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Petition of Ann P. P. Cowper for divorce from William Cowper. 20 November 1816. Manuscript. RG 78, Legislative Petitions, Isle of Wight County. Library of Virginia.

Abuse and Independence 

Petition of Ann P. P. Cowper to the General Assembly. 1816. Manuscript. RG 78, Legislative Petitions, Isle of Wight County. The Library of Virginia.

To the Honorable the Speaker and Members of both Houses of the General Assembly of Virginia

The Petition of Ann P. P. Cowper

A distressed and unfortunate female, who has fallen, from prosperity, and affluence humbly represents, unto your honorable body, who she is informed has power to afford her that justice, and redress of her grievances which humanity requires—She was the only child, of a fond and affectionate parent, the late Col. Josiah Parker, who I hope deserved well of his country, for his life was devoted to her service. He was among the first, who espoused her cause in her greatest difficulty, and danger, and was one of that convention, who formed our State constitution. he entered the Army, drew his sword, and fought in defence of those rights; he had asserted in her councils—He was one of that little band of hero’s, who after retreating through the Jerseys; recross’d the Delaware in the night, and obtained the victory at Trenton; I have always understood her received the sword of the expiring British Commander, (Col. Rawle) A few days afterwards, at the same place; when a little creek separated the American & British Armies; he commanded a party that defended an important pass over the creek, while engaged with the enemy General Mercer call’d to him “to defend the pass at every hazard for the safety of America depended on it.”—My Father did his duty.—He was next day feild officer of the day; at the battle of Princeton—and was in most of the important actions which followed, while he remained in the Army—He retired from the regular service, some time prior to the invasion of Virginia; by Arnold & Cornwallis; during the greater part of this time, he commanded that division of the Melitia; which defended the south side of James River.—His military services ceased with the capture of the British Army in York.—When the war was ended, he was appointed to an important office, which he fill’d; until the adoption of the Federal Government—he was then chosen by his fellow citizens their Representative in Congress, which he continued to be during the administration of General Washington and Mr. Adams.—(My fathers merits are not mine but I hope they may excite some sympathy for the unfortunately & only offspring of an old soldier) He then retired from publick life to the bosom of his family, wishing to enjoy in his old age; that happiness which arises from the reflection of a life well spent; sweetened by the endearments of my mother, and myself; of whom he was so dotingly fond, that he spared neither trouble or expence; for my improvement or gratification. Shortly after this in 1802, I married Cap. William Cowper; who had commanded the United States sloop of War Baltimore.—Here commences the sad narrative of my misfortunes.—In a few months after my marriage, the house of John Cowper & Co failed, in which house my husband was a Joint partner: he made no exertions for my support, and I was left destitute.—my father touched with my situation, took me again to his house; where he declared he would support me, and divide with me his last shilling.—but insisted Cap. Cowper, should make some exertions for himself, as he had youth, health, and a lucrative profession.—by this he was compell’d to resort to his profession, and made two or three voyages to sea, from which, I derived little or no benefit; as my husband was of so thoughtless and extravagant a disposition, that he always expended what he made; during the time he remained on shore, my fathers residence was his home.—About two years and a half after his failure, my husband, left this state for New York; and entered in the St. Domingo trade; he continued absent about sixteen months, & then returned, bringing with him, five thousand dollars.—part of this money he laid out in goods, and commenced a retail store: My father furnished him with a store for his goods; and a dwelling house; supplyed with servants and every necessary; and we commenced living together.—Untill this time, my husband, had treated me with fondness & affection, for indeed, he had no opportunity of behaving otherwise, while an entire dependant on my father.—but now his temper shewed itself with all its enormities, he treated my father with rudeness, and me, with the most unfeeling barbarity. he acted himself in the most dissolute manner, and thinking I might complain; accused me of crimes, at which humanity sickens—finding it impossible to live with him; I implored my fathers protection: he again took me to his house; where I remained ‘till his death.—In a short time my husband dissipated what he possess’d, and was reduced to indigence.—in this distress, he implored in the most pathetick manner the forgiveness, both of my father and myself; my father never could be prevailed on to forgive him; for independent of his brutal conduct to me; he had written to him, the most insulting and threatening letters.—As to myself I was softened, by his distress, concessions, and apparent penitence; and during the life of my father, would send him secretly the greater part of the money; allowed me by father for my expences; and indeed began to hope his misfortunes had taught him prudence; and had corrected his temper. But alas! A very short time discovered, he was only acting a part; to enable him to gratify the most cruel and revengeful disposition.—My father died in March 1810. When death deprived me of his protection; he endeavored to extend it to me so far as he could by his Will.—To effect this purpose, he bequeathed to me an annuity of an hundred pounds a year; payable quarterly by his executor, to me or my order only; and bequeathed me some other property consisting of slaves &c &c &c and lent me the use of his dwelling house, yard, garden stables &c &c also some slaves; as long as I chose to remain on the place.—The residue of his estate he devised and bequeathed to my eldest son; (Josiah) upon the express condition of his taking the sir name of Parker.—From the year 1802 ‘till 1810 when my father departed this life; I had live only six months, under the entire controul of my husband.—He was at sea when I lost my father . . . [for several pages more, Ann Cowper related the emotional and physical abuse by her husband, which ended by his taking the children and forbidding her to see them. When the executor of her father’s estate died, no one would take up management in fear of her husband. Denied access to her children and to her father’s property, and understanding that she had few legal rights, Cowper implored the assembly to protect her.]