When Lycoming County was created, as we have seen, she became a part of the third judicial district, which had been created April 13, 1791, and included Northumberland, Berks, and Luzerne (in 1801, Wayne was also a part). Judge Rush was then the president of the district. During the colonial period, the presiding justice had been chosen by his colleagues, and does not appear to have enjoyed any particular distinguishing title. The title “president of the courts” appears in the Constitution of 1790; it was superseded in popular usage by that of “president judge” within a comparatively short time. Under these various titles, the succession of president judges of the third and eighth districts has been as follows:
Jacob Rush, 1795-1806
Thomas Cooper, 1806-1811
Seth Chapman, 1811-1833
Ellis Lewis, 1833-1843
Charles G. Donnel, 1843-1844
Joseph B. Anthony, 1844-1851
James Pollock, 1851
Alexander Jordan, 1851-1868.
Though not required to be learned in the law, the president judge, during the colonial period, and under the Constitution of 1790, was usually a man of greater intelligence than his colleagues, and was expected to be present at every session of court, while attendance on their part was largely optional. In the transactions of the early courts, there was little opportunity for the exercise of legal acumen or the application of forensic erudition, and a bench of this kind, composed entirely of laymen, was well adapted to the people and their time. Deliberate judgment, fairness of purpose and integrity of action were sufficient qualifications for members of the court at a time when local litigation did not yet embrace the perplexing questions relating to land tenure, corporations and kindred matters that engage the attention of the courts in later days.
Jacob Rush was the first judge of Northumberland County (to which the new county of Lycoming was now attached) who was “learned in the law.” He was born in Byberry Township, Philadelphia County, in 1748. He was a lineal descendant of Capt. John Rush, captain of a troop of horse under Oliver Cromwell, who emigrated to America with William Penn in 1683.
He was a brother of the famous Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. The death of their father, in 1755, when Jacob was seven years of age, left him an orphan with a modest inheritance which enabled him to obtain a liberal education. In addition to his brother, Benjamin, and himself, the following pupils were among those who attended the Presbyterian parochial school established by Dr. Francis Alison, in 1744, at New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Col. John Bayard, delegate to Congress, 1785-87.
Dr. John Cochran, Director-General of Hospitals.
John Dickinson, delegate to Congress, 1774-77, 1779-80; President of Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Ebenezer Hazard, U. S. Post-Master-General, 1782-89.
John Henry, U. S. Senator, 1789-97; Governor of Maryland.
Alexander Martin, a Colonel at Battle of Germantown: Governor of North Carolina; U. S. Senator, 1793-99.
Thomas McKean, Signer of the Declaration of Independence; President of Congress, 1781; Governor of Pennsylvania, 1799-1808.
James McLene, prominent in Pennsylvania politics.
Robert McPherson, served with General Forbes; Col. in Revolutionary War.
George Reed, delegate to Congress; Signer; U. S. Senator from Delaware, 1789-1793.
Jacob Rush was graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1765.
He was active in several campaigns in the Revolutionary War, and was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia in 1777. He was a member of the Provincial Convention held at Philadelphia in January 1775, and represented Philadelphia County in the assembly of 1779-80. At the age of 38, he was commissioned a Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and also a member of the High Court of Errors and Appeals prior to the Constitution of 1790. Having been legislated out of office by the Constitution of 1790, he was appointed President Judge of the third judicial district, and held his first court at Sunbury, January 1791. There is probably no case on record of the Judge of a higher court in the state afterwards presiding over a county court.
His entire life was spent in Philadelphia. His literary tastes, his desire for the society of those interested in the finer things of life, made his work upon the bench of a frontier district and the hardship of travel from one county seat to another in his district distasteful to him, so that on January 1, 1806, he resigned to accept an assignment as President Judge of the Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, in which position he continued until his death January 5, 1820.
He came to the bench in the third district with a larger experience as a judge than any of his predecessors or successors. David P. Brown, who was probably the greatest lawyer of his day, said of Judge Rush: “He was a man of great ability and great firmness and decision of character. There is probably more eloquence in the judicial utterances of Judge Rush than will be found in the utterances of any other judge of his time.”
John Binns thought a certain trial would be of interest to the readers of his Republican Argus so he decided to be his own reporter. He was prepared to take notes and had obtained permission of the State’s Attorney, to sit near him so he could hear the entire proceedings. The reason for this was that there was probably no other place to sit, and the only chairs and tables in the room were those used by the Court and the attorneys. After the trial had proceeded for about two hours, Charles Hall moved that Binns be ordered to vacate the bar, and Binns, in relating this, adds: “in which motion he was aided and abetted by David Watt and Daniel Smith.” On this motion, Judge Rush delivered the following opinion:
“We consider the bar to be specially appropriated for the gentlemen of the profession, their clients and students at law, and when there is no room for them, we will order any gentleman to leave the bar; but for us to order any particular person from the bar, who is unaccused of any crime, except by assertion, is what we have not a right to do, it is what we cannot, we will not do. We have nothing to do with the private quarrels between the gentlemen of the bar and Mr. Binns. If he has given them cause for offense, they have their remedy at law, and they know how to use it.”
Immediately after the delivery of this opinion, Messrs. Foulke, Watt, Cooke, Hall and other gentlemen of the long robe left the court. The following morning, on motion of E. L. Evans, Esq., the Court ruled no one except members of the bar, their clients and students should be permitted to sit at the bar.
“We cannot close this article without congratulating the county on the independence with which the court resisted the host of lawyers who were in full cry to hunt down one poor printer. Alas! Alas! ‘how the mighty have fallen’.”14
Rush Township, Northumberland County erected in 1819 from Shamokin Township, was named for Jacob Rush, President Judge of that county, 1791-1806.
While Lycoming County was part of the third district, many legal documents were signed by both Judge Rush and Judge Hepburn. The Judges of the Supreme Court of the state held court of nisi prius for the district at Sunbury before the beginning of the century. The records show that at the October Assizes 1798, before Yeates and Smith, a case was heard involving ejectment of lands in Lycoming County; and at the October 1796 Assizes, lands on the Loyalsock and Muncy Creeks were involved.
William Hepburn was born in the north of Ireland, in County Donegal in 1753, and with his father, Samuel Hepburn, and brothers, John and James, came to this country about 1773 or 1774. They stopped for a time at Sunbury and Northumberland when William and James found their way up the river to Andrew Culbertson’s, near the present DuBoistown. They were first employed digging the race for Culbertson’s mill.
John soon after was selected to return to Ireland for his mother and sister. He made the round trip safely, but somehow in landing from the vessel, presumably in New York harbor, both his mother and sister were drowned. Both of them had a large amount of gold on their persons, and it is presumed that the additional weight bore them down, and caused them to lose their lives. John bore the sad news to his father and brothers at Northumberland. Soon after this we lose trace of all of the members of the family except William. The father died at Northumberland but the date of his death is not known. Meginness goes into the family genealogy of the Hepburns at great length, tracing their ancestry back to 1200 in Scotland and the Earls of Bothwell.15
Soon after completing the work at Culbertson’s, William, and possibly James, seems to have gone to Samuel Wallis’ farm (now the home of Mrs. Henry G. Brock) where he soon became intimately identified with the military. He rose rapidly to the rank of a Colonel during the Indian troubles, and was commander of Fort Muncy at the time of the Great Runaway in 1778. This fort had been built on the Muncy Farm of Samuel Wallis.
When the Plum Tree massacre occurred within a mile of Lycoming Creek on June 10, 1778, and the news of this and similar surprise attacks by the Indians were received by Colonel Hunter at Fort Augusta, he directed a general evacuation of the West Branch Valley. Everyone living west of the Muncy Hills was ordered down river. Colonel Hepburn executed the order promptly. He sent Robert Covenhoven to warn the settlers at Fort Antes, opposite Jersey Shore, and to Fort Horn, near Lock Haven. The sight, according to Covenhoven’s account was indescribable. He had accompanied his father’s family to Sunbury, and then returned with a keel-boat to secure their household goods. As he rounded a point near Lewisburg, he met the main fleet descending from the forts above. He said: “I never in my life saw so many boats, canoes, hog troughs, rafts hastily made of dry sticks, every sort of floating article had been put in requisition and were crowded with women and children — there were several hundred people in all. Whenever any obstruction occurred at a shoal or riffle the women would leap out and put their shoulders, not to the wheel, but to the flatboat or raft and launch it again in deep water.”16 Had it not been for the men who marched along both shores to protect those in the floats, the Indians were very likely to attack.
Hepburn was Captain of the 5th company, 4th Battalion; Lt. Col., 3rd Battalion, Pennsylvania Militia; Brig. General, 1st Brig., Northumberland, Lycoming and Luzerne counties, April 19, 1800; Major General, 10th Division, composed of Lycoming, Tioga, Potter, Jefferson, McKean and Clearfield counties. He was also the first State Senator, and first Worshipful Master, Lodge No. 106, F. & A. M.
Sometime during the summer of 1777, Hepburn had married Crecy Covenhoven, a sister of the famous scout and Indian killer, Robert Covenhoven. She died on April 8, 1800, aged 71 years, leaving three sons and seven daughters. His second wife was Elizazeth Huston, daughter of Thomas and Jane Huston, of Williamsport, and a sister of Charles Huston, an eminent lawyer and Judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. By this second marriage, he had four sons and five daughters. It is an interesting fact that William, the father, was one of the first associate judges of Lycoming County, and his son, Huston, the youngest of nineteen children, was the last in the associate judge line.
On the restoration of peace, Col. Hepburn, in 1784, acquired a tract of land of about 300 acres in what is now Williamsport, called Deer Park. He soon thereafter became a justice of the Peace and held that office until about 1794. He was the only justice in this vicinity and was noted for the fairness of his decisions, as well as the muscular force sometimes employed to maintain the dignity of his court.
He first built a log house in which he and his family resided until 1801, when he erected a two story brick house, which stood at the foot of Park Street. The brick for the building were made on the farm. Jacob Hyman was the contractor and carpenter, and he was paid £127 7s lOd for the job, including the painting. Here in the last years of his life he dispensed princely hospitality, when he was visited by many distinguished persons.
In 1794 he was elected to represent the Northumberland district in the State Senate, and soon after he took his seat, he introduced a bill for the erection of Lycoming County. A large number of citizens had petitioned for this as Sunbury was difficult to reach, for there were several large streams to cross, and no bridges, so that the journey was dangerous when the waters were high.
He was one of the supporters of the Lycoming Presbyterian church in Newberry, and was treasurer of the church as a receipt of the Rev. Isaac Grier, the pastor, to William Hepburn, dated February 20, 1796 for five pounds, nineteen shillings, three and one half pence, the full amount of the first year’s salary due him from the congregation, shows.
The second Mrs. Hepburn died November 21, 1847, aged 48 years. Judge Hepburn died June 25, 1821, aged 68 years. He and his two wives were buried in the Lycoming graveyard at the corner of West Fourth and Cemetery streets, in Williamsport. In the fall of 1888, when it was decided to build a church over their graves, their remains were disinterred and removed to Wildwood cemetery. He had first been buried on the same spot where he assisted in laying the bodies of those massacred on the evening of June 10, 1778, when he came up from Fort Muncy with his company. His present grave was marked October 1, 1933, by a Memorial tablet, the gift of a descendant, Miss Ann Doebler, with appropriate ceremonies by the D.A.R.17
It may seem strange that a man of whom Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Cooper is acknowledged by every enlightened man who knows him, to be the greatest man in America, in the powers of the mind, and in acquired information, and that without a single exception,”18 should be so little known. There is no satisfactory biography of him. The reason is simple. All the vast amount of biographical material, and a partially completed biography of him was destroyed in a fire. Even the meager sketches of his life are full of inaccuracies.
James Madison had a highly exalted opinion of him as a jurist.19 In correspondence with Jefferson, in 1810, he inquires: “Have you received a copy of Cooper’s (the Penn’a Judge) masterly opinion20 on the question, whether the sentence of a foreign Admiralty Court in a prize case is conclusive evidence in a suit here between the underwriters and the insured” and pronounced it a most thorough investigation, and irrefragable disproof of the British doctrine on the subject, as adopted by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.21
Judge Breckenridge, of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in commenting on the opinion just alluded to remarks: “It exhibits the utmost comprehension of mind, which is the characteristic of a great Judge, and the finest specimen of legal reasoning that ever fell from the bench.22
Our own Chief Justice John Bannister Gibson, who of course knew Cooper well, wrote of him: “In the variety and extent of his knowledge he has seldom been surpassed.23
Lord Jeffrey, the noted English critic, in the Edinburgh Review, of a book on Dr. Priestley, wrote at great length in admiration of Judge Cooper.
Who then was this remarkable man, who presided over the courts in Lycoming County? He was born in London, October 22, 1759. Although his father was not wealthy he was at least in comfortable circumstances. In a long article on the subject of brick making, Cooper states that at his death, his father owned some 40 acres of land in Kentish Town, then two miles from the turnpike of Tottenham Court Road, London, built over already at the time of writing, 1811.
He was educated at University College, Oxford, but his name does not appear in the Register as a graduate. This is not altogether surprising, as throughout his life he was always restive under restraint which would bar him from the rather formal requirements of an academic degree. It is said that he balked at reciting the creed and refused to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles.
During the long vacations at Oxford, he attended a course in anatomical lectures, as well as veterinary dissections at a repository for dead horses at St. John’s, Clerkenwell, and even at the Inns of the Court, he pursued his favorite studies, especially anatomy and medicine.
It is frequently stated that he married a daughter of Dr. Priestley which is incorrect. But there is no doubt that he married Alice Greenwood in London. She inherited a considerable fortune from her father, and another upon the death of a brother. By this marriage, at least two sons, Charles and John, and two daughters, Eliza and Elanor, were born in England, and all came to America with him.
He was well acquainted with Pitt, Fox, Burke and other leading English statesmen of his day, and also with many prominent literary personages.
In 1785, he became a member of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, composed of the leading men of science in England. He read a very notable paper before the Society, March 7, 1787, entitled: “Proposition respecting the Foundation of Civil Government.” This was a bold and forceful argument in favor of the maxim that all power of government was derived from the people.
He was a pronounced Radical and published a pamphlet favoring the French Revolution. He and James Watt, not the celebrated inventor of the steam engine as is so often stated but his son, James, Jr., a large manufacturer of steam engines, were fraternal delegates from the Manchester Society to the Jacobin Club of Paris. Cooper and Watt addressed the Jacobins as “Brethren and Friends.” The title “Citizen of France” was conferred upon Cooper. His friends were a faction of the Girondists opposed to Robespierre. Cooper, in fact quarreled with Robespierre, during a session of the Assembly, and the latter used unbecoming and offensive language toward Judge Cooper. As soon as the session closed, Cooper, determined on satisfaction for the insult, sought out the Frenchman on the street, Called him a scoundrel, drew his sword and bade him defend himself. Robespierre declined the combat, but prepared for revenge on the daring Englishman. His design was to have him secretly assassinated, or to denounce him at the next meeting of the Jacobin Club, where his influence was irresistible, and have him immediately conducted to guillotine. Informed of this by a friend, who had penetrated the intention of the French demagogue, and convinced that flight was his only course, Cooper at once left Paris.
On his return to England, he found that Burke had denounced him in a speech in the House of Commons. Cooper published a reply entitled, “A Reply to Mr. Burke’s Invective against Mr. Cooper and Mr. Watt”, on April 30, 1792. He found the public mind greatly agitated, and everything in a very perturbed condition, by the actual existence of mobs in various parts of the kingdom, together with suspicion and concerted rebellion. He, himself, was suspected of being a leader among the malcontents and the dwelling of his friend, Dr. Priestley, burned together with his valuable library.
Cooper visited American in 1793, as a promoter. He was asked so many questions about America, that in 1794 he published a book entitled, “Some Information Concerning America.” In this he strongly recommended emigration to Pennsylvania, as the most attractive state for Englishmen. Together with others from Manchester and Birmingham, England, they became interested in lands on the Loyalsock as a place for a projected settlement for a number of English families. It was to be made up of the “Friends of Liberty”, the liberal, pro-French element in England with which were associated some of the Romantic poets who dreamed of a Pantisocracy on the upper Susquehanna, whose melodious name was more attractive than a classic one, in the minds of Coleridge, Southey and their associates. The project was not successful.24
In 1794, he returned to America with the rest of his family. Dr. Priestley came the same year, and in 1801 John Binns, the fiery editor, came here on their advice. Priestley built an imposing residence at Northumberland where he lived until his death in 1804. Cooper with his family lived under the same roof for a long time. Cooper and Priestley set up a laboratory connected with the residence, and there they conducted scientific investigations. Here Cooper produced the newly discovered metal, Potassium, by the “fire-method,” as published by him in 1811.
Cooper was naturalized before Judge Rush, at Sunbury, Pa., November 1, 1795. He became Deputy Attorney General July 16, 1803. In addition to practicing law, for a short time he edited the Northumberland Register, which in his hands became a very influential organ. He wrote and spoke much, was radical and independent, autocratic and iconoclastic. He was quite naturally a Democrat. He soon entered a larger field. The Aurora, a Philadelphia newspaper, founded by Bache, had become a leading political organ. William Duane had married the widow of Bache. These two, together with Philip Morin Freneau and James Callender Thomson were the leading writers and exponents of Jeffersonian politics, and they played together like a superlative orchestra. In those days, politics was played to a fair-you-well. Cooper attacked John Adams for the part he had taken in the Duane Case, in the Reading Weekly Advertiser, October 26, 1799. This led to Coopers’s arrest and trial for libel, April 1800, under the Sedition Act of 1800. One of the counts in the indictment most seriously dwelt upon by the prosecution, and considered by the Court, was that Cooper had written and published, “that at that time, he, Mr. Adams, had just entered into the office of the presidency; he was hardly in the infancy of political mistake; even those who doubted Adams’ capacity thought well of his intentions.”
Cooper pleaded his own case. The notorious Justice Chase, of Maryland, presided. Cooper addressed the jury in dignified terms, pointing out that he had published only the truth, that his criticism was legitimate, and that he had expressed his own opinion as a member of a lawful political party. But it did him no good. In charging the jury, Justice Samuel Chase of the United States Supreme Court went out of the way to praise the Sedition Act — which it was not within his province to do — and to attack the falsity of Cooper’s statements. The jury found Cooper guilty six months in prison and $400 fine. A few years after his death, the fine was repaid to his heirs with interest.
But perhaps the most scandalous case under the Sedition Act took place in Jefferson’s own Virginia. James Thomson Callender, Scotch-born writer, was indicted for the grave crime of criticizing President Adams. What made the case sensational, however, was the behavior of the judge. Three of the greatest lawyers in Virginia, William Wirt, Thomas Nicholas and George Hay, volunteered to defend Callender. But again Justice Chase was not impressed, and in court he did everything he could to show his contempt for the lawyers. He cut them short, cracked jokes, and made them shut up. When William Wirt started to address the jury, telling them the Sedition Act was unconstitutional, Justice Chase snapped: “Take your seat, sir.” George Hay, the other lawyer, was so angry at the Justice’s bullying tactics and insulting interruptions, that he refused to go on with the case. Callender was convicted, sentenced to nine months in jail and a fine of $200.
But the Democratic party had come into power in Pennsylvania, in 1799, by the election of Thomas McKean as Governor. So in recognition of Cooper’s sufferings and services to the cause, he was appointed by the governor, April 22, 1801, one of the Commissioners to carry into effect the Compromising Law of 1790 for the settlement of the troubles originating in the so-called Connecticut invasion of Pennsylvania, which led to the armed conflict known as the Pennamite War. Legal questions of the greatest delicacy were involved. To his energy and wisdom were due the quiet and harmony that speedily ensued in the long troubled and unhappy Wyoming Valley.
The members appointed with Cooper were General John Steele, of Lancaster County, a hero of the Revolutionary War, and County Lieut. William Wilson, of Northumberland County. They elected Cooper chairman and began their sessions at Wilkes Barre in 1801. Although the great suit under the direction of the Confederation in 1782, lasting forty days, in which James Wilson, the signer, had ably supported the claim of Pennsylvania and had been decided unanimously in her favor, the so-called Decree of Trenton covered only the question of jurisdiction over that vast and now populous’ territory covered with towns and cities. But the decision was taken advantage of by speculators and landjobbers discrediting the titles of settlers to the homes they had made in good faith under Connecticut titles. Forcible ejectment of whole communities from their homes often conducted with barbarous cruelty had been the result. With the authentic records of the early settlers before them they made rapid strides in performing their difficult task. Cooper assumed the most important part of the work. He visited in person all the townships, and under his direction, all the original surveys of the Susquehanna Company were re-run. To him fell the task of issuing most of the certificates to those adjudged owners of the Connecticut claims. Charles Miner, in his History of Wyoming, pays tribute to Judge Cooper:
“It is proper to say that to Judge Thomas Cooper, one of the commissioners under the Compromising Law, the settlers in the seventeen townships, and the Commonwealth at large, are indebted. He gave the subject the most thorough and devoted attention of a mind remarkably sagacious, vigorous and clear. He unraveled with unequaled patience and perspicuity, the masses of this most intricate subject.”
On August 1, 1804, he was appointed President Judge of the fourth judicial district, then composed of the counties of Franklin, Mifflin, Huntingdon and Bedford, upon the resignation of Judge Riddle from that office.
The following decision was given while Cooper was on the bench at Chambersburg. A man was indicted for larceny of a banknote on the Bank of Baltimore, of the value of five dollars. Cooper decided that the “stealing of a bank-note by the description, was not indictable at common law, and was not made indictable by any law”, and he was therefore of the opinion that the prisoner must be acquitted. This decision led to the passage of a law making larceny of a bank-note punishable in the same manner as the larceny of any goods or chattels.
Under the complete change of the whole judiciary system of the state, in 1806, Cooper was continued in office, by appointment, as judge of the eighth judicial district composed of the counties of Northumberland, Lycoming and Luzerne. The fact that he had been previously President Judge of the fourth district, prior to 1806, is sometimes overlooked, and is important in explaining allusions to him by that title. His opinion in the Dempsy case, as a member of the High Court of Errors and Appeals of Pennsylvania, which was abolished by the act of 1806, but continued, without, the power of taking up new cases, until 1808, is thus explained.
By his appointment in 1806, he became the successor of Judge Rush. Judge Rush had been ultra-democratic, and up to this time, our local courts were very informal, the frontiersmen came to court to have a good time, and disorder was the usual custom. But Cooper undertook to bring order, dignity and exactness into practice here, by introducing the formalities and rigid regulations of the English courts. His democratic constituents accused him of being an autocrat and tyrant, and out of sympathy with the freedom of thought and action which they had all sought in this country. Thus he became very unpopular, with the result that the same politics which had rewarded him, now made him a victim of the times for his efforts to compel respect for our courts. In February 1811, memorials against him were referred to a committee of nine of the House of Representatives. Testimony was taken for thirteen days, and the committee reported that after taking a large amount of testimony, they concluded from the evidence, that of more than fifty charges, they enumerated nine which were proven to their satisfaction. Five of them were for fining citizens at different times for what he regarded as improper con duct in the court room, such as wearing a hat, whispering, etc.; one for fining a road supervisor, one for purchase of a property by him, with other parties at a sheriff’s sale, and finally, one for appearing armed with deadly weapons at the Court House in Williamsport. The resolution was adopted by the House by a vote of 53 out of 93. Northumberland and Lycoming voted to impeach and Luzerne against.
It is frequently stated that Judge Cooper was impeached; but impeachment would have been too slow a process for the removal of an obnoxious judge in those days. The other method approved by the Constitution was not only more expeditious, but led more certainly to the pre-determined result. This was removal by the governor on legislative address. As the motive of the trial was largely political, so Governor Simon Snyder quite naturally removed him from office, April 2, 1811.
At this point, Cooper’s legal career ends. But his usefulness was not ended. Then began a long series of trying experiences, all of which ended by his forced resignation. He first became a Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy at Dickinson College, but opposition caused him to resign in 1815. The mildest accusation against him was that he was a Unitarian.
He then moved to Philadelphia, where he taught the same subjects, in 1816. He became a member of the American Philosophical Society, and published an extensive work of Medical Jurisprudence. He published one of the earliest scientific periodicals in America, noted for its original research. He was also the first to introduce the study of Roman Law, by a translation of the Institutes of Justinian.
His first wife died at Northumberland in 1800. While still at Dickinson College, he married Miss Elizabeth Hemming, of English birth, then residing in Carlisle, on Oct. 16, 1812. Two sons were born there, Francis Hemming Cooper and Thomas Priestley Cooper. A daughter, Ellen Connelly Cooper was born in Philadelphia, Jan. 15, 1820.
As early as 1814, he had corresponded with Jefferson in regard to the latter’s contemplated University of Virginia. He became professor at Central College, in 1817, and at the first meeting of the Visitors of the University was confirmed as Professor of “Chemistry, Mineralogy, Natural Philosophy, and also, Law,” in 1819.
At the same time, he was in demand in New York, in Philadelphia and at William and Mary. But he was not elected without great opposition, which became so vehement that Jefferson allowed him to resign.
His next chair of Chemistry was at the University of South Carolina, and he was elected President the next year. Here again his religious views even caused a decline in the college enrollment, so he resigned as President, but remained as professor until 1834.
It is interesting to note that in the duel between John Binns. and Samuel Stewart, a member of the General Assembly from Lycoming County, which was fought below Milton in 1805, that the pistols belonged to Judge Cooper and were taken from their mahogany case in Dr. Priestley’s house, where Cooper then resided. Dr. Priestley attempted to prevent the duel, but apparently Judge Cooper did not feel the same about the affair of honor.
The first school in Northumberland County was opened in July, 1801, in Cooper’s residence. He and Dr. Priestley organized the Northumberland Academy.
Cooper has often been credited with the origin of the phrase, “government of the people, by the people and for the people” later used by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Speech. This expression occurs on page 53 of Cooper’s Book, Some Information Respecting America, Collected by Thomas Cooper, Late of Manchester, London, 1794. Actually, however, Cooper used only two of the phrases, “government of the people and for the people.” The words “of” and “for” in Cooper’s book are printed in italics. Godcharles credits the Outlook with this item, but in the Review of Reviews, Vol. XXIII, pages 196, 335, the matter is discussed at greater length. George F. Parker, late U. S. Consul at Birmingham, states that most of the contents of Cooper’s book appeared in the London 1795 edition which was sold generally in the United States.
Another author, J. H. Miner, says that Lincoln likely took the phrase from the “Story of the Constitution”, where Mr. Justice Story, in discussing the Bill of Rights, p. 304 of his work, used the phrase, “government founded by the people and managed by the people.” But Sylvan Hess points out that one of Daniel Webster’s speeches — the second speech on Foote’s Resolution — contained the somewhat similar phrase.
John White Chadwick follows Lincoln’s partner and biographer Herndon in attributing the phrase to Rev. Theodore Parker. Chadwick is the author of a Life of Parker. Our own impression of the matter is there is probably some truth in all these suggestions. The preface of the old Wycliffe Bible, published in 1384 contains the following: “This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people and for the people.” It is somewhat likely that Theodore Parker being a clergyman may have seen this.
To show the breadth and extent of Cooper’s knowledge, a few of his published works are here given: Letters on the Slave Trade, London, 1782; Tracts, Ethical, Theological and Political, 1790; Essays contributed to Northumberland (Pa.) Gazette which he conducted for a short time; Account of the Trial of Thomas Cooper, of Northumberland, 1800; Bankrupt Law of America compared with that of England (1800); Laws of the “Institutes of Justinian”, 1812; Elements of Political Economy, 1819; Cooper’s edition of Thomson “Systems of Chemistry” 4 vols.; Authenticity of the Pentateuch, and Connection Between Geology and the Pentatuch. He also edited five volumes constituting the Emporium of Arts and Sciences, Phila., 1831-14. Edgar Fahs Smith, at the time he wrote his excellent “Chemistry in America,” devoted eighteen pages to Dr. Cooper.
As to his personal appearance and professional characteristics Charles Muier, in 1880, described him thus : “a short, rotund figure, stooping forward; has a high florid, English countenance and complexion. His forte is to seize two or three strong points and present them forcibly to the court and jury. He never wearies by long speeches; never uses a word, or an illustration, or an argument that is not to the purpose; a man of extraordinary endowments and of most distinguished genius.”
Another biographer says of him: “Dr. Cooper was a man of low stature, but robust, well proportioned, and very compactly built, his head was large and finely developed, and uncommonly round, his neck stout and thick, his chest capacious. A man of learning, and of a sprightly imagination. He was in advance of his age, in his knowledge of minerals and geology. He carried a hammer and acids, breaking rocks and testing their mineral qualities, and was supposed by some ignorant persons to be, on that account, impaired in intellect.”
His interest in politics never forsook him. He was an ardent believer in States Rights and in Nullification. This astonishing man died at Columbia, S. C., May 12, 1839, and is buried in Trinity Church yard. His admirable qualities as a man have generally escaped attention.
Seth Chapman, successor of Judge Cooper, was born January 23, 1771, in Bucks County, Pa. He was descended from John Chapman, who emigrated from Yorkshire, England, in 1684. Nothing is known of his early education or legal training. He settled at Northumberland in 1791, shortly after his admission to the Bucks County bar. On July 11, 1811, he was commissioned President Judge of the eighth district. Thus he was a lawyer of twenty years experience at the time of his elevation to the bench. He was commissioned and as the law required a judge to live in his district he made Northumberland his permanent residence for the rest of his life. The house he occupied had originally been built by Dr. Joseph Priestley, still standing in 1891, on North Way, one of the most interesting landmarks of that county.
By contrast to Judge Cooper, Judge Chapman was by temperament the direct opposite. If the authoritative manner of Cooper was the cause of his downfall, then Chapman ought to have been one of the most popular of jurists. And for a time this seems to have been the case. This was partly because he gave the attorneys and litigants the widest latitude in the presentation of cases, which met with general approbation at first. He was evidently desirous of securing the good will of his constituents and was cautious and deliberate of speech and action, deferential and courteous in dealing with his lay associates. Although he was not of the mental stature of Judge Cooper, yet for his time he was sufficiently qualified for his position. Historians in Luzerne County depreciated his ability, in later years, no doubt due to the fact that he was followed in that county by that distinguished Judge, John Bannister Gibson. Had he adopted a more vigorous attitude in the discharge of his duties, his forced retirement from the bench might have occurred under more creditable circumstances less damaging to his reputation. Due chiefly to the large number of cases which increasingly piled up on the dockets of the several counties in his district, and a corresponding increase in population increasing the volume of legal business, together with his advancing years, popular discontent finally culminated in his threatened impeachment.
The charges specified in the articles of impeachment were, that he had ordered Jacob Farrow to be arrested and imprisoned, at Sunbury, in August 1824, without any complaint filed against him and without lawful cause; that, contrary to the express provisions of the law, he had reversed a judgment of Christian Miller, J. P. and set aside an execution issued therein although the required period of twenty days had expired; that, in a case tried in Northumberland Court at June Term 1813, he had filed in writing his opinion and charge to the jury, which differed from that orally given; and that he had manifested undue partiality and favoritism to suitors. In answer to these charges, Judge Chapman replied, that Farrow had made an assault upon the Prothonotary, which was both a breach of the peace and contempt of court, and was accordingly committed; that in the reversal of Justice of the Peace Miller’s decision the defendant was a minor, and hence the judgment was not valid in the first instance; that the written charge and opinion in the case specified did harmonize with his notes of his verbal charge; and that the charge of partiality was denied, accompanied by a voluminous explanation of the incidents cited. At the trial before the Senate, begun on February 7, 1826, the Judge was represented by Samuel Douglass and George Fisher. Many witnesses were examined, and after eleven days of proceedings, the respondent was acquitted on all articles of impeachment brought against him by the House of Representatives.
Thus he continued on the bench for seven years more. But unfortunately for all concerned, his administration was still marked by delay after delay and in 1830, and again in 1833, petitions from all parts of his district were presented to the Senate praying for his removal or the appointment of an additional law judge. These petitions were referred to a committee consisting of Messrs. Hopkins of Columbia; Packer of Northumberland; Petrikin of Lycoming; Livingston and Miller. The complaint, the committee said, was characterized by a general allegation of want of sufficient energy and capacity to discharge his duties with reasonable dispatch, promptitude and accuracy. The committee also found that there was no evidence at all which impeached his character for integrity, either as a man or judge; but, on the contrary, many witnesses concurred in their opinion that he was an honest man. His character from this viewpoint was unexceptionable. But they concluded, however, that for some years past his age and, bodily infirmities, and to some extent, the failure of his mental powers had rendered him unable to discharge his official duties promptly and accurately. The committee then deemed it proper to communicate their conclusions to the Judge, from whom they received the following reply:
Harrisburg, March 11, 1833
Gentlemen: I have for some time past had an intention to resign my office as soon as I could make such pecuniary arrangements as would be necessary to enable me to do justice to my family; these arrangements can not conveniently be made before October next. I now inform the committee that I have fulfilled that intention, and have deposited my resignation with the Governor, to take effect from the 10th day of October next. This course might have been taken sooner; but it could not be thought of while it was believed any charge of want of integrity could be brought against me.
To the Honorable,
The Committee of the Senate.
The investigation was then suspended, and the Judge did retire to private life, after having occupied the bench for twenty- two years, but he did not live long to enjoy the comforts which surrounded him, as he died December 4, 1835. aged almost 64 years. His wife, Martha, born July 22, 1771, died September 8, 1841, and is buried by his side.
It was during Chapman’s administration that the court calendar became so congested that it was necessary to cut Luzerne County from the eighth judicial district and form it into a separate district.
His son, John Cooper, was born at Northumberland about 1784. He studied law with his father and was admitted to the bar at Sunbury. He located at Danville, where he practiced for some years, and then turned over his practice to his son-in-law, John G. Montgomery. On October 17, 1850, Governor Johnston appointed him as one of the Associate Judges for Montour County, and in 1857, he was elected by the people to the same office for five years. He died at Danville June 21, 1863, aged 79 years.
14Republican Argus was the title of the second paper at Northumberland, founded by John Binns, born in Dublin, Ireland, 1772. After imprisonment in the Tower of London, came to America to escape further undesirable consequences of his connection with political disturbances. The above article appeared in the Argus December 7, 1804.
15Historical Journal, vol. ii, see index for the many references to this family.
16Annals of Buffalo Valley, by John B. Linn, Hbg. (1877), p. 156.
17Gazette & Bulletin, Oct. 2, 1933.
18Early history of the University of Virginia as contained in Letters of Thomas Jefferson and Joseph C. Cabell, Richmond, Va. 1856, p. 169.
19Writings of James Madison, Vol. VIII, p. 103.
20The opinion delivered by Judge Cooper in the High Court of Errors and Appeals of Pennsylvania, July 29, 1808, in the case of Demsey (Dempsie) Ass. of Brown v. The Insurance Company of Pennsylvania, as to the effect of a sentence of a foreign court of Vice Admiralty, as between the insurer and the insured, with an introductory preface by Alexander J. Dallas, Patrick Byrne, Phila.
21The case was twice argued, in 1807 and 1808, before the High Court of Errors and Appeals of Pennsylvania, and Judge Cooper’s decision is discussed in Calhoun v. The Insurance Co. of Pennsylvania, 1 Binney 293. See also, Maryland Insurance Company v. Woods and Cranach, 29. Chief Justice Marshall rendered the opinion.
22Law Miscellanies, etc., Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Phila., 1814, p. 548; p. 525, footnote.
23Ency. Americana (older edition), Vol. XIV.
24See Now and Then, Vol. X, pp. 307 and 336.