Francis Cooke was one of the Pilgrims who came to America in 1620 on the Mayflower. Unlike many Pilgrims, his ancestry is a bit of a mystery.
He is listed on the passenger list on the Mayflower and is one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact. He is mentioned in William Bradford's writing as well and seemed to live through some of the harder times of Plymouth Colony.
At the time he arrived in Plymouth, he was most likely under the age of 60.
Life in Holland
Francis Cooke's first appearance in the historical record occurs on April 25, 1603, in Leiden, Holland, where he was named a witness at Raphael Roelandt's betrothal. Cooke lived in Leiden for about six years before the 1609 arrival of the congregation of English Separatists led by Pastor John Robinson.
Cooke was betrothed to Hester Mahieu at the French Walloon Church in Leyden, the Vrouwekerk ("Church of Our Lady"). She had joined the church one month prior. Her family was Protestant (Walloon) refugees who left Lille in the Spanish Netherlands to escape religious conflict and persecution and who then left for England.
Francis Cook married Hester Mahieu and, in 1606, moved to Norwich, England. The move was short, and the couple had moved back to Leiden in 1607.
In February 1609, members of Robinson's church came to Leiden. The Cooke's did not immediately become members but did join the Leiden congregation sometime after daughter Elizabeth was baptized on December 26, 1611.
When the congregation decided to go to America in 1620, Cooke and his thirteen–year–old son John committed to the voyage, but his wife, Hester, and the younger children remained in Leiden, waiting until the colony was better established.
Mayflower and Life in Plymouth
Francis and his son John made the trip to Plymouth aboard the Mayflower.
The voyage was not a pleasant one. Quarters were cramped, and 2 months into the voyage, the ship was dealing with many leaks that left the passengers wet and sick. Hygiene was terrible, and these conditions led to the death of a passenger and crew member.
Once they arrived at the shores of the New World, they were unable to navigate south to the Virginia Colony, which was their original destination. Instead, they dropped anchor and began the Plymouth Colony.
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 from London all their colony stock, shares, and land.
Later, these Purchasers assigned all shares and debts in the company to eight Plymouth notables and four former Merchant Adventurers, then to be known as "Undertakers."
This was to be an investment organization with profits going largely to the colony.
In the 1627 Division of Cattle at Plymouth, Cooke and Hester are mentioned: "The first lot fell to Francis Cooke & his Companie Joyned to his 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 married 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. 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 the same names who were companions of Cooke on the Mayflower voyage, both dying later in 1633. During the 1630s and 1640s, Cooke held several public sector positions but was never in government or politics.
In 1634, he was one of several Plymouth men tasked with laying out the highways. In 1637, he was appointed, along with others, to lay highways about the towns of Plymouth, Duxbury, and Eel River. Cooke and the others performed the 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 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, 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 a 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 cases 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 1643, Able to Bear Arms 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 old 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 son John, which came over with him, is married, and hath 4 children living."
On June 3, 1662, the General Court approved a list of thirty-three names "as being the firstborn 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 "firstborn" settlers, as it named several of the original Mayflower passengers, including Cooke, but was presumably for their children.
Francis Cooke Family Chart
Hester Mahieu (1584 - 1666)
The information that follows comes from The Mayflower Society
Jane Cooke (1604 - 1641) - born probably at Leiden, Holland, circa 1604; died date unknown, by 1651, the 1630s; married at Plymouth, soon after 22 May 1627, Experience Mitchell, and had three children: Elizabeth, Thomas, and Mary Mitchell.
John Cooke (1607 - 1695) - was born at Leiden between 1 January and 31 March 1607; died at Dartmouth on 23 November 1695; married at Plymouth on 28 March 1634, Sarah Warren, the daughter of Richard Warren of the Mayflower; they had five children: Sarah, Elizabeth, Hester/Ester, Mary, and Mercy Cook.
Unnamed Infant Cooke (1608) - born circa 1608, buried at Leiden, 20 May 1608.
Elizabeth Cooke (1611 - 1627) - was baptized at Leiden on 26 December 1611; died before 22 May 1627.
Jacob Cooke (1618 - 1675) - was born circa 1618 at Leiden; married 1) at Plymouth, soon after 10 June 1646, Damaris Hopkins, daughter of Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower; they had seven children: Elizabeth, Caleb, Jacob, Mary, Martha, Francis, and Ruth Cook; married 2) at Plymouth, 18 November 1669, Elizabeth (Lettice) Shurtleff and had two children: probably Sarah and Rebecca Cook.
Hester Cooke (1624 - 1691) - was born probably at Plymouth, circa 1624/25; died probably at Plymouth, after 9 May 1669, and by 8 June 1691; married probably at Plymouth, circa 1644, Richard Wright; they had six children: Adam, John, Esther, Isaac, Samuel, and Mary Wright.
Mary Cooke (1625 - 1714) - was born at Plymouth, circa 1626/27; died at Middleborough, 21 March 1714; married at Plymouth, 26 December 1645, John Thompson; they had twelve children: Adam, John (died young), John, Mary, Hester/Esther, Elizabeth, Sarah, Lydia, Jacob, Thomas, Peter and Mercy Tomson.
Francis Cooke lived until 1663 and had been part of the Plymouth Colony for over 40 years.
During that time, he would have witnessed the following:
- Treaty with the Wampanoag Tribe
- The meeting of Squanto, Samoset, and Chief Massasoit
- Unprecedented hardship and death
- An expansion of his property
- The arrival of other groups to colonize New England.
Many of his children would live into adulthood and give him grandchildren. The longevity his family was blessed with gives Francis Cooke many living descendants who can now trace their lineage back to him.