The World Heritage Site of Avebury in Wiltshire, England is a magnate for visitors from all over the world. Its stone circle, bank and ditch are the largest in Europe, and the nearby Neolithic structures of Silbury and West Kennet Long Barrow continue to attract people of all beliefs and all interests.

There is a little known but fascinating facet to the history of Avebury and those who have travelled the globe to visit it – a story in the shape of one Mary S Cope (1852-1888) a young woman from Philadelphia, America.

Moss, in this guest feature explains why –


Awbury House, part of the larger Cope Estate

In 1852, Henry Cope, a Philadelphia ship owner, bought forty acres of farm land in East Germantown near the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Mary Cope and John Smith Haines. At that time, Germantown—which was not yet part of the City of Philadelphia—was largely undeveloped and an ideal place for country living. A large house was built on the property as a summer home for Henry, his wife Rachel Reeve Cope, and their grown children and families.

Henry Cope named the estate after the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, England, from which the Cope family had originally emigrated. The Henry Cope house and the Haines house were the first of what would become an entire community of houses at Awbury built by various members of the Cope Family over several generations. When the Henry Cope house became too crowded with children and grandchildren, Henry’s son Francis built a new house nearby in 1861. Soon after, three of Francis’ children built houses at Awbury for their growing families. Other cousins in the family of Francis Cope’s brother Thomas did the same. By the 1920’s 24 houses had been established throughout what is present day Awbury.

About three years ago I came across a poem by Mary Cope, she had written a poem about Avebury in Wiltshire, date 1866 but she had come from America to see this village her ancestor’s home and it intrigued me to go on and discover who was the ancestor and I wrote several unrelated blogs about the Cope family. Well that took some time, but if you were to turn to Awbury in America, then there is a clue.

The ancestor she spoke of was Oliver Cope, a tailor living with his family in Avebury, he had three children and the biographer Gilbert Cope in his book says that Oliver bought some land in America, 500 acres in two parcels bought off William Penn and recorded May 1682. Gilbert Cope’s book was on online and though there was not much written about Oliver what it did turn up was that subsesquent generations of Quaker Copes became rich and a family estate was born called Awbury and which is now an arboretum. Two things stand out, the humble beginnings of Oliver and the role of Quakerism in building up the family fortunes.

And as an aside, last week when the truth was revealed about the mendacity of our banks, a couple of letters in the Guardian, amongst many furious ones had said what if our banks had been ruled by decent Quaker bankers, we may have had a much better system and not the ‘bollinger lads’ who have brought this country to the verge of bankruptcy with their greedy ways.

But to return to Oliver making his way in Avebury, Gilbert Cope says that the family were not Quakers but at this moment in history, the dissenters were having a tough time and maybe owning up to being of a different religious persuasion was not deemed prudent, the Five Mile Act forbade clergymen to move out of the prescribed zone of their limits and hefty fines were imposed on people if you did. Eventually this ban was overturned in 1702 by the king. Here is a link to the Devizes dissenters and it is mentioned that Avebury did not have a chapel built till 1670 and today that same chapel is of course the tourist centre for information.

Oliver’s mother Elizabeth died in 1681, but the family did not embark on their great adventure to start a fresh new life till 1682 a year after his mother’s death, perhaps she had left them some money for the journey They settled in a place called Naaman’s Creek, in the County of New Castle, Pennysylvania and it was here that Oliver died in 1697, and I will reproduce his will in full for what he owned and now left his four children and wife…

I, Oliver Cope, now of y countie of New Castle, being weak in body ie but of sound and disposing mind and memory, praised be y lorde for it make and ordain this last will……………. Item;

I give and bequeath that what horses and mares my daughters have, shall be and remaine their own.

I give and bequeth unto my daughter Ruth, three wether sheep, and one ewe and lamb

To my son William, one ewe and lamb, and as for my stock of cattle, I will that my wife shall one half of them, and y other half of y cattle chall be equallie divided between my foure children.

I give to my son William £17 I give to my daughter Ruth, £3.10s.

I give and bequeath to my son John, y old bay mare and her two colts I give more to my other son William, all my other horses and mares

I give and bequeath y one-half of all remaining part of my estate, both real and personal, between my foure children – my two sons to have a double share of it I give one horse to my wfe. The other half of my estate, I give and bequeath unto my wife during her widowhood. When I make my full and sole and if my wife happen to marry that then part shall be equallie divided between my foure children……..

In the year of our lord 1697 – Oliver Cope. Also signed by Rebecca Cope.

He had had 15 years or thereabouts to make a living and support his family, what we see is a small farm, a few horses, sheep and cattle, and everyone keeping their own horses and the rest of the small farm fairly shared between the four children. John who got the old bay mare and her two colts went on to make his fortune in the world and the fortunes of future generations, so perhaps the old bay mare was lucky!

In Oliver Cope’s story we can see the generations of future Cope families making their way in the country of America, he did provide a better life for his great grandchildren, and then that moment in time when Mary Cope coming back to visit Avebury and writing her poem in 1866, is contrasting the smallness of the English countryside compared to the vastness of America, and yet, she was the beneficiary of a courageous act of emigration. I love the poem, it lurks at the back of memory, the peace and quiet of the Wiltshire downs, its small villages, still really intact though of course their social structure has been replaced by a different elite…



From western lands beyond the foam,
We sought our English father’s home
by few or known or sung.
Which ‘neath the quiet English skies,
far from all busy haunts it lies
the wide chalk downs among.

Huge druid stones surround the spot,
Which else had almost been forgot
By the great world without.
The mystic ring now scarcely traced
Is by a grassy dike embraced,
Circling the whole about.

Deep hangs the thatch on cottage eaves,
And buried deep in ivy leaves
The cottage window gleam.
There little birds fly to and fro,
And happy children come and go
With rosy cheek and rustic walk,

They curtsy for the gentle folk,
As they the strangers deem.
With pinks and stocks the beds are gay
,And box and yew their shapes display
Fantastically trimmed.
And each small garden overflows

With scent of woodbine and of rose
Above the borders trim.
The ancient little Norman church,
With quaintly medieval porch,
Stands ‘neath the elm tree tall
Sunk in the graveyard plot around,

The moss-grown headstones scarce are found
Few stoop the lettering to trace
Which time’s rude hand will soon efface.
Some there may be of highborn race,
But none the names recall.
The many gabled manor house,

With winking casement sheen,
Seem in the summer light to drowse
And dream of what has been
And we may dream of earlier days
,When the old convent marked the place,
When nuns in gown and coif complete,

Paced the green paths with quiet feet,
And gather herbs and simples small
Beneath the high brick garden wall,
Finding a safe retreat.
Like some small nest securely placed,
With ferns and grass interlaced,
But open to the light,

The hamlets seem to lie at rest
Upon the common’s ample breast,
Secure in loneliness of space
From aught that could the charm efface
Of innocence and old-world grace
Worn by ancestral right.

Home of sweet days and thankful nights,
Fair fall on thee the morning light,
Soft fall the evening dews.
Wild winds perchance may sweep the wold
But age, untouched by storm or cold,
In memory’s sight thou standest there,
Encircled by serenest air,
In changeless summer hue.

Mary S Cope, 1886


See also Gilbert Cope’s book.