Before accepting the position as College President at South Carolina at the age of 60, Thomas Cooper had made quite a name for himself, both overseas and in the United States. Born in Westminster England in 1759 to well-to-do parents, he matriculated at Oxford in 1779. Though his interest was medicine, he studied law at his father's behest. He left Oxford under some controversy and did not graduate.
He spent several years working as a printer and pamphleteer, travelling throughout England. He was outspoken in his criticism of the slave trade and other government policy, and left England for Paris in order to foment discord and participate in the French Revolution. Wanted for his dangerous, even treasonous views in England, Cooper opted to emigrate to the United States in 1794.
Once in the United States Cooper settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, worked briefly as a physician, and for the next fifteen years Cooper held a variety of positions, working as a professor, lawyer, and judge. He finally returned to academia, accepting a professorship in chemistry at Dickinson College, and then a position at University Pennsylvania, before accepting the slot at South Carolina.
He also became quickly embroiled in the early political scene of the United States. He immediately put his printing skills to work criticizing government officials, championing the causes of Thomas Jefferson and other state's rights advocates. Cooper's outspokenness eventually cost him his appointment as a judge. In fact, Cooper was eventually arrested, convicted, jailed and fined under the United States Alien and Sedition Laws.
Hoping to land a professorship at the newly established University of Virginia in 1819, Cooper accepted a lucrative job as a chemistry professor at South Carolina when the Virginia position was not forthcoming. Though South Carolina was initially Dr. Cooper's second choice, he certainly capitalized on his time at the College.
Daniel Walker Hollis. South Carolina College, Vol. I. Columbia, S.C.: University
of South Carolina P., 1951.
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Last updated October 22, 1999
Photo courtesy University of South Carolina Archives
This page created by Laura Haverkamp