JOHN HOOPER REED
At the end of the nineteenth century the house on Old Shore Road in Cotuit that we know as “the Ropes House” was called “Pine Bluff” and was the year-round residence of the powerful politician General John “Jack” Reed.
Jack Reed’s friend, the New York schoolmaster James H. Morse described him as “red-faced, bluff old Squire Reed”, “a high liver evidenced in his rubicund face and his gout.”
John Hooper Reed was born in 1827, the son of a wealthy Boston merchant who made a fortune in the Russian flax trade and American railroads and steel, and who founded the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge.
Jack Reed’s mother was Elizabeth Hooper, elder sister of Cotuit’s first summer resident, Samuel Hooper. Jack was with his uncle on Hooper’s first visit to Cotuit in 1849, when he bought a house overlooking Cotuit Bay that was built in 1783 by Ebenezer Crocker.
The story behind the purchase of the house is that Samuel Hooper could find no captain to go to China for him since all had gone off to California. He heard there might be an available captain in Cotuit, and approached the postmaster Captain Alexander Scudder. Captain Scudder was attracted by Mr. Hooper’s generous offer to take a ship to China but asked who would take care of his house and farm. Mr. Hooper paid for the farm and house, and became the first summer resident of Cotuit, and perhaps of Cape Cod.
Mr. Hooper made his nephew, Jack Reed, his assistant in the China trade, and later in national politics when Mr. Hooper became congressman. About 1851 Reed became partner of Samuel Hooper and William Appleton in the profitable trade in silver (and perhaps opium) for tea and silk, on clipper ships such as the “Courser” and “Nabob”. Young Mr. Reed made a voyage to the Orient, probably as supercargo, or financial manager, for the voyage. He was part owner of the clipper ship “Living Age” which left Hong Kong with a cargo of tea and silk but ran up on Pratas reef in the South China Sea in an account by its second mate Frederic Hinckley of Marstons Mills.
In his early thirties John Reed became aide to two Republican governors of Massachusetts, Nathaniel Banks and John Andrew. He also had military experience in Boston’s Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest militia unit on the continent which began in 1638). On the outbreak of the Civil War, as the company’s colonel, he was promoted to brigadier general as quartermaster of the state militia. General Reed went to Washington to inform President Lincoln of the state of preparedness for the war.
He was most proud of his actions after he was appointed Quartermaster General in charge of outfitting the state’s regiments in the Civil War. He equipped the first troops sent off to battle, 27th Mass. Infantry Regiment, trained at a camp in Springfield named for him. The regiment was transported to Baltimore to chase out rebel units, and relieve the siege of the nation’s capital. At Baltimore, Confederate sympathizers had attacked another Massachusetts unit, the Ninth Regiment, causing the first bloodshed of the war. When it was learned that the Union’s first prisoners of war at Ft. Monroe had no blankets or clothing for the cold winter of 1861, he shipped off 850 blankets, along with coats and other winter clothing.
General Reed’s profile is commemorated on the bronze plaque on the Soldier & Sailors Monument in Boston Common.
After the war, while he was treasurer of his father’s steel foundry in South Boston, he was active in national Republican politics, living at 178 Beacon Street facing the Boston Common. His wife died in 1877 and General Reed moved to Cotuit full time, living in his uncle Samuel Hooper’s house at 49 Old Shore Road. He improved “Pine Bluff” by adding the second story gable facing the water, which a later owner Harriet Ropes Cabot called “the nose”. In 1880, Cotuit’s minister married him to his housekeeper, Martha Synette, from Liverpool, a woman not fully approved by Brahmin society..
James Morse described General Reed’s life in Cotuit as having “qualities of an English sporting ‘squire’”. One time president of the county agricultural society, he grew record crops of carrots and produced roses in November. He was a leader in the Cape Cod Historical Society and the 250th celebrations of the town. Above all, he dominated Republican politics in a Republican region, even serving as elector of President Harrison in 1888. Cotuit knew him as the leader of the Republican faction in its biggest political battle over the lady postmistress, and the election of the first Indian, Watson Hammond, to the state legislature. (Both stories have been told in past columns).
China trader, Civil War general, steel rail manufacturer, powerful politician, country squire, and justice of the peace, John Hooper Reed died in 1899, and rests in America’s first garden cemetery, Mt. Auburn.
Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 29 June 2012.