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A strong case for Benjamin Cooley's origins was made in an unpublished paper by Eleanore L. Cooley Rue, "Did Benjamin Cooley's sister Phebe Marry Richard Sikes of Springfield, Massachusetts, Proving Both Born Tring, Hertford, England?" (October 2000), with the following points:
- The Benjamin Cooley of Tring had a sister, Phebe Cooley of the right age to be the Phebe who marries Richard Sikes
- Benjamin Cooley made reference in his will to his COUSIN SIKES ("cousin" being used at that time to refer to any close, but not sibling or parent relationship).
- Sikes moved into the Springfield house owned by Benjamin Cooley before Sikes bought it from Cooley.
- The long, close relationship (of Sikes and Cooleys), continued through descendants.
- Benjamin Cooley of Springfield was a weaver, and weaving was a primary trade in Tring.
- Benjamin Cooley of Springfield stated his age as 52 in a 1669 deposition, placing his birth about 1617; a Benjamin Cooley was baptized in Tring in 1616.
- There is no evidence of either Benjamin or Phebe in Tring or anywhere nearby in England after their baptisms.
Life in New England
We do not know when Cooley crossed the Atlantic or where he settled initially. We do know that he was in Springfield, Massachusetts by the 16 Sept 1643 birth of his daughter, Bethiah.
Springfield was designed from the start to be an industrial, self-supporting community and its founders sought to attract builders, carpenters, brick masons, tailors and weavers most often secured from England as indentured servants (to Pynchon), only those who could contribute something of value were admitted to the community.
Ample evidence exists that Cooley was skilled with both flax and wool. He took on an apprentice in 1650 to teach linen weaving and his estate's inventory included a lot of weaving materials, including two looms.
With the group arriving about 1643 came also George Colton who during the subsequent forty years was the inseparable companion of Benjamin Cooley. In 1649 they took the oath of fidelity together. [Many more instances of evidence that they were closely aligned…] Such a combination of circumstances could hardly have been merely coincidences. [It is from this close friendship that some researchers believe that Benjamin Cooley's wife was a sister to George Colton, but no documentation exists to support this.]
The second record of Cooley in Springfield was February 8, 1643/44 when he was called for jury duty. On September 23, 1645, a reference to fences indicates that he was then established on his property and that he was then the most southerly lot occupant, his later neighbors on the south not then having arrived. From then on the records are replete with references to his public services. In1667, with Deacon Samuel Chapin and George Colton, he was in charge of the first local "Community Chest" for the distribution of "four or five pounds to help a little against the want of some families." He not only had the confidence of the community but he seems to have endeared himself to all classes.
The first recorded mentions of a house in the long-meadow owned by Benjamin Cooley:
- [August 27, 1660] Thomas Gilbert hath liberty granted him for building and dwelling on his land which he hath bought of Benjamin Cooley at the Longmeadow Gate.
- [December 31, 1660] George Colton desiring liberty to build on his land at the Long meadow, had liberty granted him for erecting a building or dwelling place there.
- [March 13, 1660/61] granted to Benjamin Cooley, thirty acres on the east side of the swamp over against his house at the long meadow which land lies between two dingles and to run from the brow of the hill backward into the woods eastward till thirty acres be made up.
At a General Court held in Boston, 28th May, 1679--In answer to the petition of Benjamin Cooley, ensign to the Foot Company at Springfield, humbly desiring the favor of this Court, to lay down his place, being aged ("62 or thereabouts") and deaf, -- the Court grants his request. …
August 17, 1684, Benjamin Cooley died at the age of sixty-seven. Six days later died Sarah, his wife, the mother of his eight children.
- Eleanor Cooley Rue suggests that both Benjamin and Sarah died from a contagious illness.
At his death he owned 524 acres. He had houses and barns to meet his own needs and those of his eldest sons.
The inventory of Cooley's estate, taken after his death in 1684, includes:
- Two looms, slayds (weavers' reeds) and warping bars
- Serge, kersy, say, penistone and linen cloth
- Cotton wool and sheep's wool
- Crop of flax
- Linsey-woolsey, yarns, spinning wheels, tube (dye vats)
There was also a stock of finished cloths alone priced at about $1000 in present day values.
As were all their contemporaries, Benjamin Cooley and his wife were interred in the ancient "burying place" by the riverside in Springfield, west of the church that he had helped to build. No stones marked their graves for no lasting stone was then to be had in the community... There remains a stone that marked the grave of Mary Holyoke who died in 1657, but the workmanship suggests that the stone is actually of a much later date.
There Benjamin and Sarah rested until the coming of the railroad. In 1849, to make room for the tracks, the remains of 2404 bodies and 517 markers were removed to the Springfield Cemetery on the hill that had been opened in 1841. Dr. Joseph C. Pynchon, who then had charge of the removal of the Pynchon bodies, said thirty-six years later:
- "...The few remains were gathered, which soon crumbled to dust on exposure to the air, and with the surrounding earth, deposited in the new cemetery."
Nothing is known of the Cooley bodies, which in common with many others undoubtedly had wholly disintegrated, leaving not a trace. Such a condition indicates that the bodies were then not buried clothed, as today, otherwise some evidence might have remained. Pilfered shoe-buckles and buttons are frequently found in Indian graves as old as those, though it is of course true that the place of interment chosen by the natives would have been in a soil having far greater preservative qualities than the damp soil by the river bank. Clothing was then far too valuable to have been disposed of in such a way. … The absolute lack of identifying articles in the graves of the old cemetery indicates that the bodies were laid to rest, wrapped in a winding-sheet or shroud.
Death seems to have come suddenly to Benjamin Cooley for though he attempted to make a will, he did not live to complete it. However, it was carried far enough to indicate some of his wishes, and with a sense of justice worthy of such a father and with a consideration for the needs of each other the heirs divided the estate and carried on.
- Harry Andrew Wright, “Early Springfield & Longmeadow History," with special reference to Benjamin Cooley, Pioneer, chapter IV. Wright references his sources very well.
- John Alden of Ashfield, Mass., and Chautauqua County, New York. His Alden ancestors and his descendants. Comp. by Frank Wesley Alden, Delaware, Ohio. Published 1909 by Printed for private circulation
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