Catherine “Kate” Stewart, eldest daughter of Capt. Ralph and Mary Clay Stewart, was born June 15, 1790, in Kentucky. She was about 10 years old when she came to present Wyoming County with her father and mother, Wyoming County’s second settlers.

On August 15, 1806, Catherine Stewart married William Cooke, third son of John and Nellie Pemberton Cooke. They may have established their first home at present Oceana, but apparently later lived near Matheny, as William Cooke owned and operated a grist mill there about 1838. They were living at Oceana in 1853 when William Cooke died.

To William and Catherine Cooke were born 13 children: Pemberton (1807); John Logan (1810); James (1812); William Newton (1814); Mitchell (1818); Thomas Muncy (1819); Floyd (1820); Richard Madison (1822); Elliot (1823); George Paris (1826); Nellie (1828); Lucinda (1830); and Juliana (1832).

Catherine “Kate” Cooke and her sister-in-law Ellen Cooke were the only women on the list of seven charter members of the Guyandotte Baptist Church, founded in 1812. Two of her grandsons, William Henry Harrison Cooke (1840-1923) and Thomas Boyd Cooke (1859-1914), sons of Thomas Muncy and Rebecca Sizemore Cooke, became notable Baptist preachers throughout southern West Virginia and helped found a number of churches.

Catherine Stewart Cooke could read and write, so she undoubtedly had a vested interest in the establishment and patronage of the first school in 1820. Some of her children were probably educated in that first school or some subsequent schools. At the time her first four children, sons Pemberton, age 13, John Logan, age 10, James, age 7, and William Newton, age 6, were probably students. For sure, the two younger children, James and William Newton, were trained to read and write. James Cooke served many years as the Wyoming County Clerk and William Newton Cooke kept a diary/journal which is now owned by a direct descendant.

William Cooke Sr. died August 10, 1853, and nine years later, in 1862, Catherine Stewart Cooke married Rev. Layne Shannon (1789-1865), the son of James and Sarah Layne Shannon, and Wyoming County’s first resident Methodist minister.

By family and friends alike, Catherine Cooke was likely admired greatly for her bravery and ferocity in the face of danger. Family tradition relates the story of her saving her half-brother after he was attacked by Indians while the family still lived in Kentucky. She was a small girl at the time. Her Clay family heritage and the stories of the Clay Massacre in Mercer County probably manifested a strong hatred for the Indians. Mary Clay Stewart (1772-184?), Catherine’s mother, most likely was a childhood witness to the Clay Massacre in present Mercer County in 1783.

Also because of her Clay family heritage, Catherine Stewart Cooke has been largely credited with instilling the political philosophy, and the inclination toward public service, which her family adopted and strongly espoused. Generally, members of her family were old line Whigs and became Lincoln Republicans during and following the Civil War, whereas the other Cooke families tended to advocate states rights, were mostly southern Democrats, and took up the Confederate cause in the Civil War. Catherine Cooke’s sons and grandsons were Union sympathizers and/or Union soldiers. Her son Richard Madison Cooke represented McDowell County in the Constitutional Convention of 1863 which created the State of West Virginia. Sons and grandsons of William and Catherine Stewart Cooke held numerous elective offices in the Wyoming County government and in state government.

Catherine Stewart Cooke Shannon died May 26, 1888, having lived nearly 100 years. She was buried at Oceana, beside William Cooke, in the churchyard of the Delilah Methodist Church.

Roles of leadership were not cast upon these early pioneer women. They could not vote and participate in the functions of government. They could not and did not hold positions – even in the church. They just quietly did what needed to be done to make their community a better place for their children and their grandchildren.

While these pioneer women were largely responsible for the establishment of some of our most valued social institutions, our churches and schools, they, like most other pioneer women, would probably have most wanted to be remembered and admired for having been good wives and good mothers.

— Note: Copies of “From Cabins To Coal Mines, 1799-1999, Volume I”  are drastically dwindling. Cost is $47.70, which includes tax, at the Wyoming County Historical Museum in Oceana, open Saturday from 12 until 4 p.m. The book has been reprinted by the Wyoming County Historical Museum Board of Directors.

To have the book mailed, add $10.95 for postage. To order, contact Betsy Ross, board treasurer, at 304-732-6995; or write her at P.O. Box 411, Pineville, WV 24874; or by e-mail at

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