On The Trail of - Colonel CHARLES COCKE

Most of what we know about Charles Cocke comes from his Revolutionary War Pension Application which was filed in Lee County, Virginia on 15 Jan 1838. This Application gives us several intriguing insights into his character. The fact that he had traveled all the way from Arkansas to file the application and, more significantly, that he was 88 years old at the time suggests that he was a man of considerable fortitude. The fact that he obtained the assistance of a Senator to help move things along suggests that he was a man with some political acumen and connections. The Application itself shows a man of considerable bravery - he mentions offhandedly that he had fought in the Battle of Point Pleasant (perhaps the fiercest battle ever fought on the frontier) and that, even while a Captain in the Militia, he had frequently put himself in harm's way by engaging in long-range patrols. Other records tend to confirm these impressions. One letter describes him as "a Gentleman whose character stands fair, as well as being an experienced and brave officer in Indian Warfare".  An account in the Draper Manuscripts indicates that he was a man who had a good deal of common sense. Other documents confirm that, like many of his contemporaries, he was a military man, a politician, a hunter and explorer, and an entrepreneur. The frontier was not a place for ordinary men or women.


Unfortunately, these documents have not provided any clue as to his origins. From his Pension Application, we know that Charles Cocke was born on November 12, 1750. Beyond that, almost nothing is known about the early years of Charles Cocke or about his parents. He states that he was "from his infancy accustomed to the woods" and there is some evidence that he went on a long hunt at a young age (although that was probably his father, or an uncle).


The evidence indicates that Charles Cocke was married in 1771 to Ellender Ewing, daughter of John Ewing and Ellender Porter. They were probably married somewhere near Cripple Creek, Botetourt (now Wythe) County, Virginia - since this is where they were both living at the time.

No document has been found which lists any of the children of Charles and Ellender. Identification is based on circumstantial evidence. Here is my current guess as to the children of Charles Cocke:


Jane Cocke- born 7 Apr 1772; married Gabriel E. Chrisman, Sr.


Mary Cocke- born circa 1773; married Isaac Mullens.


John Cocke, Sr.- born circa 1775, Virginia; married Mary Avery Vaughan.


Jester Gwinn Cocke, Sr.- born 27 Feb 1781, Virginia; married (1) _?_; (2) Sarah Ann _?_; (3) Mary Buckney.


Elizabeth Cocke- born circa 1785; married Elijah Franklin.


Ellender Cocke- born 26 Nov 1788; married John Lee Dibrell.


Charles Scott Cocke- born circa 1790; married Nancy _?_.


From 1771 to 1802, Charles and Ellender Cocke are mentioned in the records for several Virginia counties, including Botetourt, Fincastle, Montgomery, Washington, Russell and Lee Counties, Virginia. From 1771 to 1778, Charles and Ellender appear to have been living along Cripple Creek in what is now Wythe County. After the war, they lived along Trading Creek in what is now Lee County. For the next 17 years, from 1802 to 1818, Charles and Ellender appear in Wayne County, Kentucky. In 1818, Charles and Ellender apparently traveled down the Old Kentucky Road to join their son John Cocke, Sr. in Madison County, Alabama. In 1829, Charles appears in Clark County, Arkansas.  The 1830 Census lists Charles and, presumably, Ellender. He says he is a resident of that County in 1838, when he files his Pension Application.


Much of the information regarding the military service of Charles Cocke is found in his Pension Application. According to this document, Charles Cocke started his military career as a private at the Battle of Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774.  (Prior to the Battle of Point Pleasant, Charles Cocke may have fought at the Battle of Long Island Flats.)  In October of 1776, Charles Cocke again served as a private, this time in the Cherokee Expedition led by Colonel Christian. In 1778, Charles Cocke served as a private under Captain Henry Francis in the campaigns against the Tories who were trying to sabotage the strategic lead mines along the New River. In June of 1780, Charles Cocke was promoted to Captain and placed in charge of a company of Rangers stationed at Rocky Station Fort. Contrary to what is written, it appears that Charles Cocke was not at the Battle of King's Mountain (or at the Battle of Shallow Ford). After the War, Charles Cocke was an officer in Militia, eventually rising to the rank of Colonel. From 1792 to 1794, he was the Commissary, responsible for providing rations to the Militia.


Charles Cocke also held political office. In 1786, Charles Cocke was appointed a Justice of the Russell County Court. In 1792, he was appointed a Justice of the Lee County Court.  From 1795 to 1800, he was a Delegate from Lee County in the Virginia House of Representatives. There are statements indicating that he held political office in Wayne County, Kentucky, but this has not been verified. He may have also been a Magistrate Judge in Clark County, Arkansas in 1829.


There is some evidence that Charles Cocke participated in the longhunt organized by Elisha Wallen in 1761.  Whether he did or not, his skill as a hunter and explorer was well recognized.  In 1775, the Virginian legislature appointed Thomas Wallen and Charles Cocke to find a better road into Kentucky.  In 1780, as commander of the Rocky Station Fort, he went on several missions to spy on the Indians.  In 1792, the Virginia Legislature passed a law appointing Charles Cocke as a Commissioner to help mark out a wagon road through Russell County to the Cumberland Mountains.

One account [from the Draper Manuscripts] states that: He was "a rough back woodsman, a good hunter and Indian fighter [who, although he] had a great deal of common sense [was] destitute of the knowledge of letters." He nevertheless won election to the Virginia Assembly. And when time came for the delegates to "sign their names to the role," his acquaintance and fellow legislator General Joseph Martin went with him, signed his own name and told Cock, "as I have the pen in my hand, I will sign your name". [In this case, an absence of a "knowledge of letters" might not mean that he was illiterate, but merely that he was not "well educated". It seems highly unlikely that an illiterate man would be appointed to position of Judge. But we don't know.]

In the final analysis, it may be his love of the wilderness that kept him moving. Or the motivation may have been more pragmatic. In those days, there were only a few ways to put food on the table: by farming, by ranching or by hunting. The need to follow the game may have been what motivated Charles Cocke to move, first to Kentucky and, later, to Arkansas.


Charles Cocke was also an entrepreneur. As a result of risking his life to settle land in Powell's Valley, he had accumulated significant landholdings there. On 20 Sep 1787, he obtained permission to keep an "ordinary" (i.e. an inn) at his house in Russell County, Virginia. Around 1791, he is thought to have opened Cox's Station in Russell County, Virginia along the Kentucky Road at which sold he supplies to travelers. (In a 1798 deed, he referred to himself as an "Inn Holder".)  On 26 Nov 1792, he entered into a bond with the Governor of Virginia to provide rations to the Militia at the rate of 28 cents per ration. In May 1806, he obtained permission to keep an "ordinary" at his house in Wayne County, Kentucky. In Jan 1809, he obtained permission to erect a water grist mill on his property in Wayne County.


When trying to find a trail that is overgrown with age, it is helpful to be able to find markers to guide us. Some of these markers have proved extremely useful, others have merely led us down false trails.

One of the most helpful markers is provided by the fact that Charles Cocke almost always appeared in the company of a Jester Cocke. This unique name has made it easier to identify Charles and some of his likely descendants- and also helped to rule out some of his possible ancestors. The name sometimes appears as Jester Cox, as John Jester Cocke/Cox, or as Jester Gwinn Cocke. At times it is hard to keep track of them all. See The Mystery of the Five Jesters.

In addition to Jester, there are a number of other unique first names or combinations of names which appear from time to time. Ellender is one example, particularly since this suggests a direct descendancy from Charles and Ellender. (However, caution must be exercised, because Ellender appears to have been a common name among other Scots-Irish families, including Ellenders possible mother, Ellender Porter.) Unfortunately, this name is often misspelled and disappears within a couple of generations, replaced by more common variations, such as Eleanor or Ellenor. The middle name of Charles Scott Cocke suggests a connection to the Scott family.

There are also several families that accompanied the Cockes from place to place, such as Wallen, Blevins, Newell, Coffey, Gholson, and Stephens. A surprising number of Lee County families ended up in Madison County, Alabama.

The name Cocke is not as helpful a marker as it might be, since there were many noted families by that name, and, is some cases, our Cocke was spelled Cox.


One interesting coincidence is that wherever Charles Cocke appears, he is linked with famous politicians of the area. He seems to be a man who knew a lot of people in high places and/or how to enlist their aid.

In Wayne County, Kentucky, his son was successfully defended against criminal charges by Micah Taul, who was a Colonel in the War of 1812 and a member of the House of Representatives. In Clark County, Arkansas, the same son was defended against criminal charges by some of the most famous names in Arkansas politics, including Robert Crittenden, Chester Ashley and Ambrose Hundley Sevier. The defense was not successful, with the result that the son was hanged for murder. See The Trials of Charles Scott Cocke.

When Charles Cocke made his pension application in 1838, he talked to both Ambrose Hundley Sevier, United States Senator from Arkansas, and John Debow Sharp of Lee County, Virginia, who had previously served in both the Virginia House and Senate, and who later served in the 1861 Convention. There is an outside chance that Charles Cocke was related to Sevier. Charles Cocke had served with John Debow Sharp's father in the Virginia Legislature.


Although our primary emphasis is on the immediate family of Charles Cocke and Ellender Ewing, there are some interesting stories from further down the road. For example, it appears that Charles Cocke was not the only Colonel in the Cocke family. See Cocke's 39th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, CSA.


The evidence indicates that Charles spelled the name Cocke and resisted the Cox spelling.  In some cases, the name appears as Coke or Cock.  Descendants of the family appear to pronounce the name "Coke".  One strong piece of evidence that this is the historical pronunciation is an 1837 deed issued to Jester Cocke.  In the deed, the name is spelled Coke and a "c" was later inserted before the "k".

This signature appeared in an April 13, 1781 letter explaining the true state of affairs in Powell Valley.