In all the years I have studied and researched the first one hundred years of my church on Clear Fork creek, I never paid close attention to the name "W.A. Cooper," or "Bro. Cooper," until just recently. Morris Gaskins' book, "A Lighthouse in the Wilderness," includes minutes from the first century, and while looking through them the other day, I realized that phrases like "preaching by WA Cooper" or "moderated by Bro. Cooper" that were written into the 1840's minutes were also written in the minutes from the 1880's. It was then that I came know more about William Armstrong Cooper.
"The Gospel Plow"
William Cooper, known as "Uncle Billy" to local folks, was born on Beaver Creek in Wayne County in 1813. He became a Christian in 1835 and was licensed to preach the same year. Three years later, in 1838, Clear Fork Baptist Church called him to act jointly with pastor Isaac Denton in helping with the church. But, his calling extended far beyond Isaac Denton. For the next seventy years he kept his hand on the gospel plow by, not only assisting Bro. Denton, but also the following two pastors, Isaac's son Joseph and Alvin Bertram, by preaching regularly or serving as moderator at business meetings. He baptized both men, Joseph in 1838 and Alvin in 1866. Although I haven't found any records saying it, more than likely he preached or assisted at Joseph Denton's funeral in 1887, and probably Isaac Denton's funeral in 1848. It has also been written that he baptized both of Clinton County's governors, Thomas Bramlette and Preston Leslie, whose brother, Ellison, was my third great-grandfather. The minutes state that more than once revivals lasting several days broke out while he was preaching.
Bro. Cooper not only served God at Clear Fork. His labors as a gospel messenger also spread to many other churches mostly within the Stockton's Valley and South Concord associations. Churches like Beaver Creek (his home church), Seventy Six,Cumberland City, New Hope, Bethel, Friendship, Mt. Pisgah, Taylor's Grove, Canada's Creek, Parnell, Mt. Pleasant, Charity and Steubenville, and his work was abundantly fruitful. It has been said he baptized more than 2,000 people during his 73-year ministry, performed marriage ceremonies for some 1,300 couples and led about that same number of funerals. He also served one year as Missionary in Texas. In his obituary, R.C. Kimble noted that for almost three quarters of a century William Cooper was a "champion of truth against every attack of Satan's hosts."
"The Civil War"
There was a season of revival following the Civil War. In 1866, Bro. Cooper baptized some 450 converts during the month of May alone. Clear Fork's building was burned during the war, but the church continued to meet in homes and other church houses after the conflict had ended. In 1866, during the months of April, May and June, Clear Fork held both revivals and regular services at Albany First Baptist, Beech Bottom and Locust Grove churches, where William Cooper preached at all of these services and many people were saved or rededicated their lives, and were added to the church roll.
The Civil War, with its roots deeply imbedded in the hearts of both Northerners and Southerners, affected everyone. Sides were chosen and strong sentiments were formed. Fighting would have broken out in Wayne County at the onset of the war had it not been for one man, William Armstrong Cooper. On August 30,1861, with much of the county gathered around the steps of the Wayne County courthouse, he spoke for more than two hours, pleading for residents to remain peaceful. Afterwards, a white flag, a symbol of peace, was raised above the courthouse with the inscription: "Peace is the Motto of Wayne County."
"Plea For Peace"
William Cooper was a scholar, theologian, surveyor and orator. He was the grandson of revolutionary war veteran George Fredrick Cooper, who had allegedly been a companion of Daniel Boone. His influence reached far beyond the boundaries of Wayne County. As a powerful preacher and compassionate pastor he was unexcelled. It was written that he left a deep impression about public thinking and morality on all who listened to him. No incident reveals the powerful influence exercised over people more than his "Plea For Peace" sermon. Both sides of the conflict were ready to begin what could have led to horrible bloodshed, but they were so heavily influenced by his words that after his sermon the crowd dispersed and went home instead.
In his diary, Captain John Tuttle of Monticello described the speech as "the most interesting and best delivered speech that was ever heard." Guy Shearer wrote, "He told all those present the truth and they listened. The worst did not befall local citizens during that four years of (the Civil War) conflict. The Battle of Mill Springs was brought in and there were a few minor skirmishes involving guerilla warfare, but for the most part reason ruled the minds of the people and peace ruled the day.
May the spirit of William Armstrong Cooper and the same power of God that folks felt after hearing his words in 1861 fill our hearts and be cultivated within us during these troubled times we are living in, and as we face an uncertain future.
Keep that hand on the gospel plow
Just keep that hand on the plow
Hold on, Hold on
Keep your hand on the plow and hold on