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Richard and Patience Stanley

Anne-Marie Ford    -    29 December 2016

This story is an edited version of material written by an unknown American in 1912, and records a meeting with a Gypsy family of Stanleys camped close to Providence, Rhode Island, in 1886. The bookplate reads “Ex Libris R.A. Scott Macfie, presented by the Gypsy Lore Society” and the full article can be found in the Liverpool University Special Collections, reference SMGC3/4, B.4.8.

Learning that a party of Gypsies was encamped about two miles from my house, I drove over there one afternoon with my wife. Shortly before reaching the grove by the roadside where the tents were, we met a man and a boy leading some horses. Both had the true Gypsy cut, and were of medium size, lithe and agile in appearance, with the peculiar loose walk, dark skins and piercing black eyes. Stopping as they approached, I accosted the man with “Kushto divvus,” – Good day. With a smile he responded, “What was you saying, sir? You’d better look at your book again, if you think that’s Gypsy talk. Come, Leonard, we must be getting these horses in,” and he passed along.

The narrator then drives on to the encampment, where there were half-a-dozen children and two women, one much younger than the other. The older woman is, we are told, “about thirty five, and the mother of the six children; she was small and thin, but straight, graceful and supple, and the dark tint and sharp regularity of her features showed her to be of pure blood.” Her manners, he recalls, were pleasant and she was willing to show them everything about the camp – the covered wagon which held a bed with handsome lace-edged pillows, a light sheet-iron stove, a parrot and canary birds and the tents where the children, who were hanging about her, slept.

He continues that “presently the man we had first seen appeared and was presented to us. He was a swarthy, fine-looking fellow. He told us they were Stanleys, that they had wintered in Buffalo, and were making their way towards Providence, where some of their relations lived.” The man is Richard Stanley, the younger woman his sister-in-law, and his wife is the mother of the six children; she is Patience Cooper. Both these women, Richard admits, “do a little fortune telling sometimes,” adding, “maybe you or your lady might like to try them?” “Both of the women dukker then?” To this Richard responds, “You’re just like all those other gentlemen and ladies! They all thinks we Gypsies have a language of our own.”

The narrator accepts that Richard is unlikely to trust him, but agrees to have his fortune told, if Mrs Stanley will tell him what family she belonged to before she was married. She tells him she was a Cooper and a relative of Charlotte Cooper, the wife of Fighting Jack Cooper, “Charlotte Cooper was my great aunt, though I never saw her.” The narrator replies eagerly that “there is a picture of her in a magazine I have at home, and I will bring it over for you to see; there is also a story about her written by a gentleman named Leland.” Richard, clearly interested in the Cooper allusion, comments, “That Jack Cooper was the best man in England of his day. My father often saw him. He was transported for another’s fault.”

Having made some kind of contact with the Gypsies, the narrator returns the following day, taking a parcel of tea, a basket of apples, a small china bowl, and, most importantly, the August edition of Century, in which the portrait of Charlotte Cooper appeared. They were delighted with this last item, even the children were called to look at it, and the narrator remarks that handsome as Charlotte was in her portrait, it could not compare with Patience Stanley. He was certainly extremely pleased when Richard took him to see his horses, aware that the family were beginning to accept his presence and his very real interest in their Romany history.

As they talk over a cigar, he and Richard began to use some Romany words, and at one point Richard corrects his pronunciation, finally admitting, “well, we do know some Romany, but if we told everyone what good would it be to us? Suppose we should get in a little trouble and some of us were arrested, we could just drop a word of warning in our language, and nobody the wiser.” He then recounted the story of a reporter who had wanted to know something of their language, and Richard had told him, “if you want to know about it, you take my brother and me to the tavern and buy us 50 cents worth of beer, and we’ll tell you all about it.” The reporter, however, had refused, and Richard retorted that “you can’t want to know our language very badly, if you won’t pay 50 cents for it!” But the narrator asks, “would you have told him if he had taken you to the tavern?” “Lord bless you, sir,” was the reply, “not one word would I have given him; maybe I’d have tipped him some of the slang of the road, and he wouldn’t know the difference.”

As he was leaving for the day, Mrs Stanley enquired, “maybe you and your lady would be willing to come and take a cup of tea with us some evening soon?” Of course, the narrator was delighted, and when he sent a message to confirm their coming, sent three brightly coloured silk handkerchiefs for Richard’s wife, his daughter, Bessie, “a pretty young girl of 14,” and his sister-in-law.

He tells his readers, “On the day appointed for the tea drinking we went to the camp, and were in time to see cooking some meat, eggs and biscuits, ready for the two fires, one on the ground and the other on a light sheet-iron stove. Mrs Stanley gave us a cup of excellent tea and some good bread and butter. It was served on a handsome tablecloth, laid on the ground over some blankets, and in fine decorated china.” Patience Stanley, he remarks, had her handkerchief wound about her delicate, pretty face, and around her neck was a heavy string of coral beads and a gold chain.

Mrs Stanley tells the party a joke during tea regarding the honour of Gypsies, who paid, she said, for everything they got, declaring, “if I found out on the road a gentleman’s pocket-book full of money, I’d put it in my pocket a minute, and turn it over once or twice for luck. Then, if he came to look for it, I’d tell him right out that . . . I never seen it.” This was received with applause and great amusement, and Richard, with a look of admiration at his wife, declared, “Now aren’t she a great one, sir?”

Some six years later, in the summer of 1892, a journalist from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle continued the story of Patience Stanley, who revealed more about her Cooper roots, when he wrote of going to their Gypsy camp to have his fortune told, and learn something of the Gypsies for a story in his newspaper.

She told the reporter that her name was originally Reginald Cooper, and that she had travelled to America with her grandfather and an uncle when she was a girl of 15 and married early the young Richard Stanley, who came from a famous Gypsy tribe, and that they now had seven children. This was true – young Frank had been born in the intervening years between the story of 1886 and this interview in 1992. It was also certainly the case that the Stanleys were an important tribe, but Patience Cooper’s antecedents were at least as important, for she was descended from a famous family of Coopers. Her great aunt, she told the journalist, was Gentilla Cooper, the famous fortune teller of Devil’s Dyke, in Brighton, that Fighting Jack Cooper was a cousin and that Eliza Cooper, who told fortunes for the royal family, was an aunt. Bearing in mind what Richard had said some years earlier about reporters, it is important to question some of these details, but nevertheless, the article offers some clues to her identity within the Coopers, as do the names of some of her children.

Richard and Patience Stanley had nine children altogether, seven surviving to adulthood, and of the children mentioned in the story of 1886 Leonard appears to be the eldest, born about 1871; then Bessie, born around 1872; there was also a William, born about 1873; Charles, born about 1874; Dickey, born in about 1876; Sybarina, a baby at the time of the meeting, born in 1885/6. An additional child, a son, Frank, was born about 1889. The long gap between Dickey and Sybarina would suggest that it was in those years that two babies were lost.

Frank Cooper was the son of the famous Matty Cooper, the ‘Royal Rat Catcher,’ and his wife, Eliza, and Frank’s wife was Sabrina. Surely the names of two of Richard and Patience Stanley’s children indicate that Patience’s line of descent was probably through Frank and Sabrina? Moreover, the name of Richard and Patience’s first child, Leonard, was also the name of a son of Frank and Sabrina Cooper. Was Patience the daughter of Leonard, and therefore a grandchild of Frank, who was said to have travelled to America several times, pursuing his trade as a horse dealer?

The story of the meeting in 1886 continues on this website next month, with the arrest of Richard’s sister-in-law . . .

Copyright © 2016 Anne-Marie Ford