Daniel Cooper

Daniel C. Cooper (20 Nov 1773 — 13 July 1818) was born in the Passaic Valley of New Jersey at Long Hill in Morris County, the first son of wealthy farmer George Cooper and Margaret Lafferty. He was named after his paternal grandfather who was born at sea on the voyage from Holland about 1695.

Judge John Cleves Symmes, a land speculator from New Jersey, initiated much of southwestern Ohio‘s settlement and in late 1795 sold General Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territory, General James Wilkinson, Israel Ludlow, and New Jersey Congressman, Jonathan Dayton the land that became known as the “Dayton Purchase.” The four men paid $0.83 an acre for 60,000 acres at the confluence of the Great Miami and Mad rivers. Israel Ludlow, the only one of the original land owners to come to the site, named the village after his friend, Jonathan Dayton. Ludlow was the one who laid out the streets, which at four poles (66 ft) were wide enough to “turn a coach and four.” Besides Main Street, he named three of the original streets after St. Clair, Wilkinson, and himself, and a fourth street Jefferson after the President because all of the four original purchasers were Federalists.

Educated in the east as a surveyor, Daniel C. Cooper was about twenty years old when he first went west to Fort Washington near Cincinnati, Ohio to look after the land interests of Jonathan Dayton, that included those in the “Dayton Purchase”. This gave Cooper employment in his occupation as surveyor and also gave him a favorable opportunity to observe and select land for himself. Daniel Cooper headed the team that surveyed the land and laid out the town site of Dayton in 1795.

In 1796, a large area containing parts of present-day Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Clark, Campaign, Logan, and Shelby counties was formed. It was called Dayton Township and Daniel Cooper was appointed tax assessor. Twenty-two year old Daniel Cooper bought a lot in March that year on the south-east 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 down the Ohio and up the Miami, a very expensive procedure. The highest tax assessed was Daniel Cooper’s $6.25, which included the gristmill he operated. John F Edgar in ‘Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity: 1796-1840‘ first published in 1896, 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 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 down.

In 1797, Daniel Cooper laid out the Mad River Road, the first overland connection between Cincinnati and Dayton. This opened up the “Mad River Country” at Dayton and the upper Miami Valley to settlement.

John Cleves Symmes had originally agreed to pay Congress $0 .68 per acre, but Congress decided not to honor the Symmes agreement and on 03 Mar 1799 passed a law giving any persons who had a contract with Symmes dated before 01 Apr 1797, the priviledge of purchasing the land for $2 an acre, payable in three annual installments. When Symmes would not pay the higher rate, the four original proprietors: Ludlow, St. Clair, Wilkinson, and Dayton also chose to waive their right to purchase the property from the government as they could not afford the increased price. The offer to sell the property to the residents at that rate was far beyond the means of these original settlers – and at a higher price than they had already paid Symmes. “Even with long payment plans,” says Charlotte Reeve Conover in ‘Dayton, Ohio, An Intimate History‘ published in 1995 “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 Tavern 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.” Not only did residents leave instead of paying the fee, many potential settlers migrated to other locations. By the time the matter was settled in 1802, only five families resided in Dayton.

Daniel Cooper petitioned the United States Congress, describing the town’s land-title plight: Would it be right, he asked, to dispossess these settlers after they had worked so hard clearing land and raising cabins? The government named Cooper proprietor of the town. He paid the federal asking price of $2 an acre purchasing more than 3,000 acres of the land, including the town site. He re-platted the town using the original survey with minimal alterations. Clear titles were passed to the original settlers who were once again given an “inlot'” within the city and an “outlot.” When original owners left the property, new settlers were required to pay $2 an acre for their “outlots” and $1 for the city lot.

Daniel Cooper also purchased 1,000 acres south of the town where he moved in 1798. Through this land ran a strong spring, later called the Rubicon, on which he built a gristmill and a sawmill. He brought an African-American female servant to his farm in 1802, the first African-American woman of record in the area. In the Population of Record, the woman was recorded as “Black Girl.” While her name is not known, her children: Harry Cooper, born in 1803, and Polly Cooper, born in 1805, were documented. These children became indentured servants to Cooper until they were twenty-one and eighteen, respectively. Harry learned farming and milling while Polly trained in housekeeping. In 1803, Cooper resolved to marry and live in town so he sold his farm to Robert Patterson, a Revolutionary War veteran, the founder of Lexington, Kentucky and future grandfather of John Henry Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Company. That land was incorporated into Patterson’s farm, “Rubicon” in the Oakwood area.

In addition, Cooper donated properties for two churches to be built at Third and Main Streets, a cemetery on the block along Fifth Street between Ludlow and Wilkinson streets, and the block now known as Cooper Park bounded by Third, St. Clair, and Second streets “to be an open walk forever.” Cooper Park is the location today of the downtown Dayton library and its adjacent green space. He also donated the land at Third and Main for a county courthouse to be built. The original two-story brick courthouse was replaced in 1850 by the locally quarried limestone Greek Revival style building that stands there today at Third and Main streets and from whose steps President John F. Kennedy spoke on Oct 17, 1960.

In 1803, the same year Ohio became a state, Mr. Cooper married Sophia Greene Burnet (August 25, 1780 — May 11, 1826) in Cincinnati, the young widow of G. W. Burnet, a young lawyer of Cincinnati. Sophia was born in Rhode Island, the daughter of Charles Greene, a member of the Ohio Company, who had removed to Marietta, Ohio in 1788. Daniel and Sophia had six children, all of them dying in childhood except David Zeigler Cooper, who was born November 8, 1812, married Miss Letitia Smith in Philadelphia, PA and died in Dayton on December 04, 1836. Daniel Cooper built his “elegant mansion” of hewn logs and lined with cherry planks on the southwest corner of Ludlow and First streets in Dayton, and there he lived with his family until his death. After Daniel Cooper’s death, Mrs. Cooper married Gen. Fielding Lowry.

Cooper helped found the Dayton Academy, Dayton’s first school to educate the boys of the town, by donating the land and bell in 1807. He operated a general store and, when troops were stationed in Dayton during the War of 1812, organized the idle soldiers to build a levee at the turn of the Great Miami River to protect the village from flooding. From about 1805 and for many years, he operated gristmills, sawmills and a carding and fulling mill in Dayton. He also donated the land for the Dayton Hydraulic, which became the waterpower source for early manufacturing in the town.

Daniel C. Cooper was politically active from the time he became Proprietor until his death. He represented Montgomery County in the Third General Assembly convened at Chillicothe the first Monday in December 1804 and was elected to the Sixth Assembly convened at Chillicothe December 7, 1807. Cooper was elected state Senator from the district composed of Miami, Montgomery and Preble Counties to the Seventh General Assembly, convened at Chillicothe December 5, 1808, and was re-elected Senator to the Eighth Assembly convened at Chillicothe the first Monday in December 1809. In 1810, he was President of the Select Council of Dayton. Again a representative of the county, he was a member of the Twelfth Assembly, convened at Chillicothe December 6, 1813. He was Senator in the Fourteenth Assembly, convened at Chillicothe December 4, 1815, and was re-elected to the Fifteenth General Assembly, convened at Columbus, the new state capital, on December 2, 1816.

Appointed a Trustee of Miami University of Ohio on February 15, 1815, Daniel laid out the lots to the east of Dayton in May 1815, including today’s Oregon District. In June 1818, Daniel Cooper and John Piatt, of Cincinnati, developed an overland freight line running between Cincinnati and Dayton with various stops. The first bell for the First Presbyterian Church (later to become Westminster Presbyterian) arrived in Dayton in July 1818. Daniel Cooper loaded it on a wheelbarrow and wheeled it to the church. The exertion was too much for him; he ruptured a blood vessel, died on July 13, 1818, and his body buried in Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio adjacent to today’s University of Dayton campus..