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William Cocke and the founding of America


An 1839 engraving of the early settlement of the American South. One such settler was William Cocke who was associated with Daniel Boone, a captain in the American Revolution, at various times both a friend and foe of Andrew Jackson and one of the founders of Columbus.

An 1839 engraving of the early settlement of the American South. One such settler was William Cocke who was associated with Daniel Boone, a captain in the American Revolution, at various times both a friend and foe of Andrew Jackson and one of the founders of Columbus. Photo by: Provided


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William Cocke

William Cocke
Photo by: Provided



Rufus Ward



One of the most interesting figures in Columbus history was William Cocke. He was born in Virginia in 1747 and died in Columbus in 1828. Cocke actually lived the founding and settlement of the U.S. He then became one of the founders of Columbus. 


Few experienced the beginnings of this country as did Cocke. He studied and then practiced law but he left his mark in many different fields. He participated in the tarring and feathering of an English recruiting officer in 1774, and in 1776 he lead four companies of Virginia militia into Tennessee against "hostile Indians."  


Cocke then had the unusual distinction in 1778 and 1779 of representing Washington County in the Virginia Assembly and the North Carolina House of Burgesses, at the same time. He knew Daniel Boone and was associated with him in the settlement of Boonesboro. 


During the American Revolution, he served as captain and one of the "Overmountain Men" under Col. John Sevier in the 1780 American victory over British Col. Ferguson at the Battle of King''s Mountain. Cocke also saw action at the battles of Long Island Flats and Fort Thicketty. Another of Columbus'' founders, Silas McBee, was also present at the Battle of King''s Mountain. 


Cocke continued his association with John Sevier after the Revolution and was one of the foremost proponents of the state of Franklin, which later evolved into the state of Tennessee. Upon Tennessee''s statehood, he became one of the new state''s first two U.S. senators. 


In November 1792, Cocke wrote a very long letter to the Nashville newspaper that was uncomplimentary of the Cherokee Indians. In response Cherokee Chief Hanging Maw wrote a very short letter to the newspaper. That letter mentioned Cocke''s "long letter" and in effect said that "he who must talk long must not be talking the truth." 


His first wife, Mary Maclin, died in 1795 and a year later he married Kissiah Sims. In Tennessee, Cocke became friends with Andrew Jackson. He became judge of the First Circuit in 1809. Political disagreements led to Cocke and Jackson almost fighting a duel. Their mutual friends intervened to prevent the possibly deadly confrontation. 


The Creek Indian war which was a combination of a Creek civil war and the Southern phase of the War of 1812 erupted in the summer of 1813. Fear struck the state of Tennessee and the Mississippi territory when on Aug. 30, 1813, Creek Indians attacked and over ran Ft. Mims on the Alabama River. More than 250 American settlers and friendly Indians were killed in the massacre. Andrew Jackson responded by leading "his brigade of mounted men" south to "save the Tombigbee settlements" in what is now south Alabama. 


Although 65, Cocke volunteered and enlisted as a private to serve under Jackson. In his Jan. 29, 1814, report of actions against the Creeks, Jackson favorably mentioned Cocke and he and Jackson reconciled. Later in 1814, he was appointed U.S. Agent to the Chickasaw Nation. He served in that role until late 1817. By 1819 he was living in the new town of Columbus. His wife, Kissiah, died in 1820 and was buried in the "Tombigbee Graveyard" which was on the river bluff just north of where the Riverview home is located. 


Columbus was chartered as a town by the state of Mississippi on Feb. 10, 1821. Commissioners were appointed to lay out the town of Columbus and to effectively serve as the town''s first governing body. At their June 4, 1821, meeting, William Cocke was elected president. He also served in the Mississippi legislature, giving him the rare distinction of having served in the legislative bodies of four different states.  


Cocke''s home in Columbus was a two story, cross hall dogtrot log house that stood where the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center now is. The first license to operate an inn or tavern in Columbus was granted to Cocke. It was to operate in his house. 


Among Cocke''s children, his stepson, Barlett Sims, was sheriff of Marion County, Ala., in 1819 (when Columbus was believed to be in Alabama) and then in 1821 of Monroe County. In Columbus, his son, Stephen, was clerk of the county court and his stepson, Matthew Sims, was the deputy clerk. 


From Daniel Boone to Andrew Jackson to the founding of Columbus, William Cocke lived American history. He died in Columbus in 1828 and his grave is in Friendship Cemetery.


Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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Reader Comments

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 6/30/2011 6:12:00 AM:

Hostile Indians huh?

Do you suppose your snow white backside intruding into their land made them hostile?

Why don't you just tell it like it really was instead of trying to make it sound like you did everyone a favor by showing up? The simple fact is the boats hit the beach, whites fell off of them bringing their diseases, foolishness, and corruption, and then began a genocide based on "hostile Indians" as an excuse to subjugate a race of people and steal their land.

Why don't you tell it like it is you coward?


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