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William Cooper

Union or Secession
William Pope Cooper (1825–1880)
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WILLIAM POPE COOPER (1825–1880)

William Pope Cooper (26 July 1825–17 September 1880), member of the third session of the Convention of 1861, was born in New York State and was the son of Enoch Cooper, a New Hampshire native, and Maranda Cooper. Details of his early life are not known. By 1850 he was living in Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pennsylvania, and was married to Margaret F. Cooper, whose maiden name is not recorded. They had four sons and three daughters.

On 1 December 1848 Cooper purchased the Mifflintown Pennsylvania Register and Juniata Advertiser. In his first issue, published on 2 February 1849, he declared his support for the Democratic Party. Beginning on 4 May of that year the paper appeared as the Mifflintown Juniata Register. Cooper published his last issue on 4 September 1851, sold the newspaper, and moved his family to Clarksburg, Virginia, where he acquired the Clarksburg Register. The first weekly issue of Cooper's Clarksburg Register appeared on 12 November of that year. His editorial announcing the new publication proclaimed the paper's allegiance to the Democratic Party and praised the recently ratified state constitution, particularly its adoption of universal white manhood suffrage. Despite the failures of previous attempts to establish newspapers in Clarksburg and predictions that his own efforts would go unrewarded, the Register prospered and a year later moved its offices into a new brick building. Cooper acquired a partner in 1857 and continued to publish the Register until the beginning of the Civil War.

In 1853 Cooper became a charter member of the Mechanics Association of Clarksburg and helped draft its constitution and bylaws. He was elected one of Clarksburg's trustees on 30 June 1856 and from that group was chosen the town president (a designation later changed to mayor). On 27 August 1857 Cooper won election as clerk of the Harrison County Court. He ran for the office again in May 1858 but lost by six votes and contested the result. Another election was scheduled, and during the interim he was appointed clerk pro tempore. A rancorous campaign ensued, pitting Democrats against American (Know Nothing) Party adherents. Despite the efforts of former governor Joseph Johnson to rally support for Cooper, he was again defeated, this time by a larger margin. In November 1858 Harrison County Democrats met to select delegates to the party's convention in Petersburg. Cooper served as secretary and then attended the December gathering that nominated candidates for the upcoming statewide elections. As the likelihood of war increased, he and other Clarksburg secessionists began conducting military drills in January 1861, and he was elected lieutenant of the volunteer unit.

On 17 April 1861 the state convention meeting in Richmond voted to secede from the Union. In Clarksburg on 26 April, Cooper served as a secretary for a gathering of secessionists who applauded the actions of the convention and deplored Abraham Lincoln as a military despot. Late in May, Cooper led Harrison County volunteers to a rendezvous with other troops sympathetic to the Southern cause, after which he and his men were organized as Company C in what soon became the 31st Regiment Virginia Infantry. He was promoted to first lieutenant on 1 July 1861. During the next six months his regiment took part in operations in the Allegheny Mountains, including the failed Cheat Mountain campaign in September.

The Convention of 1861

In June 1861 the state convention in Richmond expelled twelve northwestern delegates who had opposed disunion and had abandoned their seats. The governor ordered special elections to be held at military encampments to fill these vacancies. On 24 October 1861 Cooper, standing unopposed for the Harrison County seat forfeited by John Snyder Carlile, received all forty-three votes cast by his regiment at Camp Bartow, in Pocahontas County. He took his seat in the third session of the convention on 20 November 1861. Before the session concluded on 6 December, Cooper signed the Ordinance of Secession.

After the close of the convention, Cooper returned to his regiment. He became a captain on 1 May 1862, and in the ensuing weeks the 31st Virginia suffered heavy casualties in Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Valley campaign. Cooper won promotion to major on 5 December 1863, to rank from 1 August of that year. Twice wounded, he commanded the 31st Virginia on several occasions, including at Appomattox Court House when the regiment surrendered its arms. He led the remnants of his command back through the mountains to West Virginia, where in Clarksburg on 14 June 1865 he signed the loyalty oath.

Remaining in Clarksburg after the war, Cooper had by 9 March 1866 established the Clarksburg Conservative, a newspaper in which he routinely sparred with the Republican editors of the Clarksburg Weekly National Telegraph. He had sold the paper by 11 September 1868, and by July 1870 he had moved his family to Parkersburg, where he continued to work as a publisher and printer. Within four years Cooper was residing in Marion County, where on 21 February 1874 he published the first issue of the Fairmont Index. A fire destroyed much of his office in 1876, and he sold what little survived of the paper.

William Pope Cooper died at his Fairmont residence on 17 September 1880 and was buried in Fairmont Cemetery. His remains and those of his wife, who died in April 1881, were moved to Woodlawn Cemetery, in Fairmont, on 31 August 1913.

Contributed by Donald W. Gunter

This biography, with a bibliographical note, appears in John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1998– ), 3:453–454.

Copyright 2006 by the Library of Virginia. All rights reserved.