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James Wesley Cooper papers

Call Number: MS 791

Scope and Contents

The James Wesley Cooper Papers consist of four archive boxes and are almost entirely made up of letters and diaries. There are also two essays in manuscript, two printed sermons and newspaper clippings documenting Cooper's career as a preacher, with reports on sermons, on special events and on his changes in pulpits.

The papers are largely a record of his service as a Congregational minister (1868-1903), his work for the American Missionary Association (1903-1910) and his participation in the affairs of Yale University as a Fellow (1885-1916) and as Acting Secretary of the University (1911-1912). The papers are divided into three series.

Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, is chiefly made up of letters from fellow clergymen on questions of arrangements for meetings, invitations to preach and discussions of conferences. Under the heading Yale University are numerous letters received by Cooper during his service as a member of the Corporation. While some are routine announcements, others discuss substantive matters. Among these are a letter from Albert S. Wheeler, enclosed in a letter from A.F. Beard (1899 May 16), explaining the resignation of Arthur T. Hadley as dean of the Graduate Department, another from Timothy Dwight (1886 Oct 19) on the change of name from Yale College to Yale University, and a letter from Williston Walker discussing the possibility of a union between the Hartford Theological Seminary and the Yale Divinity School. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by sender.

The CORRESPONDENCE series also contains a collection of Cooper's letters to his wife. The largest group (44) were written in 1865, the year in which they were engaged. The remaining fourteen letters were written between 1877 and 1905.

Series II, PERSONAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL, consists of material on Cooper's life before entering the ministry and of obituaries. Among the items are papers relating to his service during the Civil War as assistant adjutant general of Connecticut (with the rank of captain), papers on his attendance at Yale College and his honorary degree (1879), and two essays.

Series III, CHURCH ACTIVITIES, is made up of papers relating to his life as a minister and is arranged by the congregations he served. After leaving his last congregation in New Britain, Connecticut in 1903, he joined the American Missionary Association to become senior corresponding secretary. In this capacity, he made several trips to the South to inspect schools and churches supported by the Association. Two letters to Cooper from Booker T. Washington, which were written in this connection are filed in CORRESPONDENCE. The major part of Series III is made up of thirty-nine brief-entry diaries and travel record books (1869-1914) documenting Cooper's daily life as a minister, his visits to the South and to theological conferences abroad. Three early items on church affairs are also included in this series: a letter from Richard Ely to Elizur May (1878 Jun 3) on his joining "the Association," a resolution adopted at a meeting of the Hartford South Association (1819 Jun 1), and minutes kept by Noah Porter of a meeting of an Ecclesiastical Council in Berlin, Connecticut (1837 Nov 13).


  • 1787-1925
  • Majority of material found within 1787 - 1916


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of James Wayne Cooper, 1975.


Arranged in three series: I. Correspondence. II. Personal and Biographical. III. Church Activities.


2 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Chiefly correspondence and diaries of James Wesley Cooper documenting his career as a Congregational minister, and his service as a Fellow of Yale University (1886-1916). The only personal correspondence are forty-four letters from Cooper to his fiancée in 1865 and fourteen additional letters (1877-1905). The diaries (1869-1914) provide a daily record of his work as a minister and of his visits to churches and schools in the South supported by the American Missionary Association. He was an officer of the Association between 1903 and 1914. Also in the papers are a letter from Richard Ely to Elizur May, 1787 Jun 3, a resolution of the Hartford South Association, 1819 Jun 1 and minutes taken by Noah Porter of an ecclesiastical council meeting, 1837 Nov 13.

Biographical / Historical

James Wesley Cooper, B.A. 1865

Born October 6, 1842, in New Haven, Conn.

Died March 16, 1916, in New York City

James Wesley Cooper was the son of James Ford Cooper, a carriage manufacturer, and Cornelia (Walkley) Cooper, and was born October 6, 1842, in New Haven, Conn., where he was prepared for college at the Hopkins Grammar School. His father was the son of Timothy and Sarah (Ford) Cooper and a descendant of Timothy Ford, who came to this country from England in 1639. Through his mother, who was the daughter of Joel and Sybil (Austin) Walkley, he was descended from Richard Walkley. At Yale, he was a member of Linonia and the Beethoven Society, and received a Dispute appointment in Junior year, in the latter part of which he withdrew to accept a commission as assistant adjutant general of Connecticut with the rank of captain. On petition of his classmates, the degree of B.A., with enrollment in the Class of 1865, was voted to him by the Yale Corporation in 1879, because of the fact that he had seen service in the Civil War.

In 1868, Mr. Cooper was graduated from Andover Theological Seminary, and, following his ordination to the Congregational ministry in September of that year, he served for three years as pastor of the Congregational Church at Rockport, Mass. He held the pastorate of the Lockport (N. Y.) Congregational Church from 1871 to 1878, and in the latter year accepted a call to the South Congregational Church of New Britain, Conn. He held that charge for the next twenty-five, years, and during his pastorate the church membership increased until it became one of the largest in the state. In 1903, he resigned to become senior corresponding secretary of the American Missionary Association, with headquarters in New York City. For the next seven years, while directing the home mission work of the Congregational Church in America, he traveled extensively in the interests of the association. He was made one of its vice presidents upon his retirement in 1910, and held that office until two years ago. For the past six years, he had made his home at Hartford, Conn., and had given most of his time to writing on theological subjects, although he continued to preach occasionally.

From 1884 until 1914, Dr. Cooper was a corporate member of the American Board of commissioners for Foreign Missions, and in 1891 he was sent as a delegate to the International Council of Congregational Churches at London. From 1878 to 1888, he acted as chaplain of the First Regiment, Connecticut National Guard. He was a member of the Governor's Staff Association. Dr. Cooper had served as a Fellow of Yale University since 1885, being also a member of the Prudential Committee. He was a trustee of Hampton Institute, Piedmont College, Atlanta Theological Seminary, Fisk University, Talladega College, Tougaloo University, Straight University, and Tillotson College. In 1886, Olivet College conferred the honorary degree of D.D. upon him.

Dr. Cooper's death occurred very suddenly, from heart trouble, March 16, 1916, in New York City, where he was staying for a few days. His body was taken to New Britain for burial in Fairview Cemetery.

He was married August 13, 1868, in Manchester, Conn., to Ellen M., daughter of Elisha Edgerton and Charlotte Day (Spencer) Hilliard, who survived him. He also left his two sons: Elisha Hilliard (B.A. 1892) and James Earnest, who received the degree of B.A. at Yale in 1895 and that of LL.B. at Harvard three years later.

From Obituary Record of Yale Graduates, 1915-1916, pp. 61-62

Guide to the James Wesley Cooper Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Ruth Gay
June 1980
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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