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Memories of Lynching Sought

In 1885, a 15-year-old boy named Howard Cooper was lynched in Towson, Maryland. His was one of at least 38 racial terror lynchings in the state between 1854 and 1933. Cooper had been convicted of assault and rape by an all-white jury, which deliberated less than a minute before reaching its verdict. He was sentenced to death the next day.

Cooper’s attorneys planned an appeal to the US Supreme Court arguing that his 14th Amendment rights had been violated because Blacks were excluded from the jury. Fearing the verdict might be reversed, a mob of masked men dragged Cooper from his cell in the old Baltimore County Jail in Towson just after midnight on Monday, July 13, 1885 and promptly hanged from a sycamore tree next to the building.

The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be holding a public hearing about Cooper’s lynching on June 4, 2022. To help provide the most complete account possible, the Baltimore County Coalition of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project is looking for people who many know something about Cooper’s lynching.

While the murder happened more than 100 years ago, we believe there are people alive today who may have heard stories about this awful episode passed down from their relatives or others with knowledge of these events. These recollections may prove to be invaluable to the Commission’s inquiry.

Many of the names of people involved with this tragic episode will be familiar to current residents:

  • Edward Rider owned the farm where Cooper’s family once lived and where Howard was captured.

  • The Grafton Bosley family owned the farm adjacent to the jail where Howard’s mother lived.

  • Henrietta (Ireland) Cooper was Howard’s mother. She was the daughter of David and Louisa Davis and the sister of Celeste (Ireland) Williams, all of Baltimore County.

  • Howard’s father was Joshua Cooper, son of Abraham and Lucinda (Hays) Cooper of Churchville, Harford County. Joshua’s siblings included Fanny Frances (Cooper) Preston, Mary Cooper, Julia A. (Cooper) Banks, Laura (Cooper) Anderson and Abraham Cooper, Jr.

  • Thompson Burns was Henrietta’s employer.

  • Moses Sheridan lived in a house on the Bosley property where Cooper first sought refuge. Sheridan subsequently testified against Cooper.

  • Joseph Knight was the Sheriff whose family occupied the jail that fateful day; Wm. Nelson was the night watchman.

  • Daniel Gray was a wealthy Brooklandville resident whose daughter was Cooper’s alleged victim. The Gray family lived on the Abell property in Rockland.

  • Catherine (Katie) Gray, the alleged victim, subsequently married into the Adam Debaugh family.

  • Frank Finnan, Edwin Wall, Ferdinand Young and Joshua Brown led authorities to Cooper’s hiding place and shared the $200 reward for his capture.

  • Louis Naylor was the doctor who treated the victim after the assault and testified at Cooper’s trial.

  • William Weld and A.R. White were Cooper’s attorneys.

  • Charles Burke was the State’s Attorney for Baltimore County who prosecuted the case against Cooper with the aid of Charles Kerr and former Congressman Fred Talbott.

  • The jurors for Cooper’s trial were: Thomas Brown, Jr., William Burke, Simon Cronise, Henry Isensee, Independence Kelly, James Parsons (foreman), Arthur Schlegle, Albert Share, John Smyth, Fletcher Stocksdale, Edward Storck and Chas. Swann.

  • Judge William Stewart presided over Cooper’s trial and sentenced him to death.

  • Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson was the pastor of historic Union Baptist Church and led a campaign to fund Cooper’s planned appeal to the US Supreme Court. He enlisted the aid of other clergy, including: Revs. A. Brown, James Collett, E.W.L. Peck, T. Evans, P.G. Walker, J. Gilmere, C.W. Lawson, J.P. Shreeves and Robert Steele.

We believe it highly likely that descendants of these people, and others with knowledge of the episode, are still residing in Maryland. We are asking anyone who has reason to believe they may possess knowledge about the Cooper lynching to please contact us at this email address:

Thank you.

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