William Copeland

older brother of Henry (1842 to 1921, the founder of the family business in Beckenham), appears to have had a life touched by sadness and misfortune.

It is not known when William moved from Sleaford, Lincolnshire, to Beckenham, Kent but his brother Henry made that move in 1862, and both the brothers were working for the Beckenham builders firm of Harris and Hooker in 1864 as they are pictured together in a photograph dated then.  It was in that same year that William married Fanny Dable, who was a year older than him and was born in the Lincolnshire village of Ancaster, about 6 miles from Sleaford.  The 1861 Census shows William himself then living in Ancaster with the occupation of Joiner's Apprentice, living in the household of Matthew Eliott, apprenticed (presumably) to John Elliot, the previous entry in the census return, and employer of 2 men (assumed to be Matthew and William).

William and Fanny next appear in the 1871 Census in Beckenham.  His occupation is given as "Joiner, Foreman" and the couple were living in the Builder's Yard, High Street, Beckenham, with a 19 year old servant, Emma Mills, who came from Dorking, Surrey.  Their near neighbours, the next family on the census return, were Thomas Graham and his family and he was described as a builder employing 12 men.  It is not unreasonable to assume that William was one of them, and that his accomodation came with the job.

The couple had two daughters, the first, Clara, born in July 1870 but she died only a few weeks later on 3rd September that year.  They had a second child Agnes, born 20th May 1873, but she too died before her second birthday on 7th April 1875.  

Henry had started his own business as a Builder and Undertaker just the year before - 1874 - but whether William was involved in the venture is not known.  Given the loss of their children and that his brother had just begun a new business it is perhaps not surprising that William and Fanny decided to try a new life and at some point in 1875, after the death of Agnes, they emigrated to America.  So far I have not found them on any passenger list so we do not know how they travelled to America, or how they managed to make the journey across to Oregon on the Pacific coast. (1875 is shown as their year of emigration in the US Census return of 1900, at which time they had not become naturalised citizens)

Oregon had become the 33rd State of the USA in 1859 and so was a very new territory.  Corvallis, where it seems the Copelands first settled, had its first land claims made only in 1845 and 1846, and was named as a town only in 1853, so this was a pioneering move for William and Fanny.  The early settlers who arrived in Oregon from 1843 came by way of the Oregon Trail, a 2000 mile "east–west, large-wheeled wagon route and emigrant trail ...that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon" * .  However the first transcontinental railroad had been completed in 1869 "providing faster, safer, and usually cheaper travel east and west - (the journey took seven days and cost as little as $65 or $1189.39 in 2016 dollars)" *.

The railroad journey would have been a much more pleasant and speedy experience than the six months endured by the settlers of a few years earlier, travelling by covered wagon.  
* Wikipedia

33 Star United States Flag on Oregon joining the Union - 1859 to 1861 

In 1880 the US Census shows the couple were living in Corvallis City in Benton County, Oregon, and William gave his occupation as Cabinet maker.  He was mentioned in two places on the same page of the Weekly Corvallis Gazette of April 9th, 1880.  Whilst written as news reports it can only be assumed that these were placed advertisements, perhaps paid for in kind if not in cash.  

Copies of these extracts are shown on this page but are difficult to read.   They are transcribed as: 


"Those English dump carts, manufactured by Mr. Wm. Copeland, at the old stand of Joe Spiedel, are becoming quite popular, and are very useful on the farm.  Call and see them."

a dump cart

Engraving of a dump-cart.  Is this the kind of cart William was building?

The second reads:

"We noticed a fine set of bed-room furniture, manufactured especially for Dr. Farra, at the furniture shop of Mr. Wm. Copeland, of this city, the first of the week.  It was made from yellow fir ornamented with cedar, making a very neat finish.  Mr C's figures are way down."  
(I find this confusing - is this final statement a good or bad thing?  Does it mean his prices were low, or that he wasn't doing very well?)

The 1892 Polk's Portland City Directory shows they were living and working in East Pine, the North East Corner of East 26th Street in Portland itself,  in Multnomah County, when William described himself as a Contractor ( and similar entries appear in later editions of this directory).  They were still at that address in 1900 according to the Census of that year but the records of the 1890 Census for Oregon were destroyed in a warehouse fire in 1921 so we do not know when William and Fanny moved north from Corvallis to Portland.  It would have been prior to that Census year however as they are listed in the City Directory for 1890.

A census of 1895 shows them living at that same address, as does the 1900 Census, in which year William described himself as a Building Contractor - but he did not own the house in which he lived.

Sadly the Census of 1910 shows that, by then, their lives had taken a significant turn for the worse.  They are not listed as living together, indeed Fanny is shown as being a widow and a housekeeper for a woman who was herself English.  However William is also listed, so he was still alive but he appears in the return for Multnomah County Poor Farm, one of 132 residents.  "In 1854 the territorial legislature gave the counties the responsibility of caring for the poor.  1868 saw the first pauper's farm open in the west hills of Portland. This facility, called Hillside Farm, occupied 160 acres near Canyon Road in Portland's West Hills." (Wikipedia)

The website of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon has a transcribed list of 21,717 people who were residents of the farm at one time or another, and this includes these entries:  

Surname      Given        Age            Book    Page            Entry Dt
Copiland    Wm        69                      3        261            27 Dec 1909
Copeland    Wm        71                      3        384             21 Mar 1911
Copeland    Wm                                 3        443             16 Nov 1911

from which it is clear that William had several spells in the Poor Farm

Hillside Poor Farm, Multnomah, Oregon

Hillside Poor Farm in Portland's West Hills

Multnomah County Poor Farm

In 1854 the territorial legislature gave the counties the responsibility of caring for the poor.  1868 saw the first pauper's farm open in the west hills of Portland. This facility, called Hillside Farm, occupied 160 acres (65 ha) near Canyon Road in Portland's West Hills.

One article about Poor Farms says: "The early care of the poor and mentally ill was crude by modern standards, reflecting the prevailing attitude that fresh air and work would be good for these “poor unfortunates”. From the earliest days, “inmates” were expected to do farm chores to the extent of their abilities. The farm was to be self-supporting and the labor of the inmates would help compensate the county for their care."

In the 1900 Census the enumerator listed the facility as "County Hospital and Poor Farm" but only as "Hillside Poor Farm" in 1910. 

William's stay from 16th November 1911 was to be his last.  Tucked away within a section for "Meeting Notices" within the Sunday Oregonian of December 17th 1911 (see below) is an announcement to "Foresters of America, Court Mt.Hood, No 1 - Officers and members take notice that the funeral of Brother William Copeland will take place today (Sunday) December 17, from Finley's chapel, Third and Madison, at 2 P.M.  Visiting members and companions please attend.  E Barnickel F.S.  Chas Schult C.R. "

William Copeland Death Announcement

The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon)19 Dec 1911, Tue and the Morning Oregonian of 17th December included notices of William's death.  The former (see picture) gave the place of his death as the Poor Farm and, interestingly, also gave the cause, stated as 'abscess of the brain'.  This would be a very unpleasant condition which could not have been treated in the way we might now expect and would, almost certainly, have meant that Fanny would have found him difficult to live with, would have affected his ability to work, and would have had a devastating effect on their lives, presumably over a long period.

A certificate of membership of the Foresters of America, a new defunct fraternal society similar to the Ancient Order of Foresters and, to an extent, the Free Masons.  William was clearly a member;  might this have been because his trade as a joiner depended on timber?

Foresters of America Membership Certificate

Although as yet I have been unable to find details of her journey I know that Fanny returned to England - I was told as much when I met Rob Copeland in 1986.  He would have known her as she returned to live in Beckenham, presumably under the care of Henry, her brother-in-law.  She died there in 1921 and I believe is buried in the graveyard of St. George's Church Beckenham, with her two daughters.  If she is not buried there she is at least commemorated on the same gravestone in that churchyard, as indeed is William.