GaspeeVirtual Archives
Governor Nicholas Cooke (1717-1782)

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the
1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating Nicholas Cooke:

The Statement of Dr. John Mawney relative to the attack on the Gaspee:
I readily consented and went to Corliss' wharf with Capt. Joseph Tillinghast who was commander of the barge; it being the last boat that put off and in going down, we stopped at Capt. Cooke's wharf where we took in staves and paving stones, which done followed our commander  and came up with them a considerable distance down the river, after which, we rowed along pretty rapidly till we came in sight of the schooner,...

From the Map of the 1770 List of Providence taxpayers, we see that Nicholas Cooke owned land along the wharf area of South Main Street a mere two blocks south of Fenner's and Corlis' wharves from which the raiding party set out.  One assumes that Cooke must have assented to the men taking the stones and staves with which to arm themselves from his wharf area.
Biographical notes:

Gov. Nicholas CookeLeft:  Nicholas Cooke, artist unknown.

Nicholas Cooke was a maritime merchant based in Providence, and if he did not actually take part in the burning of the Gaspee, he was certainly of the like ilk to do so.  His image was captured in 1755 by John Greenwood in his famous painting "Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam"--the oringinal of "Dogs Playing Poker" genre. Surinam (Suriname) was a Dutch colony on the North coast of South America known for its slave plantations. It was a predominant trading destination for Rhode Island merchants during the 18th century who exchanged lumber, horses, rum, and African slaves for sugar, coffee, and cocoa in what is known as the Triangular Trade

Right: Detail inset from Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam by John Greenwood (1727-1792) courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.  Left to right at table: Nicholas Cooke, Esek Hopkins, Stephen Hopkins, and Joseph Wanton. Click to view entire image.

Next noted in 1759, Nicholas Cooke was appointed president of the Providence fire ward, in charge of planning community action to fires. The following snippets are collected from the Early American Newspapers collection available through the NEHGS website. In 1763 Nicholas Cooke Esq., Benjamin Cushing, and Nathan Angel were advertising together to buy horses.  In November 1763 Nicholas Cooke & Company took out an ad in the Providence Gazette threatening to sue patrons who had not yet paid for passage on his ship Charming Sally to Nova Scotia the previous year.  In May 1767 Nicholas Cooke was elected an Assitant, equivalent to a modern State Senator. In February 1768 he ran an advertisement for his shop on the "Lower End of the Town" selling dry goods such as broadcloths, blankets, and linen. He owned a wharf. It is noted that Nicholas Cooke co-owned a merchant brig Providence along with Joseph Bucklin (IV) and Benjamin Cushing.  In 1768 this ship was seized for rum smuggling, but returned to its owners.  In 1770 he was advertising to buy hoops, and selling molasses, sugar, rum, and rock salt. In March of 1772 he was selling a 148 acre farm in Coventry, RI., a quarter interest in a pot-ash works located nearby, and a 140 ton double-decked merchant brig. His 1782 obituary states that he was "many Years an eminent Merchant, and acquired a handsome Fortune in the Course of his Business."

Nicholas Cooke expresed his dissatisfaction with British tyranny from an early time.  In 1765 he was appointed to a a Providence committee to draft instructions to the city's representatives in the State Assembly inresponse to the Stamp Act (Charles Carroll's Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy)  Nicholas Cooke was appointed in 1773 to the Providence Committee of Inspection (for war preparedness).  (Bayles, Richard M. History of Providence County, Rhode Island, New York, 1891, p 181).  In May of 1775  he was elected Deputy Governor of Rhode Island by the Colonial Assembly to succeed Darius Sessions who did not run for re-election.  According to Carroll, in June 1775, Cooke was directed by the Assembly to correspond with Captain James Wallace of the HMS Rose which, like the Gaspee before, had caused severe interruptions to Rhode Island maritime commerce. The letter was published openly in the press (see Newport Mercury 19June1775, p3)
..... So long as you remain in the colony, and demean yourself as becomes your office, you may depend upon the protection of the laws, and every assistance for promoting the public service in my power.  And you may also be assured that the whole power of the colony will be exerted to secure the persons and properties of the inhabitants against every lawless invader.

To which Wallace replied:
Although I am unacquainted with you or what station you act in, suppose you write on behalf of some body of people; therefore, previous to my giving an answer, I must desire to know whether or not you, or the people on whose behalf you write, are not in open rebellion to your lawful sovereign and the acts of the British legislature!

Shortly thereafter, Abraham Whipple captured an armed tender of the HMS Rose in what has been cited as the first naval engagement of the American Revolution.  When, later in 1775, Governor Joseph Wanton refused to sanction the raising of a standing army of observation, those in the Assembly with Revoltionary leanings had him deposed, and in November, 1775, Nicholas Cooke was appointed to take over the reigns as Governor.  The 'Army of Observation' was ultimately raised and consisted of over 1,500 Rhode Island men led by Nathanael Greene.  To acquire arms for this army, Cooke sent of an expedition led by his son-in-law, Gaspee raider Paul Allen, as Captain of a Nicholas Brown & Company ship Unity which sailed to the West Indies (The Browns of Providence Plantations:  The Colonial Years by James B. Hedges, 1952, page 222-225).  Nicholas Cook continued to serve as Governor of the Colony, subsequently the State, of Rhode Island during the earlist phases of the Revolution until May of 1778.  On May 4th, 1776, Rhode Island, under Governor Cooke, essentially declared its independence from Great Britain by rescinding oaths pronouncing allegience to the King.  This occurred a full two months before the Continental Congress formally declared Independence in Philadelphia. In 1778 he was succeeded as Governor by William Greene.

There is from Field, Edward, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century:  A History.  Boston, Mason Publishing Co. 1902, Vol II, pp 424-430 a List of Privateersmen from Providence naming Nicholas Cooke as a co-owner of the Providence-based privateer Diamond in September, 1776. During his term as Governor, Cooke had the occasion to correspond several times with George Washington, and had him over for dinner on April 5, 1776.  Nicholas Cooke's portrait hangs in the RI State House. The collected papers of Nicholas Cooke are at Harvard University.

His gravesite memorial reads:
Nicholas COOKE,
born in Providence, Feb. 3, 1717,
died Sept. 14, 1782
unanimously elected governor of Rhode Island in 1775
he remained in office during the darkest period of the American Revolution
He merited and won the appreciation of his fellow citizens
and was honored with the friendship and confidence
of Washington.
Genealogical Information:

Culled from NEHGS website databases:
The parents of Nicholas Cooke were Daniel Cooke and Mary Power. 
Nicholas Cooke married Hannah Sabin (c1722-1792) of Killingly, CT in 1740, who was related to Sabin Tavern owner James Sabin.
They had at least five children,
  1. Captain Joseph S. Cooke (1746-1808) was involved in merchant sailing voyages to Africa and the West Indies in 1806-1808.
  2. Polly [prob Mary 1748-1827] married first in 1769 Capt. Oliver Bowen. married 2nd in 1774 to Gaspee raider Paul Allen,
  3. Hannah (1750-1792) married in 1767 to merchant Benjamin Cushing, (presumably the business partner of her father.  Cushing obit of Oct 1794 says he died at Cape Nichols Mole at the same time and place as  Capt. James Sabin).
  4. Captain Nicholas Cooke, Jr. (1754-1811) married in 1778 to Joanna Hopkins, daughter of Capt Christopher Hopkins. Nick Jr died at sea aboard the schooner Sally and Priscilla. per obit.
  5. Sarah (1755-1842) married in 1780 to Col. Jeremiah Olney,
  6. Nancy (Anne) married in 1771 to Capt. Robert Sterry of Cyprian. His estate notice was published January 1773.  (Charles Rappleye in Sons of Providence [2006] identifies Cyprian Sterry as a notorious captain of slave trading vessels.)  According to descendant Ruth Major (2007), after the death of Capt. Sterry, Nancy (Anne) married Asa Waterman a prominent Providence merchant and soldier in the Revolution.
We also note that the daughter of Gaspee raider Christopher Sheldon, Rosanna Sheldon, married a Jesse Cooke in 1783, who was the son of Nicholas Cooke and Hannah (Sabin) Cooke.  Apparently, the Cooke family also owned farm property in Rehoboth, MA.

According to the RI Historical Cemetaries, Nicholas Cooke and his family were originally buried in a family lot near their land on what is now Transit Street in Providence.  The remains were subsequently removed to the Old North Burial Ground in Providence c1844.
For his role in providing barrel staves, paving stones, and other impliments of destruction, the Gaspee Days Committee recognizes Nicholas Cooke as a co-conspiritor in the attack on the Gaspee in 1772.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 12/2004    Last Revised 08/2009    NicholasCooke.html