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Daniel Cooper Articles

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on July 30, August 6, 13,& 20, 1994
by Roz Young
            Resting on a low platform on the floor of the Shaker cottage in the Kettering Moraine Museum is a large cast iron bell. Melba Hunt, the proprietor of the museum, dusts the bell every once in a while, and every time she does, she thinks about Daniel C. Cooper and the tragedy it brought to him.
            Daniel C. Cooper, the first son of George Cooper, a farmer of Morris County. N.J., was born November 20, 1773. He learned the profession of surveyor and accompanied two surveying parties led by Col. Israel Ludlow to the Miami Valley in 1794 and 1795 to survey the land between the Miami and the Mad rivers. Ludlow was one of the four men who purchased the land from John Cleves Symmes. The others were Gen. Arthur St. Clair, Gen. Jonathan Dayton and Gen. James Wilkinson.
            At the direction of Ludlow, Cooper cut a road from Fort Hamilton to the Mad River and cleared out the brush. This was the road by which one group of the original settlers traveled to the new town in 1796. Ludlow, the only one of the original land owners to come to the site, platted the streets, naming one for himself, one for Wilkinson and one for St. Clair. He named the middle street Main, and another Jefferson for the president, because the four original purchasers were all Federalists. He named the town itself for Dayton.
            If he had known what we know now, he would have named it Cooperstown.
            The original settlers of Dayton - 19 men and about 17 women and children left Cincinnati March 1, 1796, arrived at the site April 1 and began clearing the land and building their cabins.
            Twenty-two-year old Daniel Cooper bought a lot in March 1796, on the southeast corner of Water (now Monument) and Jefferson streets. Up to the time he moved to Dayton the villagers had to grind corn and wheat in hand-operated mills or bring it in barrels down the Ohio and up the Miami, a very expensive procedure.
            Soon after Cooper moved here he built Dayton's first corn mill at the head of Water and Mill streets. John F. Edgar described it as a "tub mill made of four posts 4 feet high set in the river bed 4 to 6 feet apart, on which sills were laid, and the plank, or puncheon floor pinned down with wooden pins. In the center of this floor was a small pair of mill stones, with the shaft through the bed stone and floor, at the lower end of which was the tub wheel. The current of the stream was directed to the wheel by a dam running diagonally upstream."
            The mill operated until 1820, when it burned.
            Cooper also bought more than 1,000 acres of land to the south of Dayton and moved there in 1798. Through this land ran a strong spring, later called the Rubicon, on which he built a grist mill and a sawmill.
            In 1799 calamity struck the new settlement. John Cleves Symmes, first owner of the site of Dayton, had agreed to pay Congress 68 cents an acre, and the four original proprietors had agreed to pay Symmes 83 cents. But Congress decided not to honor the Symmes agreement and passed a law March 3, 1799, giving any persons who had a contract with Symmes dated before April 1, 1797, the privilege of purchasing the land for $2 an acre, payable in three annual installments.
            "Even with long payment plans," says Charlotte Reeve Conover's history, "this meant nothing less than bankruptcy for the early Daytonians, most of them, never saw a two-bill in the course of a year. The discouraged citizens held many a meeting before the fireplace at Newcom's and gave it up as a bad job. Several families moved away. In a town of only 14 homes it is a calamity for three or four to be abandoned."
            The four original proprietors could not afford the increased price and relinquished their claim. The town was about to disappear.
            Then Daniel Cooper bought the whole town. He charged $1 for a half-acre in-town lot and allowed the settlers and new purchasers to pay as they were able. The outlots were $2 an acre; he sold them at cost. He established a land office and little by little the titles were registered and the property rights of the settlers assured. People moving to Dayton bought their land from Cooper and were granted secure titles.
            The town was saved.
            Daniel Cooper was appointed tax assessor in 1798.
            The average for each taxpayer that year was $1.19, and the highest tax in town, $6.25, was paid by Daniel Cooper.
            He was appointed Dayton's first justice of the peace Oct. 4, 1799 and served until May 1, 1803.
            Taking advantage of natural water resources, he built a corn mill in 1799, a grist mill and a sawmill in 1800. When they were ready for operation, he leased them to Robert Edgar.
            In 1803 Cooper married Sophia Greene Burnett, a young widow from Marietta. He brought the first African American to Dayton, a young woman who worked in his home. Soon after she arrived, she had a son, whom she named Harry Cooper. He worked all his life in the sawmill for Cooper. Harry broke his leg in the sawmill, and it had to be amputated. He was able to work after he had been fitted with an artificial leg, and Cooper awarded him a pension of a dollar a day for the rest of his life.
            Cooper was elected to the state legislature in 1804, and that same year he sold his farm south of town to Col. Robert Patterson and built for himself and his wife an elegant log house on the corner of First and Ludlow. He lived there the rest of his life.
            In 1809 he made a new plat of the city. He specified Wilkinson Street, Fourth, Fifth and St. Clair to be four poles wide and Third Street six poles wide. He gave 11 lots between East Second, East Third and St. Clair for the use of the town for an "open walk forever."
            He gave the land on Fifth Street between Ludlow and Wilkinson for a town cemetery and the block between First and Second, Wilkinson and Perry for a girls' school. The Cooper Seminary was located on that block for many years; it is now occupied by Westminster Presbyterian Church. He also gave land for a boys' school on East Third across from the open walk; The Academy was built on the land, and many Dayton business leaders were educated there.
            Cooper was re-elected to the state legislature in 1808, 1807 and 1817. He served in the state senate in 1808, 1815 and 1816. He was a member of the town council and president in 1810 and 1812.
            His son David Zeigler Cooper was born in 1812.
            Up to this point Cooper's life seems to have been exemplary and without controversy of any kind.
            In 1804 the First Presbyterian Church, of which Cooper was a member, appointed Dr. James Welsh as pastor of the church. Welsh was a physician as well as a clergyman and opened an office for practice. He also owned and operated a drug store.
            "Dr. Welsh was drawn into an unfortunate newspaper controvery with Cooper." says Jerry Fox Vincent in her history of the church, "when Cooper charged him with dishonorable dealings, with writing anonymous and slanderous letters, with unfeeling conduct towards patients and professional colleagues, with cheating at church elections and with forcing himself as pastor upon the church." Cooper said his acts would be dishonorable in a savage, to say nothing to anyone who professes to be a humble follower of Christ.
            Dr. Welsh responded that Cooper did not pay his doctor bills.
            The church split between sympathizers of Welsh and of Cooper, and the Welsh people began a movement to establish a Second Presbyterian Church, but it finally failed and Dr. Welsh resigned and accepted a pastorate in Indiana.
            The church outgrew its first log cabin building and met for several years in the courthouse. In May 1813, the trustees bought a lot on Second Street between Wilkinson and Perry from Cooper for $250. A year later the materials for the building were ordered and delivered, but a number of members objected to the site and the trustees decided not to go ahead with the building. They sold the materials. A month later they decided to buy a lot on the corner of Second and Ludlow from Cooper for $500 if he would make the exchange and give them credit for the $250 they had paid for the first lot. This he agreed to do, and plans for a new brick church were drawn and contracts let. The first service was held in the new building Oct. 5, 1817.
            The trustees ordered a cast-iron church bell from a foundry in Cincinnati. It came up the river on a barge and was delivered to Horatio G. Phillips' store on the south east corner of Main and Second.
            'In no way did Daniel Cooper confer a greater benefit upon his town," wrote Robert W. Steele in his history, "than by inducing a number of men of superior education, character and business capacity to come here from his native New Jersey and other places between 1804 and 1808."
            One he influenced to come here was his brother-in-law Charles Russell Greene. Another was Joseph Pierce, of whom more later.
            Horatio G. Phillips came west from New Jersey to seek a home. On his way home from Natchetz, Miss., where he thought of settling, he happened to run into Cooper in Cincinnati. He had known Cooper in New Jersey. Cooper painted a rosy picture of life in Dayton and the money to be made there and invited Phillips to visit him.
            As a result of the visit Phillips decided to settle in Dayton, and he became a most successful businessman. In 1817 the only two men in Dayton who owned carriages were Horatio Phillips and Daniel Cooper.
            On the morning of July 13, 1818, Phillips walked to Cooper's house. "The church bell was delivered to my place this morning," he said.
            Cooper looked at his pocket watch. "There's time to take it to the church before lunch," he told Phillips. "I'll pick it up directly."
            He fetched a wheelbarrow from his barn and pushed it to the store on the southeast corner of Second and Main. He set the wheelbarrow down by the bell where it rested on the gravel street.
            It never occurred to him to ask Phillips to help him load the bell on the wagon. It was heavy, and he tugged and pulled and strained to hoist it into the barrow. The veins on his forehead head stood out as the blood rushed through them as he struggled. Finally with the bell in the wheelbarrow, he started for the church.
            He started down Second Street, but before he had gone very far, his hands lost their grasp on the barrow handles and he fell over in the street.
            Daniel Cooper was dead.
            A blood vessel in his brain had burst.
            When he died, Cooper was 45, the leading citizen of Dayton. He had a beautiful wife and a 6-year-old son. He had recently begun building a new home, which was planned to be the most imposing, elegant house in Dayton.
            His death stunned the community.
            The First Presbyterian Church members were so grief-stricken over his death that they decided not to put the bell into the steeple. Every time it rang, members said, it would remind them of the tragedy. They sold the bell to the Shakers at Watervliet, a settlement on the Greene County line and (the now) Patterson Road, who erected it in their Centre Family Dwelling.
            The Shakers left Watervliet in 1900, and in 1909 the state of Ohio bought the property. Many of the buildings were torn down, but the Centre Family Dwelling, the Miller house and the barn remained. In 1922 the Family building burned and the bell fell to the ground, but was put back in the belfry when the state restored the building. It was torn down in 1983. Melba Hunt moved the Miller house and barn to the Kettering Moraine Museum in that same year and at that time the superintendent of the grounds gave her the bell. It is now on display in the Shaker House.
            Of all the land that Cooper gave to the city, only the plot he gave "for a public walk forever" still remains. The Montgomery County Public Library was built on the land, and for a few years the surrounding area was called Library Park. But finally the city fathers passed a resolution that it should be called Cooper Park.
            Near the rear entrance of the library the Montgomery County Historical Society erected a marker in 1974, which reads:
            Cooper Park
            Daniel C. Cooper (1773-1818) perhaps more than any other deserves to be called the founder of Dayton. A surveyor with Israel Ludlow, Cooper settled in Dayton in the summer of 1796 and became the titular owner of the town when the original proprietors defaulted. He platted the city, laying out broad streets "four poles wide" and built most of the early mills. Cooper served as Dayton's first justice of the peace and as a member of the state legislature. He donated ground for a graveyard, lots for churches, schools and public buildings, as well as the land for this park.
            Dayton will celebrate its 200th birthday in 1996. As part of our bicentennial celebration, what better way could we show our gratitude to the man who saved the city from death in the first decade of its life than to erect his likeness in stone or bronze in the center of the city he loved so well?
            The series about Daniel Cooper, the proprietor of Dayton, concluded last week, brings up the story about why the first mayor of Cincinnati is buried along with Daniel Cooper on lot number 1 in Dayton's Woodland Cemetery.
            The mayor's monument, an impressive flat slab that once was the lid of his sarcophagus, says:
            Major David Zeigler
            To whose memory this monumental stone is erected
            was born in the City of Heidelberg in the year 1748.
            Having held a commission and served with
            reputation in the army of Russia
            He migrated to Pennsylvania in 1775.
            He joined the standard of Washington and served with honor in the Army of the Revolution,
            till by the treaty of 1783
            the independence of his adopted country was acknowledged.
            In the Western Country he served under
            Generals Harmar and St. Clair and died in this city
            in September 1811 universally esteemed and respected.
            "This city" was Cincinnati. He had been a successful business man there for many years and was the first president of the first city council. When he died, he was collector of the Port Authority of Cincinnati.
            His funeral procession was as follows:
            The major's horse with saddle, holster and pistols.
            Clergy and physicians of the city.
            The Cincinnati Band and the Harmonical Society.
            Infantry led by Captain Mansfield, Artillery led by
            Captain Jenkinson and Cavalry led By Captain Sloan, all with arms reversed.
            The hearse.
            Pallbearers, Captain Sloan, Captain Torrence, Major Ruffin, Captain Jenkinson, Captain Carr, Major Stanley and Captain Riddle.
            Militia in uniform.
            He was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery on Fourth Street.
            His widow, Lucy Ann Zeigler, moved to Dayton, where a number of her nieces and nephews lived, including Sophia Cooper, wife of Daniel, and Joseph Peirce, whom Daniel had influenced to move to Dayton in 1805. There was evidently affection between the Zeiglers and their Dayton relatives, for Daniel and Sophia Cooper named a daughter Lucy Ann Zeigler and their son David Zeigler. Joseph Peirce named one of his sons David Zeigler.
            When the Presbyterian cemetery in Cincinnati was closed, Lucy Ann had his body moved to the Twelfth Street Cemetery. When it, too, was closed as the city grew, Lucy Ann once again moved his remains, this time to Dayton to the cemetery given to Dayton by Daniel Cooper. She was later buried there beside him.
            When Woodland Cemetery was opened in 1843, Daniel Cooper had the bodies of David Zeigler and Lucy Ann moved to Woodland, where they are today. Also buried on plot number 1 are Sophia Cooper, Daniel's widow, and Gen. Fielding Lowry, whom Sophia married after Daniel's death. David Zeigler Cooper, who died at 24, Lucy Ann Zeigler Cooper, five months, and Margaret Cooper, infant, are also buried on the plot.
            Major David Zeigler was a member of the Order of the Cincinnati, the oldest of 22 organizations in this country requiring for membership an ancestor who participated in the Revolution. Only officers in the Revolution can be members of the Cincinnati and membership can be passed only to their firstborn sons.
            George Washington was the first President General of the Cincinnati. The insigne is a gold eagle suspended from a deep blue ribbon, two inches wide and edged in white. Washington's medal was encrusted with 200 precious stones and has been passed down to each succeeding President General.
            David Zeigler left his medal to Joseph Peirce, his wife's nephew. The late Peirce Woods of Dayton was the fifth generation after Joseph Peirce to inherit the medal; Peirce left the medal in his will to Peirce Woods Johnston of Dayton.
            Apologetic note: Israel Ludlow could not have named Jefferson Street for the president in 1796, as some readers pointed out, because Jefferson was not president in 1796. Roz gets an F. Daniel Cooper named Jefferson Street when he replatted the streets in 1805. Jefferson was president then.