Name: John Cooley
Born: by 1740
Place: prob England
Died: possibly 1811
Place: prob Casey County, KY
Place: poss Caroline County, VA
John was not Dutch -
The case for being English -
The case for being a servant -
Was John Cooley Scottish? -
Who was John's wife? -
the Tryal -
Oct 1755 roll -
July 1756 roll -
Male Descendants -
johncooley list archive
Distribution of Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a-YP355
My genealogical research — and search for my Cooley roots —
began in the late 1970s. This webpage went live in 1994 but remained
essentially blank until the spring of 2006 when I began corresponding with
Sandra Stanton and her cousin, Don Cooley
(descendants of James Cooley, 1772-1821). During this time, some
longstanding myths have been dispelled — and perhaps a few others
created — but we're confident we've made a breakthrough in identifying
John Cooley of Stokes County, North Carolina. Any help with finding
additional documentation, including data that disputes any of the following,
will be welcomed.
John was likely born about 1738, very possibly in England. He might have
been the John Cooley who was transported as a prisoner
during July 1753 from London to Virginia on the sometimes slave ship the Tryal. Y-DNA matches led me to a man of the
right age in a Cowley family in Derbyshire that appears to have disappeared
from the record about the same time — in the early 1750s. But there's
no certainty about any of that. For now, we merely have one or two working
John's wife's name is not known but she was not the commonly
cited Elizabeth Fermin. But
John relocated the family to Town Fork Settlement — then a part of
Rowan County, North Carolina — perhaps as early as the late 1750s or
early- to mid-1760s. But later census data suggests the move occurred about
A brief story about a community
From Pay Roll of Capt. Robert Spotswood's Company, 16 Oct 1755:
|11 Sep 1755
|11 Sep 1755
Although John isn't listed, the July 13, 1756 roll for Spotswood's
company makes it clear that the September 11 enlistment occurred at Caroline County, Virginia. The
Goodes were long-time plantation owners in the area. This is
significant because both Richard Goode and John Cooley eventually moved to
Town Fork Settlement, Rowan County, North Carolina (which became Surry
County, later Stokes) and often show together on the same land records.
The two men remained associates for fifty years. But it wasn't just
them. Several families moved from Caroline County to Town Fork Settlement at about the
same time. In addition to the Cooleys and Goodes, the emigration included
the Hams, Blackburns, Halberts, Beasleys and Cooks, possibly not at all
once, but certainly within a narrow timeframe.
The names shown in blue are known to have lived in both places.
Intermarriages didn't make the community, of course. That was already
established. It was the associations within in the community that
encouraged the marriages.
Martha Halbert and her husband, Robert Hill, left Caroline County for
Town Fork with Robert's father, William Hill Sr. Martha's sister, Hannah
Halbert, married Robert Hill's brother, William Hill Jr, a Baptist minister.
In fact, religion might have prompted the move. Virginia was a hotbed of
anabaptist activity during the late eighteenth century, particularly in
Spotsylvania County, which neighbors Caroline County. It was there that
Baptist pastors John Waller, Lewis Craig, and James Childs were jailed in
1768, just about the time the Cooleys left. Christian historian Gerald
Court records in Virginia indicate that in the eighteenth century Baptist
preachers who were men of deep conviction were sometimes "pelted with apples
and stones," "dragged off the stage," "kicked and cuffed about," "shot with
a shot-gun," "severely beaten with a whip," and "had their hands slashed
The western region of North Carolina was still frontier, a great place
for harassed Virginians to establish new homes. And such moves often
started a chain migration that lasted for several generations — the
Goodes and Cooleys to what later became Casey County, Kentucky, for
John Cooley and Richard Goode's son-in-law, Methodist preacher William
Jean, along with Jean's father, Edmond Jean (married to Martha Beasley, as
above), bought land in the Town Fork region upon which Love's Methodist
Church was built. In 1811, after John's son Edward Cooley moved his family
to Washington County, Indiana, a new church was built on his land, along
with the Cooley Meeting House, which included the cemetery in which Edward
and his wife, Martha Raper, are buried. The Methodists valued
humanitarianism and championed abolition. It's interesting to note that
John Cooley never owned slaves and that a major branch of the Underground
Railroad traveled from Kentucky and through Washington County. A "station"
was operated in New Salem, near the Cooley homestead. To be sure, it would
be dangerous to make too great an inference from this. I will not claim
that Edward Cooley was a full-throated Abolisionist. Such associations,
after all, tend to tell us more about the community rather than the
To further highlight the longtime Cooley-Goode association, John Goode's
Casey County, Kentucky will of 1800 provides further evidence of it. Again,
no direct relationship is stated, but the lingering association is
John Cooley Jr remained in Casey County until his death, presumed to be
about 1840. William Matthews Cooley and his brother Cornelius left for
Tennessee in 1811 and at about the same time their brother, Edward, went to
Indiana. That same year the middle brothers, Joseph, Perrin, and James,
traveled to Missouri. This scattering of the family was undoubtedly due to
their fathers' death during that year.
Apart from the low number of blue bloods in America at the time, middle
names gained popularity after the Revolution. Children were often named for
the Founders, say George Washington Browne or Thomas Jefferson Smythe. This
quickly began to include well-known men in the community, relatives,
in-laws, and family friends. But caution must be taken when making
assumptions about a name's origin. Just as it has been assumed that William
Matthews Cooley's mother was born a Matthews (I have no real explanation for
that), it has also been assumed that Timothy Goode Cooley was taken from his
mother's maiden name, even from his maternal grandfather. Although the
Goode family tree is relatively well drawn, no one fits as James's wife.
It's more likely, until proven otherwise, that the boy was named after a
friend of his father's, John Goode's son Timothy.
The point here being that we can make association upon association
without proving anything, let alone a marriage. Documentation is always
needed — banns of marriage, wills, or other contemporaneous records
that clearly state the facts. In the meantime, it's okay to speculate, but
only when the matter is made clear.
An aside: According to Hill family legend, the elder William Hill
was later a delegate to the Continental Association from North Carolina and
signed the Petition to the King in 1774. In fact, the truth is a bit
more prosaic. He was sent to 3rd Provincial Congress of North Carolina at
Hillsborough as one of five delegates from Surry County. In August 1775, he
signed a resolution supporting the Continental Congress's efforts and to
"testify and declare that we do absolutely believe that neither the
Parliament of Great Britain, nor any Member or Constituent Branch thereof,
have a right to impose Taxes upon these Colonies."9 To be sure,
these were courageous acts for the time but do not elevate Hill to national
prominence. The point being that this is a clear example of yet another
error made by inexperienced researchers — letting an old family story
stray well outside the facts.
John Cooley's Family
No known authentic record exists for John Cooley's family. No will or
other estate records have been found and only James and Reuben are named as
sons on land records. Two deeds are known to exist between John and Edward,
but no relationship is stated. Several other records name John Cooley, John
Cooley Jr, William Matthews Cooley, Edward Cooley, and Hannah Cooley, in
various combinations, as witnesses. These and other Cooleys, particularly
Joseph and Perrin, are found living near one another on Stokes County census
records. And there are suggestions — although I have not seen the
records — that the marriage banns for Hannah and Elizabeth name John
Cooley as their father.
The following closely conforms to a family group sheet by Dale "Pat" Walker (1946-1993), an
end-product of his research during the 1970s and '80s. I have seen no
similar sheet by anyone dated prior to it. The assumption, then, is that
Dale was the first researcher to perceive these individuals as a cohesive
family unit. Apart from his error in connecting John to a New York Dutch
family—and sundry other far more insignificant mistakes—recent
research has shown that Dale was remarkably successful in reconstructing
Based on the evidence at hand, the birth order differs somewhat from
Dale's chart, and the name Benjamin is eliminated as a possible alternate
name for Cornelius; there is no evidence for it.1 Some names are
here simply because Dale had placed them on his chart. Although Cornelius
and Elizabeth were born late enough to have been John's grandchildren, Dale
was likely correct in their placement. Certainly, there is no contradictory
evidence. Recently discovered genealogic and genetic evidence suggests
William Matthews Cooley was also John's son. Not noted here is Edmond
Cooley, believed to have been born in North Carolina in 1773. He is an
exact Y-DNA match to John's family. I think it's a near certainty that he
belongs with this family. (See my note for Rice, below.)
|William Matthews Cooley
|Founder of the Stewart County TN Cooleys. DNA test
results prove that William was of the Stokes County Cooleys. Although
the genealogic/historic record also infers he was of this family,
nothing has yet been found that specifically states he was John's
|Founder of the Casey County KY Cooleys. Married
Sarah Willis. The 1880 Casey County KY census for his son Edmund
states that he (John, the father) was born in Virginia.
|Possibly born in VA. Gravestone states that he was
59 at death on 21 Nov 1822. That places his birth in late 1762 or
1763, likely the latter. He married Martha Raper
and moved his family to Indiana. He is named in two deeds with John
but the relationship isn't stated. Proof of descent is found in Y
chromosomal tests and more.
Daniel Cooley |1765-1826
|Possibly born in VA. The 1810 census for Lincoln
County KY states that he was 26-45. That puts his birth year no
earlier than 1765. He died 6 Sep 1826 at Ray County, MO. Married
Mildred Ball, 19 Jan 1786 in Lincoln County, KY. He joined his
brothers in Missouri a few years before his death. Note that recent DNA test results prove that Daniel
was not of this family.
|A 1932 letter by John Pierce Cooley (Joseph's
grandson) states that Joseph was born in Virginia. He married Kaziah
Casey 1807 Lincoln County KY. He was present at Fort Hempstead, Howard
County, MO and died in Clay County MO, 3 April 1826. Many of his
family were early settlers in Oregon. Another branch went to Texas.
Proof of Joseph's descent is found in Y chromosomal tests, the common
surname and in genealogical records that associate the
|Possibly born in Rowan (now Stokes) County, NC.
However, there is no evidence that the family had yet moved to NC. He
was likely born in VA. He appears on the 1810 Washington County KY
census as well as land and tax records there. He was a Methodist
minister. Perrin left for Missouri in 1811 with two brothers and was
present at Fort Hempstead,
Howard County, MO. He was the progenitor of the Randolph County Missouri
|Born 12 Jun 1772. Died 1 Oct 1821. He married
c1795 to Elizabeth, probably in NC. (She's often referred to as a
daughter of Timothy Goode, cousin of Richard Goode, and sometimes as
Richard's daughter. However, there is no evidence that she was even a
Goode. See Goode
Family) Proof of James's descent is found in deed John Cooley to James
Cooley and further substantiated by Y chromosomal tests (see
below). He was present at Fort
Hempstead, Howard County MO.
|The only known record for Rice Cooley is his
appearance on the 1800 Stokes County census. It lists only one person
for his household, a male, 16-26. Pat Walker wrote that Rice was born
in 1776. However, the census entry would suggest that he was born in
1774 or earlier. That a descendant of
Edmond Cooley (1773-1851) is an exact 37/37 marker genetic match to
John's family makes this researcher wonder if Edmond and Rice were the
same person. It would explain why another record for Rice has never
been uncovered. Essentially, Rice disappears in the record after 1800
and Edmond appears by 1805. It is likely that Edmond and his wife,
Charlotte Speace, were married in North Carolina in 1804 or
|Born in Surry County, NC before it became Stokes County.
A Hannah Cooley is listed as witness to a deed along with John and
John Cooley Jr (Bk E p 229, 11 Aug 1792, Richard Goode to Reuben
Sparks). She married Luke Burnett three years later on 23 Dec 1795.
The couple was in Spartanburg SC by some years before her presumed
brother, Edmond, is first found there. It's worth noting that her niece, Joanna
Cooley (daughter of Edward), is referred to as "Hanah" in a family
bible record. Click on Hannah's name in the left column for my notes.
More information has lately (summer 2012) been
|Reuben married first Polly
Harris and married second Elizabeth Followell. Proof of
relationship to John is found in the 1804 deed John Cooley to Reuben
Cooley. This is the Reuben Cooley of Marion County, KY who
appears on the 1850 census. He's not the Reuben of Jessamine
County who died in 1795, as some suggest, because John's Reuben was
still alive in 1804. (The deed serves as the perfect testimony to
this fact.) The Reuben of Marion County is also sometimes said to have
been the son of Edward, therefore, John's grandson. However, the Reuben
Cooley found in Bartholomew County IN, 1850, has been proved as
|His presence here is based exclusively on Dale
Walker's chart. He did not marry Dolly White, as often stated. His
nephew, Cornelius (son of James), married her. (We now know that she
was Dolly/Dorothy Cooley, a cousin.) He is likely the Cornelius who
appears on the 1808 and 1810 tax lists
for Casey co KY and is probably the same Cornelius found in Stewart County TN by 1812,2 and
was married to Lucinda Cherry. The TN Cornelius died 1815 in the
aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans. He had a daughter, Burnetta
Mathews Cooley, and possibly a son named William. He may have gone to
TN to be near William who, if the birth years are correct, was old
enough to have been his father.
|Married William Blackburn 19 Sep 1805 in Stokes
County NC (Stokes County North Carolina Marriages Bonds). A William
Blackburn can be found on the 1810 census for Casey County, KY (1 male
26-44, 3 females under 10, 1 female 26-44). It's not known if he's the
same man. He may have been the son of
Newman Blackburn and grandson of Ambrose
Blackburn. As I suspect is true for the Cooleys, the Blackburns
came to Town Fork Settlement NC
from Caroline County VA.
|I believe I'm the first to suggest there may have
been a third daughter. There was a girl under 10 living with John and
his wife on the 1800 census and a young woman aged 16-25 on the 1810.
If it's the same person, she would have been born between 1794 and 1800.
Naturally, she might have been a granddaughter or even of no direct
relationship at all. Nevertheless, her presence in the household is
John Cooley was not Dutch
Thanks to Dale Walker's decades-old family group sheet, it is commonly
believed that John Cooley was a son of Lambert (sometimes William) Cornelius
Cooley. That man might well have had a son named John but all evidence for
our John's origins points elsewhere. And in more than forty years years of
searching, I have never come across even a crumb of real evidence suggesting
a Dutch ancestry. It is my belief that zero evidence should be sufficient
cause to end the propagation of something that can only be regarded as
having a spurious origin.
In fact, DNA has long ago proved that our Cooleys are not of the "Dutch"
Cooleys, real or imagined. The source of this myth, Lura
Coolley Hamil's book, has been thoroughly discredited. All male
descendants of the same man would have matching Y chromosome, but there are
at least seven mismatching Y's. Indeed, the Dutch Kools (etc.) match
none of them. Elizabeth Cooley, once the genealogist for the Cooley Family
Association of America, once wrote, "Mrs. Hamil went about grabbing up
anything she felt might go together, has mixed up many different Cooley
families, etc." (More below.)
DNA testing itself has come a long way over the last decade. By about
2010, test results determined only that our brand of Cooleys came from a
population that lived in Norway about 4,000 years ago. We knew that much
because each of us tested positive for a mutation known as L448, or "The
Young Scandinavian" SNP mutation, itself a mutation from the major haplogroup
R1a1. As soon as the "Big Y" come along —
which tests more than ten million locations on the Y chromosome —
previously unknown mutations were quickly discovered. The YP355 mutation,
which occurred with the birth of an L448 descendant, was discovered at the
beginning of 2014 and is believed to be a little more than 2,000 years old.
Our presently known mutation descent from L448, each mutation having
occurred in an individual, is as follows:
[R1a] ---> L448 -> YP355 -> YP609 -> FT7019 ->
YP4252 -> FT33200 -> YP4248 -> YP4254 -> YP4491
We can clearly see from this map that the R1a haplogroup is heavily
concentrated in East Central Europe. And we can see from the map at top
(which is several years old) that YP355 testers, descendants of R1a, are
concentrated in Norway and the British Isles. We don't yet know at what
point the SNP lineage becomes concentrated in Britain. Clearly, YP4491 does
have its origins somewhere in the Isles.
Each mutation, or single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), occurred
with the birth of a specific man. (There is an undetermined number of
generations between each SNP.) These mutations would be replaced with
full names and births if they'd only been recorded! We do know
that the birth of "YP4491" was roughly contemporaneous to John Cooley and
his immediate Cooley forebears. And the situation is somewhat complicated
by the fact the descendants of William
Whitfield (1751-1835) exhibit the same markers that John had.
YP4248 was discovered in a tester descended from John Hackett (1746-1808)
of Derbyshire, a contemporary of John Cooley. A search of Derbyshire
records reveals an insignificant number of Cooleys but a large population of
Cowleys (which, I understand, was pronounced Cooley by the poet Abraham
Cowley). Among them is a John
Cowley, christened on 19 May 1738. He was the son of William Cowley and
The Cooley/Hackett connection probably goes back as far as the year 1250.
That the two families still lived near one another five hundred years
later is a long-shot, as is the notion that our John Cooley is John Cowley.
In the meantime, I'll maintain the above link until we can establish either
yea or nay.
Several families have been shown to be of YP4248,
including Cochran. Although the lineage's accuracy is yet to be determined,
it's interesting to note that the family originated in Renfrewshire,
Scotland. Legend informs us that the Cochrans descended from a Norwegian
settler; others say possibly from a Norman. (See Norse,
yes; but is it Viking or Norman? for more information.)
This page, as outdated as it now is, provides a more detailed explanation
of SNPs and our presently-known
SNP lineage. And here is the Y-SNP trail as provided by SNP Tracker:
I wouldn't place money on its accuracy. I mean, our Cooleys do have the
YP355 SNP, but I doubt the man first born with it was born in the middle of
the North Sea -- and certainly he was born long after Doggerland went under
8500 years ago. The subsequent markers probably came into play further
north than of what's indicated above.
I'm not certain how the erroneous Dutch connection was started but Lura
Coolley Hamil certainly had something to do with it. See her 1932 letter to Mildred Tallant and my comments. Also, the July 31, 1977 letter from Elizabeth Cooley,
genealogist for the Cooley Family Association of America, does much to dispel
Hamil's work as do some of Eleanor Rue's papers.
And I've made additional comment about Hamil's errors in The Vanishing Man.
The case for being English
Although geneticists do their thing with science, genealogists, much like
historians, need the literature that records the events in the lives of
their subjects in order to place them in specific locations and on specific
dates. Find persons named in such a record and you know something about
their origins. But helpful records are, more often than not, very difficult
to find. Genealogists must rely on clues buried in the sparse data that is
available — and sometimes in the tall tales told among family members
— and make associations that may or may not be true. Without these
inferences, the researcher has literally no clue and no real direction in
which to proceed. Speculation is essential and, as any scientist will tell
you, good speculation can lead to evidence that might one day elevate to
the status of hypothesis. Once you've got something strong, you're on solid
theoretical ground. A scientific proof (the next and final stage
in the game), however, not only presents excellent evidence, it is
universally-recognized as simply having no reasonable evidence that points
to another conclusion.
Scientific proofs are not found within in the realm of genealogy itself.
But genetics has shown us that John's origins are probably in the British
Isles. Let's see if we can put some tid-bits together and approach a
hypothesis — one, of course, that is readily open, or perhaps even
vulnerable, to a serious challenge — John Cooley was from England.
However, it seems that some of the above statements are not strictly
true, yet another indication how family stories can mutate, even a
generation or two later. We know from the 1850 census, for example, that
Reuben Cooley was born in North Carolina, not in England. Likewise, the
1880 census entry for Edmond, a son of John (2), states that his father was
born in Virginia, and a letter written by John
Pearce Cooley, Joseph's grandson, says that he, too, was born in
Virginia. Not noted above is a note written to my father by his aunt Vernal
Shelton, telling him that "[he] came from England in early part of 18
century." But she said that about John's son Edward, which was decidedly not
the case as he was not yet born.
How could the English tradition be documented down
four distinct lineages and yet the specifics be wrong? I know from personal
experience that it can happen. I used to think my paternal grandmother was
born in France, but I now know that she was born in Connecticut and that her
father immigrated from France. If it hadn't been for my interest
in genealogy, I might still be propagating misinformation — more than
a century after her birth.
Genetic genealogists spend a lot of time looking at Short Tandem Repeats
(STRs). Unlike other genetic markers, these are fluid. The values can go
back and forth over a relatively small number of generations. What matters
isn't so much the specific mutations but the trend. We see a very
strong trend in the above statements, one that tells us that John came from
England. With that in mind, we can triangulate all of these traditions back
to the senior John. It makes sense — many, if not most, Cooley
immigrants to the American colonies in the 17th and 18th century were from
England, as shown in the following.
SOME COOLEY IMMIGRANTS FROM THE BRITISH ISLES
|The Cooley Family Association of America [link]
Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants,
1623-1666, Nell Marion Nugent.
|ca 1665, England
|Directory of Persons in New Netherlands from 1613
to 1674 vol IV. It doesn't list a source for this entry. Therefore, I'm
|The Early Settlers of Maryland, Skordas
(1979). On page 105: Cooley, Richard, book 18 page 84, transported 1674.
References are "compiled from records of land patents, 1633-1680, in the
Hall of Records, Annapolis, Maryland."
Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants,
1623-1666, Nell Marion Nugent.
Transported on the Forward, Captain Daniel Russell, Oct 1723.
Source: The King's Passengers to Maryland and Virginia, Peter
|Virtual Jamestown [link].
From St. Giles in the Fields, Middlesex. Indentured February 14 1729 for
4 years. Age 20.
|This may not be the man found at Old Bailey
He was sentenced to death.
Bonded Passengers To America vol
4 pg 35, by Peter Wilson Coldham. Richard Cooley, transported Apr 1743 on
the Justitia (Barnet Baird, master) from London to Virginia with a total of
132 convicts. Richard's age is given as 14, making him born c1729. Ref
|Old Bailey Online [link].
If our John Cooley was born as early as the 1730s this man could have been
about the right age.
Transported on the Laura, Capt William Gracie, April 1746. Source:
The King's Passengers to Maryland and Virginia, Peter Wilson
|Bonded Passengers To America vol 4 pg 117, by
Peter Wilson Coldham.
Robert Cooley transported Sep 1751 on the Greyhound (William Gracie, master)
from from London to Virginia with a total of 153 felons. Ref #: T1/349/1,
|Bonded Passengers To America vol 4 pg 18, by
Peter Wilson Coldham.
Thomas Cooling (indexed in Filby as Cooley) transported May 1751 on the Tryal
(John Johnston, master) from London to Maryland. T1/346/24
|Old Bailey Online [link].
Among the records discovered to date, we believe that this John Cooley is
the most likely to have been our ancestor.
|English Convicts in Colonial America
1617-1775 vol 2 pg 62, by Peter W. Coldham.
James Cooley departed Feb 1755, arrived Apr 1755 on the Greyhound (Alexander
Stewart, master) from Bristol to Maryland with a total of 78 convicts. Ref
Transported on the Rose, Capt Thomas Slade. Source:
The King's Passengers to Maryland and Virginia
by Peter W. Coldham.
|Old Bailey Online
English Convicts in Colonial America
1617-1775 vol 2, by Peter W. Coldham. He was sentenced in
Worcestershire (near Birmingham) and transported Oct 1756 on the ship
Barnard, Captain Phillip Weatherall, from London to Virginia. There were 114
convicts on board. Ref #T53/45/575.
|Old Bailey Online [ link].
Possibly the same listed as "runaway" transported on the Thornton, Capt John
Kidd, May 1774. Could he be the John Cooley who was advertised in
the Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), 21 April 1775 as being one of
the "seven English servant men" who were "living near Bush River, Harford
County, Maryland?" (The former link for this is defunct.)
"John Cooley, about 22 years of age, by trade a plaisterer, about five feet
eight inches high, round faced, and well set."
following indentured servants bound for four years to go from London to
Virginia by the Planter, Mr. David Bowers... Peter Cooley of London,
weaver, aged 38; Peter Cooley Jr. of London, weaver, aged 18; John Cooley
of London, weaver, aged 16; Joseph Cooley of London, weaver, aged 12."
The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776, Sec V, Ch 25, 1774, p.
|From Irish Emigrants to North America:
"Cooley, William, born 1753, a founder in Dublin, emigrated from London to
Maryland on the Rebecca as an indentured servant. 9.1774.
[PRO.T47/9-11]". The full passenger list is found in The New England
Historical and Genealogical Register by Henry Fitz-Gilbert Waters,
volume 64, page 113. Current speculation is that he is the William who
married Elizabeth Firmin.
I've already mentioned the John Cooley who was transported to Virginia in
1753. We know that our John Cooley was in Caroline County, Virginia two
years later. We also know that Port Royal in Caroline County was a busy
port during this time and that the Tryal
arrived in Virginia on many occasions, stopping in several ports to drop off
slaves. Could it have stopped in Port Royal with its cargo of servants in
1753, thereby explaining our John's presence in the county two years later?
Certainly, it's possible, but we lack any proof of it.
In the meantime, other possibilities for John's origins need to be
Was John Cooley Scottish?
DNA tells us that our Cooley forebears were not
only of Scottish heritage but that they may have been distantly related to
(not descended from) the great 12th century Scottish chieftain Somerled,
the founder of clan MacDonald.3
The claim of Scottish descent becomes a bit more interesting after
hearing the story of Charles Cooley, a cousin through Edward and Martha
(Raper) Cooley's grandson, James
Armstrong Cooley. Charles's father is buried with a small of piece of
tartan that had been passed down from one generation to the next. He told
his family stories about the kirkings that had taken place in Putnam County, Missouri
and that the ancient Cooleys were Jacobites, the older brothers having been
executed and the younger ones transported to America. Although Charles is
unable to provide a time frame for this immigration, the shipping to America
of 936 Jacobites following the 1746 Battle of Culloden Moor4 would have been
contemporaneous to the child version of John Cooley.4
In January 2018, I received an email from David Cooley, a descendant of
Edmond Cooley (and Charlotte Speace), a genetic match and a probable son of
John Cooley's. He writes, "I was told family stories about us being
involved in a fight in Scotland and killing some high ranking people and
were criminals and had to flee to America." It's not, of course, the same
story, but it's close enough to add credence to Charles's version. And
there are other factors that can be considered.
Inspired by the prospect that the Cooleys may have been involved with the
Jacobite Uprising of 1745, I researched and wrote a college paper,
American Memories of Culloden Moor, about Bonnie Prince Charlie's
arrival on the Scottish coastline with a small army from France. His goal
was to install his father, James Stuart the Old Pretender, and the Stuart
lineage back onto the English throne. Charlie's ranks swelled as the army
marched southward toward England. They battled to within one hundred miles
of London where the Prince's council successfully argued for a strategic
retreat back to Scotland. It proved fatal. "Bloody" Cumberland, the son of
King George II, met the Scottish army at Culloden Moor, defeated them,
slaughtered those left on the battlefield, pursued the survivors through
Scottish villages, and arrested ordinary townspeople, as well as children,
and sent them to London for trial, conviction, hanging them in many
instances, or transporting them to America.
When I wrote the paper in 2011 (as it happens, the 200th anniversary of
John Cooley's death), I didn't pay much attention to the fact that Bonnie
Charles turned back toward Scotland at Derby. And what I didn't know at all
is that a man named John Hackett was born in Derbyshire in 1746, and that
his cells contained a Y-DNA mutation now known as YP4253, a mutation found
in all male Cooley descendants of John Cooley. Now, this is particularly
circumstantial evidence, especially considering that the mutation is judged
to be 800-900 years old. Nevertheless, the Hacketts and Cooleys were
To date, none of these claims have been substantiated. It is worth
noting, however, that in 1755 John Cooley served in Captain Spotswood's company with
John MacDonald, whose father Alexander is believed to have been at Culloden
Moor. And I find it interesting that one Alexander MacDonald and one John
Cooley were transported as prisoners together in 1753 on The Tryal. However, John
MacDonald's father, who was associated with the Spotswood family, was
transported in 1747 on the Gildart.
The name Cooley itself doesn't appear to be Scottish. But research
suggests that the largest concentration of Cooleys is to be found in the
North of England, just below the Scottish border.
Are we reading too much history into what may be no more than coincidence
and even fantasy? Possibly. Whatever the truth turns out to be, this is a
valid line of inquiry.
The case for being a servant
Apart from the fact that John's older children were born in Virginia, the
only record we have that places him there is the militia payroll. There's
not much that can be said about that, but we can turn to later records for
Spotswood's company to get an idea as to who he served with. One of the
first things that strikes me about the July 1756 roll is the number of
foreign-born recruits: 45%. This statistic alone increases the likelihood
that John was also foreign born. (He had to come from somewhere, after
all.) Furthermore, at least four other men of the company, particularly the
46 year-old John
Pedder, may have been convicts. (The others being Thomas Douglas, John
Donally and William Thomas.)
According to historian Richard Hofstadter, more than half of the
immigrants to America during the mid-eighteenth century were convicts,
indentured servants, or redemptioners (contracted to pay off their passage
with work).5 It might seem odd that so-called criminals would be
in His Majesty's service but, in fact, they often were. And, unlike New
England, where indentured servitude was relatively scarce, Southern men of
some wealth and standing could send their servants in place of
themselves—and were sometimes additionally reimbursed by the crown.
If John was a servant, who might have hired him out? Can clues be found in
Captain Robert Spotswood was the son of one-time Virginia governor, Alexander
Spotswood. Not surprisingly, the governor ran a large plantation
populated in part with indentured servants. In fact, there are published
newspaper accounts of servants running away from his estate. It was only on
September 6, 1755 that Colonel George Washington, as commander of the
ordered Spotswood to recruit a company of soldiers.6 Two had
enlisted a few days earlier and the others between the 9th and the 25th.
Spotswood had only a few weeks to assemble his men and to march them to Fort
Cumberland. It's possible he might have recruited from within his own
We also know that Richard Goode came from a planter family (and he later
owned slaves in Stokes County, NC). Might he had brought John along, either
as a friend or perhaps as someone having the double benefit to him as
servant, along with the additional revenue from the Crown? John Sale, William Blakey and William
Thorpe, all of Caroline County, may have also been of the same class.
After moving to Town Fork
Settlement, Richard Goode went on to hold several positions in the local
government, including the office of Sheriff. He was eventually elevated to
Major during the Revolution and seemed to have garnered a good deal of
respect in Stokes County. He was doubtlessly well-educated, literate and
was a large property owner. John Cooley, on the other hand, was known to
sign with his mark, a 'C', indicating that he was likely illiterate. He may
have been the John Cooley given "poor money" in 1761 and is described in a
1772 document as being a laborer.
The John Cooley convicted in London during July 1753 was given seven
years indentured servitude. That sentence would have been up in 1760 and
John's first child was born in Virginia7 in about 1759. As it
was common practice not to allow servants to marry, it can well be inferred
that he married following his release. And with that scenario, and having
emigrated to a new colony (North Carolina) with a young family, the
community could well have found that John should receive benefit of the poor
tax. (The birth places of his children suggest that he didn't move to North
Carolina until about 1768. However, a John Cooley is recorded as a laborer
on the Great Wagon Road, which went through Town Fork Settlement, North
Carolina, Cooley's home for nearly forty years.)
So how could it be that an illiterate ex-convict banished from his
homeland, released from servitude seven years later, soon to have a family,
and considered indigent end up being a constable owning hundreds of acres of
To answer that question, we need to look at Britain. The government
sought to solve two important problems by exporting its criminals. The
treasury needed relief from the burden of paying out of the poor tax to a
very substantial number of its population. Exiling them to colonies, even
for such minor offenses as petty theft, curtailed some of that expense. And
the practice helped populate the colonies with the cheap labor needed to
grow the economy—the idea being that the general British population
would not go voluntarily (although, of course, many did). They simply were
not willing to endure the dangerous passage over the Atlantic at a time when
up to half the passengers and crew could die. Even the most desperate in
the country, those who might well have benefited from a new life elsewhere,
were dissuaded by horror stories and preferred the certainty of their
present condition, regardless of its bleakness. Transportation to the
colonies, most famously to Australia after American independence, was the
But even a nation and country that enslaved Africans for life believed
that a person convicted for a crime was redeemable. Certainly, seven years
(sometimes less, sometimes more) of selfless service to another, albeit
forced, was adequate demonstration of his or her ability to become a
productive member of society. To that end, the freed Britains were
routinely given several acres of land, in some cases even cash and clothing.
An enterprising young man, as John doubtlessly was, could have parlayed that
into a reasonably comfortable life. Indeed, he successfully raised a large
family, all of whom, so it appears, lived into adulthood.
Does a hairy coo live in a hairy coo ley?
A Scottish Hairy Coo
The name Cooley has potentially several origins. In his blog, Bill
Cooley does a pretty good job of dispelling the notion that it's
essentially an Irish name, showing that Cooley is found in Ireland almost
exclusively as a place name rather than a surname. I had long favored the
MacAuleys as possible ancestors, (from MacOlaf, the son of Olaf), which I
found particularly appealing after learning that my yDNA has Norse/Scottish
markers. Historically, however, Cooley has been found most often in the
North of England. And there's a case to be made for the idea that names
ending in ley come from the Old English word lea, meaning
field. The word coo is simply the Scottish pronunciation of
Frankly, since we have no idea what John Cooley's father's last
name was, let alone his first name, there's no way of knowing the surname's
origin among his own ancestors. But the following meaning of
cooley, found at the online edition of the Oxford English
dictionary, is probably not relevant as its first published usage did not
occur until 1796, when John was already well-advanced in years.
Phonetic spelling of F. coulis, cullis
Broth of boiled meat.
1796 H. GLASSE Cookery v. 41 Make a rich cooley.
The alternate etymological origin of cooley (cullis) appears to have
dated back to at least 1420. The OED cites this quotation:
1543 TRAHERON Vigo's Chirurg. IX. 228 If the pacient be weake..ye shall gyve
hym the coleys of a yonge capon.
The point here, really, is that we're not only unlikely to find the
origin of our name as first used among John's antecedents but that it's a
subject that should probably not be taken too seriously.
Who was John's wife?
We know only three things about John's wife: She was likely one of the
three white females on the 1790 census for John in Stokes County, NC, and
probably the woman of 45 and over on the 1800 census of the same place, and
the woman 45-plus on the 1810 census for Casey County KY. Even if the
enumerations are for John's wife, we can't be sure they're for the
same woman. In other words, it's possible he married more than once.
John's eldest known child was William Matthews Cooley. Middle names
weren't common in the colonies, even among the elite classes. (After all,
George Washington was plain George Washington.) But men would often
make up a middle initial so as to avoid confusion with someone else in the
vicinity. (The 'S' in Harry S Truman is such a fabrication.) And, as most
Cooley researchers know, there was another William Cooley from the region
who had been a companion to Daniel Boone in his exploration of Kentucky.
But William added more than an initial. Records in North Carolina clearly
refer to him as William Matthews Cooley. For an unknown reason, he chose a
simple 'M' while later residing in Kentucky and Tennessee.
The claim hasn't been verified and there is no record to support it, but
someone in the foggy mist of time suggested that his mother was Sarah Matthews, possibly a
daughter of James Matthews
Jr, a resident of Rowan County, North Carolina from about 1755. It's
certainly possible, and it fits, but the claim needs at least one supporting
document. It wouldn't be the first time that an amateur researcher made an
assumption without clear evidence, in this case that a man named William
Matthews Cooley had to have a mother born a Matthews. Still, the
possibility has gained a lot of currency and is far preferable to Hamil's
assignment to of Elizabeth Firmin as John's wife.
Today, the name Perrin would not commonly be given to a child as a first
name (neither would Rice) but it was common practice to give one of
the children their mother's maiden name. Certainly, when genealogists see a
surname assigned as a given name, they've got something to think about. So,
with that as a possibility, as well as the notion that John probably lived
in Caroline County and that he was possibly a indentured servant, this is
worth noting. Sandra Stanton found the following in Colonial Caroline,
A History of Caroline County, Virginia by TE Campbell:
- Year: 1756
- Servant: Thomas Perrin
- Master: Timothy Smith
in Court: Escaped for 5 days - serve according to law and 200 lbs. of
Frankly, I would think that with all the sons that John Cooley had, one
of them would have been named after his father-in-law. None, of course,
were named Thomas. But it would also not have been uncommon to name the
second son after the mother's father. That appears to have been John Jr.
And let's say their first daughter was named after her maternal grandmother.
It's wild and reckless speculation but it's all we have. Shall we look for
an John and Hannah Perrin? How about a John and Hannah
Rice? There were several similar naming conventions used
in 17th and 18th century colonial America. At this point, any guess would
be as good as another.
Whoever John Cooley's wife was, the family she was born into may have
simply not been adequately recorded. Likewise, John Cooley's descendants
may be resigned always to talk of this ancestress in the most general terms.
Even so, genetic and historical research have shown that much more is
yet to be learned.
William Matthews Cooley
I began following a hunch in September, 2006 that the William Matthews
Cooley mentioned in Surry County, North Carolina records during the 1780s
might have been the William M Cooley who died in Stewart County, Tennessee
in 1823. William's presence in Tennessee during the last decades of his
life is well documented but there seemed to be nothing to cover the 20 year
period between 1786 and 1806. Although I could not place William in Surry
County for 1786, I could, with some reliability, place him the following
year in Kentucky and on land very near Reuben Cooley's residence. This
Reuben was indeed a son of John Cooley of
Stokes County, North Carolina. However, much has come to light recently,
assuring William's place as a member of John's family. This includes the
fact that William's patrilineal descendants belong to the haplogroup R1a-YP4491.
The key is Joseph Gray, father-in-law of William Cooley, who deeded
property to William's son, Joel Cooley, in 1812. Earlier that year, Joseph
drew up his will in Stewart County, Tennessee, leaving the land he still
owned on the Rolling Fork in Washington County, Kentucky to his son, Joseph
Gray Jr. That southeastern part of Washington County later became Marion
County and home to Reuben Cooley (the Rubin Cooley Branch is a tributary of
the Rolling Fork) and lays adjacent to what was then the Lincoln County
border. The Rolling Fork flows out of that region (now Casey County,
Kentucky) into present-day Marion County. This Reuben Cooley was the
founder of the Marion County Cooleys. His brother, John Cooley Jr, was the
progenitor of the Casey County Cooleys.
Here's William's timeline as sourced in the documentation.
|William Cooley and James
Grey appear on a list for Captain James Downing's Company of
militia in Lincoln County, Kentucky. (Joseph Gray did have a brother named
Joseph Gray granted 400 acres along the Rolling Fork,
Jefferson County, Virginia (now Kentucky). This area was later Nelson co,
later Washington co, later Marion co KY. (Kentucky Land Grants, bk 9, p357,
15 Mar 1784.)
|John Cooley Sr, William Matthews Cooley &
John Cooley Jr app Constable of Willis Dist. 1784, 85, 86. (Surry
Co Deeds, Book C p257)
|Richard Cooley of Stewart County,
Tennessee, son of William M Cooley, is born in North
|John Douglas to John Bryson for £5, 2½ A on E
side Loving Creek, middle fork of Arrarat River in sd Bryson's line, wit:
Wm Matthews Cooley, John Cooley, Junr. (SCDB C:258, 8 Feb
1785; quoted in Jo White Linn, Surry County, North Carolina Will
Abstracts, 1992, p. 126.)
|Joseph Goode to Morgan Davis, south side Dan
River below mouth Flat Shoal Cr. Witnessed by John Cooley, Sr,
John Cooley Jr, and William Matthews Cooley; 17 Apr 1785 (Deed
Book C page 257.)
|Joseph Goode to Morgan Davis 30 pds 100 ac S
side Dan River below mouth Flat Shoal Creek. John Cooley, Senr.;
William Matthews Cooley; John Cooley, Junr.; 17 Apr 1785
(Surry County Deeds Book C, page 264; from notes received from Sandra
|Mark Hardin, Senr. Guilford County to Robert Dearing, Orange
County, VA 150 pds 400 ac both sides Evans Creek adj Isaac Vernon &
Thompson. William M. Cooley; Joseph Vaughn; George Ray; (Surry
County, North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions,
1790-1795, Vol 1. Compiled by Agnes M. Wells.)
William M Cooley mentioned in Surry County records. (North
Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, 1790-1795 Vol.
Joseph Gray appointed Justice of the Peace, 1 Aug 1786.
(Mercer co KY Order Book #1, 1786-1790)
Last mention of William Cooley in Surry County: that it be
"Ordered by the Court that William Cooley be Exempted from
paying a poll Tax for himself for the future." (Feb 16, Surry County court
minutes, p 79.) Note that one of the conditions by which a taxpayer could be
exempt is that he is in the process of relocating.
"Willm Cooley" first appears on the tax list for Madison
County, Virginia (now Kentucky).
|In Nelson County, Joseph Gray and
William "Cooly" sign a petition to the
Virginia government. (Remember, Kentucky was still part of Virginia.
Washington County was later formed out of Nelson County.)
|"W.M. Cooley purchased land on Dyers Creek in present day
Stewart County, from Robert Fenner in 1789." (Jeff Clark's website, no
William Cooley v Jeremiah Gray on debt, 25
Nov 1789, Mercer co KY. Several appearances in court. Suit was dismissed 24
Washington co KY tax list, 22 May 1794, William Cooley, 15
cattle, 2 horses.
Washington co tax list: William Cooley, 1 white male above
21, 20 cattle, 3 horses.
Washington co KY tax list: William Cooley, 52 acres,
Rolling Fork, land was entered by Jonathon Ingram, land was surveyed for
Joseph Gray and grant issued to Joseph
Gray. 1 white male over 21, 2 horses, 9
William Cooley and Joseph Cooley appear on
the Washington co KY tax lists.
Will Cooley appears on the tax list for Washington County,
Joseph Gray commissioned Captain of the 4th Regiment of the
Kentucky Militia (1 Apr 1800).
William Cooley and John Cooley are
witnesses to the will of John Good of Lincoln County KY.
John's "trusty and well beloved friend," Major Joseph Gray
of Washington County, is one of the executors. John's son, Timothy
Good and father, Thomas Good, are
named. Note that the Goodes and Cooleys were closely
aligned in Surry (later Stokes) County NC. The senior John
Cooley and Richard Goode, nephew of Thomas, served
together 1755 from Caroline co VA.
William Cooley appears on Washington co tax list for each
|Joseph Gray of Washington County, Kentucky
sells "negroe Girl Slave named Betty" to Anne
Cooley, wife of William Cooley of the same county.
Court Order Book 2 for 7 Nov 1803, p 67: "For reasons appearing to the Court
it is ordered that William Cooley be released from the
payment of county levies in the future." Again, he had probably
made claim that his residence had moved, this time to TN.
Joseph Gray sells to Bird Lawless land
that is adjacent to "William Cooleys
line." [link] Eula Ray Kirkland
states, "This land is located south of Gravel Switch about 1 1/2 miles on
Hwy. 337." That would place it near to or right at the Rubin Cooley Branch.
That same year, John Cooley Sr deeds land (Stokes County
NC) to sons Reuben and James
William Cooley sells Washington County, Kentucky land to
Bird Lawless (Washington County Kentucky Deed Book C). [link]
William Cooly, Joseph Gray and
Richard Cooly witness deed of John Butler
of Washington co KY to William Crowdes of Washington co KY
for land in Mercer co KY. (Bk 5 p 340 19 Oct 1804).
Hezekiah Boyce vs. Isaac Brunson - "This day comes into court, by their
consent their suit is taken out of court, and let to the award of William
Cooley, Thomas French, William Haggard and Aaron Fletcher as
arbitrators, to settle and adjust all the accounts and disputes between the
said Boyce and Brunson now depending in said court. And the said
arbitrators come into court and are sworn as such proceeds." (Minutes of the
Stewart County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Minutes of the Stewart
County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, 11 June 1805).
John and Reuben Cooley taxed for land on
the Rolling Fork, Lincoln County, KY. Perrin Cooley appears
on the Washington co tax lists for 1806-1809 and 1811, the year he moved to
Missouri with brothers Joseph and James
Cooley. Joseph Cooley appears on the Washington co
tax lists for 1806 and 1811.
"William Cooley records his ear mark, a crop and a
hole in each ear." (Minutes of the Stewart County Court of Pleas and Quarter
Sessions, 10 March 1806).
Joseph Gray deeds Stewart co TN land to William
Cooley, witnessed by A Atkins and Richard
Cooley (Stewart co TN deed bk 2 pg 25, 4 Nov 1806).
Joseph Gray, now of Stewart County, Tennessee wills his
Rolling Fork, Washington County, KY land to son Joseph Gray
Jr: "...gets land in Washington Co., KY on the Rolling Fork of the
Salt River, and gets part of land shared with Peter R
Booker (originally granted to Joseph Gray Sr and
his brother James Gray)." Earlier that year he gifts land
in Stewart County to Joel Cooley, son of William M
Robert Fenner, from whom William Cooley purchased his land in Stewart
County, received the land from his father Richard, one of the original
military grantees in Tennessee following the end of the
Revolution. The land that Joseph Gray granted to Joel Cooley was
originally owned by James Cole Montflorence, also an original military
Jeanette Pollard notes (website now defunct) that the Stewart County
Cooleys found themselves in Houston County when it was carved out of Stewart
County in 1871. She visited the gravesite there of Richard W Cooley's son,
William Mathis Cooley. (Note that Mathis and Matthews are alternate
spellings of the same.) The Houston County 1880 census record for this
William states that his father (Richard) was born in North Carolina. That
places his birth at the time and place of William Matthews Cooley's presence
in Surry County, North Carolina.
A compilation of notes for William's descendants is found at Patrilineal Descendants
of John Cooley (second entry). See Cooleys in
Stewart County, Tennessee Records for more information on William.
Some Miscellaneous Records
1800 Census, Stokes County, North Carolina
546 16 454 Cooley Edward 1201020010 0 0 Salisbury Dist
546 18 454 Cooly John 0110111001 0 0 Salisbury Dist
546 19 454 Cooley James 0001010100 0 0 Salisbury Dist
546 20 454 Cooley Perrin 2001020010 0 0 Salisbury Dist
547 1 455 Cooley Rice 0010000000 0 0 Salisbury Dist
1810 Census, Casey County, Kentucky
-10 -16 -20 -40 40+ -10 -16 -20 -40 40+ free slaves
Randolph White 2 2 - - 1 3 2 - 1 - - -
John Cooley 1 1 1 - 1 3 2 - 1 - - -
John Cooley Sr - - - - 1 - - 1 - 1 - -
Reuben Cooley 1 - - 1 - 2 - 1 - - - -
1810 Census, Washington County, Kentucky
Perrin Cooley 4 - - 1 - 2 1 1 - 1 -
There were other Cooley individuals and/or families living in the
vicinity near John. Abraham Cooley, said to have been born in England, is
noted in the section on immigrants. DNA has
disproved any relationship between him and John and has shown that he's
descended from the Tring, Hertfordshire, England Cooleys, a group from which
Ensign Benjamin Cooley of Springfield, Massachusetts and Samuell Cooley of
Milford, Connecticut also descended.
There was the "famous" William Cooley8 who set out with Daniel
Boone from Salisbury (considerably south of present-day Stokes County, NC) to
Kentucky in 1769. Although there is little known about William, his origins
may have been in Pennsylvania, not Virginia. The only thing that connects
the two Cooleys to one another is that they lived in early Rowan County,
which was much larger than it is now, and probably in locations somewhat
distant from one another. (The Boone property was located in what is now
Davidson County. The John Cooley property was in present-day Stokes County,
A James Cooley
enlisted in the revolutionary army for a second time in Surry County and was
made prisoner there by the British. Lura Coolley Hamil states in her book
that he served in Virginia with William Cooley (above). However, she was
clearly mistaken. DNA evidence for this man is still needed.
Although Reuben Ransom
Cooley is believed to have never resided in Stokes County, North
Carolina, he does show up near Edward Cooley's family in Indiana. It's
claimed that he was the Reuben R Cooley who married in Bartholomew County,
but he certainly is not the Reuben living there in 1840. He is the the R R
Cooley appearing that same year in Decatur County, Indiana. Other Indiana
families are explored in Cooleys on the 1830 and 1840
Census. Subsequent DNA testing has indicated Reuben was probably
descended from Ensign Benjamin Cooley.
And there were other North Carolina
Cooleys residing several counties east of Stokes County. To date,
nothing has been found to suggest they were related to our John Cooley. But
it should be noted that they came from counties very near Caroline County VA, where our John
enlisted into the Virginia
Regiment in 1755.
A descendant of James Cooley (born c1809 in PA) is nearly an exact yDNA match. The fact that he shares the name makes it
a near certainty that James was related to John Cooley in some way. The age
difference is large enough that James could have been a great grandson of
John's, but there are certain STR marker that indicate that James was of a
collateral line to John.
There is no evidence that John Cooley came from Pennsylvania but there
are several reasons to investigate some of those families. To that end, I've
started a page for Pennsylvania Cooleys
and a related project for the Cooleys on the
Finally, I'm "mapping out" the Cooley lineages
I'm working on, all in an attempt to find any family that may have been
collateral to John's ancestral line.
All original portions ©
Michael Cooley, OrbitInternet.net -