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Little-known women of Manatee: Pharaba Jane Vaughan Cooper

Pharaba (Fereby) Jane Vaughan Cooper, wife of General James Gignilliat Cooper
Pharaba (Fereby) Jane Vaughan Cooper, wife of General James Gignilliat Cooper Courtesy of Manatee Village Historical Park

Pharaba Jane Vaughan Cooper was born on Sept. 27, 1812 on Amelia Island to John Daniel Vaughan and Rhoda Effingham. When she was 16, Pharaba married James G. Cooper, and they had five children together: John Vaughan, who died at 3 months; Mary Elizabeth; James Gignilliant Jr., who was killed during the Civil War; Francis Marion, and a fifth child who unfortunately died without a name.

In 1858, their daughter, Mary Elizabeth, married Dr. John Crews Pelot, who had recently graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and would later open Pelot’s Pharmacy in Manatee, which is still in operation today. In 1866, after selling properties in both Nassau and Alachua counties, Mary Elizabeth and Dr. Pelot purchased the Braden Plantation for a mere $2,000 and the family moved to Manatee County, where Pharaba was known to entertain and host numerous parties.

While residing at Braden Plantation, Pharaba was described as a “charming hostess who made her home a delight for family guests.” One of the best descriptive accounts we have of Pharaba comes from her granddaughter, Ellen Christine (Cooper) Jarratt, the daughter of Francis Marion Cooper. She describes her grandmother as follows:

“She was of medium height and very erect of stature. Always dressed neatly in black with an attractive neck arrangement — usually a piece of lace pinned there with a lovely cameo pin, which fascinated me. The carving on the cameo depicted a woman standing under a tree — as I recall it, a palm tree. When she was working she wore a snow white apron, edged with lace, either knitted or crocheted by her own hands. Her hands were never idle, these she moved with speed and agility. Her tiny, shiny needles would click rhythmically, or her crochet hook would flash in and out of an intricate piece of lace…. Her hair was silvery white — this she wore smoothly parted both back and front with a short, full curl back of each ear. So she was the first lady of my acquaintance with short hair. Her eye sight apparently was excellent for many times her gold spectacles were perched a top of her head while she was sewing.”

While in Manatee County, Pharaba and her husband were devout members of the Methodist Church, with her husband purchasing the land for the Manatee Methodist Church in July 1866. James G. Cooper was honored by the Village of Manatee and the church by being elected as a steward. He also served as the justice of the peace for the Manatee District.

In 1879, 13 years after moving to the Village of Manatee, James G. Cooper passed away. Pharaba lived until she was 87, passing away in 1899; both she and her husband are buried in the Manatee Village Burying Grounds. Pharaba Jane Vaughan Cooper was featured in this season of Spirit Voices from Old Manatee at Manatee Village Historical Park, 1404 Manatee Ave. E, Bradenton. For more information about the village, visit www.manateevillage.org or call 941-749-7165.

Bridget Donahue-Farrell is curator and Melissa Porter is education and volunteer coordinator at Manatee Village Historical Park. They enjoy sharing the past with visitors through exhibits and personal anecdotes from Manatee County’s history. Email: bridget.donahue-farrell@manateeclerk.com, Melissa.porter@manateeclerk.com

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