February 25, 2024 at 8:29 a.m.

Colonel John Louis Cook

Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Colonel Joseph Louis Cook

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

Joseph Louis Cook, Akiatonharónkwen, was born to a Saint-François Abenaki mother and black father; while living in what is today Schuylerville, New York. His parents probably named him Nia-man-rigounant, which means “variegated bird. The family was taken captive in a French-Mohawk raid in 1745. A French officer planned to keep the boy as a slave, but the Mohawk intervened and saved him. The Mohawks took the boy and his mother with them when they returned to their village of Kahnawake south of Montreal. Cook was formally adopted by a Mohawk family and assimilated into the tribe; he grew up learning their culture and language. In the Mohawk language, he was named Akiatonharónkwen, translates as "he unhangs himself from the group." Over the years, Cook also learned French, and was educated by Jesuit Catholic missionaries in the village. The young man converted to the Roman Catholic religion and received the name Colonel Louis at his baptism. Later, he learned English.

He lived in the Mohawk village of Kahnawake. He fought with the Mohawk nation on the side of the French against the British in the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War. A friend and minister, Eleazer Williams, later wrote that Cook was at the battle against the Braddock expedition in 1755 (the Braddock party included the young George Washington) and served under General Montcalm at the Battle of Fort Oswego in 1756. That same year, he was wounded in a skirmish with Rogers' Rangers near Fort Ticonderoga.

Cook was given his first command in the 1758 Battle of Carillon, where he was praised by General Montcalm. He was also present at the Battle of Sainte-Foy in 1760, serving under the Chevalier de Levis. Following the war, Cook returned to Caughnawaga and married Marie-Charlotte. As he never fully accepted the British victory and found his homeland increasingly overrun by American colonists, he moved with his family to Akwesasne, a Mohawk village along the St. Lawrence River in what was then Quebec.

Although the Mohawk and three other Iroquois nations sided with the British during the American Revolution, Cook allied with the Thirteen Colonies hoping to expel the colonists from their lands, as did the Oneida and Tuscarora. As early as 1775, he offered his services to General George Washington. Cook returned in January 1776 with a group to meet with Philip Schuyler in Albany and with Washington and John Adams at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cook was with Benedict Arnold on his expedition to Quebec, when he was already known as "Colonel Louis." Washington met again with Cook in 1776.

In New York, Louis Cook was present at the Battle of Oriskany, and participated in the Saratoga Campaign. He led a large body of Oneida and Tuscarora warriors under General Robert Van Rensselaer. Following the Battle of Klock's Field, Cook went down a river in pursuit of Sir John Johnson while General Rensselaer delayed. Infuriated, Colonel Louis shook his sword at Rensselaer and accused him of being a Tory.

Cook was with the Continental Army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777. In May 1778, Louis joined the Oneida delegation to Valley Forge. General Steuben’s military secretary Peter Stephen Du Ponceau described walking in a wood near his quarters one morning, only to stumble upon a tall Indian figure in American regimentals singing a fashionable French opera. A surprised Du Ponceau stated, “He would have been a valuable acquisition to the French Opera, where I have never heard a voice of such extraordinary power, and at the same time susceptible of modulation.” In March of that year, General Philip Schuyler sent Cook to destroy British ships at Niagara in order to prevent another Canadian expedition.

The nickname of "Colonel Louis" was made fact on June 15, 1779, when Cook received a commission from the Continental Congress as a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army. This commission made Cook highest-ranking officer of both Black and American Indian descent commissioned in the Continental Army. It is the only known Continental Army commission given to a man of known African descent. Colonel Louis led a Native American delegation to greet General Rochambeau in 1780, where some officers noted he spoke French with no discernible accent. Louis was with Lieutenant-Colonel Marinus Willett at the Battle of Johnstown in 1781, one of the last North American battles of the Revolution.

During the war, Cook became a personal enemy of Captain Joseph Brant, a Mohawk who supported the British. When each returned to their homes after the war, their personal conflict divided the Mohawk nation. The Seven Nations of Canada and the Iroquois at what would be the Six Nations Reserve, who were mostly emigrants from the New York colony, were brought to the brink of war.

Cook settled in the area of Sterling, New York following the war. He became an influential adviser to the Oneida tribe because he could speak both French and English in addition to Oneida. While living at Onondaga, Cook married Marguerite Thewanihattha. They had several children. Cook convinced the Oneida to lease their lands, using the example of the Mohawk tribe at Kahnawake. The Oneida leased nearly 5 million acres to Colonel John Livingston for 999 years. Conflicting claims were made on many of the Iroquois lands, and much of the land was lost to the state of New York because the Iroquois were forced to cede land, as the majority had been allies of the defeated British.

The Oneida named Cook and Peter Otsequette to negotiate with Governor George Clinton for a return of, or compensation for, their land. Governor Clinton made some minor concessions to the Oneida in the Treaty of Fort Schuyler, but generally did not yield much to the Oneida representatives. Today, Cook has been criticized for negotiating bad land deals for the Oneida.

Despite his shortcomings in the Oneida land negotiations, between 1792 and 1796 Cook was selected by the Seven Nations of Canada on six separate occasions to represent them in land negotiations with New York state. The negotiations were related to lands sold by the people of two villages, Grand River and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ontario, who were led by Joseph Brant. The Mohawk peoples of Akwesasne and Kahnawake, then considered two of the Seven Nations, denied that those villages had the right to sell what was common Mohawk land in New York. Ultimately, New York prevailed in keeping control of the land, and the division between Cook and Brant was deepened.

By 1789, Cook had settled at Akwesasne, where he became an influential chief. The Mohawk reserve eventually established there spans the New York (US)-Quebec (Canada) border and the St. Lawrence River. He argued that the St. Regis Indians and the Seven Nations should remain neutral in the War of 1812 between the US and Great Britain. The United States forgot Cook's earlier service and detained the Mohawk at Fort Niagara; he was released after producing proof of his commission in the Continental Army, as well as letters from George Washington.

Although too elderly to participate in the War of 1812, Cook followed the United States Army into Canada during the war; he was present at the Battle of Lundy's Lane. He was involved in a skirmish and fell from his horse. The injuries proved fatal; he died in the American camp in October 1814. Cook was given a military salute at his funeral, and was buried near Buffalo, New York.


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