Skip to Main Content

Overseers in Lowell's Textile Mills

Lowell Labor History

Isaac Cooper (1806-1902)

                                                     Portrait of Isaac Cooper     

Lowell Historical Society "Album 3," p. 025.


Born in Stockport, England, on October 3, 1806 Isaac Cooper came to the United States at the age of 2-1/2 and settled with his family in West Boylston, Massachusetts. Cooper had little formal education and began working in a mill at Saxonville, Massachusetts, when he was a boy.1 At the age of 24 he married Maria (also written as “Mariah”) Dunsmoore. In 1835 he and his wife moved to Lowell, where Cooper obtained a job as an overseer in a weave room at the Lawrence Mills. They lived for many years in a Lawrence Mills boardinghouse, alongside other overseers and their families. The Coopers had three children who grew to adulthood, two daughters and one son. Isaac Cooper named his son Henry Clay Cooper, born in 1839, after the famous Whig politician, of whom the elder Cooper was a great admirer. The eldest daughter, Harriet M., born in 1835, became a school teacher. The youngest, Carolyn C., born in 1842, worked briefly, likely in a boardinghouse, before marrying the owner of a shoe store.2

While an overseer, Isaac Cooper became heavily involved in local Whig politics. He won elections, as councilman and later alderman, as well as representative to the General Court. With the demise of the Whig party in the mid-1850s and the splintering of the Democracy in 1860, Cooper joined with a number of prominent Lowell residents, including James B. Francis of the Locks and Canals Corporation, in support of the Union party.Just as John Bell, the Union party candidate was overwhelmingly defeated in Lowell and in the national polls, the Union party candidates in the municipal election, lost in a landslide to the Republican candidates. Cooper and Francis who were among the Union Party's aldermanic slate, were resoundingly defeated.Upon the outbreak of  the Civil War Cooper, Francis, and a number of other Unionists became Republicans and remained so until their deaths.

During his many years in the mills, Cooper suffered one serious injury. This occurred one August morning in 1862 when an elevator carrying warp beams down to Cooper’s weave room became stuck in the shaft above the floor. As Cooper looked up the shaft the elevator suddenly descended, its corner striking him in the forehead. He suffered a fractured skull and a severe laceration at the bridge of his nose and around his right eye. Dr. Gilman Kimball, a Lowell physician, attended to Cooper and dressed his wounds. A report listed Cooper “in a critical, though by no means hopeless state.”Within a few days Cooper was recovering. He resumed work at the Lawrence Mills, remaining an overseer there until about 1872. Upon retirement, Cooper, who owned no property, having lived in Lawrence Corporation housing, had between five and six thousand dollars in cash.

After Cooper left the mill and his Lawrence boardinghouse, he lived for a number of years with his son, Henry, who owned a furniture store, his daughter-in-law, and their female Irish servant. The home was located in the fashionable Belvidere neighborhood. By 1900 he had moved in with his daughter Ellen, and son-in-law, Joseph B. Goodwin, who had become a successful businessman, manufacturing door and window screens. The Goodwin house was also in Belvidere. Cooper died there on January 26, 1902, after reaching his 95th birthday the previous October.6  

“Isaac Cooper Dead,” Boston Daily Globe, January 27, 1902.
Federal manuscript census for Lowell, 1850, 1860, 1880, and 1900.
“The Union Meeting,” Lowell Evening Advertiser, October 3, 1860.
“The City Election,” Lowell Journal and Courier, December 11, 1860.
“Serious Accident,” Lowell Weekly Journal, August 29, 1862.
Lowell Vital Records, 1902, v.529, p.492.