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COCHRAN (Cochrane), WILLIAM, educator, editor, and Church of England clergyman; b. c. 1757 near Omagh (Northern Ireland), son of Andrew Cochrane, a “respectable farmer”; m. 30 Sept. 1785 Rebecca Cuppaidge in Philadelphia, and they had seven children; d. 4 Aug. 1833 in Windsor, N.S.

Much of the information on William Cochran’s early life derives from an account which may or may not have been written by Cochran himself. According to this account, Cochran, who displayed “an avidity for knowledge” at an early age, was classically educated at a private grammar school in County Tyrone. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in June 1776, and despite a “low conception of his own capacity” he was elected a scholar in 1779 and took his degree in 1780. During his later years at the college he developed doubts about divine revelation and renounced his previous intention of ordination in the Church of Ireland. In 1781 he took a position as tutor to the family of a country gentleman in County Galway. However, he was not to remain much longer in Ireland. The ideals of the American revolution aroused his strong sympathies, and at the close of the war in 1783 he found himself irresistibly drawn to the nascent republic, believing that “these rising states would be the abode of the greatest virtues and happiness that would be found on earth.” Repelled by political conditions in Ireland, a country he still greatly loved, he emigrated to the United States in late 1783, landing at New Castle, Del., that November. (In the course of passage he changed the spelling of his name from Cochrane to Cochran.)

Determined to make his own way in his new home, Cochran had not brought with him any letters of recommendation. Still, he was confident about his prospects, feeling that “young states” were “like young women, rather favourable to adventurers.” In the event, his confidence was justified. Quickly following on his arrival he was appointed chief assistant in the Academy of Philadelphia, a grammar school attached to the University of Pennsylvania. After a visit to New York in January 1784 he resigned his position in Philadelphia and moved to New York to open a grammar school there. At the end of that year he was appointed to Columbia College as professor of Greek and Latin. His conversations in 1787 with the college president, William Samuel Johnson, led to a revival of religious studies and belief. Finding that ordination in the United States would debar him from preferment within any Church of England jurisdiction, he decided to seek ordination in Nova Scotia and resigned his professorship. Disgust with the realities of life in the republic – he was especially revolted by the institution of slavery – contributed to this decision. He now realized that “the character of the human race remained the same even in this new regenerated hemisphere.”

Cochran sailed for Halifax in October 1788 and upon arrival called upon Bishop Charles Inglis*. In November, and again the following March, Inglis recommended Cochran to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as a suitable candidate for a mission. Terming Cochran “a great acquisition,” he praised him as “a most amiable exemplary young man, very studious and an excellent scholar.” Cochran was not inactive while awaiting the SPG’s response. In June 1789 he was appointed headmaster of the newly established Halifax Grammar School – a rival to Inglis’s favoured academy, already established in Windsor. The same month, with the support of Halifax printer John Howe, Cochran brought out the first issue of his Nova-Scotia Magazine and Comprehensive Review of Literature, Politics, and News. In general it was composed of material taken from other publications, but the second issue, of August, contained the first of three articles on “A plan of liberal education for the youth of Nova-Scotia” evidently written by Cochran himself. In 1790 Cochran, shortly after his appointment as president of King’s College, resigned as the magazine’s editor. Two years later the Nova-Scotia Magazine ceased publication.

Cochran’s appointment to the presidency of King’s College began an association with that institution which was destined to last for more than 40 years. In 1788 the Nova Scotia legislature had provided a grant for the rent of a building in Windsor to house a grammar school. The next year the legislature passed an act for the establishment of a college, to bear the name of King’s College, to be located in Windsor, and to be headed as president by a clergyman of the Church of England, removable only for misconduct or neglect of duty. To find the requisite president and professors, Inglis appealed to the archbishop of Canterbury, patron of the college. At a meeting of the board of governors on 12 Oct. 1789 the bishop reported that the archbishop had failed in his quest, and the board accordingly decided to offer the position of president to Cochran. Cochran agreed to accept the position, which was to be combined with the principalship of the grammar school. The next spring, when his engagement was due to take effect, he asked the board for a certificate of his appointment as president “during good behaviour,” but nothing came of this request. Nevertheless, he moved to Windsor on 23 June 1790 and on 12 June of the following year he was ordained a Church of England clergyman. On 1 July 1791 he was invested as president of King’s College.

It had been expected that the foundation of the college by statute would be speedily followed by the grant of a royal charter, but the outbreak of war between France and Britain postponed consideration of this matter. In the years of difficulty that followed, Cochran and his family lived in hardship at Windsor. Enrolments were small (between 1790 and 1803, according to John Inglis*, 18 students entered the college annually), building proceeded slowly, and inflation depreciated his fixed income. And, to add to his chagrin, during the early 1800s his brother-in-law, the Reverend George Wright*, lived in comparative ease on increasingly lucrative remuneration as head of the Halifax Grammar School.

After a memorial of September 1801 from the governors of the college, a royal charter was issued in May 1802 and arrived in the province in September. It made no mention of the existing institution and gave plenary powers to the governors to draw up the necessary statutes. Three of the governors – Bishop Inglis, Chief Justice Sampson Salter Blowers*, and Alexander Croke*, the judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court and a graduate of Oxford – were appointed a drafting committee. On 3 May 1803 the committee presented its report to the board. One of the draft statutes required matriculants to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles, thus creating an exclusively Anglican college in a multi-confessional society. Another stipulated that the president and professors should be educated at Oxford or Cambridge, or at Windsor under persons thus qualified. In July the governors approved the statutes. As for Cochran, he now learned that he was to be removed from the position he had held for 13 years. In August he addressed a memorial, supported by the bishop, to the archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently through ill health, the archbishop failed to make any decision upon it. Yet on 20 March 1804 he was in a condition to despatch a recommendation for the appointment of the Reverend Thomas Cox, a graduate of Oxford, as president. The governors approved, and upon Cox’s arrival he was formally appointed to the presidency and elected a governor, Cochran becoming vice-president and retaining his professorship.

Late in October 1805 Cox died suddenly, Cochran resumed the duties of the presidency, and the governors had again to consider the question of a successor. At a meeting of the board on 22 Jan. 1806 Inglis and two other governors voted for Cochran, but Croke, who insisted that the president be an Oxford or Cambridge graduate, Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth*, and Blowers voted against him. Cochran thus lost his second chance to become president. In September 1806 the archbishop of Canterbury recommended the Reverend Charles Porter*, another graduate of Oxford; he was duly appointed and installed in 1807, and his tenure outlasted Cochran’s association with the college. Some years later, in 1814, Cochran’s status was enhanced by his appointment, against the opposition of Croke, to the board of governors. From this position in the 1820s, he opposed all attempts to forge a union between King’s and the non-sectarian Dalhousie College.

Plans to end the separate existence of King’s College reflected widespread dissatisfaction in the colony with the institution, dissatisfaction that had led not only to the founding of Dalhousie but also to the creation in 1816 of Pictou Academy by secessionist Presbyterians under the leadership of Thomas McCulloch*. With regard to King’s College itself, it had languished since the passage of the statutes of 1803: in 1815 there were a mere 17 students in the college, and from 1820 to 1830 admissions averaged six annually. Lieutenant Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*] visited the college in 1817 and, after noting the small number of students, claimed that “the state of the building is ruinous; extremely exposed by its situation, every wind blows thro’ it. The passage doors are torn off, the rooms of the students are open & neglected.” As if these problems were not serious enough, relations between Porter and Cochran were greatly strained – with Porter disliked by the students as a severe disciplinarian, and Cochran much appreciated as a genial personality and entertaining instructor. Dalhousie at first was impressed with Cochran, describing him as “a man of singularly mild & amiable manner, with a talent for instructing & captivating the disposition of his pupils by easy & relaxed discipline.” By 1819, however, the lieutenant governor could not conceal his disgust over the constant bickering between Porter and Cochran. “The President & Vice President,” he wrote, “are at variance. They don’t speak to each other. What the one does or says is opposed by the other. . . . I never in my life met so violent a hatred in private circumstances as these two Rev. Gentlemen bear to one another.”

Cochran received two honorary degrees – an ma from Columbia in 1788 and a Doctor of Sacred Theology from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1802. In 1804 he joined Robert Stanser In a doctrinal dispute with Edmund Burke*, the Roman Catholic vicar general of Nova Scotia. Apart from his educational duties, with the support of the SPG Cochran served as minister to several settlements in the vicinity of Windsor, concentrating on Falmouth and Newport townships but also visiting the townships of Rawdon and Douglas on a frequent basis. Dissenters were prevalent in all these settlements – in 1792 Cochran complained that Newport and Falmouth were “miserably overrun by various sorts of Enthusiasts” – and nothing changed in this respect over the years.

In 1821 Cochran, on the advice of physicians, travelled to the United States “in the hopes of removing a serious complaint in his chest.” The following year, though “far from well,” he returned to Nova Scotia and resumed his duties as professor and clergyman. That age was beginning to take its toll was evident in his reports to the SPG, which became more sporadic and less detailed. In October 1831 he resigned his appointments in the college. He died in Windsor on 4 Aug. 1833 and was buried in the Old Parish Burying Ground. One of his sons, James Cuppaidge*, was a prominent Anglican clergyman in Nova Scotia. Another, Andrew William*, served as civil secretary to three governors of Lower Canada – Sir George Prevost*, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, and Lord Dalhousie – and also sat on the Executive Council of that province.

C. P. Wright

In addition to editing the Nova-Scotia Magazine and Comprehensive Rev. of Literature, Politics, and News (Halifax) for its first year – vols.1 (July–December 1789) and 2 (January–June 1790)  William Cochran wrote on a variety of subjects. The series of articles entitled “A plan of liberal education for the youth of Nova-Scotia, and the sister provinces in North-America,” which appeared in the first volume of the Nova-Scotia Magazine, pp.105–6, 199–202, 364–66, seems to have been written by Cochran under the pseudonym “W.” Other publications by Cochran include A sermon preached in the church at Falmouth, Nova-Scotia, on Friday, the 10th of May, 1793 . . . (Halifax, 1793); a textbook, Brief rules of the Latin prosody, with explanatory notes, drawn up for the use of Kings-College, Nova-Scotia (Halifax, n.d.), a copy of which is in the library of the Univ. of King’s College, Halifax; and “A journal of the thermometer, hygrometer, barometer, winds, and rain; kept at Windsor, Nova-Scotia,” printed in the Royal Irish Academy, Trans. (Dublin), 9 (1803): 133–46.

Among the William Cochran papers at PANS are two volumes of notes for a history of Nova Scotia (MG 1, 223, nos. 3–4), and a life of Cochran (MG 1, 223, no.1); whether the latter is autobiography or biography cannot be determined. The life has been published under the title “The memoirs of William Cochran, sometime professor in Columbia College, New York, and in King’s College, Windsor, Nova Scotia,” ed. M. H. Thomas, N.Y. Hist. Soc., Quarterly (New York), 38 (1954): 55–83.

Lambeth Palace Library (London), Moore papers, I: ff.96–115. PANS, MG 1, 223, no.2; 479–80 (transcripts). Univ. of King’s College Library, Univ. of King’s College, Board of Governors, minutes and proc., 1 (1781–1814)–2 (1815–35). USPG, Journal of SPG, 25–27, 29–32, 34–36, 38, 40–41. Ramsay, Dalhousie journals (Whitelaw), vol.1. T. B. Akins, A brief account of the origin, endowment and progress of the University of Kings College, Windsor, Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1865). Canadian education: a history, ed. J. D. Wilson et al. ([Toronto], 1970). Judith Fingard, The Anglican design in loyalist Nova Scotia, 1783–1816 (London, 1972). R. S. Hams, A history of higher education in Canada, 1663–1960 (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1976). H. Y. Hind, Sketches of the Old Parish Burying Ground of Windsor, Nova Scotia . . . (Windsor, 1889); The University of Kings College, Windsor, Nova Scotia, 1790–1890 (New York, 1890). J. S. Moir, The church in the British era: from the British conquest to confederation (Toronto, 1972). F. W. Vroom, Kings College: a chronicle, 1789–1939; collections and recollections (Halifax, 1941). A. G. Archibald, “Sir Alexander Croke,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 2 (1881): 110–28.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

C. P. Wright, “COCHRAN, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cochran_william_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cochran_william_6E.html
Author of Article:   C. P. Wright
Title of Article:   COCHRAN, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   December 4, 2023