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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Lemuel Cook: The Man Who Outlived History

By Michael Mauro DeBonis

Rip Van Winkle’s fictional tale pales in comparison to Lemuel Cook’s real-life one. The celebrated American prose stylist (Washington Irving) from New York State’s Hudson Valley was born in New York City on April 3, 1783, to parents of Anglo-Scottish ethnicity (Biography.Com, 1). Irving was a writer of great vision, versatility, and discipline. Yet, with respect to the life of esteemed Revolutionary War veteran and historically concrete Lemuel Cook, Irving’s brilliant literary creation of Van Winkle does not measure up to his actual flesh-and-blood counterpart.

“Mr. Cook was born in Northbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut, on September 10, 1759, the son of Henry Cook (Jr.) and a grandson of the first settler of that town, also named Henry Cook (Sr.)” (Hilliard, 7). Lemuel was born on his father Henry Cook’s farm (Frank Cook, 2), the eighth of nine children (Frank Cook, 2). Henry Cook (Jr.) married Lemuel’s mother, Hannah Benham Cook, on November 27th, 1745, in Northbury, Connecticut (Holly Cook, 25-26). Hannah B. Cook died in Northbury, Connecticut, circa 1795 (Holly Cook, 25-26). The great progenitor of the whole Cook family in New England was another Henry Cook, who was an Anglo-Puritan from Yorkshire, England (Frank W. and Holly Cook, 1 and 17-18), and he was born there about 1615 (Frank W. and Holly Cook, 1 and 17-18). Henry the Puritan is first recorded in public records in 1638, at Salem, Massachusetts (Frank W. and Holly Cook, 1 and 17-18).

According to Frank Cook, Lemuel’s great-grandson, an unknown epidemic swept through Connecticut in 1759, killing four of Lemuel’s siblings (Frank Cook, 2), but five of the Cook children (including Lemuel amongst these) had survived the disease (Frank Cook, 2). Lemuel grew up doing the harsh work required on the family farm. Henry Cook, Lemuel’s father, was born on August 17th, 1723, in Wallingford, Connecticut (Holly Cook, 19). Henry Cook, in the French and Indian War, served as a private “during the campaign of 1762” (Holly Cook, 19). As the American Revolution drew near, Henry Cook died on September 6th, 1771 (Holly Cook, 19), presumably of natural causes. “When Henry [also called Henry the Fourth] died, the family was left in depressed circumstances…” (Frank Cook, 2), “…but through it all, the family remained together” (Frank Cook, 2). “At the outbreak of the Revolution in 1775, Lemuel was the first of the Cook sons to enlist…” (Frank Cook, 2), with several of his brothers (including Selah Cook and Trueworthy Cook), both enlisting in the Continental Army, subsequently, as the War for Independence progressed (Frank Cook, 2). Henry Cook, who had honorably served in the King’s Connecticut colonial militia (Holly Cook, 19) and became a very successful farmer afterward (Holly Cook, 19), instilled in all his children a very strong work ethic (Frank Cook, 2), along with his beloved wife, Hannah Benham Cook (Frank Cook, 2). Both Cook's parents could not have anticipated the long bloody war that lay before their sons and the soon-to-be new nation.

“He [Lemuel Cook] enlisted at Cheshire [Connecticut]…when only sixteen years old. He was mustered in ‘…at Northampton, in the Bay State, 2nd Regiment, [Continental] Light Dragoons…’’’(Hilliard, 7). Private Lemuel Cook’s commanding officers were Colonel Sheldon, Captain Stanton (Hilliard, 7), and Major [and eventual Lt. Colonel] Benjamin Tallmadge (Editors-BRTN, 1). Major Benjamin Tallmadge was the chief agent for General George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring (Editors, BRTN, 1). Lemuel Cook “…served through the war, and [he] was discharged in Danbury [Connecticut], on June 12, 1784” (Hilliard, 7-8). In 1864, two years before Lemuel Cook died, Cook commented to Connecticut historian, the Reverend Elias Hilliard, in a famous face-to-face interview, “When I applied to enlist, Captain Hallibud told me I was so small, he couldn’t take me, unless I would enlist for [the entire] war,” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook, the young intrepid teenager, proudly accepted his role as a soldier. Lemuel Cook’s mettle, from 1775 onwards, would soon be tested by his redcoat enemies.

Sometime after his military induction, Lemuel Cook saw action at Dobbs Ferry (in modern-day Westchester County, New York State) while he was on patrol (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook’s Continental Army Regiment of the Connecticut Second Light Dragoons was at Dobbs Ferry to perform reconnaissance missions against all possible British military operations in what was then infamously called “the Westchester” (Hilliard, 7-8). What Cook and his brave band found was something much worse. As Cook’s company of bluecoat Continentals approach a countryside barn, several armed men inside of it fired their muskets upon Lemuel and his Yankee unit (Hilliard, 3) and their French allies, too (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook commented on this incident to the Reverend Hilliard nearly ninety years later, “They were Cow Boys”’ (Hilliard, 7-8).

The Westchester in lower upstate New York and Suffolk County on Long Island (specifically during the American Revolutionary War) were the two most lawless regions in the northeast area of operations during that long, bloody conflict (Tallmadge, 32-33, 34-35 and 50-52). The London Trade was carried on by both British Tories and alleged Yankee Whigs (Rose, 204 and 232). The London Trade was an illegal smuggling and stealing operation conducted by numerous criminals and opportunists on both sides of the British vs. American campaign, with many neutral (but nefarious) parties also greedily participating (Rose, 232-235). “The Cow Boys,” mentioned by Lemuel Cook, were brutal and devious highwaymen who freely stalked New York State’s roads in both Westchester and Long Island, looking for an easy and suspected target from which they could find to pilfer property and money, civilian or military (Rose, 204 and 232-235).

The Cow Boys conducted their venomous and savage raids on land, whereas their counterparts on the sea (especially on the Long Island Sound) carried out their thieving expeditions in open water (Rose, 204 and 232-235). Lemuel Cook’s superior officer, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, called these lowly robbers “freebooters” (Tallmadge, 32). As noted above in Tallmadge’s historically well-detailed and factual Memoir, Tallmadge was constantly waging war against Cow Boys and freebooters alike, doing whatever he could to upset and end their activities during the Revolution (Rose, 204 and 232-235 and Tallmadge, 32-33). This involved Tallmadge and Cook both (as Dragoons) carrying on perpetual sting operations against these crooks, on land and on water, seizing illegally “collected” cargo and burning those ships at sea carrying it (Rose, 235 and Tallmadge, 34, 46, and 48-49). If on land, Tallmadge and Cook would confiscate stolen horses and property from The Cow Boys, and (if possible) they would return them both to their rightful owners. If their rightful owners happened to be redcoat soldiers or Tory sympathizers, Tallmadge and Cook would keep the captured booty for themselves, and they would split it up amongst their Continental ranks (Tallmadge, 52). This conduct was legally permissible by the Continental Congress.

The Cow Boys were typical of Tory extraction (Rose, 204), and their criminal counterparts on the Whiggish and patriotic side of the Revolution were robbers called “Skinners” (Rose, 204). Both Cow Boys and Skinners were of lowly and dubious nature. Any sober student of history would be cautioned to align these lawbreakers with any particular side while their convenient loyalties both waxed and waned as the events of the War for Independence took place. Ironically, the Revolutionary War created a very favorable environment for crime and graft to exist on both Loyalist and Whiggish sides of the struggle, but it is a subject for discussion much too broad to be fully discussed here.

It should be noted the London Trade was sharply described by Benjamin Tallmadge, fifty years after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, as “…the illicit trade…”(Tallmadge, 50). Historian Alexander Rose further comments about the London Trade, “Illegal trading understandably alarmed Congress…” (Rose, 73) because it was (during the Revolution) “…draining cash from already cash-strapped strapped states…” (Rose, 73). Rose further says about Tallmadge’s thoughts regarding the Skinners, “Like [Caleb] Brewster, Tallmadge also nursed a particular dislike of these men, who declaimed their Revolutionary principles, while acting like banditti” (Rose, 232). Rose states that Skinners and freebooters alike had a “…terrible effect on [Long Islanders’] morale” (Rose, 232), and Rose proceeds to quote Tallmadge’s wartime thoughts on the Skinners to Washington, “…the marauders from our [American] shore make no distinction between Whig and Tory,’” (Rose, 232). Tallmadge was describing the Skinners’ vulgar and cutthroat behavior on Long Island while carrying on their raiding operations (Rose, 232), and Tallmadge was factually correct that the presence of the Skinners on Paumanok was not only a criminal one for Long Islanders, but it was also a psychologically traumatizing one for Suffolk County residents, too (Rose, 232).

Dealing with brutal and unsavory smugglers, highwaymen, and other criminals was only one of the many military occupations that tasked Yankee cavalrymen Cook and Tallmadge. They also had to fight British enemy redcoats. Yet Lemuel Cook’s well-documented encounter with the Cow Boys was a significant one in his life, and about it, we must more deeply speak.

Lemuel Cook continued relating his wartime tale to Reverend Hilliard, “I felt the wind of the [musket] ball” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook went on explaining the story to Hilliard, “A [Continental] soldier near me said, ‘Lem, they mean [to shoot] you. Go on the other side of the road.’”(Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel followed his ally’s advice and did so (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook stated to Hilliard once more, “So I went over…pretty soon another man [Cow Boy] came out of the barn and aimed and fired. He didn’t come near me. Soon another [a third Cow Boy] came out and fired. His [musket] ball lodged in my hat. By this time, the firing had roused the camp, and a company of our troops came on one side [of the road], and a party of the French [also came out] on the other [side of the road]…and they [Continental and French soldiers alike] took the men from the barn prisoners, and [they] brought them in,” (Hilliard, 7-8).

Cook was not done with his Revolutionary War reminiscence as he still related to Hilliard, “When they [the French and Continentals both] brought the men [the Cow Boys] in close, one of them [a Cow Boy] had the impudence to ask, ‘Is the man here we fired at just now?’” (Hilliard, 7-8). “Yes,” said Major Tallmadge, “There he is, that boy” (Hilliard, 7-8). “Then he [the Cow Boy] told how they had each laid out a crown and agreed that the one who brought me down should have the three” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook continued with his recollection to Hilliard further, “When he [the Cow Boy] got through with his story, I stepped to my holster and [I] took out my pistol and [I] walked up to him and [I] said, ‘If I’ve been a mark to you for money, I’ll take my turn now. So, deliver your money or your life!’ He [the Cow Boy] handed over four crowns, and I got three more from the other two’” (Hilliard, 7-8).

Lemuel Cook (as a Continental teenage soldier) had thus doggedly and shrewdly reversed the Cow Boys’ shakedown against him. Fortunately for Cook, he narrowly lived to tell his tale and was wealthier for it. His story could have very likely ended much differently. Cook had many other Revolutionary adventures that remained ahead of him.

In his final years, Lemuel Cook was also extensively and thoroughly interviewed by his great-grandson, Frank Cook (Frank Cook, 2-4), when both were living in Clarendon, upstate New York (Frank Cook, 2-4). The name of Frank Cook’s historical account of his great grandpa’s personal military experiences and memories from the War for Independence is the terse and penetrating three-page text called Lemuel Remembers Washington (Frank Cook, 2-4). It also contains much of Lemuel’s first-hand testimony concerning his Revolutionary War activities (Frank Cook, 2-4) and is, in as much, as valuable a biographical and historical source of knowledge describing Lemuel Cook’s early life as is Reverend Hilliard’s novel 1864 historical writing The Last Men of the Revolution. Both of the aforementioned sources do not conflict with each other in any way, either factually or chronologically. They do, however, blatantly reinforce the other’s historical veracity.

“As a young lad, I had an opportunity none will have again,” begins Frank Cook’s potent commentary of his great ancestor’s Revolutionary War exploits (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank Cook continues, “We, the Cook kids, who grew up at Clarendon, were told about the Revolutionary War by its last soldier, our great grandfather Lemuel Cook, who, we more affectionately called, Grandpa Lem” (Frank Cook, 2-4). “He [Lemuel] would take delight telling us about his life, and we were glad to listen” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank Cook continued, “We’d watch for Lemuel to come out to sit in his rocker, either on his front porch or under the big old elm tree, in his front yard, as he always did on warm summer afternoons” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank Cook goes on to say that Lemuel would flag all his many grandkids over with his cane, and “…[we] would run to see who would get there first for the best seat” (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Frank Cook further comments, “It [Lemuel’s discussion of General George Washington] would usually start with a question. Tell us about George Washington. What did he look like?” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank stated about Lemuel Cook still further, “He [Lemuel] would say, ‘Let me think on it…”’ (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank Cook, moreover, adds about Lemuel, “…a gleam would come to his eye, and he would begin to speak slowly and deliberately” (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Then the wise silver-haired elder statesman of the Cook family began to tell his many progeny his long a-gone tales and memories of General Washington, sixty years after the former American President’s death in 1799. Lemuel began to speak, “I saw General Washington a few times, and I said a few words to him, and he [did] back to me. I’ll not forget. [The] first time I set eyes on him [Washington] was at White Plains or thereabouts. I’d joined up at the first call [with the Continental Army, in 1775], and those first couple of years were hard ones” (Frank Cook, 2-4).

As Lemuel Cook spoke of his distant yesteryear participation in America’s savage and arduous War for Independence, Frank Cook studiously listened to his great grandfather’s words and personal experiences, and Frank Cook carefully jotted down on paper all that Lemuel had uttered aloud…

“Our company was resting near White Plains, after being pushed off the Island [Manhattan] and out of New York City and up [the Harlem] River” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel was referencing the Patriot withdrawal from Manhattan in the autumn of 1776, immediately following the British invasion thereabouts. This was the frenetic aftermath Lemuel was talking about when the Yankee bluecoats were outmanned and outgunned by their British redcoat adversaries (please see Michael M. DeBonis’ 2017 NYHR article on the subject entitled, “Dangerous Interlude”). General Washington’s badly outnumbered and poorly trained Continental Army could not thwart Lord Howe’s brutal and overwhelming assault on Brooklyn and Manhattan Island. General George Washington had scored two brilliant miracles against Lord William Howe’s relentlessly advancing British forces in the wake of their monstrous onslaught (Tallmadge, 12-13). Firstly, Washington and his Continentals conclusively (and unexpectedly) outclassed the British Army at the Battle of Harlem Heights, towards the northern end of Manhattan Island, and he (Washington) subsequently organized and delivered a brilliantly executed and well-ordered withdrawal of his bloodied and battered Continental Army north to Westchester County, by boldly crossing the Harlem River, before his British enemies could fully surround him (Tallmadge, 12-13). This complicated martial maneuver clearly confused the charging General Howe, and General Washington had skillfully managed to keep most of the starving and retreating American Army entirely together under the severest military and logistical odds thrust against them (Tallmadge, 12-13).

Lemuel continued his reminisces of Washington, “My job was with Major [Benjamin] Tallmadge. Being in the Light Dragoons, we had horses to take care of. Mine was a good ole Bay I’d brought from home. I was caring for my horse and a couple of others that needed rubbing down when I heard a commotion a ways down the road. I could see by the [blue] uniforms it was [a group of] officers leading several companies of Foot. One fellow sat above the others in the saddle, head, and shoulders. I knew he must be the General [Washington]. We had heard how large a man he was. As they came closer, all I could do was stand there with my mouth open. An officer in the front gave me a dirty look like to be saying, ‘How come you don’t salute?”’ (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Lemuel Cook continued, “I whipped off a good fancy one. I suppose the officers dismounted, and [they] went to talk with the Major [Tallmadge]. I went back to [working on] my horse. A while later, the General [Washington] came around the headquarters, where I was, to stretch his legs, I suppose, and [he] said, ‘Is that your horse, soldier?’” Lemuel recounted to his great-grandchildren (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel responded to Washington, “Yes sir,’’ as he came to full attention (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel went on to explain, “He [Washington] put me at ease, and [he] asked [me] my name” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Private Lemuel Cook responded to General George Washington, “Lemuel Cook, from Connecticut, sir” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington spoke directly to Lemuel in return, “That’s a right smart mount you have there, Lemuel Cook, from Connecticut” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel replied to Washington, “He’s done right by me, General” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington finished with Lemuel by saying, “Well, you take care of him [Lemuel’s Bay]. You will be glad you did” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook returned, telling Frank Cook and the others, “With that, the General [Washington] went about his business. That’s all there was to it. I’ll never forget, though, with all the things that must have been pressing on him, he [Washington] took the time for a kind word. He [Washington] had the kindest look in his eyes I’ve ever seen. [I] got the chance to see him [Washington] a few times more, being in the quartermasters. They called us artificers in them days. [I] didn’t see him [General Washington] until some two, maybe three years later” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel was not done yet with telling his family about his famous wartime army general.

Lemuel resumed his speech of Washington, “We were going down [south from Connecticut and New York] through Head of Elk [Cecil County, Maryland]. Things were getting better…we had been winning [in the War]. We knew we had a big battle coming up somewhere to the south. Scuttlebutt [the gossip in the Continental Army] was that the General [Washington] had gone ahead and [he] would meet us along the way. We had stopped [along our southward journey], and I was minding my own business, paying no mind to no one, when I heard a rich, full voice say, ‘Lem Cook, is that you?’” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington continued talking to Lemuel Cook, saying, “I thought that might be you, with that Bay” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Cook responded to Washington, “Yes, sir…It’s very good to see you, sir” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington still had more to say to Private Cook, “I admire the lines of your Bay, Lem. I have one like it at Mount Vernon” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel said to General Washington in return, “Yes, sir. He’s a little worse for wear. But I’ve been keeping your advice. My brothers made me promise to bring him back to the farm when our work was done” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington concluded to Cook, “That’s what we’re about, private” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook further added to his progeny, “And with that, the General [Washington] was gone as quickly as he had appeared” (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Great Grandpa Cook related more about Washington to Frank Cook and his other descendants, “I had whirled around with my eyes bugging out and my mouth wide open, again, amazed that he [Washington] had remembered me” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook was directly speaking of his second encounter with General Washington. Washington had left a distinctly positive impression on the young American soldier. Lemuel would continue to describe his second meeting with George Washington to his great-grandson Frank, “I’d grown six inches since last time we met [at White Plains, New York]. He must have recognized the horse before recognizing me. It seems as though he still towered a foot over me. But I was ten feet tall after that. ‘How come the General knows you?’” they [Lemuel’s fellow dragoons] all asked. I didn’t tell them. We saw him again at Yorktown, which turned out to be the big one where we were heading. The last time I spoke to him [Washington] was at Danbury, [Connecticut] when he gave [personally to] me my discharge. I was standing there with my brother. I still have my discharge [papers] here, someplace. But, I will have to tell you [the Cook family] about that another time. The General had a look about him, you don’t forget. There are hardly any words to describe him. Those were hard days for the most part, but there were some good things about them, too” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel met General George Washington four times in total (during the Revolutionary War), and he had conversed with him (Washington) at least twice (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington did indeed leave an incredibly enduring and noble memory of himself in Lemuel Cook’s mind and soul. As students of American history, we are certainly not at a loss for having Private Cook’s close, firsthand recollections of the great American General interacting with his beloved soldiers.

Reverend Elias Hilliard commented of Lemuel Cook in 1864, “Mr. Cook was at the Battle of Brandywine [Creek], and he was at Cornwallis’ surrender [at the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia]” (Hilliard, 7-8). In regard to the Americans’ attack against the British, at Brandywine Creek, in Pennsylvania, it must be stated that Private Lemuel Cook was not alone. Once again, Cook was in the company of his commanding officer, the recently promoted Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Tallmadge, 20-21). Tallmadge would write of this bitterly contested clash in his highly respected and insightful Memoir sometime before he died at his home in Litchfield, Connecticut, on March 7, 1835 (Tallmadge, 69). Tallmadge says in his very factual account, “On the morning of the 11th of September, 1777, Gen. Howe put his army in order of battle, and [he] moved on towards the Brandywine. The action commenced by 10 o’clock in the morning, and [it] was sustained from right to left [flanks] by turns through the whole line. The action was obstinate on both sides, and [it] lasted through the [whole] day; but the left wing of the British Army, having crossed the [Brandywine] river, some distance above, on the right of our [Continental] army, came down upon our right [flank], while the Hessians [foreign-born German mercenary soldiers in service of the British crown] crossed in front at Chadsford, and the American troops were forced to retire,” (Tallmadge, 21).

Once again, Washington’s troops were badly outgunned and outmanned by their much better-trained and equipped British enemies. The redcoats also outmaneuvered the Patriots, who clearly had superior discipline, battlefield experience, and leadership within their ranks. General (Lord) William Howe may have outflanked General George Washington in his advance on the Continentals, but Washington instantly returned the favor by markedly outflanking the British in his [American] retreat towards Philadelphia, thus evading capture by the hands of the redcoats (Tallmadge, 21).

In the days following the Battle of Brandywine Creek, the British rapidly pursued Washington and his American bluecoats to Philadelphia (Tallmadge, 21 and Rose, 59), the Patriot capital, only to find it abandoned by the Continental Congress and the Continental Army (Rose, 59). The very troublesome American mischief-makers had again skillfully eluded capture by General Howe and his redcoat hordes. The Americans may have given up their capital city, but they retained both their lives and their ability to fight the enemy another day. In this instance, the British Army was shamefully humbled by the bluecoats. Benjamin Tallmadge and Lemuel Cook were both in General George Washington’s personal presence during this very turbulent military campaign. Both Cook and Tallmadge had faithfully and competently served the Continental cause.

Of his individual and direct participation at the Siege of Yorktown, Lemuel Cook does give a succinct account, unlike Tallmadge, who did not participate in the Battle of Yorktown in any capacity (Tallmadge, 45-46). The regiment of Connecticut’s Second Continental Light Dragoons was thus split into two halves, with one half being sent south from the Tristate area to fight General Charles Cornwallis in Virginia (Hilliard, 7-8), while the other half of the Dragoon regiment remained behind in the lower Hudson Valley, near Westchester County, New York, to guard upstate New York and lower New England against any potential British incursions into those regions, that would be possibly launched by British General Henry Clinton, the recoat Commander-in-Chief, based with a formidable army in New York City (Tallmadge, 44-46).

Lemuel Cook commented to Hilliard of the Siege of Yorktown, “It was reported that Washington was going to storm New York [City]. We made a bylaw that every man should stick with his horse in our regiment. If his horse went, he [each Continental cavalryman] should go with him. I was waiter [assistant] for the quartermaster, and so I had a chance to keep my horse in good condition. Baron Steuben was muster master [a senior-level record keeper]. He had called us out to select men and horses fit for service” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook continued to Hilliard, “The next morning, old Steuben had got my name. There were eighteen out of the regiment [the Second Connecticut Continental Light Dragoons]. ‘Be on the ground tomorrow morning at nine o’clock,”’ (Hilliard, 7-8). Thus, Baron Steuben chose Private Lemuel Cook to go on a mission (Hilliard, 7-8).

Although Washington had publically put out the word to his troops that they would be attacking New York City from southern Connecticut and Westchester County, in lower upstate New York, Washington privately ordered his officer corps to steer their soldiers around Manhattan Island, having the bluecoats march into New Jersey instead (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge, 44-45). From New Jersey, General George Washington and his Continentals resumed stampeding southward into the State of Maryland (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge, 44-45), and, from Maryland, the Continentals continued their southward footwork into Virginia (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge, 44-45).

Of his departure south, Lemuel Cook says, “My colonel [possibly Sheldon, Cook is not specific] didn’t like to have me go” (Hilliard, 7-8). This statement by Lemuel Cook to Reverend Hilliard reinforces the factual reputation that Cook’s record in his own dragoon regiment was stellar and that Cook the soldier was very well respected by his fellow privates and superior officers alike (Hilliard, 7-8).

Cook told Hilliard that the Continentals’ march south to Virginia from Westchester County, New York, and southern Connecticut was arduous (Hilliard, 7-8). Then Cook resumed his speech (to Hilliard) about his firsthand Revolutionary War experiences at the Battle of Yorktown, “Then we were in Virginia. There was not much fighting. [General] Cornwallis tried to force his way north to New York, but he fell into the arms of [General] LaFayette, who drove Cornwallis back [towards Yorktown, Virginia]. Cornwallis was sealed off on land from British General Henry Clinton’s reinforcements in New York City, by LaFayette, and at sea, by French Admiral Count De Grasse (Tallmadge, 45). Fighting conditions quickly deteriorated for the British, who were all garrisoned at ocean-oriented Yorktown in Virginia (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge 45). British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, in charge of all redcoat military operations in the American southern colonies, tried in vain to fend off the combined infantry and artillery assaults by Washington and LaFayette’s Franco-American force (Tallmadge, 45).

Lemuel Cook continued telling about the Battle of Yorktown to Reverend Hilliard “Washington ordered that there should be no laughing at the British. And he [Washington] said it was bad enough to surrender without being insulted” (Hilliard, 7-8). Major Benjamin Tallmadge affirmed Cook’s observation, commenting on the British surrendering to Yankee and French troops at Yorktown, “The joy and exultation were proportionally great in the allied army, although not the smallest insult was offered to the prisoners” (Tallmadge, 45). Cornwallis’ redcoat Army was also a starving one, with dirty and tattered clothes (Hilliard, 7-8), and Cook described, “…Some [redcoats] had a pint of lice on them…No boots or shoes [either],” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cornwallis and his Royal British Army had little or no supplies at their disposal; hence the British Army’s chances of escape or victory (in the direct presence of the integrated Franco-American Army) were astronomically slim, to none at all (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge, 45).

Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington was inevitable (Tallmadge, 45), and the British General to the American Commander-in-Chief made his undisputed capitulation on October 19, 1781 (Tallmadge, 45). In almost one swipe of his sword, General George Washington and his underdog Continental Army had boldly defeated the most powerful military power (Great Britain) on earth. The colossal and bloody struggle America had fought for so long to gain its political and economic independence from the British Crown was, practically speaking, over. Washington and Lemuel Cook were thus personal witnesses to one of history’s most momentous occasions, and the Reverend Elias Brewster Hilliard had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn of it from a direct survivor of that specific plight.

Frank Cook noted of his great Revolutionary ancestor, “Lemuel served for the entire war, and he was wounded several times, but [he was] never seriously [hurt] enough to keep him out of the thick of it for any length of time. Having received his discharge at the close of the War, Lemuel returned to Northbury [Connecticut], where he married Hannah Curtis in 1783” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Hannah C. Cook was a native of Cheshire, Connecticut (Hilliard, 7-8). The Revolution had come to an end, but life for the young, steel-willed Lemuel had barely just begun.

After eight harsh years of war, Lemuel only desired a peaceful life of farming (Frank Cook, 2-4). He would never again, in his many years, return to the life of a soldier (Frank Cook, 2-4 and Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel and Hannah Cook remained in Connecticut until 1788, when they relocated to a farm in Clinton, Oneida County, in upstate New York (Frank Cook, 2-4). For unknown reasons, Lemuel Cook and his family returned to Plymouth, Connecticut, circa 1795, and he became one of the “incorporators” of that town (Frank Cook, 2-4).

“He [Lemuel Cook] remained in Connecticut until 1804 when he returned to [upstate] New York” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook settled with his wife at Pompey, in Onondaga County, following his brothers Selah and True Cook, who both had journeyed and settled there (from Connecticut) sometime before 1795 (Frank Cook, 2-4). At Pompey (in his forty-sixth year), Lemuel Cook bought a sixty-acre farm and prosperously worked it until 1818, when he applied for his first military pension (Frank Cook, 2-4). Cook’s wounds from the American Revolution were beginning to take their toll on his health (Frank Cook, 2-4), and several of his sons, still living with him, were not yet of age to be able to satisfactorily help him with the running of his Pompey farm (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook sold his Pompey farm in 1821, which was positioned on Henneberry Road (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Lemuel’s older sons, Lemuel Jr. and Miles Cook, were both of age to give their father some assistance at his farm in Pompey, but both sons had families and farms of their own to tend, so the help they both were able to give to Lemuel Cook Sr. was hence very mitigated (Frank Cook, 2-4). In 1821, Lemuel Cook (Sr.) relocated to North Bergen, in Genesee County, and he bought and operated a farm there (while living with his younger two sons, Gilbert and Selah) until around 1832. Lemuel Cook (Sr.) then moved again (for the final time) to his last residence (also a farm) at Clarendon, New York (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel’s initial land purchase at Pompey, New York, was part of the Military Tract located there (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Gilbert and Selah Cook bought and operated their own farms, near their father, at Clarendon, New York (Frank Cook, 2-4). Hannah Cook died sometime in the first part of the nineteenth century (Frank Cook, 2-4) and Lemuel Sr. remarried his second wife, Ruth Cook, formerly of Monroe County (in upstate New York) and a past resident of the village of Sweden (Frank Cook, 2-4). Ruth Cook died in 1860 (Frank Cook, 2-4), causing Lemuel Sr. to stay with his sons, Gilbert and True Cook, who both insisted that their father retire from farming after nearly eighty years of his doing the very rigorous work (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Now in his twilight years, Lemuel Cook would enjoy telling his grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his wartime adventures (Frank Cook, 2-4), and (with the help of a cane) Lemuel Cook would cherish walking into town to pick up his pension check, at the Clarendon Post Office, (Frank Cook, 2-4). Two years after his very fortuitous meeting with the superb historian, E. B. Hilliard, the undeniably durable and spirited Revolutionary War veteran Lemuel Cook Sr., passed away at Clarendon, New York, aged 107 years old, succumbing to his infirmity, that which is called great antiquity (Frank Cook, 2-4). The date of Lemuel Sr. Cook’s death is May 20, 1866 (Rochester Union Advertiser, 1), and his subsequent prayer service and burial took place on May 23, 1866, in the family cemetery built on the property of his son, Curtis Cook, in Clarendon, New York (Rochester Union Advertiser, 1).

Hilliard’s historical account of Lemuel Cook fills in much of Cook’s background narrative, which is factually absent from Frank Cook’s very concise (though highly detailed) exegesis describing his revered ancestor. It is also noted here that Frank Cook’s excellent biographical commentary about Lemuel provides much missing critical information about Lemuel’s life, which is not at all recorded in Hilliard’s account of Private Cook. And Lemuel Cook’s life was a truly amazing one.

Hilliard says that Lemuel Cook, while still a young man, became engaged in a tavern brawl (near Utica, New York) with an unknown aboriginal American (Hilliard 7-8) over a disagreement between them involving cattle (Hilliard, 7-8). The male aboriginal “…assailed him [Lemuel] at a public house, as he [Lemuel] was on his way home, coming at him [Lemuel] with great fury, with a drawn knife. Mr. Cook was unarmed, but catching up a chair, he presented it as a shield against the Indian’s thrusts till help appeared. He [Lemuel] says he never knew what fear was, and he [Lemuel] always declared that no man should take him prisoner alive” (Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel Cook was not a man who cowered in the presence of danger.

E. B. Hilliard further says of Lemuel Cook, “His frame is large. His presence is commanding. In his prime, he [Lemuel] must have possessed prodigious strength. He [Lemuel] has evidently been a man of most resolute spirit…the old determination still manifesting itself in his look and words. His voice [Lemuel’s], the full power of which he still retains, is marvelous for its volume and strength” (Hilliard, 7-8). Hilliard went on relating Lemuel Cook’s character traits, “Speaking of the present [Civil] war, he [Lemuel] said, in his strong tones, at the same time bringing down his cane, with force upon the floor, ‘It is terrible. But, terrible as it is, the rebellion must be put down!’’’ (Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel was mentally alert and patriotic at one hundred and five years old and two years from his death. But he very well knew that a civil war is the worst kind of war, where fathers square off against their sons and brothers kill their brothers. Lemuel Cook knew this awful reality because he had engaged in such a war (against the British) during the Revolution. Indeed, the American Revolution resembled the American Civil War in many categories, although the battles of the Revolution had body counts usually much lower than those of Civil War battles.

In his old age, Lemuel Cook often stuttered in his speech and frequently had problems with his memory (Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel would quickly catch on to the gist of a conversation once his years-rich mind became focused (Hilliard, 7-8). He (Lemuel) enjoyed hearing and telling good jokes, talking to his friends and family, going on long walks, and reading his Bible (Hilliard, 7-8). Hilliard was positive to document Cook’s political leanings as an active and life-long Democrat (Hilliard, 7-8). But, unlike many Democrats of Civil War America, Lemuel Cook Sr. was one who was wholly loyal to the Union cause (Hilliard, 7-8).

Lemuel Cook was a very dynamic force in American history, from his personal life in the late eighteenth century of colonial British America through to the early, middle, and late nineteenth century. At this very time, a new nation did rise, unseen like any in the history of the world before it, brazenly declaring that all men under God were created equal and that the newly-minted country, called the United States of America, would dedicate all of its people, resources and lifespan to the fulfilling of this divine declaration (See U. S. Declaration of Independence, paragraphs 1-8, by Thomas Jefferson and others).

The story of Lemuel Cook is the story of the United States of America. Lemuel Cook’s biography is one of the most astonishing life stories in all of American history. Although Lemuel Cook’s life ties him directly to the history of Connecticut and New York State, Cook’s story historically transcends its time, place, and space with respect to American geography. This is so because America was Lemuel Cook and Lemuel Cook was America. History cannot be neglectful of its own events, but, more significantly, history cannot be derelict in the proper mentioning of the very souls who inhabit it…and Lemuel Cook’s soul looms largely over our American history.

Lemuel Cook’s markedly novel and extraordinary life incorporates the last two decades of Western Civilization’s Enlightenment, the whole of the nineteenth century’s Romantic Movement in the arts, letters, and music that replaced it, as well as the first two-thirds of the Victorian Age (Harrington, 545-561 and Capers, 561-579). Lemuel Cook’s life directly coincided with the lives of esteemed American thinkers and writers as diverse as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to those of Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain, who followed them both (in the annals of American history) much, much later on in time (Harrington, 545-561 and Capers, 561-579). The hugely expansive length of Lemuel Cook’s life makes his individual biography virtually unprecedented in the time span of his American country. For instance, Lemuel Cook was very well alive for Cornwallis’ remarkable surrender to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia (in 1781), as well as being alive, too, for Robert E. Lee’s epoch-making surrender to Ulysses S. Grant, at Appomattox Courthouse, also in Virginia (in 1865). Cook lived long enough for the American Civil War to begin and end. And Lemuel Cook lived long enough to understand the Civil War’s historical importance with respect to the American nation as a whole. At age 105, Lemuel still had his wits about him (Hilliard, 7-8), albeit his wits were at times slowed down by his much-advanced age (Hilliard, 7-8).

The Brookhaven Times Newspapers comment on Lemuel Cook’s life, “He [Lemuel Cook] lived through the War of 1812…saw his countrymen settle westward, achieving new frontiers…and in 1861, he saw our young republic descend into a brutal civil war,” (Editors, BRTN, 1). The Brookhaven Times Newspapers also accurately say of Lemuel Cook, “At the time of his [Lemuel’s] enlistment [in the Continental Army] in 1775, there were just thirteen British colonies. By the time of his [Lemuel’s] death [in 1866], there were [existing] thirty-six American states” (Editors, BRTN, 1). Cook lived through the American life and times of Manifest Destiny, the Mexican-American War, the Indian Wars, and the First Industrial Revolution (Harrington, 545-561 and Capers, 561-579). Cook’s life is certainly not one to be overlooked by American historians. Lemuel’s eyes “…witnessed so much: [they] watched as Benjamin Tallmadge led charges against British soldiers, watched as [fellow Culper spy and New Yorker] Caleb Brewster carried secret messages to camp, and they witnessed [at Yorktown] the sword of General Cornwallis being offered to [General] Washington,” (Editors, BRTN, 1). The eyes of Lemuel Cook were wise and discriminating.

There are no legal or family records from Lemuel Cook’s vast and vital life that document any possible criminal activity or financial distress of his while he lived, whether Lemuel was living in New England or whether he was living in upstate New York. All written documentation regarding Lemuel Cook’s life strongly indicates that he was a genuinely moral, and diligently laborious farmer. The historical record also shows that Lemuel Cook was an industrious and economically successful agriculture agent.

From Lemuel Cook’s last will and testament, drafted and sealed in 1855 (Lemuel Cook, 1), we see at that time, Lemuel Cook Sr. had eight living children, including seven male heirs and two female heirs (Lemuel Cook, 1). Their names are Esther Coleman, Curtis Cook, Gilbert Cook, Lemuel Cook Jr., Lyman Cook, Miles Cook, Worthy Cook, and Electa Tousley (Lemuel Cook, 1). The Senior Lemuel Cook’s last will and testament was registered in Orleans County of upstate New York (Lemuel Cook, 1). Lemuel Cook’s son Selah Cook is not listed in his will with his other children (Lemuel Cook, 1). But from Lemuel’s codicil, written sometime later on and clearly printed at the bottom of Lemuel’s will, we know that his son Selah Cook was alive when Lemuel Cook Sr. died and that Selah was residing in Flint, Michigan (Lemuel Cook, 1). For unknown reasons, Selah Cook has not left any fixed sum of money in his father’s will, as all of Lemuel Sr.’s other heirs had been given by him (Lemuel Cook, 1). Selah Cook was only bequeathed by Lemuel Cook Sr. some of the monies collected from the sales of the great patriarch’s chattel properties (Lemuel Cook, 1). All of the Senior Lemuel’s progeny in the 1866 probated will are listed as living in upstate New York (Lemuel Cook, 1), with the two exceptions of Selah Cook (who is listed as being a resident of Flint, Michigan) and Lyman Cook, who is documented in Lemuel Cook’s will as being a resident of Buffalo, Wisconsin (Lemuel Cook, 1). Gilbert Cook (as the executor of his father’s will) seems to be the greatest recipient of Lemuel Cook Senior’s estate, receiving the sum of $400.00 dollars (Lemuel Cook, 1), which is two hundred dollars more received than most of Lemuel’s other heirs (Lemuel Cook, 1). Gilbert Cook profited even further from the benefit of his father’s settlement, as in the case of the elder Lemuel’s daughters, Electa and Esther (Lemuel Cook, 1), with Gilbert being awarded $390.00 dollars more than each of them. We may only speculate as to why Lemuel’s two daughters (Esther Coleman and Electa Tousley) each received only ten dollars in his will (Lemuel Cook, 1).

With Lemuel Cook’s death in May of 1866, one of America’s final living bridges to the War for Independence had forever vanished. But, we do not see Lemuel Cook as some tragically orphaned, anachronistic ghost. Rather, we must see Lemuel Cook for what he was. The exceptionally long-lived Revolutionary War private was an incarnate example of America’s greatest possibilities. We have several historically authentic photographs of him and three authentic verbatim personal commentaries of his left to us, which reveal much about Lemuel Cook to our minds and to our spirits alike. Most importantly, modern America has Lemuel Cook’s great life as leaving behind a rich legacy. This is one that expresses American values at their best. Such a heritage is entirely immune to the destructive power of passing time, and (because of this) Lemuel Cook outlives history.

About the Author: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, NY. A graduate of both Suffolk County Community College (A. A. in Liberal Studies) and SUNY at Stony Brook (B. A. in English literature), Michael’s work first appeared in the Brookhaven Times Newspapers and in the Village Beacon Record. His current work (poetry and prose) may be found in The New York History Review and elsewhere. Mr. DeBonis is dedicated to studying and to learning the history of the great State of New York. 



1) Biography.Com, Washington Irving: A Life, 2015-2020, copyright 2022, The Editors.

2) The Brookhaven Times Newspapers, Under Tallmadge’s Command: The Last Surviving Culper Connection, The TBR Staff, August 19, 2016, Setauket, NY, copyright 2022.

3) Gerald M. Capers, The Encyclopedia Americana, volume 27, pages 561-579, copyright 1970, New York, NY, The Americana Corporation.

4) Frank Cook, Lemuel Remembers Washington, circa 1855-1864, Clarendon, NY,, copyright 2022, Burr Cook.

5) Frank W. Cook and Holly Cook, The Cooks: A Family Genealogy (1978-2013),, copyright 2022, Burr Cook.

6) Lemuel Cook, Last Will and Testament, 1855-1865, Clarendon, NY,, copyright 2022, Burr Cook.

7) Fred Harvey Harrington, The Encyclopedia Americana, volume 27, pages 545-561, copyright 1970, New York, NY, The Americana Corporation.

8) Elias Brewster Hilliard, The Last Men of the Revolution, copyright 1863-1865, Hartford, Connecticut.

9) Thomas Jefferson, The United States Declaration of Independence, paragraphs 1-8, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 4th, 1776.

10) The Rochester Union Advertiser, Obituaries, May 22, 1866, copyright 1866, Clarendon, NY, The Editors.

11) Alexander Rose, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, copyright 2006-2007, Bantam Dell/Random House Publishing, New York, NY.

12) Benjamin Tallmadge, Memoir of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, Forgotten Books/Dalton House Publishing, copyright 2015, London, England.

History as Poetry

 History as Poetry



Are you the one who stashes your dreams,
at bottoms of rivers, or star-striped streams?
Are your memories of days long-past
written on sea-foams, where moonlight’s cast?
Tell me who you are… Tell me who you are…
What is your place in the sky?
When did dusk or dawn first color each eye?
How brightly burns your star?
Tell me who you are… Tell me who you are…
Where is the place you will rest your breath?
What sings sparrows of life or death?
Will your feet in the snow trail near or far?
Tell me who you are… Tell me who you are…

---Michael Mauro DeBonis, 09-25-2022.

About the Poet: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, New York. A graduate of both Suffolk County Community College (A. A. in Liberal Studies) and SUNY at Stony Brook (B. A. in English literature), Michael’s work first appeared in the Village Beacon Record and in the Brookhaven Times Newspapers. His current work (poetry and prose) may be found in The New York History Review and elsewhere. Mr. DeBonis is dedicated to studying and to learning the history of the great State of New York.