Biography of Joseph Cooper
Winona County, MN Biographies

JOSEPH COOPER was born in Fairfax Court House, Virginia, March 20, 1820. His father, Joseph Cooper, was a carriage maker in the city of Washington, D. C., and was also engaged in the wood trade, bringing wood up the Potomac for sale in the city. When only ten years old, after having attended the Calvinistic preparatory school for several terms, and having a taste for sailing, he went to sea, and for nearly flfteen years he followed the water, making several voyages from New York to London. He sailed around Cape Horn to California in 1836. also visited Juan Fernandez islands, and came back and joined the United States navy, and was stationed three years on the coast of Brazil in the sloop of war Marion. After leaving the navy he made voyages to Trieste, Austria, and various ports of the Mediterranean seas to London and Havre, then to Cardiff, Wales, for strap railroad iron. This proved to be his last ocean voyage. When about three days out from Land's End, England, the ship was dismasted; all three of the masts were swept from the deck by a sudden squall of wind; the ship being heavily loaded with iron, and rolling in the heavy seas. she sprung a leak, and for seventy eight days they were compelled to work the pumps day and night. For forty eight days they were on short allowance. After drifting about for two and a half months they finally landed on St. Thomas island, one of the West Indies, in a most destitute condition. From St. Thomas island he took passage to New Orleans. Here he was very sick for some time, but finally took passage on a steamboat to Evansville, Indiana, and from there he went by stage to Terre Haute, indiana, where he found his father's family. Here he married Ellen M. Gaither, July 12, 1844. Soon tiring of an inactive life, he went to Toledo, and there engaged in sailing on the lakes. Here he soon became master of a vessel, and sailed fbr one employer six years on the different lakes. He hauled the first vessel across the Sault Ste. Marie portage (one mile) upon rollers; this took about six weeks. He had for a cargo Indian goods to pay Indians at the Apostle islands. After arriving at destination he was surprised to find that a part of his cargo. belonging to a man from Chicago, and marked "mutton hams," was nothing else than whisky, which was contraband goods and laid him and his vessel liable for receiving and shipping the same. He notified the owner to come and take his mutton hams away, but upon his non compliance. and the circulation of the fact that there was bottled whisky aboard the ship, he concluded to take his vessel away, and accordingly hoisted sail and started off. There happened to be a twelve-oared government boat in the vicinity, which immediately gave chase, and very nearly caught him in rounding a point. After baffling his pursuers he landed and gave up the whisky (two casks, filled with bottles of the fluid) to the Sioux missionary at Sault Ste. Marie. In 1851 he bought a half interest in a vessel named General Houston and sailed it with success and profit till 1853, when she capsized one evening, near the American shore, at the head of Lake Erie; fortunately no lives were lost, and after escaping to Malden, Canada, he took his first horseback ride to Detroit, where he hired a steamboat to search for his vessel. After hunting three days he found her on the Canada side and sold her, and after making a couple more voyages, in one of which he nearly lost his life by the falling of his foremast, he left the lakes. In the early winter of 1853 he bought an interest in a livery stable in Terre Haute, Indiana. In October, 1854, he and his partner sold out part of livery stock and he started for St. Paul, Minnesota, with six head of horses. He came with teams to La Orosse, Wisconsin, and finding it impossible to get his horses shipped to St. Paul that year, he came out to Pleasant Hill, Minnesota, in December, 1854, and made a claim, and began to get out logs for a house, 22 x 24 feet and one and one-half stories high. This house was completed and he moved his family into it March 20, 1855. Soon the travel on the Territorial road, from La Orosse, Wisconsin, to Mankato, Minnesota, became so great that he was almost forced into keeping a hetel and relay stables for the stage company. Politically speaking Mr. Cooper is, and always has been, a democrat, and as such he has filled all the different offices of his township, and represented his congressional district in the state legislature in 1879 and 1880. He was also the first postmaster of Ridgeway postoffice, established in 1856, and is at present filling the same position, having been postmaster of that office seventeen years, at different periods. Mr. Cooper and wife are still living on their original claim of 160 acres in Pleasant Hill, and their union has been blessed with seven children: Lizzie E., born in Detroit, Michigan, October 8, 1845; Lelia E., born in Toledo, Ohio, August 22, 1848; Sarah A., born at Ridgeway, Minnesota, July 20, 1857; Joseph B., born at Ridgeway, August 21, 1858; Willie J., born at Ridgeway, March 7, 1861; George B., born at Ridgeway, April 12, 1864; Jennie J., born at Ridgeway, June 26, 1868. Lelia E. died January 2, 1865. The three youngest are living at home, and with their parents form a cheerful family, enjoying all the necessary comforts of life.

The History of Winona County
Together with Biographical Matter, Statistics, Etc.
BY: A. T. Andreas
H. H. Hill and Company, Publishers
Chicago 1883.


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