His ancestry is unknown and there are no records of the time found regarding his birth. Per author Charles Edward Banks, a clue to his identity may exist in the following: a Francis, son of Thomas Cooke, was baptized 6 April 1572, at Biddenden, Kent. There was a considerable foreign French and Walloon colony in Canterbury (Kent). Banks also states that he may have been born in England of foreign parents and returned to Holland in 1603, six years before the arrival of the Robinson Pilgrims.
Banks and author Eugene Aubrey Stratton had differing views of the time of his birth. Per Stratton, he was probably born no earlier than 1583, and may have been under age sixty when his name appeared on the 1643 Able to Bear Arms List for Plymouth.
Life in Leiden
He is first noted in historical records on April 25, 1603 in Leiden, Holland as a witness at Raphael Roelandt's betrothal. For purposes unknown, Cooke resided in Leiden for about six years before the arrival of the congregation of English Separatist Pastor John Robinson in 1609.[self-published source]
Cooke was betrothed to Hester Mahieu at the French Walloon Church (Vrouwekerk) in Leiden on June 30, 1603, with she joining the church one month prior to her betrothal. Her family were Protestant (Walloon) refugees from Lille, Spanish Netherlands (present-day France) to England. She was probably born in the late 1580s with her family coming to Leiden about 1590. Mary Mahieu, a possible sister of Hester, married Jan de Lannoy in Leiden and their child Philip de Lannoy had Cooke as a witness to his baptism in the Vrouwekerk on November 6, 1603. Cooke's nephew Philip "Delanoy" would later join the Separatist Church in England and arrived in Plymouth in November 1621 on the ship Fortune.
Here Banks and Johnson betrothal data differs. Per Banks, Leiden records give Cooke's betrothal as 9 June 1603, and presuming his birth was 1582 or before. In the Leiden church Betrothal Book he was recorded as "Franchois Couck" and his bride being Hester Mahieu with the witnesses to the marriage being two Walloons. They were identified as "from England" (Francis) and as "from Canterbury" (Hester).
It is known that Cooke and his wife departed Leiden in August 1606 for Norwich in county Norfolk in England, which may have been where he originated but there is no proof has been found in records of the time. The Leiden congregation had some Separatist members who had fled Norwich, and the Cookes may have contacted the Separatists there. The Cookes did not remain in Norwich long as their son John was baptized at the Walloon Church in Leiden between January and March 1607 with the couple receiving communion in Leiden on January 1, 1608. Francis and his wife Hester were identified as "Franchoys Cooke et Esther sa femme" in Leiden after their return from Norwich, taking communion in Leiden's Walloon church on New Year's Day, 1608.
In February 1609, members of Pastor John Robinson's English Separatist church came to Leiden. The Cookes did not then become members of the Walloon church, but did join the Leiden congregation sometime later, after their daughter Elizabeth was baptized on December 26, 1611.[self-published source]
When the English Separatist church in Leiden decided to go to America in 1620, Cooke decided that from his family only he and his thirteen year–old son John would go over. His wife Hester and younger children would remain in Leiden until the colony was more established.
The Mayflower Voyage
The Mayflower departed Plymouth, England on September 6/16, 1620. The small, 100-foot ship had 102 passengers and a crew of about 30-40 in extremely cramped conditions. By the second month out, the ship was being buffeted by strong westerly gales, causing the ship's timbers to be badly shaken with caulking failing to keep out seawater, and with passengers, even in their berths, lying wet and ill. This, combined with a lack of proper rations and unsanitary conditions for several months, attributed to what would be fatal for many, especially the majority of women and children. On the way, there were two deaths, a crew member and a passenger, but the worst was yet to come after arriving at their destination when, in the space of several months, almost half the passengers perished in cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.
On November 9/19, 1620, after about nine weeks at sea they spotted land, which was the Cape Cod Hook, now called Provincetown Harbor. And after two days of trying to get south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod hook, where they anchored on November 11/21. The Mayflower Compact was signed that day.
In Plymouth Colony
Cooke was not involved in government or politics in Plymouth, and in his life kept a low profile, but his work on behalf of the people of Plymouth colony has been well-recognized by history.
Per Bradford, Cooke was recorded by him as "Francis Cooke and his son John. But his wife and children came afterward."
After the Pilgrim arrival at Cape Cod, Cooke was one of those who signed the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620.
Cooke's house plot in New Plymouth that was assigned late in 1620 was located between the plots of Isaac Allerton and Edward Winslow. Cooke's wife and children came over on the ship Anne in July 1623.[self-published source]
In the Division of Land in 1623, Cooke received two acres, one for himself and one acre for his son John. He also received 4 "akers" for his wife and children who "came ouer on the ship called Anne" in 1623.
There was an agreement signed in 1626 in which fifty-eight planters, including Cooke and many other "first comers", later known as Purchasers, bought from the Merchant Adventurers all their colony stock, shares, land, etc.. Later these Purchasers would assign all shares and debt in the company to eight Plymouth notables and four former Adventurers from London, then to be known as Undertakers. This was to be an investment organization with profits supposedly going largely to the colony.
In the 1627 Division of Cattle at Plymouth, his family was the one recorded first as: "The first lot fell to ffrancis Cooke & his Companie Joyned to him wife Hester Cooke." Also named in the 1627 records were their children John, Jacob, Jane, Hester, and Mary as well as two men – Cooke’s nephew "Phillip Delanoy" (Delano) and Experience Mitchell, who would marry Cooke's daughter Jane soon after.
On January 3, 1627/8, Cooke was one of six men named to lay out the boundaries for the twenty-acre land grants that would be made to everyone who came as a planter, under the employ of the joint-stock company.[self-published source]
In early 1633, Cooke was assigned by the court to help resolve a dispute of a financial nature between Peter Browne and Dr. Samuel Fuller. These men are believed the men of the same names who were companions of Cooke on the Mayflower voyage, both dying later in 1633.
During the 1630s and 1640s, Cooke held a number of public sector positions but was never in government or politics. In 1634 he was one of a number of Plymouth men tasked with laying out the highways. In 1637 he was appointed, with others, to lay highways about the towns of Plymouth, Duxbury and Eel River. Cooke and others performed this task and two months later reported back to the Plymouth Court.
On October 1, 1636, John Harmon, son of Edmund Harmon, tailor, of London, became an apprentice to Cooke for a period of seven years.
Cooke was awarded damages by the court on March 7, 1636/7 in a civil case involving the abuse of his cattle against Mr. John Browne the younger, who had previously been an Assistant and magistrate. Others also charged, all being in the service of John Browne the elder and Thomas Willet, were Thomas Lettice, James Walker, and Thomas Teley. On June 7, 1637, due to Browne's failure to the damages, the court reaffirmed the verdict and ordered John Browne to pay.
In May 1640 Cooke and his son John were among those tasked to compute the number of acres of Edward Doty's meadows and make a report to the next court.
In October 1640 Cooke was appointed to compute the land boundaries between Thomas Prence and Clement Briggs at Jones River.
In 1640/41 he was one of twelve men tasked by the court to designate additional highways, and make a formal survey and mark the boundaries of plots of land in the town of Plain Dealing. The next year he was one of four Plymouth surveyors and was tasked to survey the highway for Jones River. In 1645 he was again highway surveyor for Plymouth. In June 1650, when he was almost seventy, he was still doing survey work, as when he and twelve others reported to the court that they had marked a new way from Jones River to the Massachusetts Path through John Rogers property. And even in August 1659, in his late 70s, he was again called upon by the Plymouth Court to resolve a land boundary dispute between Thomas Pope and William Shurtliff.
Although he was specially qualified to survey new highways, he did do other public service work, being on several petty and grand juries. He also served on civil case juries in late 1639, March 1640, mid-and-late 1642, and March 1643 court sessions. Most of the civil case involved trespass, debts or slander. He was also on grand juries in 1638, 1640, 1642, and 1643, which involved crimes of a misdemeanor or felony nature.
In the 1643 Able to Bear Arms (ATBA) List, Cooke and his sons Jacob and John ("John Cooke, Jnr, his boy") are listed with those from Plymouth.
In 1651 Bradford recorded his impression of Cooke and his family in his later years: "Francis Cooke is still living, a very olde man, and hath seen his children's children have children; after his wife came over, (with other of his children,) he hath 3 still living by her, all married, and have 5 children; so their increase is 8. And his sone John, which came over with him, is maried, and hath 4 children living."
On June 3, 1662 the General Court approved a list of thirty-three names "as being the first borne children of this government," to receive two tracts of land purchased from the Indians by the colony. The list was wider in scope than just being for "first born" settlers, as it named several of the original Mayflower passengers, including Cooke, but was presumably for their children.
Cooke married Hester Mahieu in Leiden, Holland on July 20, 1603 or shortly thereafter. They had seven children. Hester died after June 8, 1666 and was buried at Burial Hill in Plymouth, Mass.
Children of Francis and Hester Cooke
The birth order of the Cooke children is uncertain.
- John was baptized in Leiden, Holland between January and March 1607 and died in Dartmouth on November 23, 1695. He married Sarah Warren on March 28, 1634 in Plymouth and had five children. She died after July 15, 1696.
- a child was buried in Leiden on May 20, 1608.
- Jane was born about 1609 in Leiden. She married Experience Mitchell in Plymouth after May 22, 1627. Her date of death is unknown, as is the date of his second marriage. But his first three children are generally considered to be hers.
- Elizabeth was baptized in Leiden on December 26, 1611, and later married Daniel Wilcox (date unknown) 
- Jacob was born about 1618 and died in Plymouth in December 1675. He was buried at Tyler Point Cemetery, Barrington, R.I.
- He married 1. Damaris Hopkins shortly after June 10, 1646 in Plymouth and had seven children. Her father was Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins. 2. Elizabeth (Lettice) Shurtleff on November 18, 1669 in Plymouth and had two children.
- Hester was born about 1620 in Leiden and died between 1669 and 1691. She married Richard Wright in Plymouth in 1644 and had six children. She was buried at Burial Hill in Plymouth, Mass.
- Mary was born in Plymouth about 1625 and died in Middleborough on March 21, 1714. She married John Tomson on December 26, 1645 in Plymouth. Both Mary and John were buried at Nemasket Hill Cemetery, Middleborough, Massachusetts.
Will, death and burial of Francis Cooke
On December 7, 1659 Cooke made out his will, describing himself as "at present weak and infirm in body." He had a very simple will that just gave everything to "Hester my dear and loving wife." 1609.
Francis Cooke died in Plymouth on April 7, 1663 and was buried on Burial Hill in Plymouth. An inventory of his estate was taken on May 1, 1663. From his estate inventory, it appears that he was involved with sheep and wool as he had sixteen sheep and five lambs, a "woolen wheele & scales," three pairs of sheep shears, and twenty pounds of wool.
- Charles Edward Banks, The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers: who came to Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620, the Fortune in 1621, and the Anne and the Little James in 1623 (Baltimore, MD.:Genealogical Publishing Co., 2006) p. 48.
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City:Ancestry Publishing 1986) p. 270
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and her passengers (Indiana:Xlibris Corp., Caleb Johnson, 2006) p. 121[self-published source]
- The Mayflower Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 2, June 2012, by Jeremy Dupertius Bangs, Director of the American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden, Holland, p. 140
- The Mayflower Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 2, June 2012, by Jeremy Dupertius Bangs, Director of the American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden, Holland pp. 140-147
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and her passengers (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., Caleb Johnson, 2006), p. 122[self-published source]
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing 1986) p. 413
- George Ernest Bowman, The Mayflower Compact and its signers (Boston: Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1920). Photocopies of the 1612, 1649, and 1699 versions of the document pp. 7-19.
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 406
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and her passengers (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., Caleb Johnson, 2006), p. 123[self-published source]
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 417
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 419
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986) p. 421
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and her passengers (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., Caleb Johnson, 2006), p. 124[self-published source]
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 124
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 298
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), pp. 156, 317
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p.440
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 409
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 173
- Burial Place of Hester Cooke /
- Robert Charles Anderson, Pilgrim Village Family Sketch: Francis Cooke (a collaboration between American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society)
- William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, ed. Samuel Eliot Morison (New York: Knopf, 1991), pp. 442, 446.
- Memorial for Francis Cooke