Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

3. Thomas Cooper: Up Loyal Sock Creek

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

3. Thomas Cooper: Up Loyal Sock Creek

Article excerpt

Coleridge would smile when he explained why the Pantisocrats had chosen the Susquehanna as the site for their commune: "on account of the name being pretty and metrical" (Gillman 69). That smile probably rose also from recollection of the site's proper name, Loyal Sock Creek. There, about fifty miles northwest of Northumberland, Pennsylvania, a small group of Unitarian refugees from Manchester had taken an option on 300,000 acres of virgin forest, with the intent of founding a colony, or "rallying point," for likeminded refugees from the bayonets of England or the guillotine of France. In the retrospect of a dozen years later one partner in the enterprise, Joseph Priestley, Jr., could see that their "well meant endeavours" brought only "unfounded abuse" for being just another pack of land speculators (Priestley 11.166-67). But in 1794, Loyal Sock Creek looked like a second Eden to anxious Dissenters.

Another partner, Thomas Cooper, had been the cause of all their woe in the first place. He it was who, with James Watt, Jr., addressed the Club des Jacobins in April, 1792, pledging the undying fraternity of the Manchester Constitutional Society, and taking great pains to make sure the press back home received copies of their words. Those words brought Edmund Burke to his feet in Parliament on April 30, attacking Cooper and Watt and their whole subversive circle--"men who scrupled not to enter into an alliance with a set in France of the worst traitors and regicides that had ever been heard of" (Cobbett XXIX.23). Burke's words, in turn, prompted a royal proclamation in May warning the nation against such "correspondences" and such other seditious behavior as speaking or writing against Church or King. The proclamation, in its turn, set off widely scattered bursts of public oratory against homegrown Jacobins that made no distinction between Dissent and sedition but urged popular recriminations against both, recriminations that took the form of legal repression and mob violence. What, then, could an honest Dissenter do? Stay home and endure? Seek asylum in Europe? America?

How hard it would be to endure became quickly clear to the friends of Cooper and Watt in Manchester. After Burke's speech denounced the Manchester Constitutional Society as subversive, local citizens grew restless. The previous year, when the Society had celebrated Bastille Day, the only public reaction was a letter to the editor of the local paper calling their patriotism suspect. But when the royal proclamation appeared, a small unruly mob stoned the Unitarian Chapel--a prelude to the pandemonium to come. Muttering crowds hovered threateningly around the Society's Bastille Day ceremonies this year. During the summer, warnings went round to all pubs and inns that letting rooms to the Society would be punishable by loss of license. Pubs posted signs, "No Jacobins Allowed." With public rooms closed to them all over town, the Society met at the warehouse of cotton merchant Thomas Walker--another branded by Burke as subversive.

In November, the citizens formed a Loyalist Association after the model of John Reeves' Association for Protecting Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers. At their first meeting, Thomas Walker was singled out as the primary target for mayhem in Manchester. For two hours after that meeting, the Association treated citizens to harangue and hard liquor. From pubs small groups spilled out into streets, gradually merging into one long serpentine line, led by a fiddler and fitted out with picket signs, "CHURCH AND KING." At 7 p.m. the line filed through the offices of the Manchester Herald spewing fire. A deputy constable urged them on: "They are loyal subjects. Let them alone." Clapping them on the back, he chanted, "Good lads." In another part of the town, where action was slow getting under way, another deputy hurried from pub to pub: "A guinea for every Jacobin house pulled down" (Walker 56). Inevitably the mob curled around Walker's warehouse. …

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