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 -
Y Markers -
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 or 1995 but remained
essentially blank until I began corresponding with Sandra Stanton and her cousin, Don Cooley
(descendants of James Cooley, 1772-1821), in the spring of 2006. 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.
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,
Goodes were long-time plantation owners in that area. This is
significant because both Richard Goode and John Cooley eventually moved to
Town Fork Settlement, Surry (later
Stokes) county, North Carolina. They often show up on the same land records
and may have had family connections.
John was likely born by 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. But there is no certainty in that.
For now, it simply fits and is nothing more than a working theory. John's
wife's name is not known but she was not the commonly cited Elizabeth Fermin. John relocated to Town Fork
Settlement, then in Rowan county, North Carolina, perhaps as early as
the late 1750s or early- to mid-1760s (I believe about
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 might have been 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 John's family.
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.10 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
suggest 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. (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.|
||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
may have been born in VA. He appears on the 1810 Washington county KY
census as well as land and tax records there. He left for Missouri in
1811 with his brothers and was present at Fort Hempstead, Howard County, MO. He
was the progenitor of the Randolph
county Missouri Cooleys.|
||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.) 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 researchers wonder if Edmond and Rice were the same
person. It would explain why another record for Rice has never been
||Believed to have been born in Surry County, NC.
(often cited as Stokes county but that wasn't formed until 1789).
There is a Hannah Cooley 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 Barnett/Burnett 23 Dec 1795 and they moved
to Spartanburg about the same time presumed brother Edmond did.
It's worth noting that her niece, Joanna
Cooley (daughter of Edward), was 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 1812,9 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 seen as William)
Cornelius Cooley. That man may 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 true data
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, a group that might not have existed anyway. Lura
Coolley Hamil's book has been thoroughly discredited. Rather than the
descendants of the male Cooleys represented in book having one matching
chromosome—as would be the case if they all had the same partilineal
ancestor—there exists among them at least seven mismatching
Y's. Indeed, the Dutch Kools (etc.) match with none of them.
DNA testing itself has come a long way over the last decade. By about
2010, our Cooleys could best determine only that we came from a population
that lived in Norway about 4,000 years ago. We knew this because we tested
positive for a mutation known as L448, or "The Young Scandinavian." 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. YP355, a mutation that 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:
L448 -> YP355 -> YP609 -> YP4252 -> YP4248 -> YP4254 -> YP4491
Again 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 could be replaced with
names but births (of course) were not documented that far back. The
birth of "YP4491" was roughly contemporaneous to our John Cooley and his
immediate Cooley forebears. It is conceivable, but not terribly likely, we
could one day give that SNP a human name.
YP4248 was discovered in a tester that descends 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
number 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 are showing up that appear to be likely candidates for
One is Cochran
(his test is in progress). 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.
This link will take you to a little better explanation of SNPs and our presently-known
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 can do their thing with science, genealogists, much
like historians, need the literature that records events in the lives of
people that place them in specific locations 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 in families—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 may eventually elevate it to a
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 in the realm of genealogy 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—that he was from England.
However, it seems that some of the above statements are not strictly
true. 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. And, not noted above, is a note written to my father by his aunt
Vernal Shelton, who says 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 it can happen. I used to think my
paternal grandmother was born in France. I now know that she was born in
Connecticut and that her father was born in France. If it hadn't
been for my interest in genealogy, I might still be propagating
misinformation—more than 100 years after her birth. With that notion in
mind, we can triangulate all of these traditions back to the senior John.
And that makes sense as many, if not most (if not all), Cooley immigrants to
the American colonies in the 17th and 18th century were from England:
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."
Cooley ||1774, England
||Virginia || "The
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.
Cooley ||1774, London ||Maryland
||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
I have already mentioned the John Cooley who was transported to Virginia
in 1753. And 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 we know 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 I've yet to find the proof.
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, as
well as to the clan MacDonald.7
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 kirkings that had taken place in Putnam County, MO 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 Moor5 would have been contemporaneous to John
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
voyage with a small army from France to Scotland with aspiration to install
his father and the Stuart lineage back onto the English throne, an event not
without precedence. 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, persued the survivors through Scottish villages,
and arrested ordinary townspeople and children and sent them to London for
trial, conviction, and eventual hanging or transportation to America.
When I wrote the paper (2011), 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 YP4248, 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 related. Still, it remains to be seen whether both
families were present in Derbyshire when Charles Stuart's army encamped
To date, these claims have not been substantiated. It is worth noting,
however, that during the French and Indian War John Cooley served in Captain Spotswood's company with John
MacDonald, whose father Alexander is said to have been at Culloden Moor.
And I find it interesting that an Alexander MacDonald and a 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 John there is the militia payroll. There's
not much we can say 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%. That 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).1 It might seem odd that convicts would be in His
Majesty's service but, in fact, they often were. And, unlike the north,
where indentured servitude was scarce, Southern men of some wealth and
standing could send off 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 the rolls?
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 seems possible to me that he might have recruited from
within his own domestic staff.
We also know that Richard Goode came from a planter clan (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.
Although these several men, along with John Cooley and Richard Goode,
enlisted at Caroline county, it doesn't necessarily follow that John and
Richard were themselves from Caroline. The well-established Goode family
were also settled in nearby Orange, Essex and Spotsylvania counties.
Nevertheless, for now, it is all that we have to go on.
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.
John's first child was born in Virginia3 around 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
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
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 given 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 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 are 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. Men would
often make up a middle initial so as to avoid confusion with someone else.
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, although he chose
simply 'M' while he later resided in Kentucky and Tennessee.
The claim hasn't been verified and they 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's not beyond expectations that an amateur researching merely
assumed that a man named William Matthews Cooley had a mother named
Certainly, Elizabeth Firmin is out as a prospect, (see various articles.)
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 may have lived
in Caroline county and that he was possibly a indentured servant, this is
worth noting that 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 that 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 an John and Hannah
Rice?4 There were several similar naming conventions used in 17th
and 18th century colonial America. Any guess would be as good as
The Goode family mentioned in many of the same records I find the name
Cooley. Considering the Cooleys and Goodes were together in Caroline county
VA, Town Fork Settlement NC and Casey
county KY, I can't help but wonder if there was an in-law relationship,
possibly among Major Richard Goode's generation. But Richard's father died
early and there appears to be very little record of his children. The
senior Richard Goode's family has never been fully sorted out.
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, genetics and historic research have shown us that there is much yet
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
disproven a relationship between him and John.
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 stated in her book
that he served in Virginia with William Cooley (above). However, I believe
she was 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's the the R R
Cooley appearing the same year in Decatur County, Indiana. However, DNA has
shown that he is probably of the Benjamin Cooley clan. Other Indiana
families are explored in Cooleys on the 1830 and 1840
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 I believe
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. Although the trail for James's origins have grown cold, his DNA
suggests that John Cooley may not have been alone, as I have often
speculated for the simple reason that I had not been able to connect him to
anyone. This family group changes that.
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 -