Robert and Stephen Cook murdered Wampaungcoss, a Mohican Indian, April 11, 1753

(December 19, 2018)

It’s hard to decide where to start my blogs on my ancestor’s from the 18th century. I have been stalling because it is painful. So, perhaps I should start in mid-century?

My 5x great grandfather murdered a man. An American Indian man. Here is what I know:

  1. Stephen Cook, my 5x great grandfather was born in 1733 in Westborough, MA. His parents were Cornelius Cook and Eunice (Forbush) Cook. Stephen was the sixth of their twelve children. Their older son, Robert Cook, also participated in the murder.
  2. Stephen was 19 and half years old on April 11, 1753 when he and Robert were in Stockbridge, MA which was a “praying town” of American Indians in the western reaches of Massachusetts colony at the time.
  3. Stephen and Robert brutally murdered this man. They shot him and split his head open with a hatchet, it was bloody, and I’m sure deeply traumatizing for his  family.
  4. Here’s an excerpt from the court document:
    1. HOM:  Robert Cooke (aided and abetted by Stephen Cook) m. Wamppoungcoss [aka Wampuangcoss]            Weapon:  with a hatchet.  Hit on back part of his head through his skull & into his brain.  2″ deep.  inst.  // gun and hatchet            Circumstances:  swamp

                  Inquest:  SF#70834 v.436, 13 April 1753, Stockbridge, Hampshire  “…at a place called Hogswamp In Sheffield within the Body of the sd County of Hampshire on the 11th Day of Aprill Instant About Ten of the Clock A:M: The sd Wampaungcoss was shot thro the Body by a Ball from his own Gun and had his Skull Brooken by the head of his own Hatchett and by the same Hatchett was chupt on the Top of his head thro his Scull and into his Brains and by the same Hatchett was chupt in the side of his Neck into the Bone & That the sd Wampaungcoss Instantly Died of the sd Wounds & that the Shot & Blow & Chups aforesd were wittingly willfully & with Malice forethought made and Done by one Robert Cook as he calls himself of Nicklwaug in th sd County of Hampshire Cordwainer. and the sd Jurors further say that one Stevens Cook as he calls himself of Wesborough Cordwainer was present and in the Beginning of the Fray in which ye sd Wampaungcoss recd the Wounds aforesd & was so fas accessory to ye killing aforesd as to strike the sd Wampaungcoss with his fist contrary to Law & and so the Jurors aforesd upon their oaths aforesd say That the aforesd Wampaungcoss In manner and form aforesd The aforesd Robert Cook then and there feloniously did kill and murder against the Peace…”

                  Indictment?  yes, murder.  “upon thier Oath say That the said Robert Coke and Stephen Cooke did on the Eleventh day of April alst at Sheffiled aforesaid With force as aforesaid feloniously Willfully and of their malice forethought in manner and form aforesaid Kill and Mruder the Said Wampaungoes.”

                  Term?:  9/1753 (Hampshire Co.)

                  Court proceedings:  Robert Cooke of District of Rutland (Worcester Co.) (cordwainer) at Sheffield (Hampshire Co.) malice foretho’t murdered Wamppoungcoss (an Indian man) with a hatchet.  4/11/1753 hit on back part of his head through his skull & into his brain.  2″ deep.  inst.  AID & ABET:  Stephen Cook of Marlboro (Middlesex Co., laborer).  pNG.  RC:  fG of MANSL.  SC:  fNG.  RC:  benefit of clergy.  Branded “T” on hand & 1 yr. imprisonment & cost

Another description is found in Drew’s account of Henry Knox and the Revolutionary War Trail, originally published in 2012:

Excerpt from Knox re Wampaungcoss Murder

On April 13, 1753, Robert and Stephen were convicted of homicide and treated leniently by the courts. They served a brief sentence and then were released. According to Miles (1994), in his classic study, Red Man Dispossessed, published in the New England Quarterly (Vol 67, No. 1; pages 46076),  “although tensions had escalated in 1753-54 over the apparently unprovoked murder of an Indian by two white men, who were treated leniently by the Springfield court, … ” (page 55).

They both went on to serve Massachusetts colony in the French and Indian Wars. I guess if they wanted to kill Indians, they could do for the government rather than for their own reasons. They were in Fort Ticonderoga and at the massacre of Fort William Henry.

Stephen went on to marry Elizabeth Metcalf in 1757, and they had my 4x great grandfather, Eli Cook. Eli moved to Brunswick, Maine and lived there for about 30 years, during which time my 3x great grandfather (also Stephen Cook) was born in 1797.

The man they murdered on April 11, 1753 also had children – but I do not know who they are.

Ebenezer Parkman, of Westborough, MA kept a very detailed diary and in April 1779 had this entry, with the footnote explaining the Cook family (Thomas was a younger brother who had a checkered past and stole from the wealthier to give to the destitute):

Parkman Diary Excerpt

When I think of the Iroquois Principle of the 7th Generation, it’s Stephen Cook I think about first. He is one of my ancestors seven generations ago. He behaved in ways that continue to impact my life today – especially now that I know about what he did and how he lived. He was one man; just one man. He was alive in a time when colonization of the land mass we now call North America, and the region we now call New England, was invaded by English (and other European) settlers for the purposes of making huge profits and claiming it was for religious freedom. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the “religious freedom” claims are nothing more than a velvet curtain hiding the ugly and violent practices of invasion, domination, destruction, enslavement, and genocide behind it.

The 18th century was a time of transition from the early colonial period of building communities and negotiating with Indigenous people – and then the cataclysmic disaster of King Philip’s war and other battles of the 17th century – to the irreversible onslaught of European immigrants coming to the colonies by choice or by force. The English and French colonizers fought long and hard to profit from the natural resources in northern New England. The Indigenous people did what they could to encourage peaceful trade, cooperation, and sometimes collusion across alliances for their survival. By the end of the 18th century the economic institutions of slavery and colonial exclusion of indigenous people were firmly in place. Tens of thousands of people arrived in colonial New England from Europe, and from the Caribbean islands. Some were indentured servants who had multi-year servant contracts to fulfill before they could be ‘free’ – others arrived in bondage and remained in bondage for the rest of their lives. And still others were forced to endure horrendous poverty and dependency to survive in a difficult climate.

By the time the 18th century ended, “a new nation” was born with the promise of freedom and the betrayal of slavery; with the hope of economic prosperity and the reality of inhuman exploitation of labor; with the suffrage of a select few with the boisterous political systems they called democracy and the systematic exclusion of most who lived alongside them and whose labors they stole.

It’s going to take me several entries to explore the many ways in which my ancestors were part of the civic discourse and incivility of their times.  I know some of my New England ancestors owned businesses that profited from Southern slave economies, and some enslaved people directly in New England, and there are some of my ancestors who were abolitionists. I plan to write about them all in the months ahead. Reading American history and finding one’s ancestors in the pages is humbling. It’s an emotional quagmire that offers me a richer, more complex understanding of our nation; its past, its present, and our future. I pray that the 7th generation to come from me (in about 225 years)  will benefit from how I have chosen to live.

Thank you for reading this.

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