Historical Collection of Thomas Cooper given to the American Philosophical Society

Since retirement from the Laboratory in 1984, Seymour S. Cohen has collected historical and biographical materials on Thomas Cooper, 1759-1839. Cooper had been the subject of the doctoral dissertation of Dumas Malone (ca 1920) whose subsequent studies led to a major biographical study of Thomas Jefferson (1948-1981). Cooper, born in London, contributed to the development of textile bleaching while living and working in Manchester. An early vice president of the Literary and Philosophical Society, he published essays of early cultural and scientific developments in England, including an early interest in a transition from monarchical to republican government. As a friend of the family of Joseph Priestley he explored Pennsylvania as a home for that Unitarian chemist. He wrote books on the qualities of an early America. He had also begun to study English law and to explore evolution of then primitive chemistry.

Cooper’s subsequent career in Pennsylvania after 1795 involved country and agricultural law, chemical instruction and publications at several colleges, as well as industrial developments before, during and after the War of 1812-15. In 1817 Cooper was appointed as Professor in Virginia, which failed to open until 1825, at which time he had become the President of the South Carolina College.

In his twenty years in the South, Cooper initiated the study of geology and the development of chemistry. In the 1820s he had begun to compose treatises of political economy, to assist the formation of the first medical college, and the first mental asylum in the South. In 1830 he disavowed the brevity theory of the age of the Earth and lost his position as President of the College. From 1834-1836 Cooper wrote a history of the laws of South Carolina. He died in 1839.

Cohen’s Historical Collection on Cooper has been given to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, which has undertaken to prepare the Collection for historical study.