close menu
This website uses cookies to store your accessibility preferences. No personal / identifying information is stored. More info.

Capt. Stoughton Cooley

The Tensas on the banks of Savanna was built by Capt. Stoughton Cooley.


Captain Stoughton Cooley was born in 1822 in Hanover, New York. He was the son of Elias Cooley and Sarah Alden Colley, his mother a direct descendant of John Alden, the Pilgrim of Plymouth.

He married Clarissa Mays, a native of Fayette County Pennsylvania, in 1842 and they lived in Rising Sun, Indiana, for a period and had a brief residence in Oho, before the couple embarked in the flatboat business.

That was the beginning of boating life, that continued for nearly seventy years. The young husband and wife carried produce out of the Ohio River for several years, and then out of the upper Mississippi, going as far south as New Orleans.

They arrived in Savanna in 1851 and Stoughton was a riverboat captain on the Mississippi. During that time, he built the steamboat Tensas, a 333-ton wooden hull stern wheel packet built in Jeffersonville, Indiana, in 1875. Between her stacks the boat carried a large circular saw blade with the numerals ten cut into it. Hence the “Ten Saw” He also captained the W.F. Curtis while in Savanna.

Cooley constructed his Savanna home on a high hill overlooking the city on what is now Fourth Street with a cupola where he could look out over the river and see the steamboat traffic. The couple had nine children: William Wallace (1844-1903); R. Emmett (1847-1915); Maryetta Cooley (1850-1851); LaFeyette Cooley (1852-1855); LeVerrier Cooley (1855-1931); Victor Stoughton (1858-1860), Stoughton Jr. (1861-1934); George Mays (1863-1864) and Gilbert Brian (1865-1952). Stoughton Cooley died in 1878 in Savanna and is buried in Savanna Township Cemetery.

All five sons all continued in the river trade in some form or another.

By 1877, William was in command of the Tensas with his brothers Emmet, as the engineer, and LeVerrier as the clerk. The Tensas was running the New Orleans-Bayou Macon-Tensas trade.

The Tensas met its demise on Feb 24, 1886 when it was destroyed by fire near Eutaw Landing on the Black River  in Louisiana with 1,014 bales of cotton and 2,700 sacks of cottonseed on board. The boat and cargo, worth $50,000, were a total loss.

The brothers moved their operation to New Orleans and Leverrier became a famous steamboat captain. In his obit in 1931 he was described this way “Last rites were held at New Orleans yesterday for Capt. L. V. Cooley, 76-year-old river pilot who was widely known as "the grand old man of the river”. Since he was 14 years old, Capt. L. V. Cooley had worked on steamboats, operating on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In later years, a number of magazine and newspaper stories reviewed his life and presented pictures of himself and his steamer, "The Ouachita." He was the last of river pilots of the old school, a link between the past and present.”

Stoughton Jr. remained in Savanna until his death on May 31, 1934. He was a writer and penned “The Captain of the Amaryllis” in 1910. 

The youngest was Capt. Gilbert Brian Cooley. The captain, whose title was largely honorary, was born in Savanna on October 27, 1865. He came to Monroe, Louisiana, and in 1885 started the Monroe Steam Laundry, which became in years the source of his considerable fortune. While his bread and butter were derived from the laundry business, he gave much time to steamboating and owned and operated at various times boats that plied the Ouachita and Mississippi Rivers.

When Stoughton died in 1878, his wife, Clarissa, continued with her sons, who had succeeded in the business. Though she had spent the summers up north, she returned to the south in the fall, and rode to and fro as the boats plied their trade. In this way she probably saw more of the Mississippi River life than any other living person, and traveled in the neighborhood of three-quarters of a million miles.

She died on March 25 in 1912 in New Orleans and her body was returned to Savanna to lie in rest with her husband. This is from her obituary from The Picayune of New Orleans: “Mrs. Clarissa Mays Cooley, who with her husband, Stoughton Cooley, Sr., was connected with steamboating on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers for seventy years and who was the mother of a very distinguished family of rivermen, died yesterday. She was actually a steamboat owner and manager during nearly her whole life and was the oldest living "steamboatman." The Cooley family has held a very important position in steamboating, and all of its members are well known to everyone who has had any part in the river traffic in the past generation or two.”

Cooley House
The Cooley House has a perfect view of the Mississippi River and was constructed by Stoughton Cooley and still stands on Fourth Street today.