grain purchased at distant places. He borrowed potash kettles, which he brought here, and established potash works among the inhabitants. He obtained on credit a large number of sugar kettles. By these means he was able to exchange provisions and tools for the labor of the settlers, giving them credit for their maple sugar and potash, until in the first year he had collected in one mass forty-three hogsheads of sugar, and three hundred barrels of pot and pearl ash, worth about nine thousand dollars. These industries held the colonists together.

Cooper collected the people at convenient seasons, and under his leadership they constructed such roads and bridges as were then suited to their purposes. Perhaps it was at this time that Cooper devised the cunning method which he afterward confided to William Sampson: "A few quarts of liquor, cheerfully bestowed, will open a road, or build a bridge, which would cost, if done by contract, hundreds of dollars."

In 1789 Cooper set up at his newly finished Manor House a frontier establishment that became famous for its hospitality. For a year before bringing his family from Burlington he kept bachelor's hall, and the festive joys of the place were long memorable among all lovers of good cheer. Shipman, the Leather-Stocking of the region, could at almost any time furnish the table with a saddle of venison; the lake abounded with the most delicious fish; while the cellar of the Manor House was stored with the imprisoned sunshine of distant lands.

At Christmastide, in 1789, a house-party entertained by William Cooper celebrated the season with high revelry. Among the guests was Colonel Hendrik Frey, the boniface of Canajoharie, a famous fun-lover and merrymaker. A large lumber sleigh was fitted out, with four horses, and the whole party sallied forth for a morning drive upon the frozen lake. On the western bank of the lake resided, quite alone, a Frenchman known as Monsieur Ebbal, a former officer of the army of France, whose real title was said to be L'Abbe de Raffcourt.[58] Perceiving the sleigh and four nearing his house, this gentleman, with the courtesy of his nation, went forth upon the ice to greet the party in a manner befitting the pomp of its approach. Cooper cordially invited the Frenchman to join him, promising him plenty of game, with copious libations of Madeira, by way of inducement. Though a good table companion in general, no persuasion could prevail on M. Ebbal to accept this sudden invitation, until, provoked by his obstinacy, the party laid violent hands on him, and brought him to the village by force.

The unwilling guest took his captivity in good part, and was soon as buoyant and gay as any of his companions. He habitually wore a long-skirted surtout, or overcoat, which at that time was almost the mark of a Frenchman, and this he pertinaciously refused to lay aside, even when he took his seat at table. On the contrary, he kept it buttoned to the very throat, as if in defiance of his captors. The Christmas joke, a plentiful board, and heavy potations, however, threw the guest off his guard. Warmed with wine and the blazing fire of logs, he incautiously unbuttoned; when his delighted companions discovered that the accidents of the frontier, the establishment of a bachelor who kept no servant, and certain irregularities in washing days, together with the sudden abduction of his person, had induced the gallant Frenchman to come abroad without his shirt. He was uncased on the spot, amid the shouts of the merrymakers, and incontinently put into linen. "Cooper was so polite," added the mirth-loving Hendrik Frey, as he used to tell the story for many years afterward, "that he supplied a shirt with ruffles at the wristbands, which made Ebbal very happy for the rest of the night. Mein Gott, how his hands did go, after he got the ruffles!"[59]

In the summer of 1790 the house at the northwest corner of Main and River streets was erected by Benjamin Griffin. It now survives as the oldest house in the village. Not long after its erection the house became the residence of the Rev. John Frederick Ernst, the Lutheran minister who came here in connection with the work of the projected seminary at Hartwick; and for many years the old cottage was the homestead of the Ernst family.[60]

In this year William Cooper decided to give up his residence in New Jersey, and to bring his family to Cooperstown for their permanent home. Accordingly he returned to Burlington, and early in the autumn completed arrangements for the transportation of his family and belongings to Otsego. Only in one quarter did he find any opposition to his project, but that opposition was serious. His wife positively refused to go.

Three years before, Mrs. Cooper had had a brief experience of the new settlement. She remembered the tippy boat, the rough pioneers, and the carriage that had to be steadied with ropes as it careened through the woods. In Burlington there was a well-established society, congenial friends, an atmosphere of culture, and such comforts as civilization was then able to afford. Mrs. Cooper had no mind to exchange her residence in Burlington for the wild uncertainties of life in the wilderness; and so with the conveyance ready and waiting at the door, and with her husband pleading, she sat firmly in the chair at the desk in the library of her Burlington home, and positively refused to budge.

Mrs. Cooper was a strong-minded woman, but William Cooper was a stronger-minded man. He seized the chair, with his wife seated in it, and putting her aboard the wagon, chair and all, began the long journey to Otsego. Thus William Cooper carried his point, while his wife also carried hers, for she travelled the whole distance in the chair from which she vowed she would not move. The chair itself, sacred to the memory of two strong minds, is still in use in the Cooper family.

This journey had much to do with the shaping of another mind which was not at the time consulted or considered. For Mrs. Cooper brought with her the baby boy of the household, thirteen months old, whose whole life, because of this change of residence, was cast in a new mould. This child was called James, but in later years he adopted also his mother's family name, so that he honored both father and mother in the fame which he gave to the name of James Fenimore Cooper. All his first impressions, he said long afterward, were obtained in the Otsego region. It is to be doubted whether Fenimore Cooper would have gained such wide celebrity as a novelist if he had not discovered the unique field of romance which the lake and hills of Otsego began to open to his vision. Had Fenimore Cooper remained in Burlington he might have written good novels, but not The Leather-Stocking Tales, for which he is most renowned. So that when William Cooper took up his residence in Otsego, he not only became the founder of a town, but he brought to the town the founder of American romance.


[Footnote 56: A Guide in the Wilderness, a series of letters to William Sampson, published in Dublin, 1810, reprinted by James Fenimore Cooper, grandson of the novelist, 1897.]

[Footnote 57: The names "Cooper" and "Cooperstown" are pronounced by the Cooper family and by natives of the village with a short oo, as in the word book, not as in moon.]

[Footnote 58: Ebbal is L'Abbe, spelled backward. His last years were spent near New Berlin, beside a lonely waterfall, where he had a flower garden, and kept bees. His grave was four miles south of New Berlin, until relatives came and removed his remains to France.]

[Footnote 59: The account of this incident is quoted from Fenimore Cooper's Chronicles of Cooperstown.]

[Footnote 60: In his Chronicles of Cooperstown, (1838), Fenimore Cooper says, "The house standing at the southeast corner of Second and Water streets, [now called Main and River street], and which for the last forty years has belonged to the Ernst family, was erected this summer [1790] by Mr. Benjamin Griffin. It is now the second oldest house in the village." Cooper had already referred to the house of Israel Guild, erected in 1788, as the oldest house standing in the village (in 1838). Guild's house was burned in the fire of 1862, and therefore the house erected by Griffin has been, ever since that time, the oldest house. By some inadvertence, Cooper incorrectly designated the location of the Griffin house. He placed it at the southeast corner of Main and River streets, when he meant to say northwest. That Cooper writing of what was perfectly familiar to him, should have overlooked so palpable an error, seems most improbable; yet that he did so is now beyond doubt, although for many years his authority was cited to disprove the claims of the oldest house in Cooperstown. At the time of Cooper's writing, the house standing nearest to the southeast corner of Main and River streets, afterward torn down, had been built by Richard Cooper, and never had belonged to the Ernst family. Furthermore, in a letter dated May 23, 1805, Rev. John Frederick Ernst, in reply to an inquiry concerning the location of his property in Cooperstown, wrote to his son—"Here is a copy from the deed: 'The house-lot—being the northwest corner of Water Street and Second Street, is seventy-five feet front on the said streets, and seventy-five feet in rear on the west and north by [then] vacant lots, belonging [then both] to Wm. Cooper, Esq.'" It is clear that this is the same property which Fenimore Cooper, by some slip, described as being at the southeast corner. Some of the earlier charts of Cooperstown were drawn with the lake front at the bottom of the map, for convenience of reference, thus reversing the north and south of the usual cartography. It may plausibly be conjectured that Cooper had one of these maps before him as he wrote, and unthinkingly recorded, in this instance, its transposed points of the compass. This labored exposition of a small matter would be an inexcusable pedantry, except that the location of the oldest house in the village is of particular interest.]



The county of Otsego was formed February 16, 1791, being carved out of Montgomery county. Cooperstown was designated as the county seat, and William Cooper was appointed the first judge of the county court. A court-house and jail was built at the southeast corner of Main and Pioneer streets, the lower story, of logs, being used as a prison, and the upper story, of framed work, as court room. A tavern was erected on the same lot, and contained the jury rooms, conveniently near to the sources of refreshment.

During the summer of this year the Red Lion Tavern[61] was erected at the southwest corner of Main and Pioneer streets, and was kept by Major Joseph Griffin. It projected more than half way across Main Street, and at that time marked the western limit of the village. For more than three score years and ten, even after the village grew westward beyond it, this projecting building gave a unique character to the main street, intercepted all thirsty wayfarers, and held an important place in the life of the community. Its first crude sign, representing a red lion rampant, was painted by Richard R. Smith,[62] the first storekeeper of the village, and first sheriff of the county.

Judge Cooper was the lord of the manor, as it were, in the new community, yet maintained a relation of comradeship with the settlers. Enjoying the friendship of some of the most eminent men of his time, himself superior in intelligence and culture to most of his local contemporaries, Cooper had qualities that won the affection and loyalty of the sturdy pioneers. It is characteristic of him that he once offered a lot, consisting of one hundred and fifty acres of land, to any man on the patent who could throw him in a wrestling match. The wrestling took place in front of the Red Lion Inn. One contestant was finally successful, and the land was duly conveyed to the victor. It is possible that some of the lots owned by Judge Cooper were of no great value, for it is related that when his eldest son was showing the sights of New York to the youngster of the family he took him to a pasty shop, and after watching the boy eat pasty after pasty said, "Jim, eat all you want, but remember that each one costs the old man a lot."

Some idea of the position that the "old man" occupied in the village which he founded may be gained from the novel that the eater of the pasties afterward entitled The Pioneers. In this book, while historical accuracy is disclaimed, Judge Temple is easily identified as an idealized Judge Cooper, and a faithful picture of life in the early village may be recognized; for, as the author says in his introduction, while the incidents of the tale are purely fiction, "the literal facts are chiefly connected with the natural and artificial objects, and the customs of the inhabitants." The village of Templeton, in the novel, is the Cooperstown of reality in its early days. The spirit of the times, and the character of the men who lived here are thus distinctly reflected in the placid current of Fenimore Cooper's first Leather-Stocking tale. At the present day the personal appearance of Judge Cooper himself is vividly recalled from the past through the existence of three portraits, one by Gilbert Stuart, one by Copley, and a third by an unknown artist. From these likenesses one gains an impression of his kindly gray eye, firm countenance, and robust figure. His keen sense of humor relieved the strain of many a hardship in the life of the frontier, for he is remembered as "noble-looking, warm-hearted, and witty, with a deep laugh, sweet voice, and fine rich eye, as he used to lighten the way with his anecdotes and fun."

During the twenty-five years that followed the close of the Revolutionary War, Judge Cooper was a speculator in lands on a large scale, and was steadily engaged in the settlement of the tracts which he owned and those in which he had a joint interest with others. His judgment concerning land values was keen and far-sighted. That he was not infallible is shown by his payment of ten dollars an acre for land in the North Woods which is hardly worth a quarter of that price to-day. On the other hand, in February, 1803, he bought the town of De Kalb, in St. Lawrence county, about 64,000 acres, for the sum of $62,720, and within three months had sold 56,886 acres for $112,226. It was for successful ventures of this sort that Judge Cooper became widely known, and was brought into correspondence with foreign investors, such as Necker and Madame de Stael, who appear to have become owners of lands, through Cooper, in the northern counties of New York.

Much of Cooper's success in the settlement of new lands was owing to his system of selling to settlers on the installment plan, instead of binding tenants to the payment of perpetual rent, as some proprietors of great estates attempted to do, involving endless litigation and the "anti-rent war."

Judge Cooper's friendly relation to the settlers extended, in many instances, to the relief of individual needs by loans of money, which was not always repaid. One of the French settlers, often a guest at Judge Cooper's house, borrowed of him fifty dollars. As time went on Judge Cooper noticed that his debtor's visits became less and less frequent, until finally they ceased. Meeting the man one day, he remonstrated with him, telling him that so small a matter should not cause him annoyance, and urging him not to allow it to interfere with his visits at the Cooper homestead. The Frenchman, however, felt that the fifty dollars weighed heavily on his honor, and that he could not partake of the Judge's hospitality until the debt was paid. Not long afterward Judge Cooper saw his debtor approaching him with every manifestation of joy, waving his hat, and shouting, "Judge Cooper! Judge Cooper! My mother is dead! My mother is dead! I pay you the fifty dollars."

Before the close of his career Judge Cooper had amassed a large fortune. After having been engaged for twenty years in the improvement of lands he declared that the work which he had undertaken for the sole purpose of promoting his interest had become fastened upon him by habit, and remained as the principal source of his pleasure and recreation. Within this period the settlement which he began at Otsego Lake reached a high degree of prosperity. "This was the first settlement I made," writes Judge Cooper, "and the first attempted after the Revolution; it was, of course, attended with the greatest difficulties; nevertheless, to its success many others have owed their origin."

Judge Cooper's political career reflects another aspect of pioneer life in the new settlements. Besides his election as first judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Otsego county, an office which he held from 1791 to 1800, he was elected to Congress in 1795, and again in 1799. The Otsego Herald of June 23, 1796, describes the reception given by the people of the village to Judge Cooper on his return from Congress. When it was known that his carriage was nearing the village, a mounted escort went forth to meet him on the road that skirted Mount Vision, and when the procession crossed the bridge and entered the main street it passed through "a double row of citizens" assembled to greet the congressman, while "sixteen cannon" roared a welcome.

Judge Cooper was a prominent member of the Federalist party, and devoted much of his time to its cause. He was on intimate terms with its leaders, and in constant correspondence with many of them. Although the franchise, at this period, was restricted by a property qualification, and the voters were comparatively few, the interest in politics entered largely into the life of all the inhabitants, and the political enthusiasm was unlimited. The polls could be kept open five days, to accommodate all who desired to vote, and as there was no secret ballot the excitement during elections was constant and intense. Nearly every elector seems to have been a politician, and the letters of the time are full of politics and party animosity. The shout of battle still resounds in the title of a little book published by Elihu Phinney in 1796: "The Political Wars of Otsego: or, Downfall of Jacobinism and Despotism; Being a Collection of Pieces, lately published in the Otsego Herald. To which is added, an Address to the Citizens of the United States; and extracts from Jack Tar's Journals, kept on board the ship Liberty, containing a summary account of her Origin, Builders, Materials, Use—and her Dangerous Voyage from the lowlands of Cape Monarchy to the Port of Free Representative Government. By the author of the Plough-Jogger."[63]

In the political correspondence of Judge Cooper and his contemporaries there are frequent complaints of fraud, and of the influence and prominence of foreigners, especially the Irish, with grave expressions of fear for the future of the country and the stability of property. The Federalists describe themselves as "friends of order," and refer to their opponents as "anti-Christians," and "enemies of the country." One of Judge Cooper's friends who had removed to Philadelphia writes: "We are busy about electing a senator in the state legislature. The contest is between B. R. M.——, a gentleman, and consequently a Federalist, and a dirty stinking anti-federal Jew tavern-keeper called I. I——. But, Judge, the friends to order here don't understand the business, they are uniformly beaten, we used to order these things better at Cooperstown."

It is evident that Judge Cooper had gained some reputation for his skill in electioneering in Otsego county. Philip Schuyler, writing to Judge Cooper of the election of 1791, says: "I believe fasting and prayer to be good, but if you had only fasted and prayed I am sure we should not have had seven hundred votes from your country—report says that you was very civil to the young and handsome of the sex, that you flattered the old and ugly, and even embraced the toothless and decrepid, in order to obtain votes. When will you write a treatise on electioneering? Whenever you do, afford only a few copies to your friends."

Judge Cooper's chief political opponent in the county was Jedediah Peck, who settled in Burlington, Otsego county, in 1790, a man of an entirely different type from Judge Cooper, yet equally famous in the political life of the times. Coarse and uneducated, Peck overcame all disadvantages by his shrewdness, intellectual power, and great natural ability. He gained much influence with the people of the county by his homely skill as a traveling preacher, going about distributing tracts, and preaching wherever he could gather an audience. He was an aggressive supporter of the political views and administrative policies of Thomas Jefferson, and violently antagonized the Federalists of the county, who were under the leadership of Judge Cooper. This opposition culminated during the administration of President Adams in 1798, when Peck was arrested under the Alien and Sedition Act for circulating petitions against that Act. He was indicted and taken to New York in irons, but was never brought to trial, and upon the repeal of the Act was discharged. Peck's arrest and imprisonment fastened attention upon him, and, together with his continued denunciation of the federal administration, made him the recognized leader of the Republican (Jeffersonian) party of Otsego county, so that he dictated its policy and nominations for many years thereafter. Indeed, the overthrow of the Federal party in this State, with the consequent success of Jefferson in the presidential canvass, is attributed to the excitement and indignation aroused by the spectacle of this little dried up man, one-eyed but kindly in expression and venerable, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, being transported through the State in the custody of federal officials, and manacled, the latter an unnecessary and outrageous indignity.

Jedediah Peck was a member of Assembly from 1798 to 1804, and State Senator until 1808. Although looked up to by multitudes as the political leader of his time, Peck was noted at Albany for his shabbiness of dress. He wore coarse boots, which he never blackened. On one occasion, on the eve of an important debate, some wag at the tavern blackened one of Peck's boots. Peck, in dressing for the fray, did not recognize the shining boot, and having put on one began to search high and low for the other. At last, enlightened by the laughter of his comrades, he drew on the polished boot, and with his feet thus ill-matched strode into the Assembly chamber, where he delivered one of his most powerful speeches.

For many years Jedediah Peck unsuccessfully urged a bill for the abolition of imprisonment for debt, which was later adopted. His most permanent and valuable contribution to the welfare of posterity was the scheme for the common school system of the State, which he had long advocated, and of which, as chairman of the five commissioners appointed by the Governor in 1811, he became the author.[64]

Some of the asperities of political life in the early days of Otsego county may be inferred from certain affidavits, printed copies of which, such as were apparently used as campaign documents, were found among Judge Cooper's papers, endorsed in his handwriting, "Oath how I whipped Cochran." The Cochran referred to was a political opponent.

Jessie Hyde, of the town of Warren, being duly sworn, saith, that on the sixteenth day of October in the year 1799, he this deponent, did see James Cochran make an assault upon one William Cooper in the public highway. That the said William Cooper defended himself, and in the struggle Mr. Cochran, in a submissive manner, requested of Judge Cooper to let him go.

Jessie Hyde.

Sworn this sixteenth day of October, 1799, before me Richard Edwards, Master in Chancery Otsego County. SS.

Personally appeared Stephen Ingalls, one of the constables of the town of Otsego, and being duly sworn, deposeth and saith, that he was present at the close of a bruising match between James Cochran Esq., and William Cooper Esq., on or about the sixteenth of October last, when the said James Cochran confessed to the said William Cooper these words: "I acknowledge you are too much of a buffer for me," at which time it was understood, as this deponent conceives, that Cochran was confessedly beaten.

Stephen Ingalls.

Sworn before me this sixth day of November, 1799, Joshua Dewey, Justice of the Peace.

The same incident, viewed from another angle, appears in a letter written by the Rev. John Frederick Ernst to his son in Albany, and dated at Cooperstown, October 20, 1799.

"There is nothing of any particular news here, except that a Mr. Cochran, late member of Congress, in whose place I. Cooper is now elected, came here last week, and on one of the court-days, with a great deal of brass had the impertinence to assault our honorable Wm. Cooper in the street, & to give him a Cowskinning—because, as it is reported, he should have told lies about Cochran. As both fell a clinging & beating one another Mr. Mason stepped between and parted them."

Still another account of the episode is given by Levi Beardsley. He says that the trouble arose over Cochran's use of his fiddle during a political campaign. Cochran stayed over night at Canandaigua, and when a dance was got up, he obliged and amused the company by fiddling for them. He beat Judge Cooper at the election for Congress, but whether from the influence of music and dancing it is now too late to inquire. However, it was alleged that Judge Cooper had either published or remarked that Cochran had been through the district with his violin, and had fiddled himself into office. This came to Cochran's ear and brought him from Montgomery county to Cooperstown. He came on horseback, and arrived while Judge Cooper was presiding as judge of the court of common pleas. As Cooper issued from the court house, Cochran met him, and after alluding to the election, informed the Judge that he had come from the Mohawk to chastise him for the insult. When Cooper remarked that Cochran could not be in earnest the latter replied by a cut with his cowskin. Cooper then closed with his adversary, but Cochran being a large, strong man they were pretty well matched for the scuffle. They were separated by friends, and Cochran was afterward fined a small amount for breach of the peace.[65]

At the early organization of the county there was considerable strife between Cooperstown and Cherry Valley in regard to the location of public buildings. It is said that Judge Cooper playfully remarked that the court house should be placed in Cooperstown, the jail in Newtown Martin (Middlefield), and the gallows in Cherry Valley.[66]

When Judge Cooper began holding court in Cooperstown in 1791 a number of lawyers were attracted to the county seat, the first to take up residence here being Abraham Ten Broeck of New Jersey, soon followed by Jacob G. Fonda of Schenectady. Ten Broeck was the original of Van der School, the parenthetical lawyer in The Pioneers, his compositions having been remarkable for parentheses. A year later two others of the legal profession were added to the village community, Joseph Strong, and Moss Kent, brother of the celebrated Chancellor Kent. Dr. Nathaniel Gott and Dr. Farnsworth coming at about the same time gave the villagers a choice among three physicians, Dr. Thomas Fuller being the senior in practice. The development of Cooperstown as a trading centre brought Peter Ten Broeck and several other merchants here in 1791, followed shortly afterward by Rensselaer Williams and Richard Williams of New Jersey, whose collateral descendants are still identified with the village.

The early shopkeepers of Cooperstown included some who had been engaged in more distinguished callings. A merchant who excited the most lively curiosity among the settlers was a Frenchman known as Mr. Le Quoy who kept a small grocery store in the village, and seemed to be altogether superior to such an occupation. After much speculation concerning his past the village was set agog by an incident which accidentally brought to light the story of his career. Among the early settlers in Otsego county was a French gentleman named Louis de Villers, who, in 1793, happened to be in Cooperstown at a time when a fellow countryman named Renouard, who afterward settled in the county, had recently reached the place. Renouard, who was a seaman, and an incessant user of tobacco, found himself out of his favorite weed, and his first concern was to inquire of de Villers where tobacco might be purchased in the village. De Villers directed him to the shop kept by Le Quoy, saying that he would help a compatriot by making his purchase there. In a few minutes Renouard returned from the shop, pale and agitated.

"What is it? Are you unwell?" inquired de Villers.

"In the name of God," burst out Renouard, "who is the man that sold me this tobacco?"

"Mr. Le Quoy, a countryman of ours."

"Yes, Mr. Le Quoy de Mersereau."

"I know nothing about the 'de Mersereau'; he calls himself Le Quoy. Do you know anything of him?"

"When I went to Martinique to be port captain of St. Pierre," answered Renouard, "this man was the civil governor of the island, and refused to confirm my appointment."

Subsequent inquiry confirmed this story, Le Quoy explaining that the influence of a lady stood in the way of Renouard's preferment. Le Quoy had been driven from Martinique by the French Revolution, and his choice of Cooperstown as a retreat came about through a friendly office which he had performed, while governor of the island, in liberating one of the ships of John Murray & Sons of New York. The act brought about an exchange of civilities between the head of this firm and Le Quoy, so that when the latter came to New York, desiring to invest in a country store until his fortunes should revive, Murray referred him to his friend Judge Cooper, under whose advice the Frenchman established himself in Cooperstown. He at length made his peace with the new French government, and, closing his grocery in Cooperstown, was ultimately restored to his office as civil governor of Martinique.[67] He appears as one of the characters in Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Pioneers.

The house on Lake Street known as Averell Cottage was erected in 1793, the central part of it, with chimneys at each end, constituting the original structure. It has ever since been in possession of lineal descendants of the first owner, James Averell, Jr. James Averell settled on the patent in 1787, and in 1792 exchanged his farm for John Howard's tannery on Lake Street just west of Pioneer Street.

In 1794 a state road was laid out between Albany and Cooperstown. This road came over Mount Vision and descended toward the village by a route that may still be traced down the hillside from Prospect Rock. Cooperstown was then first included in a post route, and a post office was opened in the village, with Joseph Griffin as postmaster. The mail arrived weekly for some years; it then came twice a week; then thrice. The daily mail was not established until 1821.

The arrival of the mail was something of a ceremony in the early days of Cooperstown. Toward evening the sound of the postman's horn was faintly heard as he rounded the slopes of Mount Vision; the blasts grew louder as he descended the hill and approached the village; then the thunder of the four post-horses as they crossed the bridge was heard, and the postman drew up with a flourish at the post office, where the villagers had gathered to await the news of the outer world. The Otsego Herald publishes a letter from an indignant citizen, complaining that the mails were opened in a bar-room. Since the first postmaster was also a tavern keeper, the charge was probably true.

Among the new houses built in 1796 was one that has survived to the present time, and stands on Main Street adjoining the Second National Bank on the east. This house, distinguished for the quaint beauty of its doorway, was first occupied by Rensselaer and Richard Williams. At about this time the Academy was erected on the hill at the corner of Pioneer and Church streets, where the Universalist church now stands. It was "65-1/2 feet long, 32 wide, and 25 feet posts," while the summit of its belfry was seventy feet high. It was erected by public subscription, at a cost of about $1,450. "It was one of those tasteless buildings that afflict all new countries," says Fenimore Cooper, "and contained two school rooms below, a passage and the stairs; while the upper story was in a single room."

The first school in the village had been opened a year or two earlier by Joshua Dewey, a graduate of Yale, who taught Fenimore Cooper his A B C's. He was succeeded as village schoolmaster by Oliver Cory. The latter assumed charge of the new Academy. The school exhibitions of this institution in which Brutus and Cassius figured in hats of the cut of 1776, blue coats faced with red, of no cut at all, and matross swords, were long afterward the subject of mirth in the village. Fenimore Cooper, at one time a pupil in the Academy, took part in a school exhibition, and at the age of eight years became the pride of Master Cory for his moving recitation of the "Beggar's Petition"—acting the part of an old man wrapped in a faded cloak and leaning on his staff.

A reminiscence of old Academy days is connected with the first considerable musical instrument in the village. Judge Cooper had brought from Philadelphia a large mechanical organ of imposing appearance, which he placed in the hall of the Manor House. When the organ was first put up and adjusted a rehearsal of country dances, reels, and more serious music, was enjoyed not only by the family gathered to hear it, but the loud tones floated from the windows and into the school room of the Academy in the next street. As the strains of Hail Columbia poured into the school room, Master Cory skillfully met a moment of open rebellion with these words: "Boys, that organ is a remarkable instrument. You never heard the like of it before. I give you half an hour's intermission. Go into the street and listen to the music."[68]

The Academy, containing at that time the largest room in the village, was as much used for other purposes as for those of education. The court, on great occasions, was sometimes held here. It was used impartially for religious meetings and for balls. The Free Masons of the village, who had secured a charter for Otsego Lodge in 1795, held a religious service, followed by dinner, and a ball, in the Academy, on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, December 27, 1796. Of this occasion Jacob Morris writes, "The brilliancy exhibited at Cooperstown last Tuesday—the Masonic festival—was the admiration and astonishment of all beholders. Upwards of eighty people sat down to one table—some very excellent toasts were drunk and the greatest decency and decorum was observed.... In the evening we had a splendid ball, sixty couple, thirty in a set, both sets on the floor at the same time, pleasant manners and good dancing."

A centre of convivial resort at this period was the Blue Anchor tavern, which was established as a rival of the Red Lion inn, and diagonally across the way from it, at the northeast corner of Main and Pioneer streets. The Blue Anchor, according to Fenimore Cooper, was for many years in much request "among all the genteeler portion of the travelers." Its host was William Cook, from whom the character of Ben Pump, in The Pioneers, was drawn, a man of singular humors, great heartiness of character, and perfect integrity. He had been the steward of an English East-Indianman, and enjoyed an enviable reputation in the village for his skill in mixing punch and flip. On holidays, a stranger would have been apt to mistake him for one of the magnates of the land, as he invariably appeared in a drab coat of the style of 1776 with buttons as large as dollars, breeches, striped stockings, buckles that covered half his foot, and a cocked hat large enough to extinguish him. The landlord of the Blue Anchor was a general favorite; his laugh and his pious oaths became famous.

In 1796 Judge Cooper commenced the construction of his new residence, Otsego Hall, which he completed and began to occupy, in June, 1799. The new house stood near the centre of what are now known as the Cooper Grounds, on the site marked by the statue of the Indian Hunter. Otsego Hall was for many years the largest private residence in the newer parts of the State, and remained as the finest building in the village until it was destroyed by fire in 1852. It is said to have been originally of the exact proportions of the van Rensselaer Manor House at Albany, where Judge Cooper was a frequent visitor.

On one occasion, in early days, when Judge Cooper was away from home, fire broke out in the Hall, and an alarm given by the neighbors brought the volunteer fire department to the scene. Mrs. Cooper firmly took charge of the situation. Locking the doors of the house she called out to the servants, "You look out for the fire, and I'll attend to the fire department!" With this she poured hot water from a second-story window upon the firemen, and quickly drove them away.


[Footnote 61: "The Bold Dragoon" of Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Pioneers.]

[Footnote 62: The original of Richard Jones, in The Pioneers.]

[Footnote 63: Plough-Jogger was the pseudonym of Jedediah Peck.]

[Footnote 64: Address at Cooperstown Centennial, Walter H. Bunn.]

[Footnote 65: Reminiscences, Levi Beardsley, p. 89.]

[Footnote 66: Beardsley's Reminiscences.]

[Footnote 67: Chronicles of Cooperstown.]

[Footnote 68: James Fenimore Cooper, Mary E. Phillips, p. 26. The organ is now at Fynmere.]



Enough has been recorded to show the general character of Cooperstown as it existed at the close of the eighteenth century. A more intimate view of its life at this period is suggested by a package of faded letters, some of which are here printed, not as supplying historical data, for in this they are quite lacking, but because whoever reads them with imagination begins to breathe the atmosphere of the time of their writing, and in the charm of their feminine confidences discovers a side of frontier life that is not otherwise revealed.

The letters were written to Chloe Fuller, who visited in Cooperstown for some years at the home of Dr. Thomas Fuller. The doctor's wife before her marriage, although not related to him, had the same family name, and Chloe Fuller was her younger sister. Chloe Fuller became celebrated as a village belle, and it was said that she had more beaus in constant attendance than any other girl in Otsego. Dr. Fuller was a favorite with two generations of young men in the village, for he had also two young daughters, who, a few years later, became noted for their qualities of mind and daintiness of apparel. Eliza and Emma Fuller were blue-stockings who knew the value of pretty bonnets and gowns. In the early days of the Presbyterian church, the sabbath splendor of their entrance at divine service, always a little late, and with the necessity of being ushered to the very front pew, divided the devotion of the worshippers. Eliza Fuller became the wife of Judge Morehouse, and established the traditional hospitality of Woodside Hall.

Chloe Fuller married Trumbull Dorrance, a descendant of Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut, and her daughter, becoming the wife of John R. Worthington, was long identified with Cooperstown as mistress of the White House, the Worthington homestead built in 1802 on Main street. The letters belong to the period of Chloe Fuller's girlhood:


Albany, November 20th, 1798.

Believe me, my very dear Friend, that your letter by Mr. Williams afforded me great pleasure in the perusal, and it should most undoubtedly have been answered 'ere now had not I been deprived of opportunities; and at all events I must write by the good Man! I think the epithet you bestowed a very judicious one—but I really believe, Chloe, you have made a conquest there—when he delivered me your letter, 'It is from Miss Chloe,' said he with a (methought) significant smile.

I have been well ever since my departure. Now and then the involuntary sigh escapes when my imagination presents me Cooperstown, and some of its dear inhabitants! I already long to see you all. Oh! for an hour with your sister and you.

My dear Chloe, convince me that I am sometimes present to your memory by writing long and frequent letters. Don't wait for answers. Write whenever you find a conveyance; and I shall with pleasure follow your example.

'Tis past one o'clock. Let my writing at this late, or rather, early hour convince you that I wish to cultivate a correspondence with you. I must quit. So Good night, my friend. May Jove grant you pleasant dreams, and may Heavenly blessings enliven your waking hours is the wish of your sincerely affectionate Friend.



Albany, Novbr. 28th. 1798

Just before we sat down to Tea, Mr. French called and brought your letter. I immediately recognized the already well-known hand of my fondly remembered Friend. I was all impatience to open it, which out of politeness I dispensed with till his departure.

I was highly gratified with the perusal! Happy, my Chloe, should I esteem myself were it in my power to 'revive your drooping spirits'. But why, my dear Friend, are they drooping? What is the cause? Believe me, nothing but my friendship for you induces me to interrogate you so; and let me beg you in the name of friendship to answer me candidly. You may, my dear Friend, unbosom yourself to me. I shall sympathize with you and make your griefs mine. I wish you would write fully, and long letters. This time I will excuse you, but let me beg of you not to wait till an opportunity is going—but when you retire to your chamber think of Eliza, and dedicate a few moments to writing, since we can no longer chat together.

I am happy to hear you have found so agreeable an acquaintance as Miss Cooper. I doubt not but that I should like her. So you were a sleighing with the Doctor? Remember there are two Doctors in Cooperstown, and you leave me to conjecture which!

You would make me believe Mr. K.—— sometimes talks of me. I fear it is only when you remind him that there is such a person in existence.

Mr. Ten Broeck spent the evening with us. He brought me a letter from my Father. By his conversation I understand Mr. K.—— will not be in Albany this year!

The clock has already struck one; my eyes feel quite heavy; my writing will evince this. My best respects to the Miss Williams. I hope you are intimate with them. They are fine women! A close intimacy with them will convince you of this. Tell Mrs. Morgan, Delia, and all those whom love will make me remember, that I very frequently think of them. Good night! Pleasant dreams to you! I will endeavor to dream of you and some others in Cooperstown who are dear to the heart of

Your unfeigned Friend, ELIZA.

'Oh Night more pleasing than the fairest day: 'When Fancy gives, what Absence takes away!'

P. S. I have sent all over the City, but cannot procure any ingrained silks of the color you intended to work your shawl. Should you fancy any other, let me know, and I will with pleasure send it. Accept of this ribbon for the sake of Eliza, who wishes oft she was with you.


Friday night, December 28th, 1798. My dear Chloe,

Mr. Williams delivered me your short yet pleasing letter.... I hope you passed Christmas agreeably.... I can assure you I did, being favored with the company of Mr. K. and his sister. I regret that her stay in town is so short. Ever since her arrival my time has been so occupied that my moments for writing were few. Tis now late—they leave early in the morning—so you must accept a few lines this time. I have sent my little namesake a New Year's frock, which I beg your sister will let her accept of. The ribbon I before mentioned accompanies this. Good night—and Happy New Year to you all.

Write soon, and a long letter. Remember me to my friends, and think of

Yours affectionately and in great haste, ELIZA.


Albany, February 10, 1799.

Why, my dear Chloe, do you preserve this long silence? To forgetfulness of me, or want of affection I dare not impute it, for even the most distant idea of this is too painful. No, I will judge more favorably of my lovely Friend, and think want of time has been hitherto the cause. Yet let me urge you not to continue this painful silence, but think of, and write to your absent friend. Cooperstown and its inhabitants will ever afford a pleasing subject to Eliza. Tell me how you spend your time, your most intimate companions, whether you often see my father, and if any of my friends ever talk of me.... All our family is now in bed, yet cannot I let Mr. Strong go without writing a few lines. I wish you felt as anxious to write me.

Does your Hat please you? I am almost afraid it will not, tho' I know I have used my utmost endeavors. If it does not, you must take the Will for the Deed.

My best love to your dear Sister. Kiss my little namesake for me. Remember me to all enquiring friends, and think of me as ever

Your truly affectionate ELIZA.

Mr. Kent is still at Poughkeepsie; it I fear has more powerful attractions than Albany.


My dear Chloe—Your sister informs me—she sets out to-morrow upon her visit to you. I profit by her going to write a few lines to you. I have nothing very material to communicate—except that I often think of you—and continue to love you—which I hope you did not doubt—before I mentioned it.

We jog along much after the old way here—you know there are but three articles of news worth mentioning—Births—Deaths—and Marriages—for this last you know we were never renowned—from the second, thank Heaven, we are in a great measure exempted, and atone by the multitude of our first—for the deficiency of both.

We have some hopes of seeing you this Winter—either with your sister or by another mode—which I hope may be better—A certain Person—who occasionally visited Coopers Town—has not been here lately—it consoles me, though, that whilst his back is turned upon us—he is looking the right way. Come then, my child, and be induced by his looks, or smiles, or attentions, to make us another visit—We will meet you with smiles and pleasure—Mama desires to be remembered to your Mother. The Boys send their love to Norvey—and I—my dear Chloe—beg to be thought of—by you—with affection—and that you will accept of much love from

HANNAH COOPER. Coopers Town, January 5th, 1800.


Cooperstown, August 4th. 1801. My beloved Chloe,

Again I date my letter from this place in which I formed for you that friendship which neither revolving time, change of place or circumstances has been able to alter. Would that I had you as personally at my side as your dear image is constantly present to my imagination. Perhaps now that I am on the verge of departure it is happier for me that you are more remote, as parting with you would prove an additional pang to that which I now feel at the thought of leaving my respected friend, your dear, dear Sister. I have been here three weeks yesterday, and expect in a few minutes more to take my exit. You will say, perhaps, my stay is short compared to my former ones. It is so, but, Chloe, ah! how fast our friends decrease! Our mutual friend, our pious pattern!—Miss Cooper—is here no more! narrow is the cell in which her lovely form is laid! but her mind, her soul, I trust is gone to a soil more kind, more congenial, to a Friend in whom while here its best affections and confidences appear'd to be placed! In every place in which I used to meet with her—in her Father's Hall, which she highly graced—the vacant chair, the trifling conversation, my own absence of mind tell me, death has robbed me of a treasure that empires cannot give! Reflection, however, and daily experience, not only inspire me with resignation to the Wise Ruler of all events, but fill me with gratitude that God in compassion has removed her from a scene of afflictions, from new trials, from growing evils, which a tender sensibility like hers too keenly felt long to survive.

Richard, you may have heard, has married one of Col. Cary's Daughters—Nancy—a young, giddy Girl. I fear she will never supply the place of a Daughter to Mrs. Cooper! I have hardly a fonder desire for you or for myself than that we might be and live like her, whose memory, I trust, we shall ever cherish....

But, Chloe, a word or two about yourself. Are not you almost married? You are so far away there is no such thing as hearing about it. Miss Betsy Williams is well & speaks of you with affection. Nancy at present is in Trenton. Do let me hear from you soon. I must go. Burn this scrawl. Kiss little Mary for me. Adieu. May God bless you and your truly affectionate friend


Hannah Cooper was Judge Cooper's eldest daughter, of whom Fenimore Cooper afterward wrote that she "was perhaps as extensively and favorably known in the middle states as any female of her years." In 1795, when she was seventeen years of age, Talleyrand was a guest at Otsego Hall, and the following acrostic on Hannah Cooper's name is attributed to the pen of the celebrated diplomat:

Aimable philosophe au printemps de son age, Ni les temps, ni les lieus n'alterent son esprit; Ne cedent qu' a ses gouts simples et sans etalage, Au milieu des deserts, elle lit, pense, ecrit.

Cultivez, belle Anna, votre gout pour l'etude; On ne saurait ici mieux employer son temps; Otsego n'est pas gai—mais, tout est habitude; Paris vous deplairait fort au premier moment; Et qui jouit de soi dans une solitude, Rentrant au monde, est sur d'en faire l'ornement.

Hannah Cooper afterward attended school in New York City, and passed the winter of 1799 in Philadelphia while her father was a member of Congress. Also a member of that Congress was William Henry Harrison, later the hero of Tippecanoe, and afterward President of the United States. In this connection Fenimore Cooper, just before Harrison's inauguration as President, uncovered a long forgotten bit of romance which he related confidentially in a letter to his old mess-mate Commodore Shubrick as a "great political discovery." "Miss Anne Cooper was lately in Philadelphia,"—the letter is dated February 28, 1841,—"where she met Mr. Thomas Biddle, who asked if our family were not Harrison men. The reason of so singular a question was asked, and Mr. Biddle answered that in 1799 Mr. Harrison was dying with love for Miss Cooper, that he (Mr. Biddle) was his confidant, and that he thinks but does not know that he was refused. If not refused it was because he was not encouraged to propose.... Don't let this go any further, however. I confess to think all the better of the General for this discovery, for it shows that he had forty years ago both taste and judgment in a matter in which men so often fail."[69]

In the twenty-third year of her age, Hannah Cooper was killed by a fall from a horse, September 10, 1800. She and her brother, Richard Fenimore Cooper, had set out on horseback to pay a visit at the home of General Jacob Morris at Butternuts (now Morris), some twenty miles from Cooperstown, and having arrived within about a mile of their destination, the horse on which Miss Cooper rode took fright at a little dog, which rushed forth barking from a farm house, and Miss Cooper was thrown against the root of a tree, being almost instantly killed. Her brother rode back to Cooperstown with the sad news.

A monument still stands near the public highway to mark the spot where Miss Cooper met her death. She had many admirers, but the inscription on this monument is said to have been written by her best beloved, Moss Kent, referred to in Eliza MacDonald's letters.

Hannah Cooper's tomb in Christ churchyard, within the Cooper family plot, is inscribed with some plaintive verses that her father composed and caused to be carved upon the slab, with the singular omission of her name, which was not added until many years afterward.

Miss Cooper was a perfect type of the kind of feminine piety most admired in her day. She shared largely in the benevolences of her father, and was often seen on horseback carrying provisions to the poor people of the settlement. "She visited the prisoners in the jail frequently, giving them books, and sometimes talked with them through the grates of their windows, endeavoring to impress upon their minds the truths of morality and religion. By her winning, tender and persuasive conversation, their hard hearts, at times, were deeply affected."

This elder sister of the novelist was the first tutor of his childhood, and he held her memory in great reverence. In the preface of a reprint of The Pioneers Cooper took occasion to deny a statement that in the character of the heroine of his romance he had delineated his sister, a suggestion in which he seemed to find a serious reflection upon his fineness of feeling. "Circumstances rendered this sister singularly dear to the author," he wrote. "After a lapse of half a century, he is writing this paragraph with a pain that would induce him to cancel it, were it not still more painful to have it believed that one whom he regarded with a reverence that surpassed the love of a brother, was converted by him into the heroine of a work of fiction."

Although Hannah Cooper was thus excluded, by her brother's delicacy, from the place which rumor had assigned to her among the characters of his first Leather-Stocking tale, her name is commemorated in the actual scene of the story, for the pine-clad summit which overlooks the village of Cooperstown from the west is still called in her honor, "Hannah's Hill."

The position of the grave that lies next south of Hannah Cooper's tomb in Christ churchyard is a tribute to the reverent affection which she inspired. It is the grave of Colonel Richard Cary, one of General Washington's aides, and his burial in a plot otherwise exclusively reserved for interments of the Cooper family is attributed by tradition to Colonel Cary's fervent admiration for the piety of Hannah Cooper. Colonel Cary at the close of the Revolutionary War settled in Springfield, at the head of Otsego Lake. Often a visitor in Cooperstown he became acquainted with Miss Cooper, and was inspired by a devotion to her character entirely becoming in a man old enough to be her father, and already blessed with a family of his own. He is described as "an upright, well-bred and agreeable gentleman, possessed of wit and genius, and good humor." Six years after Hannah Cooper's death Colonel Cary suffered severe reverses of fortune, and was "put on the limits," as the penalty of unpaid debt was then described, being an exile from his home in Springfield, and required to remain within the village bounds of Cooperstown. As winter drew on Colonel Cary died. His dying request was that he might be buried near Miss Cooper's grave, "for," he said, "nobody can more surely get to Heaven than by clinging to the skirts of Hannah Cooper!"

At Hannah Cooper's funeral a singularly noble and picturesque character was brought into the history of Cooperstown, for the officiating clergyman was Father Nash, who then for the first time held service in the village, and afterward became the first rector of Christ Church, being for forty years the most noted apostle of religion in Otsego county.

During the first ten years of the existence of the village, the people depended on rare visits of missionaries for the little religious instruction they received. The settlers in the region were divided as to religious faith; the Presbyterians, though the most numerous, were the least able to offer financial support for any regular religious establishment. Missionaries occasionally penetrated to this spot, and now and then a travelling Baptist, or a Methodist, preached in a tavern, schoolhouse or barn. On August 28, 1795, a letter appeared in the Otsego Herald deploring the general indifference to religion which prevailed in the settlement, and calling for a public meeting to organize a church congregation. The Rev. Elisha Mosely, a Presbyterian minister, was thereupon engaged for six months, and during that period held the first regular religious services in Cooperstown. He preached the first Thanksgiving sermon in the village, on November 26, 1795, in the Court House.

Through the vigorous efforts of the Rev. Nathaniel Stacy, an itinerant preacher, the doctrine of Universalism gained a strong foothold in this region. Under his ministrations the society at Fly Creek was organized in 1805, said to be the first society of the Universalist denomination established in this State. Stacy was a man of small stature, a rapid speaker, full of Biblical quotations, apt in comparing the Old and New Testaments, and happy in the use of vivid illustrations. The vehemence and rapidity of his utterance sometimes sprinkled with saliva the hearers seated near him, which gave occasion for a famous taunt flung at Ambrose Clark, one of Stacy's converts and an early settler of Pierstown, when his brother Abel said that "Ambrose had rather be spit upon by Stacy than to hear the gospel preached."

In 1797, the Rev. Thomas Ellison, rector of St. Peter's Church, Albany, with the Patroon, both regents of the university of the State, visited the Cherry Valley academy, and then extended their journey to Cooperstown, where Dr. Ellison held service and preached in the Court House. This was the first time that the services of the Episcopal Church were held in the village. Dr. Ellison was an Englishman, a graduate of Oxford, a king's man, and a staunch defender of the Church against all dissent. He was a sporting parson, of convivial habits, and after his first visit to Cooperstown frequently enjoyed the hospitality of Judge Cooper, whom he joined in sundry adventures.

The Presbyterians and Congregationalists in and about Cooperstown formed themselves into a legal society on December 29, 1798. This church was regularly organized with the Rev. Isaac Lewis, a Presbyterian minister, as pastor, on October 1, 1800, and the Presbyterian organization has ever since continuously existed in Cooperstown. The Presbyterian church building was erected in 1805, and has not been materially altered since 1835, when some changes in the structure were made. The carpenters who built the church were twin brothers, Cyrus and Cyrenus Clark. They were assisted by Edmund Pearsall, who was noted for his rapid work and skill, as well as for his daring exploits at "raisings." When the steeple of the church was raised Pearsall astounded the village by standing on his head on the top of one of the posts near the summit.

The pastor of this church for more than twenty years during its early days was the Rev. John Smith, a tall, strongly-built man, who loomed large in the pulpit as a champion of old-fashioned orthodoxy. His manner of delivery was soporific, his voice thick and monotonous, but none could gainsay the learning and intellectual power of his discourses.

Mony Groat was sexton of the church. He performed also the office of policeman in the gallery during the service, going about with a cane, and rapping the heads of disorderly boys. In winter his duties were multiplied. The church was heated by a stove placed above the middle alley, supported by a platform sustained upon four posts, and those having pews near the pulpit had to walk directly underneath. Several times during the service on cold days the sexton used to come up the aisle with his ladder and basket of fuel, place his ladder in position, mount the platform, replenish the fire, descend the ladder, and make his exit, ladder and all.

Perhaps because it was the first church edifice in the village the Presbyterian church came into use sometimes for celebrations of a civic nature. The first Otsego County Fair, Tuesday, October 14, 1817, was held in this house of worship. The Otsego County Agricultural Society had been organized in January of that year, and the officers of the first fair were: president, Jacob Morris; recording secretary, John H. Prentiss; corresponding secretary, James Cooper, who had not yet begun his literary career.

The exercises in the church followed an elaborate programme, including prayers, vocal and instrumental music, and the formal award of premiums.

After the premiums had been awarded the corresponding secretary read a letter from Governor Dewitt Clinton which accompanied a bag of wheat that had been "raised by Gordon S. Mumford, Esq., on his farm on the island of New York." While this letter was being read by James Cooper the bag of wheat was brought to the pulpit of the church, and deposited at the foot of it.

Within the Presbyterian burying ground, at the rear of the church, lie the remains of some of the best known of the early settlers. A strange perversity of fate, however, has singled out for the attention of the tourist a tombstone that has no other claim to distinction than a surprising feature of the epitaph. This tallish slab of marble stands not far from the northeast corner of the burying ground. It is decorated at the top with the conventionally chiseled outlines of urn and weeping willow, and bears an inscription in memory of "Mrs. Susannah, the wife of Mr. Peter Ensign, who died July 18, 1825, aged 54 years," and whose praises are sung in some verses that begin with this astonishing comment:

"Lord, she is thin!"

It seems that the stonecutter omitted a final "e" in the last word, and tried in vain to squeeze it in above the line.

The permanent legal establishment of Christ Church was made on January 1, 1811, when a meeting was held "in the Brick church in Cooperstown," and it was resolved "that this church be known hereafter by the name and title of Christ's Church."

The erection of the brick church had been commenced in 1807, and it was consecrated in 1810. The present nave, exclusive of the transept and chancel, is of the original structure. In the sacristy of the church a wooden model may be seen, made by G. Pomeroy Keese, showing both exterior and interior of the church as it existed in 1810.

The Methodists held occasional services in the village for many years, and erected their first church, not far from the site of their present building, in 1817.

The Universalists were organized in Cooperstown on April 26, 1831, with the Rev. Job Potter as pastor. On the site of the old Academy, which had been destroyed by fire, their house of worship was erected in 1833, and stands practically unchanged at the present time. That there was a somewhat strong rivalry between the Universalists and the Presbyterians, whose places of worship stand so near to each other on the same street, is suggested by an incident which occurred during the Rev. Job Potter's pastorate. The Universalists had organized a Sunday School picnic, and the children had gathered at the church in goodly numbers. The sidewalk was thronged. A procession was formed, headed by the ice cream cans, together with sundry huge baskets, all appetizingly displayed. Just as the procession was about to move down the hill to embark for Three-Mile Point, a small-sized Universalist, stirred by generous impulse, hailed young Dick, a small-sized Presbyterian, who stood on the opposite side of the street gazing with assumed stoicism on the fascinating pageant.

"Hello, Dick! Come up to our picnic. We're going to have ice cream and cake and pies, and lots of good things."

To this cordial invitation Dick, thrusting his clenched fists deep into his pockets, responded at the top of his voice:

"No, sir-ee! I believe in a hell!"[70]

As early as the beginning of the nineteenth century the Baptists were accustomed to immerse their converts with appropriate services near Council Rock. They organized on January 21, 1834, with the Rev. Lewis Raymond as pastor. Their church building was erected during the next year.

The Roman Catholic congregation was organized in September, 1847, with the Rev. Father Kilbride as pastor. Their first church was built in 1851, at the corner of Elm and Susquehanna streets. The present St. Mary's Church, the "Church of Our Lady of the Lake," was built in 1867.

Toward the middle of the century the three most conspicuous steeples in the village scene were those of Christ Church, the Presbyterian, and the Baptist. From the shape of their towers, which have since been modified, they were known as the "Casters," and distinguished as salt, pepper, and mustard respectively.[71]

The land for the Presbyterian church as well as for Christ Church was given by Judge Cooper. Within Christ churchyard he reserved a space, including his daughter's grave, as a family burial plot, where he himself was buried in 1809, cut down in the full vigor of his fifty-five years. While leaving a political meeting in Albany, as he was descending the steps of the old state capitol, after a session abounding in stormy debate, Judge Cooper was struck on the head with a walking stick by a political opponent, and died as a result of the blow.

Judge Cooper was originally a Quaker, but that he afterward found himself out of sympathy with the Society of Friends is shown in a formal document by which his relations to that denomination were severed. He was instrumental in the erection of Christ Church, for a letter written by him shows that he conducted the negotiations with the corporation of Trinity parish, New York, which, in 1806, gave $1,500 toward the construction of the edifice. An obituary notice published in the Cooperstown Federalist at the time of his death says that Judge Cooper "was thoroughly persuaded of the truth of Revelation."

The rood-screen in Christ Church commemorates Judge Cooper, and a dignified sarcophagus covers his grave in the churchyard. Recalling the story of his career, one is disposed to claim for his simple epitaph a share of the attention bestowed upon the tomb of his more illustrious son. For here lies the foremost pioneer of Cooperstown, notable among the frontiersmen of America.


[Footnote 69: James Fenimore Cooper, by Mary E. Phillips, p. 15.]

[Footnote 70: Reminiscences, Elihu Phinney, 1890.]

[Footnote 71: A few Omitted Leaves in the History of Cooperstown, G. Pomeroy Keese, 1907.]



Early in the century activities were renewed, just across the river from Cooperstown, in the development of what was known as the Bowers Patent, originally owned by John R. Myer of New York, whose daughter became the wife of Henry Bowers. For some years after their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Bowers lived at Brighton, near Boston, in a residence that was one of the finest relics of Colonial days, commanding a fine view of Boston, Cambridge, Charleston, and the bay, with its numerous islands. They afterward removed to New York City, and Henry Bowers made journeys thence to the Otsego region, where a settlement had been commenced in Middlefield, then called Newtown Martin,[72] some years before the founding of Cooperstown.

In 1791, Henry Bowers surveyed and laid out a proposed village of "Bowerstown," across the river from Cooperstown. It was to extend from the Susquehanna to the base of the hill on the east, and from the lake to a point about 1,000 feet south. The projected village never became a reality, although the name is perpetuated by the present hamlet of Bowerstown, which still flourishes about a mile to the south, on a site that was once included in the Bowers Patent, where a saw-mill was erected on Red Creek in 1791, the first in this part of the country. A modern saw-mill now occupies the same site.

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