In 1620, when the Mayflower arrived in New England, a young boy, John Cooke, was on board with his father Francis.

This site is intended to provide historical information about John Cooke, who became one of the most prominent men in the town of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, with a homestead east of the Acushnet River in the section which later became the town of Fairhaven. He was the only one of the original Pilgrims to settle here. Cooke was one of the town's earliest settlers and lived to be the last surviving male of the Mayflower voyage.

The site will also include related topics, such as stories of other families who settled here during the 17th century.

Enjoy your visit.

Our Own Pilgrim: John Cooke

by Christopher J. Richard
COPYRIGHT © 2002. All Rights Reserved. Originally published in the Navigator. Used with permisson.

When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, one of the boys at the feast was young John Cooke, a fourteen-year-old who would later be one of the first settlers in what is now Fairhaven. He would also become the only man still alive who attended that first Thanksgiving, the last surviving male passenger of the Mayflower voyage.

John Cooke was baptized in Leyden, Holland, in 1607. He was the oldest child of Francis and Hester (Mahieu) Cooke. His parents were among the English Separatists who moved to Leyden in pursuit of religious freedom.

In July 1620, at the age of thirteen, Cooke and his father sailed from Holland on the small ship Speedwell, bound for England and then America. His mother and younger siblings remained behind. After joining the Mayflower in England, the two ships set sail for the new world. The Speedwell, however, sprung a leak, forcing both ships to turn back. A number of Speedwell passengers were moved onto the already crowded Mayflower, which crossed the Atlantic on its own, reaching New England as winter set in.

By the time spring arrived, about half of the 102 people who came to Plymouth on the Mayflower had died of scurvy and/or pneumonia. The two Cookes escaped the horrible illnesses, though, and set to work building houses, planting and hunting, tasks required for the settlement’s survival.

John’s mother Hester and the other three Cooke children—Jane, Jacob and Hester—arrived at Plymouth in 1623 aboard the ship Anne. (A fifth child, Mary, would be born to Francis and Hester Cooke later.) Elizabeth Warren was also on the Anne, coming to join her husband Richard and bringing their five daughters, including Sarah, whom John Cooke married on March 28, 1634.

John and Sarah Cooke’s first daughter, Sarah, was born in 1635. Between that time and the year 1656, four more daughters were born—Elizabeth, Hester, Mary and Mercy.

Coming of age, John Cooke became a noteworthy member of the town of Plymouth, active in civic affairs. In 1642, he and his father invested in the colony’s first ship-building venture, purchasing 1/16 share each of a 40 to 50 ton bark to be built. The same year, representing the town at the General Court, Cooke was involved with the disposal of town lands and acted as deputy during a crisis with the Indians. In 1653 he was appointed to mediate a dispute between the English and the Dutch in Connecticut. Cooke also served as a Deacon of the church.

Thirty-two years after the Mayflower landed, a group of 36 colonists negotiated the purchase of a huge tract of land from Wampanoag leader Massasoit and his son Wamsutta. The territory encompassed the present-day communities of Dartmouth, Westport, New Bedford, Fairhaven, Acushnet and parts of Tiverton. John Cooke and John Winslow signed the deed on behalf of the purchasers. Cooke and his father each purchased one full share of the property, as did his mother-in-law Elizabeth Warren. Each share equaled more than 3,300 acres.

In 1659, Plymouth Court appointed four men, including John Cooke, to investigate meetings of the Quakers and to attempt to “reduce them from the error of their ways.” Cooke attended the religious gatherings and formed the unpopular conclusion that the Quakers were, in fact, being treated unfairly. This, most likely, caused Deacon Cooke’s excommunication from the church. Cooke, at the age of 52, with his oldest daughter already married and his youngest about three years old, was faced with a tough decision—stay in the increasingly oppressive atmosphere at Plymouth or leave kinsmen, friends and his aging parents behind and strike out for the “Acushena” wilderness.

It would seem that Cooke decided to send his son-in-law Arthur Hathaway along first. Hathaway came to the east side of the Acushnet River and in 1660, was one of the three men who first paid taxes in the new territory. In 1661, Hathaway bought a half share of the lands from Samuel Cuthbert and established his farm in what’s now Acushnet. In 1662 or very early 1663 Cooke himself settled here and with the agreement of the other proprietors, laid out the first public road running from the Great Indian Path west onto a neck of land on the Acushnet River that extended from the mainland at Howard’s Brook. It has been suggested that this road led to a community meeting house for worship and civic gatherings. Cooke’s will later referred to a burial place at that location.

In June of 1664, the territory was incorporated as the town of Dartmouth, which it remained until after the Revolutionary War.

John Cooke, who controlled three full shares of Dartmouth, was one of the town’s most influential citizens. Twelve times Cooke served as representative to the General Court. In 1670 he was elected Selectman and was in office when Dartmouth was attacked by the Indians during the King Philip War in 1675. Once the town was resettled after the war, Cooke served another five years.

Cooke established his homestead in North Fairhaven and built his house at the crest of a hill overlooking the Acushnet River. It stood just south of where Oxford School is today. Down the hill, about halfway between his house and the river, Cooke built a fortified garrison as protection from hostile attack.

Besides Cooke’s purchase of Howard’s Neck in Acushnet in 1666, he added to his vast land holdings by buying West Island about the same time. In 1668, he and his son-in-law Daniel Wilcox began operating a ferry in Tiverton and he bought land there as well. In 1672 the town gave him Ram (now Popes) Island in return for services. Cooke also owned land at “Freemans Meadow” in Rochester.

In May, 1672, Cooke deeded land to his former son-in-law Thomas Taber, who had been married to daughter Hester until her death shortly after the birth of their second child in 1671. Cooke also gave land to daughters Elizabeth and her husband Daniel Wilcox, Mary and her husband Philip Taber, Sarah and her husband Arthur Hathaway, and Mercy and her husband Stephen West, who would also inherit Cooke’s homestead after the death of Sarah Cooke.

In June, 1675, when word reached Dartmouth that Indians had attacked settlers’ homes in Swansea, nearby residents fled to Cooke’s garrison. Jacob Mitchell and his wife Susannah, who lived in what’s now Fairhaven center, sent their three children to the garrison. The following day, the two adult Mitchells and Susannah’s brother John Pope were killed by Indians as they themselves were fleeing. All thirty houses in Dartmouth, including Cooke’s, were destroyed. The town was abandoned for about three years following the attacks.

Cooke’s house was rebuilt after the war and was the house later occupied by his grandson Bartholomew West when the British burned it 103 years later during the Revolution. The house seems not to have been rebuilt again.

About 1680, John Cooke became connected with the Baptists, a number of which had settled in the vicinity. Cooke seems to have been associated with Obadiah Holmes, who preached in the Rehoboth area. Cooke became the first Baptist minister in Dartmouth and is credited with helping form the Baptist church in Tiverton, which is still active today. He was once fined for “unnecessary travel on the Sabbath,” because his was not the colony’s officially sanctioned religion.

John Cooke preached and oversaw the care of his farm and properties and no doubt attended to town business, officially or unofficially until his death on November 23, 1695, at the age of 88. By then he was the last man alive who had sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. (The only original Pilgrim to live longer was Mary (Allerton) Cushman who died in Plymouth in 1699.)

John Cooke’s wife Sarah survived him, as did four of his five daughters. At the time of his death he had 32 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren. Sarah presented an inventory of her husband’s estate in 1696, but there is no further record of her. She had to have been at least 76 years old herself then. It’s likely she lived with Mercy and Stephen West, because they were the ultimate recipients of John Cooke’s homestead by his will. A number of John and Sarah Cooke’s descendants—Hathaways, Wilcoxes, Tabers and Wests—would play important roles in the later days of Fairhaven and other towns in the region.

ALSO SEE: Do We Know Where John Cooke Is Buried?

ALSO SEE: John Cooke Sites in Fairhaven

ALSO SEE: John Cooke's Family

Do We Know Where John Cooke Is Buried?

Report of the Historical Research Section
by Henry B. Worth
Originally published in Old Dartmouth Historical Sketch #32, Old Dartmouth Historical Society, New Bedford, MA, 1911

NOTE: Respected researcher Henry B. Worth was the historian of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society (operator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum). He was also a real estate lawyer with a special interest in historical deeds and real estate transactions.

The work of the Historical Research Section is not only to preserve and perpetuate facts that might be forgotten and lost, but to restore events to their original setting and combination. One of the tendencies of tradition is the rearrangement of details into varying and erroneous combinations. This is not due to fraud or deceit but to the frailty of the recollection. It is observed in court trials where witnesses of undoubted veracity, flatly contradict each other in relation to recent events. Some details that are obscured or forgotten are supplied from different situations, and honest and intelligent people present seriously conflicting accounts of the same concurrence. Hence divergent traditions may be discovered concerning any historical fact. Giles Russell established an iron forge at Russell’s Mills in 1787. In a few years the story was current that this enterprise was conducted by a different person one hundred and thirty-five years earlier. It is astonishing how unwilling some are to reject the traditions that are full of mistakes. No amount of evidence to the contrary is sufficient to substitute fact for fiction. After accepting the story without scrutiny and investigation, they continue loyal to the error. Some exhibit irritability at the suggestion of a doubt as their integrity was questioned. The trouble is that their informant was mistaken.

Every tradition should be tested by comparison with contemporary records. If the two are not in conflict, the oral statement may be accepted. But if there is discord, the tradition must yield.

It is now proposed to call attention to a certain incident, the tradition on which it is based and some records of contemporary history that have not heretofore been given due weight.

In Oxford village in Fairhaven, a few yards east of Cherry Street, and extending from Lafayette Street to Pilgrim Avenue, is a lot which was conveyed in 1833 by Thomas Bennett to Benjamin D. Coombs. In the south portion was an enclosure in which were kept hens and swine. In the center was a hillock on which were spaces marked by rough stones after the manner of old burial places. This was purchased in 1895 by the Fairhaven Improvement Association and was renovated and graded. A boulder drawn from the river was located on the knoll and on a bronze tablet is the inscription, “Sacred to the memory of John Cook who was buried here in 1695.”

The authority for the statement depends upon a tradition and it is thus repeated, as he received it, by one of Fairhaven’s best informed citizens: John Cook was one of the first white settlers in Fairhaven. They had only one cemetery and that was at Oxford. There was once a slate slab lying flat on the knoll, having the names of forty or fifty persons who were buried there. This was completely obliterated over sixty years ago, so that no vestige of it remains; nor is there in existence a copy of the inscription nor any record who was buried there.

To this is added from another source, that John Cook owned all this territory and it passed from him to the Taber family of which the late George H. Taber was a descendant.

Oxford was part of the farm of Capt. Thomas Taber which he received from the proprietors of Dartmouth 1672 and 1683. At his death in 1732, it passed to his son Philip, who conveyed it ten years later to William Wood, glazier. In the deed of 1760 from Wood to Elnathan Eldridge, transferring the part of Oxford west of Cherry Street is a statement that the southeast corner was west of “ye Burial Place.’ So while this proves that the Oxford lot was used for burial purposes as early as 1760, it should also be kept in mind that Taber, although a son-in-law of Cook, derived his title directly from the Dartmouth proprietors and that this burial place was never owned by John Cook. It never contained marked stones at any grave.

It was a universal custom in Dartmouth before 1700 that on each homestead farm was a plot devoted to burial purposes. Many of these spots have been forgotten and are unknown while some are still in existence. John Cook’s homestead included the farm that is crossed by Coggeshall Street leading from Main Street to the bridge. According to the usual custom it would be expected that his last resting place was on his homestead, if there were not some deeply significant records relating to another locality.

In the south edge of Acushnet, half a mile south of the parting ways, the road to Fairhaven is crossed by a brook, that flows into the Acushnet River and at its junction forms a neck of land that is situated northwest of the Laura Keene farm. This may be designated for convenience Howard’s Point.

In Cook’s will, probated in April, 1696, he provides: “In the first place I give to my son-in-law, Arthur Hathaway, and his wife, Sarah, my daughter, all my land in the point at or near the burying place in Dartmouth, which I bought of John Russell.” This has been assumed by many to be at Oxford, but the Russell deed in 1668 describes ‘the point of land which I bought of Samuel Cuthbert adjoining to the house lot of John Howard, on the one side and the creek on the other.’ Russell’s deed from Cuthbert in 1661 conveyed a small point of land of 4 or 5 acres lying against the land of Cuthbert.

Beside the devise in his will, Cook had in 1686 given to Arthur Hathaway all that neck of land near the land of John Howard, bounded by the Acushnet River and on one side by Howard’s land.’ The farm containing the Brook was the Howard homestead and the farm south was owned by Cuthbert and 1661 conveyed to Arthur Hathaway. So it is clear that the burial point in which Cook had such an interest, which he had purchased nearly thirty years before his death, was the neck northwest of the Laura Keen farm. He was solicitous to have it stand in the name of his daughter and son-in-law who lived in the immediate vicinity. This Howard’s point passed from Arthur Hathaway to his son Thomas who also acquired the Howard farm in 1715 and then conveyed both to his son Antipas. The latter in 1747, then living in Newport, transferred the farm to James Weeden but retained the neck. In 1751 Weeden sold the farm to Hezekiah Winslow. The land next south was then owned by Jethro Hathaway and was later known as the Stephen Hathaway place.

The last record relating to the subject is a deed given in 1752 by Antipas Hathaway to his brother Jethro “a certain Point of land called ye old Burying Point in Acushnet Village, being ye most northwesterly part of ye Homestead of Thomas Hathaway deceased, bounded east on ye Creek, running up to Howard’s Brook by Homestead of Hezekiah Winslow and by land of Jethro Hathaway.” It remained for nearly a century part of the Stephen Hathaway farm.

The Homestead of John Cook was on the hill north of Oxford where the new brick school house has been built and extended north to the Woodside Cemetery and south to the Riverside Cemetery. Somewhere on this farm according to the usage of that day would be his grave. But a mile farther north was a neck on the river which was a burial place as early as 1686; was owned by Cook and held by his descendants until modern times. In the light of this record there is strong reason to suppose that Cook was laid in the point purchased by him and transmitted to his descendants. Opposed to this is the tradition that he was buried at Oxford on a lot which he never owned and in which he is not known to have had any interest, and where there was never an inscribed stone marking any grave.

Without some record there can be no certainty where John Cook’s grave is located, but judgment cannot be rendered in favor of the Oxford tradition. The foregoing represents the stage of present information. If further facts are discovered and authenticated, a conclusion can be reached that will settle the inquiry.

This paper is presented to preserve in useful form some interesting historical data, but especially to illustrate the method of testing tradition by comparison with contemporary records. There is no sound reason to condemn the method, because while it may result in discrediting popular reports and stories, it might frequently support and sustain the oral legend. Whichever consequence follows, truth should be the object sought without regard to the effect on accepted traditions.

ALSO SEE: Burial Places of Mayflower Passengers

ALSO SEE: John Cooke Sites in Fairhaven

ALSO SEE: Newspaper Clipping: Cooke Hill

ALSO SEE: Newspaper Clipping: Ruth Boomer