Caroline was a Rock (#52Ancestors week 10: Strong Woman)
Updated: Jul 22, 2019
This week’s topic: “Strong Woman.” I chose a female ancestor who faced tremendous hardship and difficulty, but did whatever she had to do to protect herself and her children, even when it defied the norms of her time.
Caroline Rock, 1860s
This photograph of my 4th great grandmother came to me a year and a half after I originally wrote this post through connections with other descendants. It was exciting to finally see her after learning so much about her life!
1828-1855: Caroline’s early life, marriage, and children
Caroline Rock was born 2 December 1828[i], the second child and oldest daughter of Peter Rock and Mary Graver. Her father died on 26 May 1845 at the age of 41, leaving Mary five months pregnant with their tenth child.[ii]
That same year, Caroline, still one month shy of her seventeenth birthday, married Richard Cooper on 4 November 1845 in West Earl Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.[iii] Their first child, Serena, was born a few months later on 24 Feb 1846.[iv] The young couple soon had four more children: Albert (1847), Ann Eliza (1849), Mary Ann (1852), and Christianna (1853).[v]
Richard and Caroline Cooper in the 1850 census with their three oldest children. Ann Eliza died young.[vi]
Their marriage, however, was not a happy one. By August 1855, Caroline, just twenty-six years old, had taken the children and moved out due to Richard’s excessive drinking, abusive behavior, and inability to provide for his family.[vii]
1855-1860: Eye-witness testimony from the divorce case paints a picture of these years
In November 1859, Caroline sued for divorce, a rare event during this time period and one that required her to have one of her brothers, Allen, serve as her “next friend” or legal representative because a woman did not have the legal right to act on her own behalf.[viii] The witnesses who gave testimony for the divorce case in February 1860 provide us with primary information about the heartbreaking situation in which Caroline found herself. Excerpts (with original spelling, punctuation, and language) are transcribed below. I have italicized key statements for emphasis.
Jacob Busser, Jr., an employer of Richard Cooper:
I know Richard Cooper and Caroline Cooper to have lived together as man + wife since they were married until they moved to Lancaster. I have know Richard Cooper to have drank a good deal too much intoxicating liquor for his health and benefit for the last five or six years, he worked for me and I tried hard to keep him sober but I could not do it. I forbid my family to give him liquor more than three drinks a day, while I was about he would do well enough, but if I was away he would manage to get liquor, and would only work half the time. I have seen Richard Cooper within the last few years, and while separated from his wife, and he is not able to support himself and I helped to support him and I am no relation of his. I don’t know of my own knowledge of his being in the County Poor House but have understood so, he told me himself that he was going to the Poor House. I know nothing else but that Caroline Cooper is an industrious woman. I seen her work in the Harvest field and seen her do house work for other people. Richard Cooper is not an old man, strong and healthy enough to have done work if he wanted.
Louisa Ecker, a next-door neighbor:
I have know Richard and Caroline Cooper since the time they moved to Lancaster which was on the first of April 1855. They came from the Country [West Earl Township near Brownstown], moved in a house in North Queen street in the City of Lancaster. I lived their next neighbour. I often seen him come home drunk, and often seen him go from home drunk, he was drunk most of the time, as one time I heard a disturbance in his house I heard Richard Cooper scream and made a great noise and at the same time heard a person fall and the neighbours came running together and into the house on account of the disturbance. I went to the door and the person at the door would not let me in because they said Cooper looked too bad for me to see him, they sent for a Doctor. The noise frightened me. I heard Cooper children crying and the oldest girl came to my house. I know that during all the time he was living there that he did not provide for his family. I heard Mrs. Cooper ask her husband for money to buy meat for the family but he refused to give her any, he did not buy any meat himself, at that time he was lying about home. I seen Richard Cooper going from home saying that he was going to work the same forenoon, I saw him standing in the door of a Tavern above the Rail Road doing nothing. I know that Mrs. Cooper and the children had not enough at all times to eat. I know that Mrs. Cooper went out washing and Mr. Cooper was at the same time lying at home in bed drunk. I was him send the eldest girl for liquor she was crying she said she did not want to go but her father said he would whip her if she did not go, this was after the disturbance I have spoken of, I seen Mrs. Cooper starting for the Country with her children she said she was going to work in Haymaking + Harvest. Mr. Cooper was about and did not object. I know Mrs. Cooper was forced to go that she might earn something to buy clothing for herself and children and provision for the family. I seen her come back in a farm wagon bringing with her potatoes and lard. I was in Mr. Cooper’s house when he was scolding his wife, he appeared to be cross. Mrs. Cooper in reply to his scolding said that if he would not do better she would leave him, he said she should go, he did not do better. Soon after Mrs. Cooper left taking the youngest child with her, and about three days afterward I seen her two brothers and mother come and take away the other three children and the house furniture, during Mr. Cooper’s absence the three children were at our house and we gave them to eat because there was nothing to eat in Mr. Cooper’s House, they had four children at that time, the oldest about ten years old and the youngest about two years. Mrs. Cooper always treated her husband kindly.
Mrs. Mary Reemsnyder, Caroline’s mother:
[After the death of her husband Peter Rock in 1845, Mary remarried Samuel Reemsnyder in 1853.[ix]]
I am the Mother of Mrs. Caroline Cooper and reside in Lancaster City. Mr. Cooper and his wife have lived separate since 1855. Mrs. Cooper has been residing with me since that time, she came to me with her children. I left her and her children make their home with me, I and my daughter Mrs. Cooper maintained and took care of the children. Mrs. Cooper worked out at washing and whitewashing, from that time, within the last year her work has been that of a wet nurse, those were the means by which she supported herself and children with my assistance. Mr. Cooper has not provided for his wife or children or done anything for them since that time that I know of, there are four children, three of the children are out at present and the youngest one is at my house. I am a widow, at the time they separated my son Allen Rock I was along when my sons went for the furniture. Mr. Cooper was at home and said if we would give him Ten dollars we might have the furniture. I paid him the Ten dollars and we took the furniture away. At one time I came to Cooper’s house while they lived in the Country. Mr. Cooper was upstairs and his wife called him several times to come down stairs. I heard him jump out of bed curse and swear at his wife and came down stairs in a great passion, the moment he saw me he stopped and made a kind of apology, he looked just like a drunken man getting up out of his sleep this was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I know that he liked whiskey too well and drank whenever he could get it, I seen often that he had drank a great deal too much. At the time he we fetched the furniture he had not apparently drank much liquor in the morning when we came, but saw that he had much more when we left. I did not see him drink liquor but saw him going out and in the back door of his house.
Mary Reemsnyder's "mark" indicates that she was illiterate, which was not uncommon, especially for women, of this time.
Serena Cooper, oldest daughter of Richard and Caroline (in my opinion, the most heartbreaking testimony of all):
I am the daughter of Richard and Caroline Cooper. I was Fourteen years old yesterday. I live with James Greer in Paradise Twp, Lancaster County. I remember when I lived at home with my father + mother when they resided near John Forney’s Tavern, I seen my Father come home when he had drank too much liquor, he would some times come home late at night, when he was in liquor he would mostly scold and abuse mother, upon one occasion he came home about midnight and said if he had an axe he would cut Mother in pieces. I begged of him not to, he said if he would not do it then he would do it some other time if he could. He appeared to be cross, mother did not say anything but went out of the room, these threats were made the day following the night he came home near midnight. This occurred shortly before we moved to Lancaster, he drank worse after we moved to Lancaster than he did before.
I heard him come after night when I was in bed, he was always cross when he would have liquor, at one time when he was so drunk that he could not sit up he said that if he had a knife he would run it through Mother, he scolded more but I cannot remember the words he said. He would whip us children when he was drunk. I saw him kick my brother, he kept liquor at home while we lived in the Country and in Lancaster, he made me fetch liquor for him while we lived in Lancaster he said he would whip me if I would not go. I remember of his having broken a cupboard while we lived in the Country when he was drunk and cross, I think he knocked the glass with his fist. I know mother bought most of the things for the family, she went out to work I don’t know whether father bought anything or not when we left my father’s house we went to Mr. Reeds where my grandmother was and from their we went to where my grandmother lived, a few months after I went to Mr. Greer’s where I am now staying.
Note: Serena testified that she living with a Greer family. From 1860 census records, it appears that only Christianna, the youngest, lived with her mother and grandmother in Lancaster City. The other children, including my eight-year-old 3x great-grandmother Mary Ann were “farmed out” to other families in the area.[x]
The deposition of witnesses was summed up by this petition, signed by Caroline herself:
To the Hon. The Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County.
The petition of Caroline Cooper, by her next friend Allen Rock, respectfully showeth:
That your petitioner was on the fourth day of November A.D. One thousand eight hundred and forty five, lawfully joined in marriage with Richard Cooper her present husband and from that time until sometime in the month of August A.D. One thousand eight hundred + fifty-five, lived and cohabited with him, and hath in all respects demeaned herself as a kind and affectionate wife, and, although by the laws of God, as well as by the mutual vows plighted to each other, they were bound to that uniform constancy and regard which ought to be inseparable from the marriage state, yet so it is, that the parties at the time domiciled within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the said Richard Cooper has offered such indignities to the person of your petitioner, as to render her condition intolerable, and her life burdensome, and thereby forced her to withdraw from his house and family…
1870: Moving on in the big city
One would hope that Caroline’s life improved after the divorce. The 1870 census shows that by that time, she had moved to the much larger city of Philadelphia with her oldest daughter Serena. They were living in the household of the Winner family, and Serena would marry son James Winner.[xi]
1875: A Second Chance at Marriage Ends In Tragedy
In Philadelphia, Caroline married Henry Geckler (alternately spelled Gekler). Henry’s first wife Sarah died of uterine cancer at age thirty-three on 13 July 1873, leaving him a widower with several young children.[xii] Unfortunately, Caroline’s second marriage was all too brief, ending in tragedy with Henry’s accidental death on 24 October 1875.[xiii] Newspapers reported how Henry, his six-year-old daughter Lizzie, and his mother were killed in a freak accident in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.[xiv]
Note that this article erroneously reported Henry Geckler’s name as Henry Yetter. Several other newspapers recorded his name correctly, but the images were less legible.
1877: Another Lawsuit
Caroline unsuccessfully attempted to sue the city of Philadelphia following her husband’s death.[xv]
1880-1905: Caroline’s Later Years and Death
After Henry’s death, Caroline took over his business, described as “lager” in the 1878 Philadelphia City Directory.[xvi] According to the 1880 census, the saloon was located at 804 N 19th Street.[xvii] At this time, she lived with her oldest daughter, Serena, and Serena’s husband, James Winner. By 1891, Caroline had moved around the corner to 1907 Brown St and was working as an “accoucheuse” or midwife.[xviii] She later moved in with her widowed youngest daughter, Christianna, and Christianna’s only child George Oliver at 801 Parrish Street.[xix]
Caroline died on 6 December 1905, four days after her 77th birthday, and was buried in Mount Peace Cemetery, Philadelphia with her oldest daughter Serena (Cooper) Winner and other members of the Winner family.[xx]
When I considered which female ancestor to choose for the topic “Strong Woman”, several contenders came to mind. I selected Caroline because she faced tremendous challenges during a time when women did not have the rights we have today. Although I may not agree with all of her decisions, she demonstrated great strength and independence throughout her life which was all the more remarkable in her era.
Already expecting her first child, she married as a teenager. When her husband became an abusive alcoholic, she did what she had to do to protect herself and her children and provide for their needs. She worked at a variety of jobs throughout her life to support herself, including washing, working in the harvest, serving as a wet nurse and midwife, and even running her second husband’s saloon. Born in a rural setting, she moved to the city, and then an even larger city as a single woman. One marriage ended in divorce and her second brief marriage ended with a tragic freak accident. In both situations, she did not crumble, but took her cases to a court of law to fight for what she believed was right. Despite all of these hardships, she appears to have maintained relationships with her children, even living with two of her daughters at the end of her life. My fourth great grandmother, Caroline Rock, was a strong woman.
*A special thank you to fellow researcher and my fourth cousin, Dan Gwinn, for sharing the photograph of Serena and scanned images of the divorce records with me.
Take-aways for your family history:
Family historians mourn the loss of the 1890 U.S. census. There is a large gap to fill between 1880-1900. However, city directories can often serve as an excellent substitute, providing exact addresses and occupations during this time period.
Local court records take more work to access, but they are worth finding! The amount of insight into Caroline’s life provided by the witnesses in the divorce case could never be found in other records.
Don’t forget about newspapers! Henry’s return of death merely stated that he drowned, but the newspaper reports provided much more detail, including Caroline’s effort to sue the city for unsafe road conditions.
[i] Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Return of a Death certificate no. 27096, Caroline Geckler, 6 December 1905; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6QVS-4XT?i=105&cc=1320976 : accessed 1 March 2018).
[ii] Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 March 2018), memorial 55225136, Peter Rock (5 Nov 1803 – 26 May 1845), Kemper-Landis Graveyard, Akron, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
[iii] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Court of Common Pleas, January term 1860, no. 12, Caroline Cooper by her next friend Allen Rock v. Richard Cooper, testimony of Reverend Daniel Hertz, 24 February 1860; Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster; scanned image provided via email by Daniel Gwinn, 22 October 2017.
[iv] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Court of Common Pleas, January term 1860, no. 12, Caroline Cooper by her next friend Allen Rock v. Richard Cooper, testimony of Serena Cooper, 25 February 1860; Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster; scanned image provided via email by Daniel Gwinn, 22 October 2017.
[v] 1850 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, West Earl Township, page 455 (penned), page 227 (stamped), dwelling 16, family 16, Richard Cooper household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 789. For Mary Ann’s birthdate, see Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 75910, Mary A. Hornberger, 23 August 1915, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1966, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg. For Christianna’s birthdate, see Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 44982, Mrs. Christiana Oliver, 3 May 1934, Philadelphia County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1966, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.
[vi]Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Court of Common Pleas, January term 1860, no. 12, Caroline Cooper by her next friend Allen Rock v. Richard Cooper, testimony of Mary Reemsnyder, 24 February 1860; Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster; scanned image provided via email by Daniel Gwinn, 22 October 2017.
[vii] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Court of Common Pleas, January term 1860, no. 12, Caroline Cooper by her next friend Allen Rock v. Richard Cooper, deposition of witnesses, 24-25 February 1860; Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster; scanned image provided via email by Daniel Gwinn, 22 October 2017.
[viii] Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, (St. Paul, Minnesota: 1891), 817, “next friend.” The legal designation of the person by whom an infant or person disabled from suing in his own name brings and prosecutes an action either at law or in equity; usually a relative. Strictly speaking, a next friend is not appointed by the court to bring or maintain the suit, but is simply one who volunteers for that purpose.
[ix] “Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1852-1968,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018), marriage of Samuel Reemsnyder and Mary Rock, 21 March 1853; path: Lancaster > 1852-1855 > image 210.
[x] 1860 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Lancaster City, N.E. Ward, page 14 (penned), page 848 (stamped), dwelling 109, family 110, Mary Reemsnyder household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 1126. Also, 1860 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Manheim Township, Oregon post office, page 55 (penned), page 385 (stamped), dwelling 387, family 401, Mary Ann Cooper in Christian Brubaker household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 1124.
[xi] 1870 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Philadelphia, 41st District, 14th Ward, page 6 (penned), dwelling 1329, Caroline Cooper in Winner household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1426.
[xii]"Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKD8-65J : 1 March 2018), Sarah Gekler, 13 Jul 1873; citing vol. 1 book 1873, page 230, Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 1,003,700.
[xiii] Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Return of a Death, coroner’s certificate, Henry Gekler, 24 October 1875; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-635B-8F?i=187&cc=1320976 : accessed 1 March 2018).
[xiv] “Sad Accident in Fairmount Park,” The Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 25 October 1875, page 1, column 6. Also, “Three Persons Drowned at Falls of Schuylkill,” The Reading Eagle (Reading, Pennsylvania), 25 October 1875, page 1.
[xv] “No Fence on the River Road,” The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 26 April 1877, page 1, column 6.
[xvii] 1880 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Philadelphia city, Enumeration District (ED) 268, page 5 (penned), page 254-A (stamped), dwelling 29, family 29, Caroline Gekler; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1175.
[xix] For Brown Street address, see “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018), Caroline Gekler; path: Pennsylvania > Philadelphia > 1889 > image 592. For 801 Parrish Street, see 1900 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Philadelphia city, 13th Ward, Enumeration District (ED) 231, page 1 (penned), page 270-A (stamped), dwelling 1, family 1, Caroline Geckler in Christiana Oliver household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1457.
[xx] “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 March 2018), Caroline Geckler in Register of Interments, 11 Dec 1905; path: PA-Philadelphia > Philadelphia > Not Stated > Mount Peace Cemetery.