“THE FIRST AMERICAN ARMY AND AN ARMY OF EVERYONE”: EXCEEDINGLY RARE 1776 ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT REVOLUTIONARY WAR DIARY OF JOHN COOPER, A SOLDIER IN NEW YORK’S FIRST REGIMENT, NAVAL SERVICE, A DRAMATIC HANDWRITTEN RECORD OF A SOLDIER’S LIFE DURING THE COLONIAL STRUGGLE TO CONTROL OF THE HUDSON RIVER VALLEY
COOPER, John. Revolutionary War Diary. (New York, 1776). WRITTEN IN: Gaine's Universal Register, or, American and British Kalendar, for the Year 1776. New York: Printed by H. Gaine, (1776). 12mo, contemporary full calf rebacked in black cloth. Housed in a custom clamshell box and chemise. $38,000.
Rare 1776 Revolutionary War Diary of John Cooper, a 24-year-old enlisted man in New York’s First Regiment, Naval Service, containing over 30 handwritten pages interspersed throughout a first edition of Gaine’s Universal Register (1776), an almanac whose blank leafs were used by Cooper in this remarkable account of the year America declared its independence, with frank details of an enlisted man’s life and vivid accounts of skirmishes with Indians and British troops as Cooper’s regiment fought throughout the spring and summer of 1776 to maintain crucial American command of Lake Champlain and the upper Hudson River Valley. In contemporary calf.
The Revolutionary Army of 1776 was dismissed by the British and even many patriots as "'peasantry,' ragamuffins,' or 'rabble in arms." Yet, defying all odds, this was "an army of men accustomed to hard work, hard work being the common lot. They were familiar with adversity and making do in a harsh climate… It was the first American army and an army of everyone" (McCullough, 1776, 33-4). There is perhaps no document that better mirrors that democratic nature than this rare 1776 diary, the military record of an ordinary enlisted man, John Cooper, who was born in Pennsylvania on March 26, 1752 and was about to turn 24 when he made his first entry here on March 1776. Cooper used the blank pages and slim margins of this worn, pocket-sized copy of Gaine's Universal Register, a 1776 almanac printed in New York, to record the daily needs, trials and expenses of a soldier's life, all detailed here alongside Cooper's matter-of-fact descriptions of the harsh physical demands and the deadly risks of war in America's struggle throughout the spring and summer of 1776 to ensure colonial control of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley.
Documenting a life "accustomed to hard work… and making do," John Cooper fills 30 non-consecutive pages with carefully dated entries that begin in March and continue through late December 1776, with one isolated late entry dated April 1793. Cooper narrates the movements of his company in New York's First Regiment, Naval Service, under the command of Colonel Goose Van Schaick. In January 1776 Congress had made a special appeal to New York, requesting a force for Canadian service; Colonel Van Schaick, with General Schuyler, quickly assembled a regimental unit, whose number included John Cooper. This exceptional journal offers a rare account of that crucial period when the American army, recently returned from a brutal Canadian campaign, joined with others at Fort Ticonderoga to obstruct Howe's attempt to "seize and occupy the mouth of the St. Lawrence… [and enable the British] to sever the eastern Colonies from the others" (Freeman, 267). Throughout 1776, Cooper and his fellow soldiers were urgently kept on the move throughout the upper Hudson River Valley and across Lake Champlain—from Albany to Lake George, from Saratoga to Fort Miller, Fort Ticonderoga to Fort George, Fort Crown Point to Fort St. John—engaged in continuing struggles to clear impassable roads, scout rivers, lakes and streams, and survive skirmishes with both Indians and British troops.
In March 17, 1776, for example, Cooper writes of meeting "the grand army" and on the 18th, of setting "St. Johns on fire and runaway with the Light and arrived at the Isle [Aux Noix]." The next day, he records, "Did nothing Remarkable found a bayonate [sic] and sold it the same day for four shillings." In June, his entries further detail a soldier's everyday life with notations about days when he "caught a large quantity of Fish… Sent out with a party of men to clear Land for Uncle John of Congress… [and] went up to Lake George falls & drank Milk Punch." But soon Cooper writes of a frightening encounter on an island where he is "alarmed there by 4 men being killed or taken Prisoners by Indians & I Escaped. 1 more made escape Same night and got in to the island about 12 O'clock at night." On July 1, 1776, one day before the British landed on Staten Island and the "Continental Congress, in a momentous decision, voted to 'dissolve the connection' with Great Britain" (McCullough, 135), Cooper's journal tells of a regiment kept continually on the move as they "Sailed from the four Brothers to Split rocks and there Cast anchor and tried all night 2 tuck in 6 oxen and Cows then hoist anchor and set sail… arrived the same night about 12 oclock at Crownpoint harbor." In his next entry, on July 3, Cooper notes that he "Lay aboard the Enterprize Except some time spent ashore." That ship, the Enterprise, was a sloop in Benedict Arnold's small naval fleet and was engaged in a daily struggle to keep Lake Champlain under American control. Within months, in early October, the Enterprise became of the few in the fleet to survive America's first naval battle—the Battle of Valcour Island.
Cooper follows his record of a night aboard the Enterprise with a July entry that notes a "large Funeral at Fort George" for a fallen general and a month later, records a tense night when all "were alarmed by the firing of three shots all hands Called to arms and stood on the parade till a Capt. and six men went three quarters of a mile and back then disem [sic] and went to bed. This happened at 3 O'clock in the morning." Subsequent entries in September describe sailing from Fort George "loaded with forty barrels flour & five barrels Rum one man fell overboard out of another boat and was Drownded [sic] that night landed at Fort George September 4th 1776." The blank pages and margins of Gaine's Universal Register were occasionally used for such diary entries by other Revolutionary soldiers, though these journals are exceedingly rare. One other surviving journal, that of Revolutionary soldier Caleb Cannet, is found housed at Harvard University. See Sabin 26332. Partial folding leaf, with manuscript hand identifying Cooper on the recto, affixed to rear pastedown.
Several leaves detached, light dampstaining, some edge-wear to leaves and contemporary boards. An extraordinarily rare document of American revolutionary history.