The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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About Elizabeth's Journal

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012

Issue: October, 1984

Jack Cooley of Hillsville, Virginia, with the permission of the Cooley family loaned The Mountain Laurel a copy of one of his ancestors' journal - Elizabeth Ann Cooley McClure, born July 21, 1825, died March 28, 1848.

The journal was started February 20, 1842, when Elizabeth was only 17 years old and was kept until her death in March of 1848 of typhoid fever. During these years, Elizabeth grows into a woman and experiences love, marriage and travels westward with her new husband to settle in Missouri. It is fascinating from two stand points: First, it is an accurate description of the day to day lives of people in Carroll County, Virginia during that time frame. Second, it is a picture of the way of thinking of those people - their fears, their joys, their hopes.

We will be printing entries from Elizabeth Cooley's Journal in the upcoming months. For your further enjoyment, this month I will describe a little of her family background so that you can have a picture of it in your mind as you read her entries.

Elizabeth's father Benjamin F. Cooley was born August 3, 1774, the son of Abraham Cooley, an English emigrant, and Sarah Reeder of French descent. When Benjamin was 7 years old, his parents, Abraham and Sara, moved from New York to Surry County, North Carolina. Five years later, the family moved to Grayson County, Virginia.

Benjamin Cooley lived at Coal Creek the remaining 60 years of his life, dying March 24, 1847, at the age of 72 years. In his middle years he had represented Grayson County in the state legislature at Richmond for two sessions. In 1820 and subsequent years, he was a member of the court for Grayson County. When Carroll County was formed from Grayson in 1842, he was a member of the first court and attended the first session notwithstanding he lived several miles from the court and was no longer a young man. Although 66 years old he was chosen high sheriff of the county and posted bond with personal sureties in the amount of $30,000.00.

Although he was an office holder and substantial land owner who owned a slave or two, he was also by gift and training an expert clock maker. His skill as an artificer in metals and his originality as an inventor of an engine for making brass wheels for clocks has already received attention of local historians.

Elizabeth's mother was Jane Dickey Cooley, daughter of Matthew Dickey who was one of the members of the first court in Grayson County which was held in Wm. Bourne's house May 21, 1793. He was later chosen Commissioner of the Revenue for the county.

Benjamin and Jane Cooley had eleven children - Martin, Mary (mother of one son, "Ika." She died when he was an infant and he was raised in the Benjamin Cooley household), William, Nancy, Rebecca, Eliza, Amanda, James, Elizabeth, John (died in infancy), and Julia Ann.

Along with these names, other names mentioned frequently in the journal are: Jinsey, a slave girl, the "town" mentioned in the journal was probably Old Town - the county seat about 1.5 miles west of the present day Galax, Virginia.

The Cooley home was a two story log structure four rooms in length, with an ell on the northern side at the western end and a large porch with a small room on it. It had two stairways which led upstairs, which was divided into rooms. It is gone now, but the farm still remains in the Cooley family. The old family cemetery is still there at the original site.

In several entries, Elizabeth refers to weaving "jeans." This was a material used for pants and coats and such. Other materials mentioned were linsey-woolsey, a combination of linen and wool and cotton.

The original Journal is in the state archives in Richmond, but thanks to the Cooley family, we can step back in time as we read the entries of young Elizabeth Cooley.