John Hartwell Cocke

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John Hartwell Cocke
John Hartwell Cocke by Edward Troye, 1859.jpg
John Hartwell Cocke of Bremo (1859, Edward Troye)
Born (1780-09-19)September 19, 1780
Surry County, Virginia, USA
Died June 24, 1866(1866-06-24) (aged 85)
Bremo Bluff, Virginia, USA
Allegiance  United States of America
Years of service 1812–1813
Rank Brigadier general
Commands held Virginia militia
Battles/wars War of 1812
Other work Builder of Bremo Plantation
Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia

John Hartwell Cocke II (or Jr.) (September 19, 1780 – June 24, 1866) was an American military officer, planter and businessman. During the War of 1812, Cocke was a brigadier general of the Virginia militia.[1]

After his military service, he invested in the James River and Kanawha Company and helped Thomas Jefferson establish the University of Virginia.[2] The family estate that Cocke built at Bremo Plantation is now a National Historic Landmark.[1]


Early life and education[edit]

John Hartwell Cocke II was born on September 19, 1780, at the Mount Pleasant plantation in Surry County, Virginia.[3] With the exception of his younger brother Robert Kennon Cocke, who died in 1790, John was the only son of eight children born to John Hartwell Cocke I and Elizabeth Kennon Cocke.[4] The elder Cocke had married Elizabeth Kennon, who grew up on her parents' plantation named Mount Pleasant, in Chesterfield County, Virginia. He became a colonel in the American Revolution.[5] The younger Cocke was orphaned by the age of twelve; he inherited his father's plantation and slaves, which he took over after coming of age.

At the age of fourteen, Cocke enrolled at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he stayed at the home of Colonel Champion Travis.[3] Cocke graduated as part of the class of 1798.[6] Upon his twenty-first birthday in 1801, he legally inherited the Mount Pleasant plantation.[7]

Marriage and family[edit]

Cocke married Anne Blaus (or Blaws) Barraud in Norfolk, Virginia, on December 25, 1802. Her father, Philip Barraud, was a physician who practiced medicine in Williamsburg, where Cocke had studied. Anne stayed in Norfolk until March 1803, while Cocke renovated the plantation home in Surry County.[3] The Cockes had a son, John Hartwell, in 1804 and a daughter, Louisiana Barraud, in 1806 at Mount Pleasant.

In 1809, Cocke sold the plantation to his sister Sally and her husband Nicholas Faulcon. He moved with his family to Bremo Plantation, which he had built on the northern bank of the James River in Fluvanna County in the Piedmont. HIs wife gave birth at Bremo to another son, Philip St. George, in 1809 and another daughter, Ann Blaus, in 1811.[7]

War of 1812[edit]

Map of the Chickahominy River (highlighted)

During the War of 1812, Cocke was commissioned as a brigadier general in command of the Virginia militia based out of Camp Carter and Camp Holly.[6] His brigade was composed of companies of troops from Fluvanna County.[8] From 1812 to 1813, Cocke led the defense of Richmond, Virginia along the Chickahominy River against British forces.[9]

Cocke was noted for being a distinguished officer;[10] the strict discipline he enforced upon insubordinate soldiers was compared to that of Baron von Steuben.[8] Cocke rode a bay stallion named Roebuck during the war.[11]

Post-war life[edit]

After the war, Cocke returned to his estate at Bremo, where his wife had another son, Cary Charles, born in 1814.[7] Cocke's wife Anne died in December 1816, a few months after the birth of their youngest daughter, Sally Faulcon. Anne was buried at Bremo Recess.[12]

In 1819, Cocke completed construction of a large plantation mansion at Upper Bremo with the master builder John Neilson, who had worked with Thomas Jefferson on Monticello.[13] That year, Cocke was appointed by Virginia governor James Patton Preston to the first Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia. By the time Cocke retired from the board in 1852, annual enrollment at the university had reached 400 students.[2]

In 1835, Cocke joined the board of directors of the James River and Kanawha Company, which was established to develop canals to improve water transportation along 200 miles (320 km) of the James River.[2] The river traffic became an important part of the local economy in the following decades, but a series of floods and the American Civil War brought an end to this era.[14]

Cocke believed, as did other Christian denominational church members of the time, that social reform guided by Christian principles would secure social order "by promoting the middle-class virtues of self-reliance, thrift, industry, and sobriety" to "remake America into one homogeneous Protestant nation." Though a slave owner, Cocke saw the presence of black slaves as an impediment for achieving the goal of homogeneity; he "could not imagine two races living harmoniously together." Cocke joined other Southern liberals proposing a solution by colonizing American blacks back to Africa, providing an avenue for gradual emancipation.[15] By 1848, Cocke started another plantation in Alabama, where he taught self-government to slaves for eventual emancipation. He spent some of his own money to send freed slaves to colonize Liberia.[16] In 1855, Cocke traded his mansion for the smaller home of his son Cary Charles on the plantation, where he retired for the remainder of his years.[17]


John Hartwell Cocke's son Philip St. George Cocke was commissioned as a colonel in the Confederate States Army, commanding troops at the Battle of Blackburn's Ford and the First Battle of Bull Run. Promoted to brigadier general in 1861, he committed suicide that year before Christmas. He was described as "excitable" and "eccentric," but no one really understood what made him take such action.[18]

In 1881, John's last surviving son, Dr. Cary Charles Cocke, along with William Cocke and Charles E. Cosby, purchased land nearby in Bremo Bluff to relocate a chapel which John Hartwell Cocke had built for his slaves on the plantation.[19] Consecrated as part of an Episcopal Church, the Bremo Slave Chapel was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register in December 1979 and the National Register of Historic Places in March 1980.[20] Cocke's plantation was declared a National Historic Landmark as Bremo Historic District in November 1971.[21] He also designed Glen Burnie near Palmyra, Virginia and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.[22]

Collaboration with Thomas Jefferson[edit]

Cocke in the 1850s

Cocke was a longtime associate of former president Thomas Jefferson, and he sometimes traded for items grown at Jefferson's Monticello estate.[23] Cocke collaborated with James Madison, James Monroe, and Joseph Carrington Cabell to fulfill Jefferson's dream to establish the University of Virginia. Cocke and Jefferson were appointed to the building committee to supervise the construction of the new university. Cocke's conservative practicality occasionally clashed with Jefferson's creative aesthetics, such as his opposition to Jefferson's flat roof design, which he thought would compromise the durability of buildings for students.[24]

Jefferson's trust in the younger man was shown by his arranging for Cocke to take over executorship of the will of Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish nobleman whom Jefferson had befriended during the American Revolutionary War. On a visit to the United States in 1798, Kościuszko entrusted his pension from the Army and other monies to his friend Jefferson, together with his will; he intended to have his American estate used to purchase the freedom of slaves, including Jefferson's own. After Kościuszko's death in 1817, Jefferson took no action for several years. He pleaded old age and had the trust transferred to Cocke, although he could have freed all his slaves at no cost to himself. After his death, 130 slaves were sold at auction from Monticello splitting apart many stable families. As Cocke also failed to free any slaves, finally in 1852, the case ended up at the US Supreme Court, which ruled that the estate should be transferred to heirs in Poland.[25]

Since the late twentieth century, Cocke's diaries have attracted the attention of historians because of his writing about Jefferson's slave mistress.[26] The long debate known as the Jefferson-Hemings controversy has related to whether the president had an intimate connection with his slave Sally Hemings and her children. Most historians now believe that Jefferson had a long relationship with Hemings and four surviving children by her. He freed all of them, two informally and two in his will.[27] Cocke wrote of his knowledge that Jefferson had fathered children with his slave mistress.[28] In keeping with the social demands for discretion among planters on such interracial liaisons, Cocke did not reveal his knowledge until years after Jefferson had died.[29] He wrote about the slave concubines:

It is too well known they are not few, nor far between...Were they enumerated with the statistics of the State, they would be found by hundreds. Nor is it to be wondered at, when Mr. Jefferson's notorious example is to be considered." A few years later, he returned to the topic: "All Batchelors [sic], or a large majority at least, keep as a substitute for a wife some individual of the[ir] own Slaves. In Virginia this damnable practice prevails as much as any where, and probably more, as Mr. Jefferson's example can be pleaded for its defense.

—John Hartwell Cocke, April 23, 1859[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cocke, John Hartwell (1780-1866)". Special Collections Research Center. The College of William & Mary. November 5, 2009. Retrieved December 10, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "John Hartwell Cocke (1780-1866) : Joseph Carrington Cabell's Chief Collaborator". The Cabell Family Papers. University of Virginia Library. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c McCartney, Martha W. "John Hartwell Cocke II’s Early Life". The Historical Background of the Mount Pleasant-Swann's Point Tract, Surry County, Virginia (Mount Pleasant Restoration): 16. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  4. ^ Bruce, Philip Alexander, ed. (1897). "The Cocke Family". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Historical Society) 5: 78. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  5. ^ McCartney, Martha W. "John Hartwell Cocke I". The Historical Background of the Mount Pleasant-Swann's Point Tract, Surry County, Virginia. Mount Pleasant Restoration. p. 10. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Tyler, Lyon Gardiner, ed. (1915). "Prominent Persons". Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (New York City: Lewis Historical Publishing Company) 2: 197. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c "Mount Pleasant Timeline". The Mount Pleasant Foundation. Retrieved December 8, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Bercaw, W. W. (September 1965). "The War of 1812". The Bulletin of the Fluvanna County Historical Society (Fluvanna County Historical Society) 1: 28. Retrieved December 14, 2010. 
  9. ^ Barringer, Paul Brandon et al., eds. (1904). "Founders, Visitors, and Benefactors". University of Virginia: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics (New York City: Lewis Historical Publishing Company) 1: 328–329. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  10. ^ Johnson, Rossiter; Brown, John Howard, ed. (1904). "The Cocke Family". The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans (Boston: The Biographical Society) 2: 315. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  11. ^ Jefferson, Thomas (1999). Betts, Edwin Morris, ed. "Bremo". Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book (University of North Carolina Press): 105. ISBN 1-882886-10-0. Retrieved December 14, 2010. 
  12. ^ Sancken, Kristin (October 27, 2010). "Ghostly Legends of Fluvanna County". Fluvanna Review. Retrieved December 14, 2010. 
  13. ^ Johnston, Clara Cocke (1931). "Bremo". Homes and Gardens in Old Virginia: 127–132. Archived from the original on 2006. Retrieved December 7, 2010. 
  14. ^ Browning, Sally (February 26, 2004). "Bremo Bluff: From Beginning to End". Fluvanna Review. Archived from the original on May 11, 2006. Retrieved December 4, 2010. 
  15. ^ Miller, Randall M., ed (1978). Dear Master-Letters of a Slave Family. Cornell University Press: pp 25-27. ISBN 0-8014-1134-3.
  16. ^ Rose, Willie Lee Nichols (1999). "General Cocke Enforces Matrimony". A Documentary History of Slavery in North America (University of Georgia Press): 446. ISBN 978-0-8203-2065-6. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Cabell Family Homes". The Cabell Family Papers. University of Virginia Library. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  18. ^ Detzer, David (2005). Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 17. Retrieved December 14, 2010. 
  19. ^ Hill, Tucker Hill (December 18, 1979). "National register of Historic Places inventory – nomination form: Bremo Slave Chapel" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved December 10, 2010. 
  20. ^ Loth, Calder (1999). "Fluvanna County". The Virginia Landmarks Register (Charlottesville, Virginia; London: University of Virginia Press): 172. Retrieved December 3, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Bremo Historic District". National Historic Landmarks Program. National Park Service. November 11, 1971. Retrieved April 12, 2008. 
  22. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  23. ^ Jefferson, Thomas (2002). Betts, Edwin Morris, ed. "Extracts from the diary of General John Hartwell Cocke". Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book (University of North Carolina Press): 637. ISBN 978-1-882886-11-1. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  24. ^ "All the Hoos in Hooville: In The Beginning". University of Virginia Library. 1999. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  25. ^ Gary B. Nash and Graham Russell Gao Hodges (2008). "Why We Should All Regret Jefferson's Broken Promise to Kościuszko". Friends of Liberty. History News Network. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  26. ^ a b Kukla, Jon (2008). Mr. Jefferson's Women. Random House. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-8139-1833-4. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  27. ^ Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, 27 January - 14 October 2012, Smithsonian Institution, Quote: "While there were other adult males with the Jefferson Y chromosome living in Virginia at that time, most historians now believe that the documentary and genetic evidence, considered together, strongly support the conclusion that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings’s children." Accessed 15 March 2012
  28. ^ Berger, Bergert (2009). Hyland, William G, ed. "Rebuttal of the John Hartwell Cocke letters". In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal (Macmillan): 211. ISBN 978-0-312-56100-0. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  29. ^ Gordon-Reed, Annette (1998). Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. University of Virginia Press. p. 215. ISBN 978-0-8139-1833-4. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to John Hartwell Cocke at Wikimedia Commons