Question of the Week

In 1821, Thomas P. Cope began a freight and passenger service that sailed between what two port cities in Pennsylvania and England?

Monday, 10/10/11

Answer: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Liverpool, England.

A Philadelphia merchant and business owner, Thomas P. Cope was once one of the wealthiest and most prominent men in the city.

Cope was born in Lancaster, Pa. in 1768 to a Quaker family. As a young man, he was more attracted to city life, and moved to Philadelphia in 1786. After completing several years of apprenticeship in his uncle’s store, Cope began his career as a highly successful and well-respected merchant.

In late 1821, Cope established Philadelphia’s first packet line, a small fleet of first-rate ships that offered regular freight and passenger service between Philadelphia and Liverpool. Cope’s Line of Packets enjoyed some of its best years in the 1830s and 1840s, by which time Cope had eliminated any prospective competition and the company’s reputation was well – known and untarnished. After Thomas P. Cope’s death in 1854, the firm was passed on to subsequent generations of Copes until it ceased operations in the 1870s. 

In addition to his mercantile pursuits, Thomas P. Cope worked in public service and was a generous philanthropist. He sponsored several endeavors that led to city and state improvements, including the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Cope served as a Pennsylvania State Legislator and worked to amend Pennsylvania’s Constitution in the 1840s. He was a founder of Haverford College, a member of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and a member of the committee appointed by President Tyler to assay the United States Mint. Cope also helped in the founding and development of Fairmount Park, beginning with the purchase of Lemon Hill in the 1840s.

The papers of the Cope family (#1486) at HSP contain extensive records of their shipping business, including correspondence, bills and receipts, freight lists, passenger lists, ledgers, and crew papers. These documents chronicle more than 500 voyages made by the Copes’ vessels. The collection also contains record of other Cope family enterprises as well as personal papers.

Image: “Cope & Co.’s ship Saranak, August 1851,” watercolor by David J. Kennedy (undated), David J. Kennedy watercolor collection (Collection V61), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.    DAMS 1434     

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