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COOPER, JAMES BARRETT, printer, newspaper publisher, and office-holder; b. 4 Nov. 1811 in London, England, son of James Cooper and Ann Skeet; m. 5 June 1833 Jane Bagnall, and they had 12 children; d. 12 April 1888 in Upper Stewiacke, N.S.

James Barrett Cooper, son of a captain of a vessel trading between London and Newfoundland, moved to Newfoundland as a boy. After his father’s death there, Cooper and his two brothers went to Charlottetown, P.E.I., with their mother, who married William Cullen, clerk of the House of Assembly. As a young man, Cooper apprenticed to James Douglas Haszard*, an established newspaperman. At the age of 26 he began his own newspaper, the Colonial Herald, and Prince Edward Island Advertiser, with the assistance of John S. Bremnar; the first issue appeared on 5 Aug. 1837. The Colonial Herald prided itself on its independent principles and, as a result, Cooper’s early political affiliations are difficult to ascertain. An enlarged edition of the Colonial Herald was begun on 3 Jan. 1841, both Cooper and Bremnar then being described as publishers. They also published the Prince Edward Island almanack, the 1841 census, and a sheet almanac, did bookbinding and printing, and operated a store which sold a wide variety of stationery, books, and medicine. In addition, they were printers to the House of Assembly.

The partnership was dissolved by mutual consent in March 1844 and the paper and printing business was carried on by Cooper. Four months after striking out on his own, Cooper ceased publication of the Colonial Herald, auctioned his home and business, and moved to Meadow Bank where he began farming. He supplemented his probably meagre income by acting as agent on the Island for “Moffat’s life pills” and “Phoenix bitters” and as a commissioner for the small debts court in the Crapaud and De Sable area. He was also appointed justice of the peace for Queens County in 1847, a position he held for 36 years, and in 1848 was commissioned a lieutenant in the 1st Regiment, Queens County militia, in which he eventually became a major.

In March 1850 he became a 2nd clerk in the House of Assembly, which had a Liberal majority, and in 1853 was again residing in Charlottetown. When he was not reappointed as assistant clerk in September 1854, Cooper toured the United States, apparently giving temperance lectures, until the fall of 1856. The following May Cooper launched the Charlottetown Monitor which gradually emerged in support of the Tory party, perhaps because of his unhappiness with the Liberals at not having been reappointed to his post in 1854. His advocacy of the Tory party paid off, however, when in 1860 he accepted a position from the government of Edward Palmer as clerk of the Legislative Council, a post he filled for almost seven years. In 1860 the Monitor became extreme in its support of Protestantism, Toryism, and the Orange order, presumably because Cooper was influenced by men who were providing him with financial support. After he was appointed clerk, Cooper may have surrendered most of his editorial duties to his associate editor, Donald Currie*; his opponents charged that Palmer, the Reverend George Sutherland*, and the Reverend David Fitzgerald* also provided him with editorial assistance, but the extent of their involvement is uncertain.

Cooper’s hard work in support of the Tories was in vain; although they were successful in the election of 1863, the office of queen’s printer which Cooper’s friends in the Orange order had wanted him to have was once again given to John Ings, publisher of the Islander. This was a hard blow to Cooper who sorely needed the government’s financial support to stay in business and, despite assistance from some Presbyterian individuals, the Monitor had to cease publication in 1865. During its seven-year existence the Monitor had been involved in continual exchanges with Edward Whelan*’s Examiner and from 1862 to 1864 it had engaged in heated debate with Edward Reilly*’s Roman Catholic Vindicator. Cooper also discussed such issues as responsible government, financial and legislative reform, the criminal code, and education. As a result of editorials he wrote in the fall of 1863 several major improvements were made to Prince of Wales College. Before 1864 the Monitor advocated federal union of the British North American colonies and printed articles in favour of Maritime union, but when confederation became an issue in that year Cooper shied away from expressing any definite opinions. By 1866 he had joined the ranks of those opposed to union.

Cooper had taken a special interest in the land question; he drew up a petition in 1859 asking the British government for a solution in favour of the tenants. In 1860 he served on a committee which prepared a memorial for the commission appointed by the Palmer government, presenting the grievances of descendants of the loyalists and disbanded soldiers to whom land had been promised in 1790. Cooper was always a strong advocate of temperance; he gave lectures on the topic and took a leading role in local organizations. He was secretary of the Charlottetown Temperance Society in 1840; an organizing member in 1841 and office-holder in 1843–44 of the Prince Edward Island auxiliary to the New British and Foreign Temperance Society; and in August 1850 became the first president of the Prince Edward Island Benevolent Total Abstinence Society. In addition he was for many years grand scribe and grand worthy patriarch of the Sons of Temperance, serving as a representative to other British North American divisions for over 20 years, and he was a director of the Temperance Hall Company for over 10 years. In 1843 and 1859 he was vice-president of Charlottetown Mechanics’ Institute and was its secretary in 1853. A strong supporter of the Orange order, he was grand master in 1867 and lectured on Orangeism. In addition he did some preaching for the Methodists.

In October 1865 the Monitor was superseded by the Weekly Bulletin, published by Cooper’s two sons, James and Henry, the latter having earlier been in partnership with his father. The Weekly Bulletin lasted only a short time but the printing business was carried on by Henry until his death in 1877. In 1870 Cooper was referred to by the Patriot as the “Islander scribe,” but his connection with the Islander is not known. Cooper’s life was not without hardship and sadness: he constantly struggled to keep his newspapers in print and only two of his 12 children survived him. Around 1883 he moved to Upper Stewiacke, N.S., where he died in 1888.

Jean Layton MacKay

PAPEI, RG 1, Commission books, January 1855–May 1862: 340; RG 18, 1841 census, 1881 census. Prince Edward Island Heritage Foundation (Charlottetown), J. B. Cooper file. P.E.I., House of Assembly, Journal, 1838; 1852; Legislative Council, Journal, 1860; 1867. Colonial Herald, and Prince Edward Island Advertiser (Charlottetown), 5 Aug. 1837–27 July 1844. Examiner (Charlottetown), 25 May, 15 June, 24 Aug., 12 Oct. 1857; 6, 13 Sept. 1858; 14 Feb. 1859; 5 June, 2, 24 Dec. 1860; 25 March, 24 June, 28 Oct. 1861; 5 Jan., 2 Feb., 26 Oct. 1863; 30 Oct. 1865; 17 Dec. 1877, 28 March 1884. Herald (Charlottetown), 1 Nov. 1865. Islander, 8 Jan., 12 Feb. 1847; 5 June 1857; 3 Nov. 1865; 13 July, 19 Oct. 1866. Monitor (Charlottetown), 23 May 1857–8 Dec. 1864. Patriot (Charlottetown), 24 Sept., 27 Oct. 1870. Vindicator (Charlottetown), 14 Nov., 19 Dec. 1862; 16 Jan., 6 Feb., 3 July 1863. The Prince Edward Island almanack . . . (Charlottetown), 1853, 1869–71, 1873–83. The Prince Edward Island calendar . . . (Charlottetown), 1847, 1850–51; 1855–59; 1861–68; 1870–72. Past and present of P.E.I. (MacKinnon and Warburton), 114, 118. Robertson, “Religion, politics, and education in P.E.I.”

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jean Layton MacKay, “COOPER, JAMES BARRETT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cooper_james_barrett_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cooper_james_barrett_11E.html
Author of Article: Jean Layton MacKay
Title of Article: COOPER, JAMES BARRETT
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: October 1, 2014