History tells us John Cooke was born in London, England, about 1752, and that about 1772 or possibly earlier, he and a girl by the name of Nellie Pemberton, or Goodall (both names are given), were enticed aboard a vessel in the Thames River. While at dinner with some friends who were sailing for America, the ship hoisted anchor and sailed away with the two young people on board. Being thus kidnapped, they were brought to America and sold or apprenticed to a planter in the valley of Virginia to work out their passage.
Cooke served his apprenticeship and then agreed to help the girl work out hers. When this was done, they were married and settled in Shenandoah County, where a girl and four boys were eventually born to them. They boys were named Thomas, John, William and James, while the name of the girl who married a Virginia planter, and moved farther south, is no longer remembered by the family.
The first public service rendered by John Cooke was when he enlisted with Captain Buford’s “Bedford County Riflemen” and marched with General Andrew Lewis to the Battle of Point Pleasant, which was fought with the Indians under Cornstalk, chief of the northern Confederacy, on October 10, 1774. Although Cooke and others were dispatched back up the Kanawha River for supplies and he was not in battle, his name is engraved on the monument which now stands at Point Pleasant.
n n n
In January 1777, John Cooke enlisted as a private Revolutionary War soldier from Shenandoah County, serving under Captain Jonathan Langdon, Abraham Hite, and George Waite in Colonel James Wood’s regiment, the Eighth Virginia Continentals. Cooke was in the battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, and was later with “Mad Anthony” Wayne on the Hudson. He was discharged from the Army on December 29, 1779.
On May 26, 1793, John Cooke and his son, Thomas Cooke, from Montgomery County, Virginia, were with Captain Hugh Caperton’s company of Rangers at Ft. Lee at the mouth of Elk River, guarding the frontier settlements against attack from the Indians. (G.T.) Swain, in his history of Logan County, says that in the spring of 1777, a band of thieving Indians, with perhaps the renegade Boling Baker at their head, swooped down upon the white settlements near the falls of New River and made off with about twenty head of horses. They went down New River, then up Bluestone, crossing Flat Top Mountain and down Laurel or Clear Fork. Swain says: “The attack was made just before nightfall and before a squad of men could be mustered to follow them darkness had made pursuit impossible. As none of the settlers had been murdered or taken prisoner, it was evident that the raid was for the purpose of thieving and that the number of Indians in the neighborhood was small. Captain Charles Hull, a brave pioneer, collected about twenty men at once, and as soon as it was light started in pursuit.
On the afternoon of the third day, finding they were gaining little on the Indians, and being near the present site of Oceana, Wyoming County, they found an old trail crossing the mountain. They followed this trail, crossing onto a stream which flowed westward. Among the men with Captain Hull were John Cooke, James Hines, Those. Calfee, and two brothers, Thomas and Peter Huff. After going about twelve miles down the stream and just before nightfall of the third day, they were suddenly met by another band of Indians who fired upon them, killing Peter Huff, and they not knowing the strength of Hull’s party at once retreated back down the stream. Hull fearing an ambuscade went into camp. The next morning, after burying Peter Huff, Captain Hull’s party decided to return home. This is believed to have been the first time that white men had trod the soil of either Wyoming or Logan counties. From this incident the stream was long known as “Peter Huff Creek.”
At some time after the Revolutionary War, John Cooke moved to a farm and settled on New River near the Narrows where he lived for several years, but after Wayne’s victory over the Indians in 1794, Cooke began to long for a home in the wilderness through which he had passed with Hull’s party.
In the spring of 1799, John Cooke and his sons came to the confluence of the Laurel and Clear Fork of Guyandotte River, built a small log cabin, cleared up a tract of ground and made a crop.
In the fall of 1799, Cooke left his cabin and crop in the care of a hermit by the name of Milam, whom he found scouting and hunting in this section when he came in the spring, while he returned to New River and brought his family to his new home. This was the first permanent settlement made in what is now Wyoming County. This was then Montgomery County, Virginia, of the north side of Guyandot River. Tazewell County had been created out of Wythe territory on the south side of the river in the year 1800.
In 1806, Giles County was organized on the north side of Guyan River, Cook’s cabin was in the county of Giles. In this year, Cooke obtained a grant of land for 150 acres around his home. The title was countersigned by James Monroe, Governor of Virginia.
Of course, after John Cooke ventured into the wilderness of Wyoming County and proved that a good living could be wrested from its fertile soil and well stocked forests, other pioneers followed in his wake, and soon there were several welcome neighbors in the new country.
n n n
It is believed that Nellie Cooke, the first wife of John Cooke, died in 1812. John Cooke’s second marriage to Ann Hendrix of Monroe County, is given as of June 28, 1813. She died in Raleigh County august 29, 1853, at the age of seventy-eight years.
John Cooke filed a petition for a Revolutionary soldier’s pension November 21, 1832. He died November 21, 1833, at the age of eighty years. The pension was granted after his death, and the family drew $137.08 at the rate of $80 per year, the pension dating from March 4, 1831. He lies buried a short distance below where he built his wilderness cabin.
John Cooke, the original pioneer settler of Wyoming County, left four sons. The eldest of these Thomas Cooke, married Ellen Riggin and settled at the mouth of “John W. Branch” below the hamlet of Oceana. It was near their home, under a sycamore tree, that Rev. James Ellison organized the Guyandotte Baptist Church on June 27, 28, and 29, 1812. Thomas Cooke seems to have been substituting for his father in Hugh Caperton’s Company of Rangers at the mouth of Elk on May 27, 1793, while he was at home on a furlough.
Thomas was buried in the Oceana Cemetery on his home place. His wife, who was affectionately known as “Aunt Ellen,” was the first Baptist south of New River. Rev. John Alderson, founder of the Greenbrier Baptist Church, often preached in her home.
John Cooke Jr., second son of the first settler, married Jennie Albert and settled in the “John O. Field” on the Colonel Geo. W. Cooke place. Wyoming County was created out of the Logan County territory January 26, 1850 and was organized in his home by fourteen justices of the peace appointed by the Governor of Virginia for that purpose. The oath of office was administered to them by James P. Christian, a justice from Logan County. It was the same James P. Christian who owned the old “Grandfather’s Clock” which inspired C. Russell Christian to write the famous poem by that name that contains the lines: “My grandfather’s clock was too tall for the shelf, and it sat ninety years on the floor...”
In extreme old age, John Cooke Jr., fell into a ditch from a puncheon and was found dead the next morning. He was buried on the Isaac Cooke place, but the exact spot is not marked and is unknown.
William Cooke Sr., (1784-1853) the third son, married Katherine Stewart, daughter of Captain Ralph Stewart, and settled on the “Beaver Dam Tract,” above Matheny’s Chapel, just across the road from Frank Stewart’s present home. It was in his that the first settler passed away on November 21, 1832. He built the first water grist mill in the country, at the Charley P. Stewart place. Later William Cooke bought land at Oceana, and it was upon this land that the present town site of Oceana was laid off in the spring of 1850. He donated to the county an acre of land for a courthouse site and other public buildings. In 1851, he built a residence in the town, where he lived until his death August 9, 1853. He was buried beside the first settler at Delilah’s Chapel.
James Cooke Sr., (1786-1864) the fourth son of the first settler, married Docia Meadows, daughter of Rev. Josiah Meadows, a Revolutionary soldier. He settled on Laurel Fork where the Jesse Post Office and the Guyandotte Baptist Church are now located. He died in 1864, and lies buried in the cemetery near his old home.
Far from dying out and becoming an extinct name, as has happened to many of West Virginia’s pioneer families, the Cookes have been prolific and progressive citizens of Wyoming and Raleigh counties ever since the first settler built his cabin in the wilderness nearly one hundred and forty years ago. And every year for the past 17 years, the members of this powerful clan of the Hill Country have held an annual homecoming near Oceana.