John Cook (governor)

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John Cook
President of Delaware
In office
November 4, 1782 – February 1, 1783
Preceded by John Dickinson
Succeeded by Nicholas Van Dyke
Personal details
Born 1730
Smyrna, Delaware
Died (aged 58–59)
Smyrna, Delaware
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Collins
Residence Smyrna, Delaware
Occupation planter
Religion Episcopalian

John Cook (1730 – October 27, 1789) was an American planter and politician from Smyrna, in Kent County, Delaware. He served in the Delaware General Assembly and as Governor of Delaware.

Early life and family[edit]

Cook was born in Duck Creek, now Smyrna, son of John and Margaret Cook. He married Elizabeth Collins, the sister of later State President Thomas Collins and they had five children: Sarah, Margaret, Elizabeth, Michael, and Robert. He was a prosperous farmer and tanner and gradually acquired a considerable amount of land in the area. Included in the property at one time was Belmont Hall, the home of Thomas Collins. The Cook home, however, was probably to the west of the present U.S. Highway 13, across the road from Belmont Hall. They were members of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Smyrna.

Professional and political career[edit]

Cook was Sheriff of Kent County from 1772 until 1778, just before the American Revolution. Like many of his Anglican neighbors in Kent County, Cook was fundamentally opposed to the break with Great Britain and was counted among the conservatives whose loyalty to the new government was suspect. However, he was personally liked and was elected to the more conservative Delaware Constitutional Convention of 1776 and to the first State House for the 1776/77 session.

In July 1777 Cook was named one of the associate justices of the new State Supreme Court. Before he was allowed to take office, however, the appointment was blocked and David Finney, the cousin of Thomas McKean, was given the seat. At the height of the American Revolution, no one lukewarm to the cause would be able to get such a position easily.

Regardless, he was popular enough in Kent County to be elected again to the House of Assembly for the 1778/79 session, and in the 1780/81 session he began a term in the Legislative Council, later known as the State Senate. Cook was Speaker in the 1782/83 session when President John Dickinson resigned, thereby becoming President of Delaware himself. His succession was controversial, however, and was not generally agreed to until he agreed to serve only until a special election could be held to select a President. He served as President from November 4, 1782 until February 1, 1783, when the special election was held. He was back in the State House for a term in 1783/84, and again in 1786/87, and finished his legislative career with two years in the Legislative Council, beginning with the 1787/88 session. He was still in office when he died.

During his tenure as President the noted loyalist Cheney Clow was brought to trial for treason. The trial was presided over by two ardent revolutionaries, William Killen and David Finney. During the proceedings Clow was able to produce papers to prove his claim to have had a British commission and the jury acquitted him. In spite of this his enemies insisted on continuing to hold him in prison for reimbursement of damages caused.

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while President)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1782/83 7th non-partisan John Cook non-partisan Simon Kollock

Death and legacy[edit]

Cook died at Duck Creek, now Smyrna, and was buried there in an unmarked grave at St. Peter's Episcopal Church Cemetery. His daughter, Sarah, married future Governor John Clark.

No known portrait of John Cook exists.


Elections were held October 1 and members of the General Assembly took office on October 20 or the following weekday. The State Legislative Council was created in 1776 and its Legislative Councilmen had a three-year term. State Assemblymen had a one-year term. The whole General Assembly chose the State President for a three-year term. The county sheriff also had a three-year term. However, Cook served as State President only temporarily, filling the vacancy created by the resignation of John Dickinson and awaiting the selection of a successor by the General Assembly.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
Sheriff Judiciary Dover 1772 1778 Kent County
Delegate Convention Dover August 27, 1776 September 20, 1776 State Constitution
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1776 October 20, 1777
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1778 October 20, 1779
Councilman Legislature Dover October 20, 1780 November 4, 1782
State President Executive Dover November 7, 1782 February 1, 1783 acting
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1783 October 21, 1784
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1786 October 21, 1787
Councilman Legislature Dover October 20, 1787 October 26, 1789
Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1776/77 1st State House non-partisan John McKinly Kent at-large
1778/79 3rd State House non-partisan Caesar Rodney Kent at-large
1780/81 5th State Council non-partisan Caesar Rodney Kent at-large
1781/82 6th State Council non-partisan Caesar Rodney Kent at-large
1782/83 7th State Council non-partisan Nicholas Van Dyke Speaker Kent at-large
1783/84 8th State House non-partisan Nicholas Van Dyke Kent at-large
1786/87 11th State House non-partisan Thomas Collins Speaker Kent at-large
1787/88 12th State Council non-partisan Thomas Collins Kent at-large
1788/89 13th State Council non-partisan Thomas Collins Kent at-large


  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company. 
  • Hancock, Harold B. (1977). Loyalists of Revolutionary Delaware. Newark. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark, DE: Roger A. Martin. 
  • Racino, John W. (1980). Biographical Directory of American and Revolutionary Governors 1607–1789. Westport, CT: Meckler Books. ISBN 0-930466-00-4. 
  • Rodney, Richard S. (1975). Collected Essays on Early Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Delaware. 
  • Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609–1888. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co. 

External links[edit]

Places with more information[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Dickinson
President of Delaware
Succeeded by
Nicholas Van Dyke