Van Cooten family history progress and collaboration
p 312, footnote 9 (to p 40)
Among the planters who will play salient roles in this book, Bolingbroke;s distinctions between Dutch and British habits and attitudes did not hold. The man who brought the first missionaries to Demerara, Hermanus Post, had made a fortune working side by side with his slaves in his early years. As for brutality, if anything, planters with Dutch names like Hermanus Post and Henry Van Cooten would prove less brutal than men like Alexander Simpson of Michael McTurk, who layed key roles in the suppression of the rebellion.
Conscious of this opposition, Wray asked people he knew to sign a petition on his behalf, and forwarded it to the LMS as evidence of the good results of his preaching. Sixteen people, mostly managers and overseers, and one landowner, Henry Van Cooten of Vryheid's Lust, a friend of the Post family, signed the document. It stated that Wray's labors had "inspired" the "coloured" and black people with reverence and obedience.
Once again Wray tried to mobilize the few planters and managers who supported his work. Several signed documents testifying to his good services, including Van der Haas, from Le Resouvenir, John Kendall, former manager of Friendship, George Manson from Triumph, Alexander Fraser, C. Grant, Van Cooten, Semple, James Wilson, and Andrew Black and William Black (both employed by Wilson), plus a few others.
The Smiths spent their first night with the Davieses before setting out for Le Resouvenir. The next day they called upon Van Cooten, the plantation's attorney (since the owner, Mrs Van der Haas, was in Holland).
p140 quoting a letter from John Smith
... So I have not met with one single planter who can be called a real friend to the instruction of the negroes. Mr. Van Cooten, the attorney for the estate, is rather friendly to it, but I am fearful that he does not feel a lively interest in it, as the late very excellent and pious Mr. Post did. Mr. Van der Haas, the manager (brother to Mr. Van der Haas the owner of the estate) allows the negroes to come to the chapel but like the rest of the whites never comes himself.
[Smith] bought a horse and chaise. But because he had no experience with such things, he met with much trouble. Once, his horse backed the chaise into a trench and he was only rescued by the intervention of McTurk and Van Cooten.
When Asia, an old and sick woman who had been the driver of a gang, was put into the stocks because she refused to work in the fields, Jane Smith wrote a note to the manager warning him that if he continued such severe treatment she would feel it her duty to inform Henry Van Cooten, the attorney. The manager wrote e terse response saying he would keep Asia in the stocks until she agreed to work in the fields. Jane Smith then went to Van Cooten begging him to consider Asia's case. Van Cooten seemed displeased. He said that the manager had always kept him informed of what he did. He was sure Asia was not in the stocks. But he promised to go to the state to check. Commenting on Van Cooten's behavior, Smith said that the old man seldom visited the estate and when he did he only talked to the manager. Only rarely did he go to the "sick-house" or speak with the slaves. "And of course, all is right and just as it ought to be." Yet Van Cooten surprise Smith. After a few days, he did go to the estate, liberated Asia from the stocks, and ordered that she should do some "light work" like picking cotton - which to Smith did not seem much of an improvement.
Encouraged by his success, Smith soon started thinking of expanding his mission. He first tried to build a bigger chapel closer to the road. With his habitual energy, diligence, and entrepeneurship, he set himself to convince Van Cooten, the attorney of Le Resouvenir, to support his project. The attorney contacted the proprietor, Mrs. Van der Haas, but she told him she would not spend a single penny on it.
Occasionally, during the first two years, in spite of the success of his mission, Smith felt discouraged and on such days he wrote bitter letters to the directors. He stressed the daily problems he faced in his mission and lamented that he was not receiving the support Wray had when Post was still alive. Van der Haas, the manager, was an "enemy to religion", and if it were not for Van Cooten, Smith might not have been able to stay on the plantation.
Except for a few managers and overseers who occasionally came for supper, and a few boat captains like Ferguson, who showed up from time to time, their social life was minimal. Only Van Cooten, the attorney of the plantation, was always kind and supportive. With the others Smith felt he had to be constantly on guard.
That Christmas of 1819 was the worst the Smiths had passed since they left England. No slave from outside le Resouvenir attended services. Smith was terribly upset. He complained to van Cooten about McTurk's intolerable behavior. The attorney promised to speak to McTurk and two days later the missionary received a letter from Van Cooten saying that McTurk had promised to ask the fiscal to lift the ban on the chapel. Almost two weeks passed before Smith heard again from the attorney. Van Cooten said he had received a letter from the fiscal informing him that the governor was ready to lift the ban, but only after the slaves had been examined by "Doctor" McTurk.
McTurk's opposition to the missionary became blatantly clear once again when Smith applied to the governor for a piece of public land for a new chapel in Mahaica.
The governor met Smith and Mercer, but was evasive, saying vaguely that the complaints had something to do with night meetings. He said the missionaries would have to bring him written approval of the "gentlemen" in the neighborhood where they wanted to erect the chapel. And when the missionaries expressed their fear that some of the proprietors might not be favorable, the governor replied rudely that he surely could not "cram" a chapel on them. Although they suspected it would be fruitless, Smith and Mercer tried again. They first approached Van Cooten, who had always been very supportive, and asked him for a letter of recommendation. With the letter in hand they called on two planters who subscribed to the LMS.
[Quamina] asked Peter Hood, a carpenter who was working at Le Resouvenir, to send word "to the estates down the Coast." Hood sent the message through the boy Cupida. That same morning, Azor, a field slave belonging to Van Cooten, sent his son to ask Quamina what to do. Quamina told the boy that they must stop.
They continued warily for another three miles until they arrived at Vryheid's Lust, Van Cooten's estate. On the bridge they saw a black with a musket and bayonet who told them to stop. The next moment two militiamen had the man by his collar. He protested that he had been sent by his master to invite the soldiers to come up to his house.
The bulk of testimony incriminating slaves came from managers and overseers, mostly white, although some also came from black overseers, drivers, servants, or other slaves. Most of those who testified were men who had been put in the stocks or roughly treated by the rebels. Sometimes the same person appeared first as a planter, then as a manager or attorney. This apparent confusion derived from the fact that some planters were asked to be attorneys on plantations whose proprietors lived abroad. Henry Van Cooten, for example, was owner of Vryheid's Lust and the attorney of Le Resouvenir.
For several days the missionary presented evidence. Most of his witnesses were plantation owners, managers, and missionaries, but there were a few free blacks and slaves. One of the first to be called was Henry Van Cooten, proprietor of Vryheid's Lust and attorney for Le Resouvenir, a man who had resided for about fifty years in Demerara and had been well acquainted with Wray and Smith. Van Cooten expressed the view of the few planters who had been supportive of the missionaries. He testified that he had given permission to slaves to attend services at Smith's chapel, and that he thought they were "rather more obedient than formerly." He said he did not object to slaves having books because he saw no harm in it. He also admitted he had made contributions to the London Missionary Society, and knew that slaves themselves made such contributions. When Smith asked him whether he thought the slaves were capable of reporting correctly any conversation, Van Cooten said that in general they did it badly but some were more capable than others. (When asked by the court whether the slaves could "recollect the heads of a short discourse, and accurately take up the meaning of the lectures," Van Cooten answered hesitantly: "Of a short discourse some might, I think.")