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Howard County Has Been Named “The Mother of Counties”

Two years after Howard County was organized, there was so much immigration into the southern part of the county that there was a great demand for the division of Howard County and for the formation of another county south of the Missouri River. Because of this demand, the territorial Legislature, on December 17, 1816, formed the new county of Cooper, which included all of Howard County south of the Missouri River.


In 1803, the United States had more than doubled its size with the Louisiana Purchase. The following year, what would one day become the State of Missouri was divided into four districts. On October 1, 1812, the area was reorganized into five counties and named the Missouri Territory.

Although a few changes took place in the Territory between 1813 and 1815, the biggest change occurred on January 23, 1816, with the organization of Howard County. Named after Benjamin Howard, the first Governor of the Missouri Territory, Howard County covered more than one-third of the state. It reached all the way to what would become Kansas and Iowa. Howard County would eventually form all or parts of 39 additional counties. Boonville, which was south of the Missouri River across from Franklin, was the county seat.

As the population increased south of the river, people began requesting Howard be made into two counties, one on each side of the Missouri River. Finally, after less than three years, Howard was divided. On December 17, 1818, everything north of the river remained Howard County, and everything south of the river became Cooper County, which was named after Sarshel Cooper and his brother Benjamin, early settlers of the area.

The one drawback to the division was the county seat. Boonville was Howard County’s seat of government, but it was on the wrong side of the river. Laid out in 1823, Fayette became Howard County’s county seat.

This territory included what now forms 11 counties and parts of five others. Cooper County was gradually decreased in size by the formation of new counties. By 1845, the boundaries of Cooper County were as they are today.

HISTORICALLY YOURS, by Elizabeth Davis

Missouri Map 1822.jpg


By Dr. Maryellen H. McVicker


The area that is now known as Missouri, was originally divided into 5 counties in 1812 by Territorial Governor William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: St. Louis, St. Charles, New Madrid, St. Genevieve, and Cape Girardeau. 

These 5 counties had their origins in French settlements mostly along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. On January 13, 1816, Howard County was created out of portions of St. Louis and St. Charles counties, and eventually encompassed enough land that 39 counties, or approximately 1/3 of the entire state of Missouri, would be formed from the original Howard County territory. Cooper County was one of those counties.  It was organized as a separate county on December 17, 1818.  By 1821, Missouri had 25 counties.  Eventually there would be 114 counties, and the City of St. Louis. 

The central Missouri region experienced rapid growth during the first 2 decades of the 19th century.  By 1820, what is now Howard and Cooper Counties, had a population of over 20,000 people, which was about 1/3 of the entire population of the Territory of Missouri.  The population of the entire United States was between 9 and 10 million. Now, two hundred years later, over 300 million call the United States their home and approximately 38,000 people live in the two-county region. 


Cooper County will soon be 200 years old.  Cooper County predates statehood. The 1876 Levens and Drake History of Cooper County tells a story about an early county employee:


“Sometime during the year 1817, William Gibson, …was appointed by the Territorial Court constable. …Soon after his appointment, there being some trouble down on the Osage, he was sent there with a warrant for the arrest of a man who had caused the trouble. …As he was on his journey back, and also having an execution against a Man who lived on the road, he stopped at the man’s house and proceeded to levy a tax on the feather beds, as nothing in those days was exempt from levy (taxation—ed.)  But, as soon as he made his purpose known, four women, who were the only persons at home, threatened to give him a thrashing, so he was forced to retire as fast as he could, and return with the execution unsatisfied.  To add to this, the court only allowed him, for his journey of one hundred and forty miles, which occupied four days, the magnificent sum of twenty-five cents.  Mr. Gibson thinking the office not quite lucrative enough to justify him devoting his whole time to its duties, and not wishing to risk his life at the hands of angry women, quietly sent in his resignation…”  Some things never change!

1818 Cooper County Township and Towns pa
map cooper county.jpg
MISSOURI 1819.jpg
Cooper county map 1833 Township and Town

Notice the size of Howard County compared

to Cooper County


Not only were 14 counties formed from Cooper County, many of these counties, in turn, were the parent county to new counties.


Cooper County as originally formed comprised the present day counties of Bates (Formed 1841 from Cass County), Benton (Formed 1835 from Pettis County), Camden (Formed 1841 from Benton County), Cass (Formed 1835 from Jackson County), Cole (Formed 1820 from Cooper County), Henry (Formed 1834 from LaFayette County), Jackson (Formed 1826 from LaFayette County), Johnson (Formed 1834 from LaFayette County), LaFayette (Formed 1820 from Cooper County), Miller (Formed 1837 from Cole County), Moniteau (Formed 1845 from Cole and Morgan Counties), Morgan (Formed 1833 from Cooper County), Pettis (Formed 1833 from Cooper and Saline Counties), St. Clair (Formed 1841 from Henry County), and Saline (Formed 1820 from Cooper and Howard Counties).

References: Ann Betteridge

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