Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eleutheros Cooke (1787-1864)


  This interestingly named gentleman is Eleutheros Cooke, a one-term U.S. Representative from Ohio during the Jacksonian Era. 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 behind his very odd first name are worth mentioning! 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, 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 (Parker) 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 city of Sandusky, where his political and business ambitions were soon realized. Cooke would represent Erie and Huron County in the Ohio House of Representatives for three terms, 1822-23, 1823-24 and 1825-26, and in the last-named year 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, Ohio, 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 during the 1831-33 term could count political luminaries John Quincy Adams and Edward Everett as fellow representatives, and voted with them:
"Against the tariff bill by which Clay and the comprimisers composed their differences with the nullifiers of South Carolina."
 Cooke's term in Congress also saw him challenged to a duel by an overzealous South Carolinian, who had been enraged by Cooke's vocal defense of William Stanberry, a fellow Ohio representative who had been hit with a cane by the Congressman Sam Houston of Texas. Cooke later brought up the threating letter sent to him in front of Congress, where it appears to have been a "nine-day wonder", as no duel between the two men ever took place. Cooke was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election in 1832, losing by a narrow margin to the man he had defeated two years previously, 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 acknowledged 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 House of Representatives 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 originally interred on the grounds of his estate, "Ogontz", in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. However, several years following his son Jay Cooke's death in 1909 the family mausoleum was removed to Saint Paul's Episcopal Churchyard in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. 
    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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