He was born on February 23, 1819 in Stamford, Connecticut and was orphaned at an early age. Unsuccessfully, he worked in the mercantile business. He later moved to New Orleans and was studying art when daguerrotype photography was introduced in the United States in 1839. He ran a gallery in New Orleans, then for ten years traveled throughout the South. He would establish a studio in a town, train photographers, then sell the studio to them and move on. He finally settled permanently in Charleston, South Carolina and recorded the effect of the American Civil War on the city. He captured the first combat photograph ever taken during a visit to Fort Sumter of Union ironclads firing on Fort Moultrie. He moved to Richmond, Virginia and amassed the most complete collection of photographs of that city. He died on November 27, 1902.
^"The Southern Matthew Brady". New York Times. February 11, 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-12. "Cook’s career as a photographer took off. Successively, he opened studios in New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Washington and scores of other cities and towns. For many years—before settling in Charleston in 1849, to raise a family—he lived in a series of Southern towns and cities. At each stop, he opened a studio and took on students; when it came time to leave, he would sell the business to a promising acolyte."