Henry Ernest Cooper

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Henry Ernest Cooper

Death: 1929 (71-72)
Immediate Family:

Son of William Giles Cooper and Harriet A. Cooper
Husband of Mary Ellen Porter
Father of Alice Cooper Bailey; Irene Hustvedt; Henry Ernest Cooper, Jr.; Theodore Augustus Cooper and Wallace McKay Cooper

Managed by: Private User
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About Henry Ernest Cooper


Henry Ernest Cooper (1857–1929) was an American lawyer who moved to the Kingdom of Hawaii and became prominent in Hawaiian politics in the 1890s. He was the first Territory of Hawaii Attorney General, 1899–1900.

Early life

Cooper was born August 28, 1857 in New Albany, Indiana, to Harriet A. Cooper and William Giles Cooper, a lawyer from England. He was educated in public schools in Boston and received the LLB degree from the Boston University School of Law in 1878. He was admitted to the bar in Suffolk County, Massachusetts and practiced law there.

Cooper married Mary Ellen Porter October 2, 1883 in San Diego, California. In 1884 he named his estate Bonita Ranch, and the name was applied to the post office of Bonita, California. There the Coopers had four children: Alfred D. Cooper (born 6/8/1886), Henry E.Cooper (born July, 1887) Wallace McKay Cooper (August 1888 – March 1, 1966), Theodore A. Cooper (born October 28, 1889) and Alice Cooper (December 9, 1890 – 1978). He worked as an attorney for the California Southern Railroad, including arguing several cases in the Supreme Court of California.

Cooper then moved with his family to the Hawaiian Islands in 1890. In Hawaii the Coopers had three more children: Isabel(Ysabel) Cooper, and twin Irene, (born February 19, 1894), and Francis J. Cooper (born April 6, 1895). They settled in the Mānoa Valley near Honolulu where Cooper Road is named for him at 21°18′39″N 157°48′55″W.


In Hawaii, Cooper quickly got involved in Hawaiian politics during a very turbulent decade, with several changes of government.

On January 14, 1893 he was chairman of the Citizens' Committee of Safety which organized the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. On January 16 his name was the first on a letter to John L. Stevens, the United States Minister to Hawaii, saying "...the public safety is menaced and lives and property are in peril, and we appeal to you and the United States forces at your command for assistance." On January 17, he read the proclamation establishing the provisional Government of Hawaii, and the next day was made a member of the advisory council to President Sanford B. Dole.

From March 7, 1893 to November 4, 1895 he was judge of the first circuit court. Beginning on November 6, 1895, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of what was then the Republic of Hawaii through March 29, 1899. He acted temporarily in all other posts of Dole's cabinet as the other members traveled to negotiate with the United States on annexation. These included Attorney General from November 6, 1895 to December 12, 1895, and from February 10, 1897 to April 16, 1897; Minister of Finance from May 5, 1896 to August 10, 1897; and Minister of the Interior from March 4, 1898 to July 1, 1898. He was also appointed to the Board of Health on February 12, 1897, later becoming president of the board until 1900.

From January 11, 1898 to March 3, 1898 Cooper was the acting president of the republic. From March 20, 1899 to June 14, 1900 he was Attorney General of the new Territory of Hawaii. Under the Hawaiian Organic Act, on June 14, 1900, President William McKinley appointed him to be the first secretary of the territory, and also as treasurer of the territory. He was acting governor from March 31, 1902 to June 3, 1902. A few days after resigning the treasurer post December 2, 1902, he became superintendent of public works from December 6, 1902 to November 18, 1903.

This prompted some in the press to call him the real power in the territory, accusing him of taking the public works position because he could make more money. A local newspaper said:

Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, but it is only rarely that an ordinary cooper is enabled to thrust such constantly growing greatness upon himself as does this Territorial Cooper of ours.

On January 1, 1903 he sent congratulatory messages over the first submarine communications cable from San Francisco to Hawaii. Recipients included US President Theodore Roosevelt and Clarence Mackay, president of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company.

An investigation in 1903 noted that most public works projects had ceased because of lack of funds, but government crews repaved the sidewalks in front of his house. Another scandal involved the new treasurer William H. Wright, who was allowed to escape after he was found to have been pocketing government money with checks endorsed by Cooper. On February 23, 1903 he resigned as territorial secretary, and November 18 as superintendent of public works, after George R. Carter became governor. Carter expressed suspicion that public land deals were being rushed through, with possible conflict of interest by Cooper.

He formed a law firm Kinney, McClanahan & Cooper (with partners William Ansel Kinney and E. B. McClanahan), and often worked for owners of large sugar plantations in Hawaii. The plantations often leased government land, and concentrated political and economic power in a few of what were called the "Big Five" of Hawaii. At least one of their cases, "Territory of Hawaii vs. Cotton Brothers & Company" of 1904 went to the United States Supreme Court. On March 22, 1910 he was named again to be judge of the first circuit court, and served until March 7, 1914.

Personal life and legacy

By a series of transactions between 1888 and 1911, Cooper purchased Palmyra Atoll, located in a remote latitude near the Equator at 5°53′15″N 162°4′52″W. He visited the island in July 1913 with scientists Charles Montague Cooke, Jr. and Joseph F. Rock who wrote a description of the atoll. He sold most of the atoll in 1922 to the Fullard-Leo family, who sold it to the Nature Conservancy in 2000. He retained ownership of the Home Islands at the southwestern tip of the atoll, which his heirs have inherited. His land title, passed to the Fullard-Leos and his own legatees, was confirmed by the U. S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Fullard-Leo, 331 U.S. 256 (1947) after it was disputed by the U. S. military. The largest island of the group is called Cooper Island, despite a proposed name change to Samarang Island in 2003. The airstrip built in World War II is often called Cooper Airport.

In his later years he was active in Freemasonry. In 1894 he joined Hawaiian Lodge No. 21, and organized Pacific Lodge No. 822, A.F. & A.M. under the Grand Lodge of Scotland through the then District Grand Lodge of Queensland, Australia. He served as its first Master in 1895 and again in 1896. Cooper also served as Deputy of the Orient of Hawaii for the Scottish Rite Bodies from 1896–1915. In 1897 he commissioned architect Charles William Dickey to build a stone house on his Mānoa land in California Mission Revival Style architecture. On May 1, 1907 he became a founding member and president of the board of regents of the University of Hawaii (then known as Hawaii College), and served until 1914. He selected the site in the Mānoa valley for the main campus, the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

He moved to Long Beach, California to live with a daughter where he died on May 15, 1929. Son Theodore graduated from Punahou School (then called Oahu College) in 1908, and became an Engineer constructing Fort Ruger in Honolulu. After working briefly for Bank of Hawaii, he enlisted to the United States Army Corps of Engineers and served in France during World War I.

Daughter Alice Cooper Bailey, wrote several articles and books including two Dutch folk stories, a popular Hawaiian children's book Kimo in 1928, and a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson in 1966. She was part of a ceremony in 1948 marking the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's annexation, and was a benefactor of the ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu where Cooper had worked during the Republic of Hawaii period.

Several of Cooper's descendants have had distinguished naval and nautical careers, including U. S. admirals and Space Shuttle astronaut Rick Hauck. On August 19, 1922 a grandson Henry Ernest Cooper III was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut to Wallace McKay Cooper. Henry III served in the US Navy in World War II aboard the USS Card. In 1987 he sailed with a few friends from Maine through the Pacific Ocean, including a visit to his inherited Home Islands at Palmyra Atoll, and died April 9, 1999.