William Cooke: From Devon to Gaspe

William Cooke: From Devon to Gaspe

William Cooke 1791-1867
William Cooke 1791-1867

In 1817 William Cooke left High Bickington, Devon, England to assume management of a fishing station located at Paradise on Placentia Bay on the south coast of Newfoundland. The fishing station had previously been owned by William's great-uncle George Cooke and had been inherited by William's father in 1790. William was the youngest son of George Cooke of Langley Barton, High Bickington and was the grandson of Michael Cooke of East Dodscott, St Giles in the Wood.

The first record of the Cooke family in St Giles in the Wood is the baptism of George, son of Michael and Margaret Cooke in 1742. A daughter, Mary, was baptised in 1744 and a son, Michael, in 1748. Michael and Margaret had at least two other children: Michael who was buried at St Giles in the Wood in 1747 at the age of seven, and Rebecca., who married in 1761. As Michael and Rebecca's baptisms are not recorded at St Giles in the Wood, it can be assumed that Michael and Margaret Cooke came to St Giles about 1741.

Michael Cooke, the son of Michael Cooke and Mary Carter, was baptised in Otterton, in the south of Devon, in 1707. Michael's brother George was buried at Otterton in 1790, and although his baptism is not recorded there, George's will clearly supports the Otterton connection. In his will dated 27 July 1788 he writes, "In the Name of God Amen I George Cooke formerly of Otterton, but now of Saint Giles in the County of Devon Mariner..." George owned property in the Parishes of Langtree and Topshaw as well as at Paradise in Newfoundland. George requested that "I desire to be buried in Otterton Church Yard as near to my late wife as ___ may be." George also had a watch which he bequeathed to his grandnephew, also named George.

Michael Cooke most likely moved to St Giles in the Wood at the request of Henry Rolle, later Baron Rolle of Stevenstone, and took up occupancy of East Dodscott as a yeoman farmer. His daughter Rebecca married William Snell of South Dodscott in 1761 and they had numerous children. Michael's daughter Mary married Thomas Loveband of Yarnscombe in 1767 but they did not have any children.

Dodscott is listed as Dodecota in the Domesday Book. It was acquired by George Rolle of Stevenstone in the 16th century and was formerly the home of Thomas Chafe whose effigy can be found inside the church at St Giles in the Wood. The East Dodscott farmhouse is a listed building described as a 16th century farmhouse with major 17th century improvements.

Three GravestonesMichael Cooke was buried at St Giles in the Wood in 1777. His slate headstone is a listed monument. Nearby are a group of three headstones that are also listed. The first records the deaths of Michael and Margaret's sons, Michael in 1747 at the age of seven and his brother Michael in 1771 at the age of 23. Beside this is a gravestone with no name or date but bearing a poetic epitaph in praise of "a tender mother, a virtuous wife." This gravestone covers the front of a third gravestone which records the death of Rebecca Snell, however, the date is obscured. The St Giles in the Wood parish register records a 1779 burial for Rebecca, wife of William Snell.

After Michael Cooke's death, occupancy of East Dodscott transferred to his son George. George married Elizabeth "Betty" Walkey, daughter of John Walkey, in December 1777 at Great Torrington. In 1783, George purchased Langley Barton in High Bickington for £1935 but did not take up residency until 1788. George and Betsy both died in 1821 and were buried inside the church of St Giles in the Wood. Unfortunately, their ledger stone is now badly worn and very little of the inscription can be read.

Langley Barton is a Grade II listed manor house believed to date from the early 17th century. The house was previously the home of the Pollard family and it is believed the Pollards lived there from 1303 to 1732. The Pollard coat of arms are carved about the entrance and a fireplace stone (now concealed) bears the initials RP and the date 1624 (most likely Richard Pollard). The house has a five bay south-facing front and retains numerous 17th century features including a staircase, panelled door and fireplace.

George and Betty had twelve children. One daughter, Maria, died before her first birthday in 1793. A second daughter, Sarah, died in 1798 at three years of age. Elizabeth died in 1804, two months before her 17th birthday. Two other daughters, Mary and Rebecca, never married and lived in Barnstaple.

The eldest son, Michael, married Mary Wood of Westleigh in 1809. For the next twelve years Michael Cooke occupied East Dodscott in St Giles in the Wood. Michael inherited Langley Barton in 1821 and lived there until his death in 1866. Michael's son George then inherited Langley Barton, however, sold the property in 1878. Two of Michael Cooke's children emigrated to the United States, Dr. William Henry Cooke who settled near Peoria, Illinois and Charlotte Caroline Cooke who married William Newell Vicary of Great Torrington and settled in Stafford, Genesee, New York. Another son, Michael Cooke, was a surgeon in Barnstaple.

Prayer BookGeorge and Betty's daughter Ann married Anthony Loveband, son of Anthony Loveband of Yarnscombe. It is interesting to note that Ann's aunt, Mary Cooke, had married Anthony's uncle, Thomas Loveband. George Cooke and Anthony Loveband were partners in a private bank established in Great Torrington in 1802. In 1821 the partnership was dissolved but the bank continued as Loveband & Co until its 1843 amalgamation with the National Provincial Bank of England. A collection of family and estate papers was recently deposited at the North Devon Record Office in Barnstaple. Included in the collection is Ann Cooke's Book of Common Prayer and an account book that records the birth of Ann's two children and her death in 1827. Ann and Anthony were buried at St Andrew's in Yarnscombe.

George Cooke's son George, who presumably inherited his great-uncle's watch, married Mary Best of Bishops Tawton and became a coal merchant in Bideford. His brother John married Mary Lake of Witheridge, Devon and was a tanner in Fareham, Hampshire. Their sister, Charlotte, married James Wood of Westleigh, brother of Mary Wood. Charlotte, her daughter Mary Rebecca Wood and her husband James are buried at St Peter's in Westleigh.

Samuel Cooke married Elizabeth Edwards, daughter of William Edwards and Elizabeth Chichester. Elizabeth Chichester was the daughter of the Revd William Chichester and the granddaughter of Sir John Chichester, 4th Baronet of Youlston. Samuel was involved in a number of activities including timber merchant, wine and spirit merchant, and gentleman farmer. There are also indications that Samuel acted as the English agent for his brother William. Samuel occupied East Dodscott in St Giles in the Wood after his brother Michael inherited Langley Barton. All four of his children were baptised at St Giles in the Wood. Samuel, his son Wakeman Edwards and his mother-in-law were buried inside the church of St Giles in the Wood. There is also a window and brass plaque in memory of Samuel Cooke and his wife Elizabeth Edwards.

William Cooke married Lucinda Power of Liverpool, Nova Scotia. At least eight children were born in Newfoundland, although only the birth date of his oldest son has been established. It is known that in 1821 William inherited his father's share in the ship Friends, a brig of 69 tons built at Cleavehouses, Barnstaple in 1812.

An account of William Cooke, written in 1835, appears in the journal of the Revd Edward Wix, a Church of England missionary:

Saturday, March 14. - In the morning started in the sleet and rain, and in a very wet condition from my last night's lair, to find the south east bight, and was more successful in my search, than the preceding evening. I was most humanely entertained by a Roman Catholic planter, Handlin and his wife, at whose house I dried and warmed myself, and after breakfast, was put over the bight in a punt, whilst it was blowing very heavily, and afterwards proceeded on foot to the winter-house of Mr. William Cooke, (of Bideford, England) at Red Cove. As Mrs. Cooke, much to my regret, had, on the first intimation of my arrival, walked nearly three miles to their summer residence at Adam's Island, in Paradise Harbour, to receive me there, I accompanied her husband to this place, where he has been settled eighteen years, and has a fine establishment. Finding that Mrs. C., who is the mother of a very interesting family, (if not a native,) was formerly a resident of Liverpool, in Nova Scotia, to the inhabitants of which place I am warmly attached, it was delightful to me to have an opportunity of speaking of scenes and persons which will ever be dear to my memory.

Another account is the diary of William Harding. Harding was employed by William Cooke as a fisher and blacksmith from April 1818 to October 1820 and married Cooke's housekeeper in July 1820, "according to the Rights of the Church of England by Wm. Cooke Esq. and merchant of the Harbour."

William Cooke left Newfoundland about 1840 and settled on a farm at New Carlisle on the south coast of the Gaspe Peninsula. The farm remained in the family until the death of his great-grandson, Alfred Harris Cooke in 1977. New Carlisle records often refer to William Cooke as a schoolmaster, suggesting he left the operation of the farm to his oldest son, William.

The first record of William Cooke in New Carlisle is the marriage of his daughter, Julia Ann, to Jessie Caldwell in 1841. His oldest daughter, Anna Eliza, married Matthew Caldwell in 1842, and his daughter Mary married Amasa Beebe in 1844. The record of this marriage in the St Andrew's parish register is interesting as it indicates that William and Lucinda were elsewhere at the time of Mary's wedding.

On this twenty first day of March in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred & forty four Amasa Beebe of New Carlisle Farmer, Son of Joshua Beebe of said place Farmer & the deceased Margaret McKinnon his former wife & Mary Cooke Daughter of William Cooke formerly of New Carlisle Schoolmaster & of Lucinda Power his wife, were married after due publication of banns in presence of James Craig & Hugh Caldwell & others, the said parties having been illegally married on the twenty first day of July, one thousand eight hundred & forty one by a Justice of the Peace.

One possibility is that William had returned to England for an extended visit. It is known that William was in Devon in 1836 where an assignment of lease refers to him as "William Cooke of Newfoundland, North America, but now of Bideford, merchant."

New CarlisleNew Carlisle was settled in 1784 by Loyalist claimants and discharged soldiers of the British Army. Five of William Cooke's children married descendants of the original settlers. Amasa Beebe was the son of Joshua Beebe and the grandson of Joshua Beebe and Mary Secord. Before the American Revolution, Joshua Beebe and Mary Secord had been living in Pennsylvania on the Upper Branch of the East Susquehanna River. Joshua Beebe was a Loyalist, and in 1777 he and his oldest son, Adin Beebe, enlisted in Butler's Rangers.

In the summer of 1778, just prior to the Battle of Wyoming, Mary Secord and her children were evacuated first to Tioga Point near Athens, Pennsylvania, where Amasa Beebe's father was born in August, and then to Fort Niagara. Mary Secord's husband died of smallpox in October 1778, after being captured by the Americans. Mary Secord and her children were eventually sent to the refugee camp at Machiche near Trois-Rivières, Quebec. Mary Secord married Christopher Pearson at Machiche and they were among the first settlers at New Carlisle in 1784. Mary Secord lived to well over one hundred. Her brother, James Secord, a Loyalist who was granted land west of the Niagara River, was the father-in-law of the Canadian heroine Laura Secord.

William Cooke's daughter, Louisa, married Hugh Chisholm in 1846. The youngest daughter, Charlotte Rosa married James Milne in 1854. Two sons, Alfred Wood Cooke and George Cooke did not marry.

William Cooke's oldest son, William, married Judith Chatterton, the granddaughter of Samuel Chatterton and Charlotte Beebe. Samuel Chatterton was a member of the 31st Regiment of Foot and received a land grant in New Carlisle upon his discharge from the British Army after the American Revolution. Charlotte Beebe was the older sister of Joshua Beebe. Her baptism at the age of 14 was recorded at Trois-Rivières but her place of birth is uncertain.

William Cooke died in 1867 and was buried at St Andrew's in New Carlisle.