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"What does that mean on that gravestone?"

Updated: Dec 2, 2022


Cooley family gravestone, Longmeadow Cemetery


James Cooley Died at Lima while Charge d'affairs for U.S. to Peru.

Feb. 24, 1828, AE 37.

Recently, we were giving a graveyard tour to two visitors, stopping to describe the usual gravestone details: carvers, symbolism, type of stone, genealogy, etc. One particular granite obelisk had the names of several members of the Cooley family inscribed on it. In addition to Calvin Cooley and Eunice Cooley was the name James Cooley, their son. The full text read: "James Cooley, died, at Lima while Charge d'affaires for U. S. to Peru, February 24, 1828, aged 37." Our visitors' simple question, "what does that mean?", sent us into full-on research mode. First, we searched the genealogy information from our go-to reference for all matters of early Longmeadow family lines, the Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of Longmeadow, October 17th, 1883." Here, we confirmed that James' parents were indeed Eunice and Calvin, and that he was the oldest of eight children. An Ancestry.com search revealed his original birth record: "James Cooley, son of Calvin Cooley and Eunice his wife was born April 7th, 1791." Being late in the evening, we continued the search via the internet, where we learned that James died of a "putrid fever," namely typhus, after only four days of illness. Merriam-Webster helped us with the definition of 'charge d'affaires,' which we learned was a diplomat who serves as an embassy's 'chief of mission' in the absence of the ambassador (there was no ambassador at the time). Cooley was the first charge d'affaires of the U.S. to Peru. The U.S. was the first "to acknowledge the political existence of the Spanish-American states, and to speak, with a voice of thunder, against the machinations which prevailed in Europe to re-colonize them" (Genealogybank.com, Connecticut Journal August 21, 1827). He was charged with "promoting free trade, implementing a policy of preferential tariffs and broadening bilateral relations."

We consulted the archives at the Storrs House Museum, where we found copies of typed, transcribed letters translated from Spanish to English detailing James Cooley's time in Peru and donated by Frederick B. Eveleth in 1927. From these transcribed letters, we learned that young James showed scholastic promise, and was sent to Monson Academy (now Wilbraham & Monson Academy).


First Monson Academy - Opened in 1806


After completing his studies there, he went on to Yale, where he graduated in the class of 1814. He studied law in Springfield for a year and then relocated to Urbana, Ohio. Many people from New England made the migration west to New York State, Ohio, and points further west. Ohio, which had only been admitted to the Union in 1803, was far less settled than the streets of New England that James Cooley had grown up on. An early 20th Century Ohio historian wrote, "In the early days of mud roads and log cabins, the lawyers rode the circuit with the judge, on horseback, from county to county, equipped with old fashioned leggings and saddlebags, averaging about thirty miles a day. The party had their appointed stopping places and, where they were expected on their arrival, the chickens, dried apples, maple sugar, corn dodgers, and old whiskey suffered, while the best storytellers regaled the company with their humor and anecdotes"(Bryan). Cooley was admitted to the bar in Ohio and took a partner named Calvin Fletcher - who would later name his own son James Cooley Fletcher in honor of his partner. James Cooley married Jeannette Chittenden in 1823, whose family had originally come from Guilford, CT. Cooley served in several capacities in the Ohio government, including as a State Senator. In 1826 he was nominated by President John Quincy Adams to be the first Charge d'Affaires to the newly recognized country of Peru. There were many who thought that this appointment was wholly deserved and reflected well on the state of Ohio: "...a young man of brilliant parts, of fine appearance and prepossessing manners and stood in the front rank of his associates." Others, however, like The Newburyport Herald asked: "who the devil's James Cooley?" The trip from Ohio, to Washington, then on to Peru was a long and arduous one. Having been appointed in February, James Cooley didn't arrive in Washington until November. The Ohio Monitor asked about the long delay: "It may be worth some little calculation to solve this question 'if it takes nine months to go from Ohio to Washington City, how many years will take to go from the City of Washington to Lima a distance of 8,000 miles." Nevertheless, Cooley and Jeannette arrived in Peru on May 14th, 1827 on the American Frigate "Georgia Packet," having traveled by way of the Straits of Magellan. His wife described the voyage as taking "one hundred and three days."


Springfield Republican, December 20, 1826 (Genealogybank.com)

Cooley wasted no time in presenting his credentials to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Peru, Mr. Francisco Javier Mariategui. According to a translated and transcribed letter by Antonio Espinosa Saldana written in 1927, "Mr. Cooley's presence as a diplomatic representative, was looked upon with great approval in Peru. The independence of the country at that time was only recognized by the Spanish-American countries, England and France and even the United States of North America, up until the appointment of Mr. Cooley, had only provided for Consuls in Peru." James Cooley's tenure in Peru was brief, and he died nine months later, after an illness of only four days, on February 24, 1828, at the age of 36. He was not buried in Lima's Catholic Cemetery, but in a Protestant Cemetery on a nearby island. He left his distraught wife, who did not speak the language, to make her long way home.


Connecticut Herald, July 1, 1828 (Genealogybank.com)

So we learned quite a bit from that simple granite marker, which is really a cenotaph for James Cooley. A cenotaph is a grave marker for someone whose remains are interred elsewhere. Stay tuned for Part II, which is the story of the Cooley's time in Peru, as described by letters from Jeannette Cooley to her sister back home. -Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member

Originally published September 29, 2022 Sources:

Ancestry.com Bryan Charles Edwin. History of Madison County, Ohio, Ohio: Its People, Industries and Institutions Cooley, Jeannette. Letters at Champaign County [Ohio] Historical Society Museum Dexter, Franklin Bowditch. Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History, Vol. VI September, 1805-September 1815 Genealogybank.com (Springfield Republican and Connecticut Herald) Longmeadow Historical Society Archives, Storrs, Richard Salter. Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of Longmeadow, October 17th, 1883

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