Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Man in the Statue

William Henry Harrison Cook was a great man of many talents who came to be one of the most prominent and notable citizens of Pineville, Wyoming County, West Virginia.
My Great Grand Uncle was born in 1840 in Logan, Virginia (West Virginia was not formed until 1861 when Virginia seceded from the Union). His parents were Thomas Munsey Cooke and Rebecca Jane Sizemore – granddaughter of George Sizemore.
When the Civil War was tearing his homeland apart, he signed up for service in the 7th Regiment West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry in 1863. He must have been a good soldier because he enlisted as a Private and when the unit mustered in 1865 at the end of the conflict, he held the rank of Sergeant. He obviously survived the war after serving during several important battles and skirmishes unlike his unfortunate brother.
Edward H. Cook, his brother, along with James J. Cook and Adam W. Cooper, his cousins, were captured near Wytheville, Va. These men, along with many others, were sent to the Confederate Prison at Andersonville in Georgia which was a horrible fate, indeed. They all died while at Andersonville of dysentery and starvation.
Immediately after the war, William went home and started the first free school in Wyoming County teaching the first classes in his father’s kitchen which, at the time, was just above the Rock Castle Baptist Church. He joined the church and was baptized 4 years later and became a preacher. He gave his first sermon on Christmas Day the following year in the home of a distinguished minister only a few miles from the Rock Castle church.
He apparently became a very talented minister and much in demand actually serving several churches at the same time. And we think our lives are busy. Can you imagine preaching at different churches on the same day - traveling on horseback? Well, he did this for almost 45 years, being ordained in 1873.
As if it wasn’t enough preaching and serving different churches, he played a big part in building several new churches in the state and is said to have baptized hundreds of converts to the faith. And in all his spare time, he ran for and won seats in the House of Delegates and in the State Senate of West Virginia Legislature serving for 12 years.
He served the Raleigh Association as moderator for 14 years and also the Rock Castle Association as moderator for 10 years. Preachers must be good at that kind of thing.
Today, there is a roadside marker with his name honoring his service to the country, state, faith and people that he loved. If you visit the County Courthouse in Pineville, you will see a statue there of  Rev.William Henry Harrison Cook in his role as statesman and preacher, one of the first and most influential members of that community.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A wake-up call

Researching ones family tree is a laborious task that takes hours upon hours of pouring over endless texts and pictures, charts and government paperwork. The best way to start, they say, is to talk to people who are here now – your aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents.
I have been trying lately to pick my mother’s brain but, as her memories fade, that is becoming more of an act of futility. Although, I did come up with a few gems...stay tuned for those. Unfortunately, my father has passed recently and with him a wealth of information about our family. He did (finally) happen to admit to me a few years ago that we were Irish!
 Imagine my surprise at hearing this for the first time at the not-so-tender age of 53. I am told this is a very common occurrence. Many surprising stories are revealed at late age or even from the death bed.
As I was relaying a story from my childhood to my wife the other night, she said, ”David, you should be writing this stuff down. As a matter of fact, you should have your brothers write their memories down as well because I’m sure they remember them differently (and probably better, although she didn’t say that) than you do.”
She was right. Did you hear that, Jackie? You were right.
Putting this giant puzzle together would be so much easier if people had thought to write their memories down before they were lost to history. Don’t get me wrong, many people did. This is why we have the information that we do have.
 So, I have determined to do just that and to remind you, dear reader, (are you listening, my brothers?) to do the same. Gather those old dusty photo albums and start writing names and dates on them. Start gathering facts and dates now and gather as much information as you can - now.
My grandparents are all gone; our parents are not going to be around forever so start now before it’s too late. Because somewhere, sometime in our future someone like me is going to be struggling to find his family’s history and that picture or that story may be the one clue that this poor schmuck (read researcher) may need to make the connection.
Most of us and most of our families are not famous so there probably won’t be newspaper headlines or magazine articles to tell our story. It is up to us, the living, to pass on the stories to our children and grandchildren while we are still here. We all remember stories that have been passed down through the family for years. It’s time to write them down so that they are not lost. Believe me, sooner or later, you will be glad you did.
That reminds me of the one about that huge snake, oh, and there’s that one about…
*fade to black*

Friday, June 17, 2011

How a little girl became a local hero - or - "Katie git yer Gun"

John and Nellie Cooke became the first settlers in what is now Wyoming County, West Virginia. The second family that moved into the area was Captain Ralph Stewart’s. This line goes back to King James I of Scotland (Ireland and England). Yes, the bible translator, that King James.
So, Captain Stewart moved his family into the area and they build a log cabin a few miles away from the Cooke family. Their families interbred for so many years that it is said to be virtually impossible to be related to one family without being related to the other.  From one of these unions came a great granddaughter who would become a local hero and a bit of a legend in her own time.
Catherine Stewart was born about 1789 in Giles County, Va. which is now part of Kentucky. She was the grand-daughter of William Cooke and Catherine Stewart.
Her father, Thomas Munsey Cooke married Rebecca Jane Sizemore who is our connection to the Sizemore‘s and the Cherokee blood line in our family. But that’s story for another day.
It seems that one day Katie, as she was called then, was in the field cutting flax with her two older half-brothers. As was their custom, they had with them a loaded rifle which was always kept close at hand.
It is said that even though she was very young, she could shoot a gun as good, or better, than her siblings which turned out to be a very good thing. Because, as the children worked, two Indians had crept up on them.
One Indian fired a shot which hit the older boy in the hip knocking him to the ground. The Indian rushed the boy to finish him with his knife. The second Indian rushed in to aid his companion. Katie grabbed the gun and shot him dead.
As the boy fought off his attacker, Katie grabbed the rifle by the barrel and clubbed the Indian over the head and killed him. Thus she saved her brother’s life and herself from a terrible fate and became a local hero.
The Southern part of West Virginia was a much contested bit of land during the Civil War years and it is not uncommon to read of families in this area being torn apart and brothers fighting against brothers. During that time, Andy Gunnoe’s raiders and others were active in the area.
These raiders would go through the houses and farms and take whatever supplies they could find. When they came to the house where Catherine was staying they would find her sitting on her rocking chair on the front porch. They never found the family’s supply of coffee, though, because it was safely hidden beneath the long skirts of our local hero. Ya gotta love this woman.
You can read more about this story as well as the story of the kidnapped couple in the previous posting at this website.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Adventure Begins

Our young friends, John Cooke, in his 17th year and Nellie Pemberton, only 13 years of age were on the adventure of a lifetime.
Of course, at the time it didn't seem so cool. Apparently, the British government allowed, if not promoted, this uncouth practice.
Ship captains made extra money by selling the slaves into indentured service. They were bought by landowners, farmers and plantation owners by "paying for their passage" and their room and board on the journey.  The British government thereby supplied "much needed" white slaves to the young colonies.
  Then the "servants" worked a pre-determined length of time in their masters employ after which they were free men and actually given a traditional gift. (It was tradition to give the ex-servants a cow or an ox, a barrel of corn, and  50 acres of land - each.)
As it must have seemed a horrible fate at the beginning, but it soon became apparent what a great opportunity they had been given. They were bought by local citizens who apparently treated them well, They stayed friends (after she must have forgiven him for the worst first date in history!) and after John finished his service he helped Nellie finish her contract. They were married and with at least 2 cows, a bunch of corn, and 100 acres of land they settled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. It's beautiful now. Can you imagine what it was like when it was pristine? Yeah, they did alright.
After a few years service the Indian wars and the Revolutionary War (more about this later) they moved to what is now West Virginia and became the first settlers of Wyoming County. Together with their 4 sons they built a log cabin that survived until 1922.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Farewell Dinner

It was a beautiful Spring day. The air was light and cool with hints of Winter lingering on the wind. The sounds and smells of the busy city were all around them. The bustling streets were busy with merchants and businessmen. The chimney sweeps and livery workers were busy at their jobs as the young couple made their way towards the docks of London.
He was a young gentleman and his friend, a beautiful young woman who was recently widowed. Surprising to us but not uncommon in their day that a lady of only 13 years would have already been married and widowed by this tender age.
 I imagine their conversation was light and happy as they walked to the dock that day since the evening held such promise. Such a gay event. How exciting. They had been asked to have dinner aboard ship that was set to sail very next morning for the new colony in Virginia. Their friends, who were bound for the New World and a life of adventure and excitement, had asked them to have dinner aboard ship to celebrate the last supper in their homeland.
The noon bell had sounded from the hill in Greenwich to signal the ships several hours ago and the sun was setting. The seagulls flew around and above them and the ship pitched and rolled at the dock as the ropes creaked at the moorings.
The young couple was happily greeted by friends and crew as they climbed aboard ship. The party was given the tour of the packed and readied vessel. All the supplies and cargo had been securely stowed as everything was in its place and ready for the long voyage.
As the tour ended in the Captains quarters the group made their way to the table and sat down to sumptuous meal and, probably, a little more wine than they should have had. The conversation was happy and full of hope, the wine was sweet and the hours seemed to pass unnoticed.
They had heard the bells in the sound and the seagulls and the lapping of the waves against the ship’s hull. The dinner was at an end and the conversation was winding down. It was time to say their farewells and make their way to their respective homes.
Rising and walking to the door they may have stumbled a little with the wine and the movement of the ship but something was not right. As they opened the door something was definitely not right.
Where was the dock? Where was the city? Where were all their family and friends?
In one quick, painful realization only one word came to mind – “shanghaied”.


So many great stories of kings and princes, knights and ladies, emigrants, torys and Indian chiefs…one does not know where to begin.
The beginning – at this end is me and my immediate family or shall we start at the other end. 
The end closest to me has already been passed by my brothers’ children and their children. The end farthest from me is only as far as I have been able to uncover but it still continues back in the dusty pages of history lying in an Abby or church in England, Scotland, Ireland or possibly even France or Germany. 
The Celts that were part of the beginnings of Europe may even have come from the “lost tribes of Israel”, according to some historians. Hence, my quandary.
Obviously, we are Americans and our story is grouped into two distinct land masses separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Between the two are the immigrants that became the pioneers who were the builders of this great nation and our family played historic roles in that great undertaking. These are the people who reach out to me the most.
The kings and queens who were part of the ruling class of Europe and the knights and ladies who served them and had their places in the courts of that continent have their stories. It is no surprise that their lives were fraught with dangers and disease, not to mention the whims of the royalty, who could, at the drop of a hat, have them executed for little of no reason with little or no evidence at all.
But, it’s the people who left that life with its civilized rules and etiquette to venture into the great unknown. They came to a land that was uncivilized - as far as their European sensibilities knew. It was a land where they knew no one - had only what they could bring with them or could make from whatever the land would provide. Yes, these are the people who are the heroes.
These are the people who are the bridge between continents, between civilizations, who came from Kings to become coalminers who would give their grandchildren the chance to become productive members of a modern society in the 21st century.