Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eleutheros Cooke (1787-1864)


  This interestingly named gentleman is Eleutheros Cooke, a U.S. Representative from Ohio from 1831-1833. During the early part of the 19th century Mr. Cooke gained the reputation as one of the leading residents of Sandusky, Ohio and the origins of his very odd first name are worth mention! The first volume of the 1886 book Historical Collections of Ohio gives several interesting anecdotes on how exactly Cooke's first name came about. The author of this particular work, a Mr. Henry Howe, states the following:
"Mr. Cooke had one trouble--it was lifelong--stuck to him closer than a brother. It was in his name, Eleutheros. He was born in 1787, the year of the framing of the Federal Constitution, and the name was given in commemoration: it was from a Greek term signifying to set free. It showed his parents must have been fanciful and so he got his name alike with poetical tendencies from them. But the name liked to have been his ruin, that is political ruin. He lost one election by its misspelling, more particularly by the German voters. They spelt it in various ways, taking with it most unwarrantable liberties spelling, "Luther, Lutheros, Eliutheros, Eliros."
   With that historical backstory out of the way, we'll begin with the birth of the man at the center of this article, which took place in the small town of Granville, New York on Christmas Day, 1787. One of several children born to Asaph and Thankful Cooke, Eleutheros Cooke studied at the Union College in Schenectady and after leaving school passed the New York bar. In December 1812 he married to Ms. Martha Carswell (1792-1878) of Washington County. The couple were wed for over fifty years and later had three sons, including Pitt, Jay (1821-1909) and Henry D
   Within five years of his marriage Cook had removed with his family to Indiana where they resided for a short time. Two years later he and his family resettled in the then burgeoning Erie County, Ohio town of Sandusky, where his political and business ambitions were soon realized. 
   After three terms in the Ohio State House of Representatives in 1822, 1823 and 1825 Cooke managed to obtain the first charter ever granted to a railroad in the United States (the Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad.) The Ohio Legislature awarded this charter in 1826, but construction on this railroad didn't begin until the 1830s. Because of this, Cooke is rightly regarded as a pioneer in railroad development in this area of the United States. Within a decade of arriving in Erie County, Eleutheros Cooke had become a leading member of the Sandusky bar as well as a major figure on its political stage.
   In 183o Cooke was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig, defeating Democrat William Patterson "by over 1000 majority." He served one term in the House and was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election in 1832, losing to Jacksonian Democrat William Patterson (1790-1868.)

             This portrait of Eleutheros Cooke appeared in the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine.

   Recognized by his contemporaries as a leading legal and political figure in Erie County, Eleutheros Cook was also regarded as a man who could converse on a wide variety of topics, as well as having:
"a wonderful command of language, was an orator very flowery and imaginative, and indulged largely in poetical similes. "
   After leaving Congress Cooke returned to his business interests in Sandusky and would return to state politics, serving another term in the Ohio legislature from 1840-1841. In 1857 he became a founding member of the Firelands Historical Society. Eleutheros Cooke died two days after his 77th birthday on December 27, 1864, and was interred on the grounds of his estate, "Ogontz", near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The "Ogontz" area of Philadelphia is now known as Elkins Park.
    It is also worth mentioning that Eleutheros Cooke was the father of noted American railroad financier and businessman Jay Cooke (1821-1905), one of the biggest contributors to the Union war effort during the Civil War. After these hostilities ceased, Jay Cooke became a major player in the development of the American northwest, and helped finance the design and construction of the Northern Pacific Railway, completed in 1883.

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