Joseph Coppinger ‘of Midleton’ and two American Presidents

Sometimes it really pays to simply snoop around on the web.  And a couple of nights ago I came across something that astonished and surprised me.

The US National Archives has published online four letters from a correspondence between a Joseph Coppinger and President Thomas Jefferson and two letters in a correspondence with President James Madison.  Jefferson and Madison were, of course, two of the Founding Fathers of the United States as well as holding the office of President.  In the notes to the correspondence, Joseph Coppinger is described as having ‘immigrated to the United States in 1802 from Midleton, County Cork, Ireland.’  As you can imagine, this intrigued me and I decided to explore a little further before letting you in on the whole mystery.

Great fire of Pittsburgh 1845

The Great Fire of Pittsburgh in April 1845 destroyed the city that Joseph Coppinger had moved to in 1803. He entered into a partnership to run a brewery there, but did not get on with his business partner, James O’Hara.

The US National Archives commentary says that Joseph Coppinger settled first, for a very short while, in  New York.  Then in 1803 he moved to Pittsburgh where he entered into a partnership with James O’Hara to  set up the O’Hara, Reed and Coppinger Brewery (or the Point Brewery as it later became).  With his twelve years of experience in the business, Coppinger was the master brewer in the firm.  Sadly, issues with his partners and with the brewery’s financial backers led to his resignation and he quit the city and went to Lexington, Kentucky.  After that he went to St Louis (1807), Washington DC and Baltimore (1809), South Carolina, Georgia and New York City (1810).  In 1810 he tried to get James Madison to take an interest in the establishment of a national brewery in Washington DC, seemingly to no avail.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson corresponded with Joseph Coppinger whilst President and later when in retirement in Monticello, Virginia. His advice to Coppinger was always practical.

Joseph Coppinger’s correspondence with President Jefferson (as he then was) began early, in 1802-03.  Coppinger had come up with an invention he wished to patent, but US law required that patents be registered by US citizens and Coppinger wished to know how to go about this.  President Jefferson gave him some straightforward advice – and it was probably cheaper than consulting a lawyer!  Clearly Coppinger became a naturalized US citizen because he went on the patent several devices or inventions of his own design.   These included machines for splitting shingles, planing wood, threshing and cleaning grain, and many others.

James Madison

James Madison was solicited by Joseph Coppinger whilst President with a view to setting up a national brewing company in Washington DC.

Although unsuccessful in his 1810 correspondence with Madison, Joseph Coppinger went on to solicit the retired Thomas Jefferson to take an interest in his ‘national brewery’ project in 1815.  Thomas Jefferson again offered Coppinger some sound advice, but again nothing came of the project.  However, Jefferson WAS interested in a book that Joseph Coppinger was proposing to write on the subject of brewing, which the author hoped would improve the brewing of beer in America, even among the pioneers in the Louisiana Purchase territories.  Jefferson asked Nicholas G Dufief, a French bookseller based in Philadelphia, to acquire Coppinger’s book for him as soon as it was published.

The book eventually surfaced in New York in 1815 where it was published under the title ‘The American Practical Brewer and Tanner.’  Clearly Jefferson’s advice about the practical nature of Americans had struck home, hence the title.

Coppinger Brewing book title

The title page of Joseph Coppinger’s book The American Practical Brewer and Tanner (New York, 1815). The book is still in print as a classic of American brewing literature. This copy was obviously acquired directly from Coppinger in 1820.

Joseph Coppinger finally settled in New York City in 1817, where he published a book on flat roofed buildings and another on Catholic doctrine and principles (presumably to combat any anti-Catholic feelings among the Nativists, a political movement with a strong anti-Catholic stance.   In 1819, he published a book on whiskey distilling. The US National Archives suggests that Coppinger died in New York around 1825.  Needless to say he is unknown in Midleton, but his book on brewing is still considered a classic in brewing circles in the United States.

Coppinger Brewing book

One of the woodcut illustrations from Joseph Coppinger’s book The American Practical Brewer and Tanner.

If you examine Pigot’s ‘Directory of the County and City of Cork’ (1824), you will find a group of Coppingers named as inhabiting or doing business in Middleton (as they still wrote it).  Under the heading of ‘Nobility, Gentlemen & Clergy’, we find Edmund Coppinger, Esq, of Rosmore.  The others are listed as ‘Merchants’. These are John and Joseph Coppinger, brewers and maltsters, and Thomas Stephen Coppinger, merchant.  Now I’ve mentioned John and Joseph Coppinger in the context of brewing in an earlier post.

But I’m baffled by the Joseph Coppinger in the United States.  He clearly had plenty of experience in brewing before he went to Pittsburgh. It is very likely that he acquired this experience in Ireland prior to emigrating to the United States.  So where exactly did he fit in a family that spread from Cork to Midleton?  The answer seems to come in Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland.  If we look at the entry under Coppinger of Midleton, there is no Joseph Coppinger mentioned in the lineage.  But if we look under the entry for the principal stem of the family, we find that Coppinger of Ballyvolane (and Barryscourt!) produced TWO Joseph Coppingers. The first of these was Joseph Coppinger who married a Miss Arthur of Limerick. They had six sons and four daughters.  The sons were: Stephen, William (who became Catholic Bishop of Cloyne), Thomas, Peter, Joseph (our naturalized American) and John (who died in Sainte Croix in the West Indies).

The first Joseph Coppinger, being a third son, is likely to have been the brewer in Midleton in partnership with John Coppinger.  The brewery building still stands but is much altered. The business was sufficiently successful to allow Joseph to have a son educated abroad as a cleric, to give two of his four daughters into good marriages (two others became nuns), and to permit two of his sons to make good marriages.  What is revealed here is the usual pecking order in such families, the eldest son getting the lion’s share and the portions meted out to the rest of the family getting smaller and smaller. it also explains why two sons emigrated.

Old Brewery Midleton

Part of the surviving buildings of Coppinger’s Brewery in Midleton. The business had closed by the early 1840s. Now the premises is divided up into individual business units, such as these restaurants.

So there we have it – Joseph Coppinger of New York almost certainly learned the craft of brewing from his father in the brewery at Midleton.  Isn’t it a pity that Americans don’t have a choice between Budweiser and Coppinger beer?  Perhaps they could buy a copy of the book on the bicentenary of its publication – a nice little gift for Christmas!  Now, if anyone in New York could tell me where Joseph Coppinger was buried, I’d be grateful.

Note: There was another Joseph Coppinger from Midleton in the US about half a century later.  He was Lt Col John Joseph Coppinger of the US Army.  He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery as a hero of the US Civil War.  But that’s another story.

Links: The US National Archives has the following link to items pertaining to Joseph Coppinger and his correspondence with Jefferson and Madison:

Joseph Coppingers book The American Practical Brewer and Tanner can be bought:

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