Mark Anthony Cooper—a soldier, lawyer, politician, farmer, and entrepreneur—is best remembered as an industrialist whose ironworks was one of the leading businesses in antebellum northwest Georgia. He founded the town of Etowah in Bartow County.
Born near Powelton in Hancock County on April 20, 1800, Cooper was educated at Mount Zion Academy and Powelton Academy in Hancock County, the University of Georgia, and South Carolina College (University of South Carolina). He was admitted to the bar in 1821 and settled in Eatonton, where he practiced law and married Evaline Flournoy, who died three months after their marriage. In 1826 Cooper married Sophronia Randle; the union produced eleven children, seven of whom survived infancy. While in Eatonton, Cooper invested in a cotton mill, vigorously promoted railroad development, and was elected to the state legislature in 1833 as a proponent of states’ rights, a philosophy he held dear throughout his life.
In 1835 Cooper and his family moved to Columbus, where he briefly owned and operated the Western Insurance and Trust Company. In 1836 he entered the Second Seminole War as commander of a battalion of Georgia volunteers, distinguishing himself in an episode involving 3,000 pounds of bacon sent by Governor William Schley for Georgia troops (Major Cooper refused to surrender the bacon to federal authorities, reiterating his states’ rights views). Fort Cooper, near Inverness, Florida, was named in his honor.
Cooper was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1838 as a states’ rights Whig and in 1842 as a Democrat. In 1840 he lost his bid for reelection but was chosen to fill the unexpired term of William C. Dawson, who had resigned. Six months into his last term, Cooper himself resigned to run unsuccessfully for governor.
Moving to Bartow County in 1842, Cooper embarked on his most ambitious enterprise. Believing the area’s mineral resources could bring in more wealth than “King Cotton,” he partnered with the pioneer ironmaster Moses Stroup to establish the Etowah Manufacturing and Mining Company and the town of Etowah and undertook a lifelong campaign to promote the economic development of northwest Georgia.
Often portrayed as strict and humorless, Cooper could be quite sympathetic and was capable of great loyalty. During the economic upheavals of the 1850s, he sought and received financial aid from thirty-eight friends from across the state to save Etowah from bankruptcy. By the end of the decade, Cooper repaid those who had helped him and in 1859 or 1860 erected a monument in tribute to their generosity; the Friendship Monument is thought to be the only one of its kind, erected by a debtor to his creditors. During the Civil War (1861-65), Cooper invested heavily in Confederate bonds. Even as the war turned in favor of the Union, he held the bonds, “not willing to speculate on the misfortunes of the country,” he said, or “make it appear that I doubted the Confederacy.” The decision left him destitute after the destruction of the Etowah ironworks in 1864.
Cooper was a lifelong Baptist and a great supporter of higher education, serving as a trustee of Mercer University in Macon and Cherokee Baptist in Cassville. He also served for more than forty years as a trustee of the University of Georgia and was the founder and presiding officer of the organization that became the Georgia State Agricultural Society (1846). A believer in temperance, he opposed the prohibition laws that dominated political discussion in the last years of his life.
Cooper remained at his Glen Holly home in Etowah until his death on March 17, 1885. Buried in the family cemetery, he and his family were reinterred at Oak Hill before the creation of Lake Allatoona in 1949, which flooded the ruins of Etowah. All that remains of Mark Cooper’s legacy is the Cooper Furnace, located at the foot of Allatoona Dam, and the Friendship Monument, now in Friendship Plaza in downtown Cartersville.