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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Copeland, Oliver Perry

by Thomas C. Parramore, 1979

23 Nov. 1816–?

Oliver Perry Copeland, portrait artist, was born in Suffolk, Va., the son of Benjamin and Sophia Jones Copeland. He was still living at Suffolk in 1840, when he delivered a Fourth of July oration there, but soon afterward he moved to Northampton County, N.C., where he had married Sarah Hill in April 1839. For the next twelve years he supported himself as a portrait artist in Northampton and neighboring counties in Virginia and North Carolina. In 1850 he exhibited at Richmond, Va., a canvas entitled "The Death-Bed of Wesley"; in 1853 he toured various North Carolina towns with the same painting and three others, "Faith," "Hope," and "Charity." After showing these pictures in Hillsborough, Greensboro, and elsewhere, he took his works to the first North Carolina State Fair (1853) and won first prize for the Wesley scene.

After the fair closed, Copeland opened a studio in Raleigh and offered lessons in drawing and painting. In 1857 he moved to Oxford to take a position as drawing instructor at Oxford Female Academy. His wife died in Oxford on 16 Feb. 1858, and he soon afterward resigned his position. He found similar work at Louisburg Female Academy in the same year and also appears to have worked for a time at Warrenton. In February 1861 he married Henrietta C. Gambol of Warwick County, Va.; thereafter, he appears to have lived and worked at Norfolk, where he is known to have had a studio in 1871.

Copeland's North Carolina subjects included Samuel Wait, first president of Wake Forest College, and Mrs. Wait; the Reverend Charles Force Deems of Greensboro; Dr. W. R. Scott of Raleigh; and members of the Gray family of Northampton, the Gatling family of Hertford County, and the Ridley and Shands families of North Carolina and Virginia. A large canvas by Copeland, entitled "Old Rip Van Winkle Wide Awake," depicted North Carolina's progress in agriculture, industry, commerce, and so on and attracted a good deal of attention at the North Carolina State Fair in 1854.

Copeland was a lifelong supporter of the temperance movement and sometimes gave public readings of a long poem of his own composition entitled "Poetic Essay on Dram Drinking." He was also a professional daguerreotypist. The date of his death is not known. Of the ten children borne by his first wife, three survived their mother; the census of 1850 lists a son named Raphial and a daughter named Eumuke.


L. MacMillan, North Carolina Portrait Index (1963).

Oxford Leisure Hour, 25 Feb. 1858.

G. W. Paschal, History of Wake Forest College, vol. 1 (1834).

Raleigh Spirit of the Age, 18 Jan. 1854, 1 Mar. 1854, 25 Oct. 1854.

Suffolk (Va.) Christian Sun, 1 Sept. 1871.

Additional Resources:

Copeland, Oliver Perry, b. 1816. Frick Art Reference Library:

L. MacMillan, North Carolina Portrait Index (1963):

Origin - location: