John Cook (c1755 – 1804) of Surry County, NC

There were several John Cooks in colonial Surry County:  the son of William Cook Sr., the son of William Cook the preacher, and the son of Robert Cook were all named John and were all roughly of the same generation.  However, a distinctly different fourth John Cook was also in the county.  He seems likely to have been a son of William Nichols Cook.  If so, he must have been the eldest.

He does not appear on Jacob Laesch’s 1768 Rowan County tax list, nor on Gideon Wright’s list (whose date is uncertain), nor on the 1771 Surry County tax list.  If he was in Surry at this time, he was evidently not yet 16.  In 1774, two John Cooks appear in Freeman’s district, in which William N. Cook is the only other Cook:  one is a taxable of William N. Cook, the other a taxable of his neighbor Olive Roberts.  There is some reason to think that he was counted twice, thus that only one John Cook was actually in that district.1   [Note also the implication that he was 16 by 1774 but not in 1771, which would lead us to assume he was born sometime in the 1755-58 period.]   The following year, 1775, William N. Cook is listed alone and a John Cook is listed as a taxable of Boman Cast, in separate districts on opposite sides of the Yadkin River.2   The next available tax list, in 1782, lists a John Cook (with livestock but no taxable land) in Martin’s district, along with William N. Cook, William Cook Sr. and his son William Cook Jr.

Unfortunately, virtually no court records exist for Surry County during the 1770s, and only a few records of the 1780s mention a John Cook, none of which appear to apply to this John Cook.  However, it was almost certainly him who is mentioned in a few specific deed records.

On 24 October 1783,  Henry Hand sold his plantation across the Yadkin river from William Cook Sr. in two equal parts, 320 acres to David Douglas and 320 acres to John Cook “yeoman, of Surry County”.3  William Cook, William N. Cook, and Benjamin Burch witnessed both deeds.  [David Douglas later sold his land to John Hurt, who appears with John Cook in several later records.]  John Cook was on each tax list, in the same district as in 1782, from 1784 through 1794 with that same 320 acres purchased from Henry Hand.  By the 1795 tax list, and through the last list in 1800, he appeared with 508 (sometimes 509) acres.  This was apparently the original 320 acres plus a 100 acre claim entered in 1795, and another 100 acres which he acquired by some unknown means.4  In early 1796 he had sold 11½ acres of the land to John Fletcher, signing with his mark.5  Thus probably explains the fluctuating total of the tax lists (520 acres less 11½ was apparently taxed as both 508 and 509 acres.)  the additional land acquired must have been 200 acres.  He also purchased another 100 acres from Humphrey Cockerham in 1801.6

John Cook is not in the 1786 state census because his district is one of those missing from the census.  Nor does not appear in the 1790 census, nor do several other Cooks known to have been in the county.  However, he is listed in the 1790 through 1795 with a single white poll.  For the next three years, 1796-8 he appears with two white polls, then again has a single poll in 1799 and 1800.   A John Cook had been exempted from poll tax on himself in 1789, but it is not clear if it was this man.7  Thus it appears he may have had a son who reached 21 by 1796.  He is enumerated in the 1800 census, he and his wife both over 45, with a household of four males under 10, two males 10-16, one male 16-26, and two females under 10.  If this is the same John Cook earlier associated with William Nichols Cook, then he must have been 45 or just over.

Although several John Cooks appear in the court records, this particular John Cook does not seem to be mentioned until 1790 when he served nearly annually on juries or grand juries until his death.  He also served on several road juries dealing with roads passing near his land.  For example, a road jury assigned on 15 August 1798, which included John Cook,  was to lay out a road leading from Hudspeth’s mill northward through Fox Knobs then crossing the Yadkin River “at or near John Cook’s and from thence to the road leading from the island ford…”  In 1800 he and Grove Cook were jurors trying suit involving William Cook Sr., yet another piece of evidence that he was unrelated to William Cook

This John Cook died in Surry County in 1804, leaving a will dated 18 February 1804 and proved on 15 May 1804 by two witnesses, Stage Cook and Isaac Cook.8  The will does not name an executor, and does not mention his wife or children’s names other than a daughter named Mary McBride. Mary Cook was the wife of Samuel McBride, marrying him by bond dated 6 December 1801 with Isaac Cook the surety.   Another daughter may have been the Keziah Cook who married Thomas Harding in 1803.  Isaac Cook, despite his witness to the will,  appears to have been the eldest son (born c1777 according to the 1850 census), since he shows up paying tax on the 320 acres formerly John Cook’s from the 1812 tax list onward.  The widow was Elizabeth Cook, who appears in several tax lists after 1812 which call her Isaac Cook’s mother.   She may have been the Elizabeth Cook who witnessed a deed with William and Keziah Cook in 1787.9  She is in the 1810 census next door to both Keziah and Isaac Cook, with six males and a female in the household in addition to herself.  By 1820 she appears with four males 18-26.  By 1830 only two males were left in her household, both aged 20-30; she herself was aged 70-80.  I have not attempted to identify these children, however there appear to have been a son named John and perhaps another named William.  The widow Elizabeth Cook is apparently the one who made a deed of gift to her son John Cook in 1823, and a deed from a William Cook in 1823 for 328 acres on the north bank of the Yadkin refers to the land as adjacent the heirs of John Cook.

This John Cook appears to be a son of William Nichols Cook, though he must have been the eldest by a large margin.  We know he wasn’t the son of William Cook Sr., because his son David Cook wrote his mother in 1816 that his brothers John and William were in good health.   We know he wasn’t the son of Robert Cook for several reasons, mainly that he was living for nearly this entire period in Stokes County. We know he wasn’t the son of Rev. William Cook, because that John Cook was alive and well in 1813 as executor of his father’s will.

  1. Olive Roberts is listed twice in this district, once by himself and once with John Cook and two other whites.  Thus it is possible that the John Cook who was a taxable of Olive Roberts and the one taxable to William N. Cook are the same person, counted twice.  We do not know whether the list that survives for 1774 was the initial list by the justice or the “final” list as edited by the county clerk.   Nor do any court records for 1774-5 survive, which might have contained an entry correcting the tithables of Olive Roberts. []
  2. Bowman Cast is thought to have been married to a sister of Olive Roberts.  He was in the Surry taxables in 1774-5, and thereafter is in Wilkes County.  His last name appears as both Cass and Cast. []
  3. Surry County Deed Book B, page 261 and p263 []
  4. I did not find a deed or land entry for this second 100 acres, but it is possible that a deed may not have been recorded until after his death.  Alternatively, I may have misread the date on the deed from Cockerham or Cook may have rented the land prior to buying it. []
  5. Surry County Deed Book F, p318. []
  6. Surry County Deed Book I, p148. []
  7. Surry County, North Carolina Court Minutes, (Two Volumes combined), Mrs. W. O. Absher, p163. []
  8. Surry County, NC Will Book 3, p62 dated 18 Feb 1804 and recorded May 1804.  []
  9. Surry County Deed Book D, pp120. []