Biography of James Alfred Copeland

James Alfred Copeland was born on September 21, 1852, in Fountaindale, Illinois. He was the son of Alfred Williams Copeland, born June 18, 1809, in Massachusetts, and Hannah Brewster, a Pennsylvania native and descendant of Elder Brewster from the Mayflower. James received his education in Illinois and attended Wheaton College. In 1879, he began studying law in Nebraska and was admitted to the South Dakota bar in 1890. He served as clerk of courts, justice of the peace, and county judge in Vermillion, South Dakota. Copeland was active in the Republican Party and various fraternal organizations. He married Estella E. Hayes in 1880, and they had eight children, though three died young.

James Alfred Copeland was born at Fountaindale, Winnebago county, Illinois, on the 21st of September, 1852, being a son of Alfred Williams Copeland, who was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, June 18, 1809, and who died in Fountaindale, Illinois, June 23, 1875. He was born and reared in Massachusetts and was at one time foreman in a cotton mill at Lowell, that state. He came to Illinois as a pioneer and there devoted the remainder of his life to farming. His wife, whose maiden name was Hannah Brewster, was born in Pennsylvania and died at Byron, Illinois, in 1884. She was a descendant of Elder Brewster, of Mayflower fame. From an old family Bible still in the possession of our subject is taken the following record, starting with his father, Alfred W., son of Alfred Copeland, who was born at Bridgewater, Massachusetts, October 7, 1782, and who was a drummer in the war of 1812. He married Mary Williams, daughter of Nathaniel Williams, a minute-man of the Revolutionary war. Alfred was a son of Daniel Copeland, who was born in 1741 and who married Susannah Ames, daughter of Joseph Ames. The next in direct line was Jonathan Copeland, who was born in 1701, and who married Betty Snell, daughter of Thomas Snell, Jr. The next in the direct ancestral line was William Copeland, born in 1656, at Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He married Mary Bass, daughter of John Bass, who married Ruth Alden, a daughter of John Alden, the Pilgrim whose name is so prominent in New England history and story and of whom it is said he was the last male survivor of those who signed the compact on board the “Mayflower.” The next in line was Laurence Copeland, who was born in 1589, probably in England, and who came to America about 1620. He married Lydia Townsend in 1651 and he died in 1699, at the patriarchal age of one hundred and ten years.

Judge James A. Copeland, the immediate subject of this sketch, received his early educational training in the common schools of his native state, and for a time was a student in Wheaton College, at Wheaton, Illinois. In 1879 he took up the study of law in the office of George W. Fifield, of Fairmont, Nebraska, and in 1883 he entered the employ of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, with which he remained until 1890, in the meanwhile continuing to devote as much attention as possible to his legal studies, making such advancement that he was enabled to secure admission to the bar of South Dakota in April of the year last mentioned. After leaving school our subject had returned to the homestead farm, and there he remained until 1877, when he engaged in the buying and shipping of livestock at Oregon, Illinois, being thus engaged about two years, having shipped horses to Fairmont, Nebraska, where he remained two years, devoting his attention to farming and to the law and loan business. He then removed to Storm Lake, Iowa, where he was engaged in the cattle business until December, 1881, when he came to South Dakota and took up his residence in Vermillion, where he has ever since maintained his home. He served as clerk of the courts of Clay county from 1891 to 1894, while he also held the office of justice of the peace for a period of ten years. In 1896 he was elected to the office of county judge, serving until January 1, 1899, and in 1900 he was again elected to this office for a term of two years. Judge Copeland is an uncompromising Republican in his political proclivities, and it may consistently be said that he has held to the ancestral faith, since he comes of a long line of Republican and Whig forbears. Judge Copeland is identified with Incense Lodge, No. 2, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; Vermillion Chapter, No. 21, Royal Arch Masons; Juno Chapter, No. 44, Order of the Eastern Star; and Dakota Pine Camp, No. 450, Modern Woodmen of America. He is secretary of the last mentioned, as is he also of his Masonic lodge and chapter. He is a charter member of the Republican Club, No. 103, of Vermillion, this being subordinate to the Republican League of South Dakota, and he has held various offices in each of the above mentioned organizations, being at the present time secretary of the Republican Club. In 1870 Judge Copeland became a member of the Presbyterian church at Middle Creek, Illinois, and in 1901 he joined the First Baptist church of Vermillion.

At Rockford, Illinois, on the 30th of December, 1880, Judge Copeland was united in marriage to Miss Estella E. Hayes, daughter of Alpheus J. Hayes, a pioneer settler of Minnehaha county, South Dakota, and for many years a prominent business man of Sioux Falls. Of the children of this union we enter the following brief record: Jay Warren, who was born October 28, 1881, died November 12th, following; Flora E. was born January 11, 1883; Winfield O. was born July 12, 1884; Nettie was born August 8, 1887, and died September 20, 1891; Jamie was born August 12, 1890, and died September 23, 1891; Laurel was born December 25, 1891; Doris Louise, August 18, 1897; and Susan A., June 2, 1899.


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota: together with mention of Citizens of South Dakota, [Logansport? IN] : B. F. Bowen, 1904.

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