Sunday, April 10, 2016

Justice Served, Quaker Style: Aaron Cooper and the Plugged Thug

We know very little about our ancestor Aaron Peter Cooper.  He died in 1836 when his first son, Thomas Benton Cooper, was only a baby, so Thomas didn't really know the man to pass down his stories.  We don't know the names of Aaron's parents or family members.  We don't know how he died, at what age, or when he was born.  We don't know his occupation (although I have a guess).  We have a rumor that either he or his father served in the War of 1812. He may have been a widower, but we aren't sure.  We do know that he was probably born in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, which was a small Quaker town.  We know he died in or near Liverpool, New York (although we don't know where he is buried.)  Part of the problem is the lack of documentation, also that Aaron Cooper is a fairly common name in the area.  (Me>Mom>Grandpa Heagy>C.A.S. Heagy>Martha Justine Cooper>Thomas Benton Cooper>Aaron Peter Cooper).

One important thing we absolutely know is that Aaron was a Quaker.

I love that one of my favorite movies is about a Quaker and stars Gary COOPER.

I've been trying to find out a little more about this man, and was delighted to receive an actual story about him from the town historian in Liverpool, New York.  And it's a funny story!  Especially since Aaron was a Quaker and believed in nonviolence.  That must have been hard in the old days--you had to get creative...

This story was printed in the Liverpool Telegraph, June 1894, as a series of "Recollections and Reminiscences of Several Old Inhabitants of the Town of Salina" for the town centennial. (Salina was the neighboring settlement to Liverpool.)  The story is told by a Mr. L. Godard.

A little background to understand the story:  Salina and Liverpool are on the shore of Onondaga Lake in Central New York.  "Natural brine springs along the lake" were an attraction to the area that suddenly became very accessible with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the Oswego Canal in 1828.
"During their stay the French noted the plentiful game and fish, and salt water bubbling from the ground in the brine springs.  Salt was one of the very few means to preserve meat and fish and widely used to tan hides.
After the American Revolution, the prospects of salt fortunes drew people from New England and settlements down from the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers.  John Danforth, one of the first settlers in Liverpool, began to boil salt in 1794. ...
Salt blocks, buildings containing rows of salt boiling kettles, filled the Onondaga Lake shoreline from Bloody Brook to Balsam Street.  By 1811, 36 Liverpool salt manufacturers produced 20,000 to 30,000 bushels annually.  Salt was shipped by bateaux to Oswego Falls, then overland to Oswego and the Great Lakes, or by oxcart to other communities along rural "salt roads."
Liverpool became a port village of Yankee settlers, Irish canal workers, and a later wave of German immigrants.  Hotel and tavern keepers, grocers, blacksmiths, coopers, boat-builders, brick makers and builders flourished here with the salt workers."  (from Liverpool Village Museum pamphlet).
The salt industry provides the setting and situation.  Enjoy.

"Old Squire Case['s]....jurisdiction included of course the whole town but he would positively have nothing to do at first hand with anything that happened in the somewhat turbulent region of the salt blocks and along the canal [sounds like an "other side of the tracks" situation].  He drew the line at Brow street.  Employers and employees were all in the same category.  Disputes, difficulties, fights and brawls below the hill were adjudicated generally by two referees whom the squire himself appointed if necessary....

One day...a stranger knocked down a man by the name of John Van Osten and battered him up some.  With one eye done up in a sling and blood in the other he sought the seat of justice.

"Where did this happen?" demanded the court.

"Down in the salt blocks."

"Then take it down there and settle it.  I will have nothing to do with anything that happens down there.  They must settle their own disputes."

He however sent an order to Allen D. Kinnie and Aaron P. Cooper to look into the affair and mete out justice.  Kinnie and Cooper with due deliberation assembled themselves together, and the parties to the trouble were brought before them.  On all the evidence the sentence of the court was that the stranger be fined one gallon of rum; in default of which his head was to be held up to a hole in the reservoir and the plug pulled out. [AWESOME!  I bet they were hoping he couldn't pay the rum.]  He refused to pay the fine and was thereupon placed in position at the reservoir.  Stakes were "druv" so as to hold him in position and the deputies, after all was ready and the briny depths had been stirred to the bottom, knocked out the plug and let the pent up brine do its work.  The culprit, in a voice choked in agitation of the water yelled the best he could for mercy.  Not though until it was thought the ends of justice were properly served was the tompkin [also "tampien"--the wooden stopper like over the muzzle of a gun, ie.,the plug] driven in again and the victim brought back to life.

Solar salt workers in nearby Syracuse, New York, about 1900, image from Wikipedia.

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