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TRACING GYPSY FAMILIES BACK DESPITE THE LACK OF RECORDS THIRTY EIGHT: Henry and Mary Cooper

Eric Trudgill    -    3 July 2016

The early gypsiologists knew personally three Cooper brothers: Leonard (husband of Phyllis) and Matthias (husband of Eliza Lee), both seen mostly as adults on either side of the Berks/Surrey border, and Francis, who was visiting them 1873-74 after seventeen years in the USA. One of the three, Matthias (usually referred to as Matty), was also well known to Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, who appointed him as the ratcatcher at Windsor Castle. The gypsiologists also knew two sisters of the brothers, Gentilla and Patience, living 1873-74 respectively in Poynings, Sussex and nearby Brighton. This seems confirmed in the records: Francis christened a Leonard in Malden, Surrey in 1832, Matty christened his first son Francis in Cobham, Surrey in 1837, and in the 1881 census Matty was not in Berks or Surrey but Brighton, surely visiting one or both of his sisters.

The early gypsiologists gave Henry and Mary Cooper as the parents of the five siblings, and this too is confirmed in the records. We have the baptism in Breamore, Hants in 1803 of Gentilla Cooper daughter of Harry and Mary, gypsies, who presumably died young since we have a wedding-cert for Gentilla Cooper (aged 40 in the 1861 census) and Charles Parsons in Sussex in 1853, and another for Gentilla Parsons (widowed daughter of Henry Cooper, horse-dealer) and James Hazelgrove in Brighton in 1860. In addition we have a wedding certificate for Leonard Cooper (son of Henry, horse-dealer) and Philadelphia Smith (daughter of John, ratcatcher) in Paddington Mdx in 1851.

There is, however, a problem. Francis was born about 1801 (he said he was 56 in 1856 when emigrating to the USA), the first Gentilla was baptised in 1803, and Leonard was born about 1806 (he said he was 44 in the 1851 census), but Matty didnít baptise his first known child until 1837, and despite his claims to be older was probably born about 1814 or even later, before the second Gentilla born about 1820 and perhaps Patience (we donít know when she was born). So there seem to be three or four children missing.

One was surely the Nelson Cooper, husband of Isabella Smith (daughter of Elijah and Sophia), proposed by the later gypsiologists, who was born about 1810 (he said he was 47 in 1857 when following his brother Francis to the USA). Nelson baptised three children 1833-40 in Old Windsor and Surrey, very much the territory of Francis, Leonard and Matty. He then moved to Somerset, where he christened children in 1853 and 1855, and in 1854 presumably watched a third, Misella Cooper (daughter of Nelson, horse-dealer), born about1831, marry Valentine Stanley.

Three other plausible children for Henry and Mary Cooper, filling the gaps in the records, present themselves in the records. First, thereís the Cinderella Cooper, baptised as Sentenniah in Longbredy, Dorset in 1808, who married Moses Small, baptised in 1805, named a child Henry, and was being visited in Devon in the 1861 census by a Thomas Cooper claiming to be forty and born in Epping, Essex, who was clearly her nephew, a son of Francis well known to the early gypsiololgists. Second, thereís the Rhoda Cooper, baptised in Evershot, Somerset in 1812, who married Moses Smallís nephew Robert Gully Small, baptised in 1814, and included a Jane Gentilla and a Cinderella among their children. Third, thereís the Elisha Cooper baptised in Evershot in 1818, (named like his cousin, one of Francisí sons, after Henryís brother, the Elisha Cooper I discussed last month), and surely the Elisha Cooper charged with theft in Devon in 1850 with Rhoda Cooperís husband, Robert Small.

However, thereís a problem with these three baptisms: the parents were named as Harry and Asp (vagrant) in 1808, and as Henry and Easebe (gypsies) in 1812 and 1818. Maybe Henry had two wives, consecutively or concurrently. Or, more likely given the dove-tailing of their childrenís birth dates, maybe Mary had an alternate forename, Espey, which sometimes came out as Asp and sometimes as Easebe. My wifeís 3x great grandmother, baptised in 1808 as Ashie Smith daughter of Neptune, honouring his mother Asha Burton, was known usually as Louisa, but when christening children was recorded as Ashabe and Espey. So perhaps Henry Cooperís Mary was also an Asha.

Copyright © 2016 Eric Trudgill