THOMAS BENTON COOPWOOD
BIOGRPAHY and GENEALOGY
Lawrence County, Alabama
Thomas Benton Coopwood, Lawrence County, Alabama state representative was born September 11, 1793 in Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of Benjamin and Millie (Thomason) Coopwood. Benjamin Coopwood was a Revolutionary War Veteran and an Englishman by birth and education who came to America before the Revolutionary War. “He fought with the Colonial army for the entire war, being wounded severely three times. After the war he went home with George Thomason, his future bother-in-law, to Goochland, Va. There he met Wiilliam Thomason, the father, who had lost four sons in the war. Benjamin married the daughter of William and sister of George.
The Coopwoods settled in Albemarle Co Va. on a small farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their first child, Thomas was born 11 September 1793 in Albemarle Co. In 1801 they left Va. for Grainger Co. Tennessee and then moved to Smith Co. Tennessee in 1806. There they purchased land only to be swindled out of it, as there was no clear title. They moved again 1809 to Madison Co. Alabama which was part of the Mississippi territory at that time. Benjamin died Oct 1809 leaving his widow, two daughters and seven sons. From there they moved back to Smith Co. Tenn. and began to farm, subsequently being able to purchase land in Tennessee.
Thomas served in the War of 1812, and after returning from the war, was elected captain on his company. In 1815, he married Nancy Hess, and settled on a farm and obtained a law degree through self-education.
Thomas Coopwood later moved with his family to Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama where in 1825 he was elected to the Legislature. In 1836, after having served six sessions in the house and four in the senate, he moved again to Aberdeen, Monroe County, Missisippi where he resumed his law practice in parternership with Benjamin F. Coopwood in Aberdeen. He also became a land speculator and chief contact agent with the Indians for the Chickasaw Company. After retiring from law. He ran for governor as a Whig candidate but lost the election to Albert G. Brown by fifteen votes in 1841. Thomas was elected to represent Monroe County, Missisippi in the Missisippi House of Representatives in 1851.
Thomas and Nancy had seven children before she died in 1832. He married 2nd Minerva Ellis. Thomas and Minerva had three children and they owned a successful plantation outside Aberdeen in 1850, that he had purchased. His young son was the overseer.
Thomas was a Captain at the beginning of the Civil War and equipped Co. L Monroe Rangers, Twenty-Fourth Regiment Infantry with his own funds. In December 1861, Coopwood, as captain, was ordered to report for duty to Confederate general John H. Winder in Richmond. On October 8, 1862, he was killed in battle at Perryville, Kentucky while leading his company in a charge. He was sixty-nine years old at the time. His body was returned to Aberdeen for burial.
The following flowery sketch from Portraits of Eminent Americans now living: with biographical and historical memoirs of there lives and actions (Volume 1) was written when Thomas Coopwood was still alive:
Benjamin Coopwood, the father of the subject of the ensuing sketch, was an Englishman by birth and education, but having emigrated to the colonies prior to the commencement of revolutionary hostilities, he espoused the libertyside of the quarrel between the oppressor and the oppressed; and when the contest waxed warm, and to the unnatural oppression was added the physical force of the mother against the daughter to enforce the wrong, he entered with heart and hand into the conflict in favor of freedom and independence. He joined the colonial array, and remained in the service of his adopted country throughout the active operations of the war, in which he was severely wounded three different times. After the last great decisive battle had been fought and won at Yorktown, and the revolutionary storm had measurably subsided, and the thunders of the last great guns in the struggle were dying away in the distance, the war-worn soldier retired from the fields of blood and of victory in company with George Thomas on, his future brother-in-law, to join the father of the latter in Goochland county, Virginia, and to supply, as best they might, the parent’s loss of his four sons, who, from time to time, had, one by one, fallen by the side of their brother while fighting the battles of their country. The kindred sufferings of the two, and the kindly offices of the one to the other while in the army, evoked a sympathy and cemented a friendship between them which terminated not with the closing scenes of the dangers they had shared and through which they passed, but were cultivated and increased with the return of peace, until a still closer bond of union bound them together. The former married the sister of the latter, and the daughter of William Thomas on, whose four sons the two young men had left dead on the battle-ground.
Mr. Coopwood and his wife settled in Albemarle county, and cultivated a small farm, where, in the vicinity of the rich and varied mountain scenery of the Blue Ridge, and amid the golden pomp of autumn, on the 11th day of September, 1793, Thomas Coopwood, whose name heads this article, was born.
In the year 1801, his parents emigrated from the Old Dominion and settled in Granger county, Tennessee, whence they removed to the county of Smith, in 1806. Here they purchased and paid for a large quantity of land for their moderate means, and thought themselves settled for life; and, doubtless, would have been but for the fraud practiced upon them by their vendor, who sold them possessions to which he had no title. They were shortly after evicted by those having titles paramount, and with the loss of the entire purchase-money and nearly all of their little property, they again removed, and settled in 1809, in Madison county, Alabama, then the Mississippi territory, where, as though to verify the oft-repeated proverbial saying, that troubles never come singly and alone, but always in crowds — the husband and father died in the month of October of that year. And now, in deep distress and poverty, in the midst of the wilderness wilds of a new and almost entirely uninhabited country, save by the savage tribes of lawless Indians that roamed through the deep forests that shaded their hunting-grounds, or swarmed on the banks of the neighboring creeks and rivulets, far away from friends and relations, the widowed mother with her nine children was left to struggle against the cold, chilling tide winds of adverse circumstances, which with so bold a current had thus strongly set in. In this trying emergency there was no time to lose in unnecessary and unavailing lamentations over the dead, while the wants and necessities of the living were pressing around about and within the very family circle of which the deceased had so lately been the head, the front and the protection. To hesitate was to yield to the pressure, and to yield was ruin.
As soon as the humble funeral rites of sepulture were performed, a family council was held, and it was finally determined, and definitely agreed, to retrace their traveled steps and return to the county of Smith, in the State of Tennessee. And although the future was shrouded in gloom and beset with difficulties, before which the proudest might have bent and the boldest might have quailed, yet young Thomas, then but a small boy, with his mother, two sisters and six brothers, hesitated or failed not. He pressed on, and on he went to the place destined to witness the opening scenes of his noble self-reliance and youthful exertions, accompanied by a determination and energy seldom equaled and perhaps never surpassed by any of his species.
But now his energies were all fully aroused and he had confidence in himself, and all had confidence in him; for his management in the arrangement, and skill and energy in the execution of his plans had been fairly and fully tested, but a few months before, in being sent by his father, prior to the removal thither, with a drove of cattle to their intended location in the Mississippi territory, where, with a younger brother, he by accident got out of provisions, and although fresh meats were readily attainable, yet during many weeks they must have suffered in the extreme for bread, but for the ready plans, prompt exertions and active energy of young Thomas . His brother wanted to abandon their flocks and return home. But this was inconsistent, and at war with the inclination and every feeling of the nature of Thomas . And he resolved neither to abandon the enterprise nor to suffer much in maintaining his position. He forthwith opened a trade with the Indians, although he had nothing to trade on. But he went it on reciprocal credit, and bought and sold on time, and soon, in the speculation, he had an ample supply of dried venison, hams and corn, which, according to the most approved methods of the culinary art amongst the red merchants with whom he traded, he reduced to bread. And thus plenty was restored to the two young and otherwise starving herdsman.
As necessity is the mother of invention, and the infant germ springs from the parent seed in the rising or sinking scale of gradation from cause to effect, so the character of the man is heralded forth by the conduct of the boy under trying circumstances, and based upon it like a statue rested on and fitted to its pedestal by the plastic hand of the master artist. And so it will be seen by subsequent developments, it has emphatically been in the career of him who is the subject of this notice. He has carried with him the disposition here discovered, as a basis of his movements, in every change through which he has passed in a long and eventful career.
Himself young, and the prospects of the whole family overshadowed with melancholy forebodings of evils to come, they returned to the county of Smith, where, according to the plan, they were all to be kept together, and the younger children raised, educated and supported in comfort, decency and respectability. And the reader has seen what there was to do it with. Thomas was their chief reliance — their mainstay. Nothing daunted, however, on their arrival in the vicinity of their former residence, he rented a farm, and unaided by any assistance, save of course the advice and care of his mother, and the labor of such of his brothers as were able to work, he toiled almost day and night for three years, during which time he had not only plentifully and comfortably supported the family, and punctually paid his rents, but he had purchased and paid for a sufficient quantity of good land, which he converted into a well stocked farm for his mother, on which she moved, and lived and raised her children in comfort, respectability and plenty, and all of them with a good business education. In the mean time, and during the winters, when he could be spared from the crops, he earned the money with which the land was paid for by cutting cord-wood at Harbert’s iron works, in the eastern part of the state in which he lived.
All the while, every moment that could by possibility be spared, or stolen, from the pressing labors and duties that rested upon him, Thomas devoted to the perusal of such books as were within his power to procure — such as history, treatises on political economy, government and international law — Montesquieu, “Voltaire, Paine, Volney, and the English poets, were the chief works which fell in his way. He read some, however little, if it was only one page every day, at meal-times and nights, which supplied food for reflection and study while engaged at his labors, when his mind had sufficiently contemplated the condition of things around him, and revolved his plans for the future. This, however, was done without any view to, or expectation of ever, either studying a profession or filling any responsible station in political life.
By this time, the last war with Great Britain was declared, and the fighting had commenced. When the call for soldiers was made on his state, Thomas , now that he had provided well for his mother and family while he might be absent, entered as a volunteer in the service of his country, in the second, as his father had done in the first war with Britain’s haughty monarch. He accompanied General Jackson to the Creek nation, and was with him throughout, until after Weatherford, one of the first and boldest of the chiefs of the nation, but the last to come in, voluntarily surrendered himself at the Hickory Grounds to the mercy of the general, and proudly sued for peace. He was in most of the battles fought in this service, in which he acquired considerable reputation as a private, and popularity among the men, so much so, that he, young as he was, on his return home, was elected captain of the company in which he had served in the war, over one of its most popular and deserving members; and it will be remembered that, at the time of which mention is now made, the position was a high station of both honor conferred and trust reposed. The contest was animated, but conducted with propriety ; for to the victor was to be awarded, by the voice of the company, the glory of being the better soldier; and on his brow was to be worn the warrior’s wreath. And, as it was considered that it was necessary sometimes for a commander to be able to speak as well as willing to fight, it was thought expedient that to their military prowess and skill in marshaling men, they should add an exhibition of their oratory and skill in the arrangement of words; so the two aspirants took the stump at the precinct on the day of the election. This last feature in the program of the canvass was supposed to have been introduced at the instance of his opponent, as he was a somewhat experienced public speaker, and Mr. Coopwood, it was known, had never made the first attempt in that direction. Be this supposition, however, as it may, Mr. C. was not the man to permit his opponent to lead where he dared not follow. He mounted the stump on the spur of the occasion, and then and there instantly made his first experiment in speech-making, which so far transcended the expectations of all, as well as the eloquence of his adversary, that, at the close of his remarks, the crowd, by its applause, gave clear indication of his election, by a considerable increase on what had been supposed to be his previous probable majority. And so it turned out. The voters went straight to the polls, and Mr. C. was elected by a handsome majority; whereas, but for the speech, it would have been a very close election, the result till then being regarded by all as somewhat doubtful. This speech, doubtless, had considerable influence over his course through subsequent life. This event for him marked, perhaps, the proudest day and the brightest spot in a whole life-long, varied and checkered career ; for the designation of honor then acquired he has studiously avoided parting with ever since; never, at any time, or under any circumstance, seeking any office in the military which would rank him higher in point of title. And, although but a small dot in comparison with the many more important marks his own perseverance, industry and talents have set up along the course he has traveled, why should it not be the proudest day, and the most memorable event of his life? It was the first step to distinction among men in the career of a youth struggling with adverse circumstances through darkness up to the light. It was his taste; and his good sense, too, as well as his taste, in this respect, is admirable, for even the general, the commander-in chief, at last, is but the magnified captain. This new position gave rise in his mind to new thoughts and new labors. The military became the object of his studies, combined with Roman and Grecian history, and the modern wars and modem tactics of Europe.
Shortly after this, Captain Coopwood intermarried with the daughter of a neighboring farmer, settled a small plantation, and turned his attention mainly to the cultivation of the soil; but not abating in his zeal for the acquisition of knowledge, he pursued his studies, as heretofore, at convenient times and on suitable occasions, when to do so would not interfere with his regular business.
An anecdote, not generally known, which has been related to the writer, for the authenticity of which, however, no avouchment is made, is here inserted, as being characteristic of the man who, though poor, was content with his lot, and determined to be comfortable in it, while at the same time he was pressing all the surrounding circumstances, and even the laws of nature, into his service to increase his fortune and elevate him above the station he then occupied. In one point of view, it may be regarded as a remarkable development of a rare combination of strongly marked and happily clustering mental endowments. The moral, however, it is believed, is an admirable one, in many points of view; but particularly for its striking illustration of the adage, that where “there’s a will there’s a way,” and the laws of nature will assist us in it.
The story goes, that about the time of his marriage he purchased his land, first, because the soil was good, and, secondly, because on it there was, as he said, the most convenient and suitable building-spot for the dwelling of a new-married poor man that he had ever seen. On the site thus indicated, he determined to fix his residence, and there he collected his timbers for the building, and then invited his neighbors to his house-raising. None of them had seen
the place selected, not even his brothers. They knew where the land lay; they came on that; but the site for the house they had to hunt for. It was not on that beautiful little circular hill, sloping off so gently in every direction and losing itself in the extended plains around. It was not on the roadside in front; nor was it on the gentle declivity of the little range of hills,
falling off and wasting away into the fertile little valley beyond. It was not in the valley itself. These places had all been examined, and there were no logs, no timbers there. Where could it be? These were all the places fit for building on, anywhere, upon the whole tract of land. Where could be the place? asked his neighbors and brothers one of another. It was agreed that the captain was sometimes a little disposed to quiz his friends; but then it was not April-day; and what was more, they all knew that he needed house. They had not quite agreed to give up the hunt, disperse and return home, when the well-known crack of a rifle was heard in the distance from the direction of the hills in the east. The report was a familiar one. They knew it at once. It was the report of the captain’s gun.
They instantly made for the woods which led off to the hills in the direction whence the sound had emanated ; and then another — and another shot was heard, and away in that direction the company hastened in double-quick time, fearing that, perhaps, the gunner might be too closely pressed in dangerous conflict with some of the many beasts of prey that, at that time, infested the forest. At last they arrived at the place; and there, to the utter astonishment of everyone, away down in the deepest hollow between two of the highest hills, uniting and blending into one above, and forming the most beautiful level plain on the west, and running off, dividing, widening and wasting away into the cane-brake and swamp on the east; below, there lay the logs and there lay all the timbers for the buildings, and there, on a stump in the midst of all sat the captain, with his gun by his side. He had been shooting signal guns for the guidance of his invited and expected companions at the house-raising, as they might be gathering in. He looked like a man who had started to market with a load of plunder somewhat too wide for the road he traveled, and had, unfortunately, got wedged in between the side-walls that pressed the narrow mountain-pass, and was resting over his burden and reflecting upon the best means to extricate it from the difficulty. Almost breathless and half- exhausted, they all at once demanded to know, what on earth was the matter. That was the site for his building. It was no joke. Some laughed and made fun of his location, others remonstrated, and used all the arguments they could against the impropriety and downright folly of building in such a place as that. His brothers got mad, and scolded, and swore they would go home — they would help to build in no such place. But there lay the logs and other timbers all around, as they had rolled down, on either side, from the top of the hills above to the bottom below, and there was no getting them away in any direction. The hills were too steep on every side but one, and there the cane-brake and the swamp presented their impassable barriers — there they were closed in, and there they had to stay.
While his friends remonstrated, the captain demonstrated. He laid down his premises, as follows: It makes but little difference where the rich build; but that the poor man had a duty to perform in this respect. It is the duty of the latter to build at that point on his own land, where concentrate the greatest number of converging advantages. That he, the captain, was not rich, but poor; and that the place whereon he stood, in the hollow, was the point on his own land, where concentrated the greatest number of converging advantages, of any building spot on the whole tract. The major premise was admitted. The minor denied. He was required to prove it. He showed first that he was a poor man. This was easily done. Then he showed that on perfect levels, everything stood stagnant, and still. It neither run to you, nor rolled away. There was a fair set-off: no advantage there. That on hills, nothing run to you, but everything rolled away: there was less than no advantage; there was a positive disadvantage. He then showed that, at the base of a hill, every thing on that side, from the heights above, would run to you. Here was an advantage — this advantage was more than doubled, where the point selected was at the base of two hills on opposite sides, because the one acted as a check to the force of gravitation, imparted by the rapid descent of the other But this was not all; at the point then selected concentrated all the advantages of three hills, it being walled in on every side, save one, which afforded an outlet for the refuse matter, which being once used, was no longer needed, but pushed off into the swamp. This was a plain case — the minor was proved.
The case then stood: The major admitted, the minor proved; and the conclusion — followed — as a matter of course, the place where the timbers lay, was the place to build on. He had gained his point, his friends yielded. The house-raising went on, and the buildings were speedily erected.
By means of troughs, properly arranged, he conducted the purest water, fresh, cold and clear, from the beautiful little spring that gushed out of the side of the hill above, as it rolled along within its wooded bed prepared for it, sparkling and gurgling to the very door of their cabin below. There it was to drink, to cook, to wash, to cool the butter and milk, and to put out fire in case of need. He cut his wood on the side or top of the hill, and it rolled right to the place where it was wanted. Here, with half the trouble, and double the convenience, he lived in more comfort than his neighbors, by making the laws of gravitation labor for, and subserve his interests, and minister to his wants. But was this location not sickly I asked one of his friends from a distance, who, when on a visit, was admiring the beauty and convenience of the improvements of the homestead. Sickness! No: There was nothing there to make sickness out of. Every thing there was clean, neat, clear and bright, and cool and comfortable. But that swamp? But that swamp was east of the residence, and made it more healthy. It drained off every thing noxious, while the rays of the rising sun every morning called up all the effluvia and miasmatic vapor from the lagoons and low-grounds in the bottom below, in an opposite direction from the house. But still, the captain said when he got rich, he would build on the hills. And lest it should hereafter be forgotten, it may be as well here to remark that at the time when this account is being written his plantation covers over seven hills, and his dwelling stands in the centre, upon the most elevated of them all, with hundreds of acres of the richest soil, in a high state of cultivation, spread in the distance around.
He was born in the vale of obscurity, his youth was beset with difficulties, and his building his first house in the humble hollow between the hills, was a fit emblematic memento of his then condition in life, as his present residence on the hill is and will be of the heights to which he has climbed. He commenced at the foot of the ladder, and if he has not reached the top, he has certainly climbed high, and reached an elevated position, which is heightened in comparison, when to remembrance is called the ponderous load he has carried on his journey.
But to return. While living in the hollow, he cultivated his farm, and made money on the capital invested, until he engaged in the produce trade, as a more speedy method of increasing his fortune, in which he accumulated rapidly, for a time, when all of a sudden there came a derangement in the money market, a crash in the business transactions of the country, and a panic ensued, while heavy purchases were on his hands, and the result was that it took all that he had to pay what he owed. But he paid it to the last cent, and without suit, as he believed it was better to sell his own property without costs, than to permit another to do it for him with costs, and at a sacrifice.
Reduced to poverty again, with barely enough to subsist upon, Capt. Coopwood removed with his family to Lawrence county, Alabama, then a territory, where he settled in the woods, built cabins, and improved lands, and bought and sold as usual; and in the course of a few years he had a good farm, well improved, and hands enough to work it. In the mean time, having pursued his studies as formerly, and at the same time mixing and mingling much among the people, always in the line of business, however, and being desirous to keep the law, and not to break it, he turned his attention to the science which embodied its principles. He read Blackstone’s Commentaries, Chitty’s Pleadings, Coke upon Littleton, Starkie on Evidence, and various other books, merely for information and improvement, without any intention at the time of ever commencing its practice as a profession.
Having accumulated a competent property, and not being required, from the necessity of the case, longer to perform, in person, any portion of the labor of his farm, and being inspired with a laudable ambition, as well as patriotic motives to serve his country, he was induced, in the year 1824, to become a candidate to represent the county in which he lived, in the lower branch of the state legislature. He ran against the Hpn. John White, a gentleman of fine talents, excellent qualifications, and high reputation, and was beaten by him, by a majority of about seventy votes. This only served to arouse his ambition, and he therefore resolved to present himself to the people again.
In 1825 he was again a candidate, and was elected by a large majority over all opposition. He served his first session, and made his first experiment as a legislator at Cahawba, then the seat of government of the state. Having mixed extensively with the people, he was one of them, knowing their wants, and understanding their interests, while, to a complete identity with them in their inclinations and wishes, he added talents for commanding and controlling the services of those with whom, in his new career, he was called upon to act, rarely equaled, if ever surpassed, by any. He served them, with their highest approbation of his course, six regular sessions in the House of Representatives, when he was promoted by the voice of the people, his former constituents, to the Senate. As senator, he served them three regular annual sessions, and one called session, when, in 1836, he removed from the state, and took up his residence in the county of Monroe, in the State of Mississippi, where he is now living.
It is not intended here to speak in lengthened narrative of the capacity of Capt. Coopwood as a legislator. To do so would be an unnecessary consumption of time and space. It is enough to say that he seldom failed to carry his point, in whatever respect he chose to present his views and preferences, to the body of which he was a member. Studying to be useful, he always informed himself of the wants and interests of his constituents; and to subserve these, being the end in view, he always made the attack, or came to the rescue, prepared and fortified with the necessary support from above, below, around, to secure success in the undertaking. In the accomplishment of his purposes, he looked mainly to the adaptation of the means to be employed, to the ends to be attained; and as he selected them, so they served him. But the endorsement of his course, by the approbation of the people, who so long retained him in their service, and doubtless would have continued him still longer, but for his removal from their midst, is the best eulogium which can be bestowed upon him as a faithful representative.
In 1830, while a member of the legislature, at the earnest persuasion of his friends, added to the frequent calls made upon him for legal advice, Captain Coopwood applied for, and obtained a license to practice law, and opened an office in the town of Moulton, the seat of justice for Lawrence, the county which he represented. This, to him, was rather a change of scene, than the opening of another act in the great drama of life’s onward current; for so long had he been a close observer of the apparent movements in the business transactions of the court-house pageantry, that there was but little for him to learn, save in what lay deep-hidden in the background, behind the front view of the scenery, obscured by the webbed intracacies of the science itself, having little or nothing to do with the modus operandi of the practice of the profession. A peep, however, behind the scenery, into the green-room preparations of the more distinguished actors, disclosed at once to the keen eye and penetrating vision of the captain, much of the valuable material beneficial to the service in which he had embarked, confusedly mixed, however, with much more that was rather deleterious than productive of good: that the pure grains lay so scattered and intermingled with the mere dross and rubbish, that it was scarcely worth the labor to extract what was acquired in the gathering: that while all aspired to the honors and professed to wear them, but few performed the drudgery necessary to the accumulation of the treasure; and that fewer still waved the magic wand that brought the unalloyed particles together in quantities appreciable to the popular gaze, or even to the vision of the judge himself, and that even these were, many times, meanly rewarded and poorly paid; and therefore he now as before wisely determined to do as the world did in which he lived; and not to be eccentric, where eccentricity did not pay well. So he bit his lip, held his tongue, exchanged a wink for a nod, seized upon, and appropriated whatever of the practical came within his reach, lightly skipped and passed over the abstruse, and discarded, in toto, all that could be classed in the category of the abstract. In short, he was at once, and almost by intuition, as he has been ever since, the bold, plain, direct, firm-minded, self-willed, practical lawyer.
Discarding mere matters of form, he seized with rapidity, and held with a firm grasp, the substance of his client’s cause ; and very philosophically concluding that the world would pass judgment that he was the best lawyer who gained the most cases, he brought all his energies and all his talents to the attainment of that end, without stopping to satisfy himself, whether the principles brought to bear were well established by precedent or not. And in this he has been generally successful. Few lawyers have ever enjoyed a larger run of business, in a country practice, under like circumstances, than he did, from the very commencement of his professional career to its termination. And fewer still have succeeded so well, with a like amount of other business matter pressing on their hands to claim their attention.
In the argument of his cases, preferring the chances before the jury, on the merits of the facts and circumstances, under what he regards as the great principles of natural justice, to questions of technicality before the court, his habit has generally been to remain quiet until the evidence has closed, and then to seize the strong points presented by the testimony, and to throw them in a solid form, with the boldness of an unbounded confidence in the prevailing justice of his client’s cause, right at the best guarded and most strongly fortified point of his adversary’s ground of defence, or point of attack, and by main force, and the shortest and most direct route possible, take the field, and gain the victory, or lose the battle. Seeming always thoroughly to understand his case, his boldness has seldom failed to inspire his own side with confidence, while it intimidated the opposition, and has done much in aid of his success, and not unfrequently has it made to the mind of the jury the worse appear the better cause. As he has disregarded mere matters of form in pleading, so he has eschewed all attempt at ornament in his style of speaking; and with matters of substance before him, he has always progressed with the argument, from his premises to his conclusion, in the briefest possible time. His speeches at the bar have always been, as elsewhere, remarkable for their pith, point, force and brevity.
In the examination of witnesses his manner has been modest, mild, courteous, and kind ; or bold, bluff, dogmatical, and severe, as the occasion seemed to require, according to the behavior of the party testifying; always shaping his questions according to the emergency, to elicit the answers desired to sustain whichever side of the issue joined he might chance to occupy; and when the testimony has once been detailed, he has always recollected it with remarkable accuracy.
Generous and kind in his disposition, courteous and urbane in his deportment, with much of the suaviter in modo et fortiter in re, he has ever been pleasant and agreeable in his intercourse with both the bench and the bar, except on occasions when persuaded in his own mind that intended wrong was about to be perpetrated, and then he has been remarkable for the facility with which he could change the even-flowing current into boisterous and angry waves, overriding by storm whatever barriers presented themselves in his way.
To the younger members of the profession he has always been ready to lend countenance, afford encouragement, and give assistance to their efforts, and advance their prospects in theirprofessional career.
His wife died in 1832. While a member of the Senate, and engaged in the practice of the law, he embarked to some extent in the land speculation then opening in North Mississippi, and examined much of the Chickasaw cession, in which he became involved, with nine others, and bound for one hundred and fifteen thousand, three hundred and sixty dollars. All of his co operators and co-obligors in this transaction, but one, failed, which left the heaviest responsibility upon him; but every dollar has been paid, besides something upward of fifty thousand more for various friends, in consequence of his indorsement of paper for their accommodation. And with all these liabilities hanging over him, while almost every one much indebted was breaking and hiding out his property, “his goods and chattels, lands and tenements,” were all standing there, fair to view, reachable, and sometimes reached by execution, but never sold. In these financial difficulties he sometimes had to take the benefit of such stays and delays as the regular and often lengthened course of the law allowed him, but it was always with the boast that, until every dollar for which he was liable was paid, the last dime’s worth of his property should remain without cloud over his title, subject to the payment thereof. He is now worth, at a fair valuation, clear of all liabilities, about fifty thousand dollars.
In 1836, having lived about four years a widower, since the death of his wife, he again determined to marry, and led to the altar Miss Minerva, the daughter of Dr. John Ellis, a native of Virginia, who had years before, emigrated with his family, and settled in Lawrence county, Alabama. He immediately afterward removed to Aberdeen, in Monroe county, as above stated, where, the following year, he resumed the practice of his profession, with renewed ardor and his usual success, in which he has been engaged, pretty generally, ever since, until, in 1850, he announced his determination to abandon the practice and retire from the bar; since which time he has taken little or no new business, and now only appears in such of the old and complicated cases in which he had been retained as still linger upon the docket.
Within the last year he has sold his town residence and his plantation in the prairies, and purchased land, and moved his negroes as well as his white family to it in the hills, where he now resides, for the sake of the calm retirement it affords from the noise and bustle of a town life, and the active business pursuits which he has so long been accustomed to. But ere he had done so, and while he was making his preparations for that purpose, he received the nomination from the Union party, in 1851, for a seat in the lower branch of the state legislature, and was prevailed on to accept the appointment and run for the station, as a means towards securing, amongst other important measures, a charter for the great New-Orleans and Nashville Railroad running through the town of Aberdeen.
He was elected by a large majority, and was warmly solicited and pressingly urged by his friends, both before and after his arrival at Jackson, in consideration of his long and tried experience in matters pertaining to legislation, and his known familiarity with parliamentary rules and usages, to accept the speaker’s chair; but he firmly declined the proffered honors of the station, upon the ground that he could better promote the immediate interests of his constituents by occupying a place on the floor; besides that, it would be more congenial to his feelings and wishes to be ready and at liberty at all times to participate in the debates as they might arise on the various subjects presented. In this, as in most other things, he had his own way, and made one of the most attentive, active, laborious, and useful members of the last session, and succeeded, by good management, in obtaining a charter for the road in question in conformity with the wishes of his constituents, and in doing as much, and even more, in other respects, to meet their approbation, than was expected under all the circumstances.
A whig in principle, he was untrammeled by party shackels, supporting whatever his judgment approved, and opposing all that he regarded as objectionable. Bold and independent in the discharge of the duties assigned him as representative from the county of Monroe, as he had ever been when representing a different county in another state, he fearlessly grappled with whoever and whatever assailed him, or in anywise impeded his progress in the just vindication and proper support of the rights of his constituents. It remains to be seen whether they will approve his course, and reward his labors with the same high appreciation that had been awarded to his efforts during his previous legislative career.
It must not be forgotten that the whig central convention for that year nominated him, and run his name for governor of the State of Mississippi in 1845. Of course he was not elected, for at that time the democratic party was largely in the ascendency throughout the state; and besides he never left his home on an electioneering expedition, nor took any active part in the matter, one way or the other, during the canvass. He did not even formally accept the nomination, and neither sought nor desired the position. It has never been the absorbing and predominating desire of his heart to acquire political distinction, and judicial stations he has never sought.
Captain Coopwood is about five feet ten inches high, well set, broad shoulders, full chest, and of full, round, fleshy proportions, but by no means corpulent. He has a large, well-proportioned head, measuring well in every direction, and particularly so in the basilar region, with originally dark hair, bordering on black, but now quite bald, and slightly gray. His eyes are of a dark-blue color, rather small, but full of animal vigor; large, full, round face, high, prominent cheek-bones, full and elevated forehead.
He is a true believer in all the proprieties and precepts of the Christian religion, but not in the remotest degree tinctured with fanaticism. If he does not always tread the narrow path, walking in the commandments, keeping them blameless, it is because to err is human, and he knows that to forgive is divine.
He is warm, cordial, and kind to his friends, and severe, harsh, and bitter towards his enemies.
He has strong family predilections and attachment to wife and children, with the principle of “self, me and mine” greatly predominating in his organization; he makes a kind master, good neighbor, with much benevolence to the poor; and what is remarkable for one organized as he is, whose life has been one continued struggle for property, under adverse circumstances, he spends his money freely and liberally.
Now in his fifty-ninth year, the captain is as full of energy, activity, life and vigor, as a boy of twenty; and is one of the most companionable men alive. To hear him talk, and see his movements, on a long, tedious, dull, traveling journey, far away from home, is to be, in spite of his thinned locks and bald head, almost half convinced that his iron frame and elastic spirits will never wear out nor fail him ; but that his primal manhood is traveling round in circles, and he is to live and relive his whole life over and over again.
In this brief sketch, if the leading, prominent traits of a well-formed character, through a long, busy, checkered, and most active career, have been sufficiently marked out to bring to the mind of the reader the faint and general resemblance in outline picture of the genuine arche-type, there will be found, doubtless, much to condemn, but much to admire and to imitate — there will be found patterns for the youth in adversity, who has the mind to comprehend what is around and above him, and the will to direct his course through the one up to the other, determined on his way to reap the reward of his labor in the transit – there will be found models for the man of the world, who lives not in the studied creations of his own genius, but who seizes upon whatever he finds already created and prepared for the purpose by the heads and the hands of others, and reduces it to practice and appropriates it to his own use, as well as to the benefit of tlie millions moving along life’s great thoroughfare in company with him — there will be found much for the study and imitation of him, who, born under the presiding influence of a more propitious star than he, has made, amid the storms that raged, shipwreck of his fortune, but who desires to rise again, and is willing to exert his energies to do so — there will be found advice for the poor, seeking wealth; example for the obscure, aiming at distinction; lessons for the ignorant, in the pursuit of wisdom, and counsel for the wise, who desire to be useful. Whether at this point of time he is viewed away in the background lying in the distance, as the mere child, feeding his father’s cattle, and trading with the Indians for bread; toiling on the farm through “summer’s heat and winter’s cold” for the support of his sisters and younger brothers; cutting cord- wood at the iron-works to purchase his mother a farm — or, as the youth, fighting in defense of his country ; on the stump, making his first speech to his comrades in support of his own promotion — or, as the man, building his house in the hollow of the hills to suit the convenience of his family ; trading in produce and losing his property; or, in the woods, taking a new start in a new country; or, in the more prominent, but not more laudable, position in the councils of his country, making laws for the government of the people, or playing the lawyer before the tribunals created for the administration of the laws, in the dispensation of justice; or, trading in lands, walking in, or working out of embarrassing moneyed difficulties — in all — through all, the character of the man presents a rich theme — a curious and interesting problem — for the contemplation and solution of the mental and moral philosopher.
It is not pretended that he has no faults. It would be hard labor —a dry, dull and monotonous task, indeed, to sketch the life of one, whose character was composed, entire, of one straightforward, even, smooth current of uninterrupted good, with no relief, in light or shade, of comparative or superlative degree, to enliven and animate the picture. The writer would loathe the task, though he might love and attempt to copy the virtues of the original. Faults are magnified and objected to mainly by those having much greater ones, and committing, in consequence, much more heinous enormities — but faults, to the philosophic mind, are not objectionable; for in man it is true, and the principle runs through all nature, that the capacity for evil must exist in order to the accomplishment of good. Man’s conduct does not always square with his sentiments. In conduct, Julian developed the virtues of a Christian, Constantine the vices of a pagan. But the sentiments of Julian led back thousands to paganism, and those of Constantine, under Heaven’s rule, helped to bow to Christianity the nations of the earth. In conduct, the humblest votary to the service of Leo, who believed in the miraculous efficacy, in the cure of souls, of the indulgencics sold by Tetzel, may have been a better man than Luther. To the sentiments of Luther, however, the mind of Christendom is indebted for the grandest revolution the world has ever known.
The writer is no eulogist, but he would, when called upon to decide, sit equipoised in the judgment-seat, and simply, and independently of friends and foes, the living and the dead, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” This is believed to be the true object of history; and in this alone can it be properly said that it is “philosophy teaching by example.” The writer is well aware of the difficulties that confront the historian at every step of his progress, in attempting to transfer to paper by the use of language the exact picture of the character to be drawn. To the mere sketch-writer, perhaps, the difficulties are in nowise diminished. And it has been well said by one, on whose capacity to decide the world has long since passed judgment, that “in every human character and transaction there is a mixture of good and evil; — a little exaggeration, a little suppression, a judicious use of epithets, a watching and searching skepticism with respect to the evidence on one side, a convenient credulity with respect to every report or tradition on the other, may easily make a saint of Laud, or a tyrant of Henry the Fourth.”In the pages before the reader, the writer has endeavored to keep his pen on the exact line in the equi-distance between the two extremes. How far he has succeeded, in this respect, must now be left for others to determine.
- The Papers of Jefferson Davis: June 1841-July 1846
- By Jefferson Davis
- Portraits of eminent Americans now living: with biographical and historical memoirs of there lives and actions (Volume 1 )
This biography is included in the E-Book First Families of Lawrence County, Alabama Volume I
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