Friday, December 6, 2013

Uriah Cook and Bleeding Kansas, Part 2

Pottawatomie County, Kansas
In Platte County, Missouri, no record of political activity on Uriah Cook’s part has been uncovered, to date, but as a Quaker, he would probably have been a peaceful man and would probably not have been the type to be involved with street fights.  His obituary noted that he served as a sheriff in Missouri, but which county he served remains unclear. Perhaps he found Platte County too rough a spot for his family, for by late 1855 he had re-located to Pottawatomie County, Kansas.[i]  When the first school opened in Westmoreland, Kansas, Uriah’s children were among the first to enroll.[ii]

This log cabin from Pottawatomie County, Kansas,
occupied from 1840 to 1850, is now located in Wamego, Kansas.
Site of Uriah Cook's homestead
in Pottawatomie County,
Uriah’s log cabin became a hub of the Pottawatomie County community.  When he served as justice of the peace, “Scores of cattle thieves and other outlaws were tried in his home which also served as a trading post.”[iii]  In addition, the Reverend Abraham Millice, a Methodist circuit-rider, conducted services there when he was in the area.  William Darnell, son of another Pottawatomie County settler, explains, “This cabin was a one-room log structure about 14 by 14 feet in size, and housed Mr. Cook s family of five, besides the necessary furniture. Here the neighbors for several miles around met when there was preaching, everybody bringing something to eat and joining together in a regular old-fashioned picnic gathering. When preaching began, Rev. Millice took his place in one corner of the little cabin and the congregation crowded in to hear him. My father says the cabin was never full, as there was always room for one more! However, he says on many occasions during mild weather some of the men folks elected to remain outside near the door when they were able to get the benefit of the sermon. There was always plenty of singing at these gatherings, and father's strong tenor voice could always be heard as he did his share of singing. Going out to these services was an all-day affair as the journeys had to be made behind a yoke of oxen, and they always took their time.[iv]

Before going into Uriah Cook’s role in the early politics of the state of Kansas, it might be helpful to lay out the political landscape of the time period.  Without question, the anti-slavery movement was primarily a Republican movement.  Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas was the architect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act by which he hoped that slavery could be expanded in new territories despite the Missouri Compromise.  
His future opponent for the office of presidency of the United States was Republican Abraham Lincoln, who ran on the party’s anti-slavery platform.  Telling also are the voting records of the two parties after the Civil War when various amendments were made to the Constitution:
·        100% of the Republicans in Congress voted for the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.  Only 23% of the Democrats in Congress voted for it.
·        Not a single Democrat in either the House or the Senate voted for the 14th amendment, which gave former slaves full citizenship—as well as the rights of citizenship—in the state where they resided
·        Of the 56 Democrats in Congress, not one voted for the 15th Amendment, which granted explicit voting rights to black Americans.[v]

That said, I must hasten to add that not all Democrats were pro-slavery.  Members of the anti-slavery wing of the party were called Whigs, Independent Democrats, and/or Free Democrats.  It was apparently with this wing of the party that Uriah Cook identified, as his obituary does state that he was, in fact, a Democrat.  That he was staunchly anti-slavery will be substantiated below, but there was an incident on the Cook farm in 1862 that shows his affiliation with the Democrat party made him the target of anti-slavery rabble rousers (yes, there were troublemakers on both sides in Bleeding Kansas).  William Darnell, son of another of the early settlers of Westmoreland and a person who knew Uriah Cook personally recorded the incident this way:

“One day in July or August, 1862, word was passed down the Rock creek [sic] valley that on a certain night a vigilance committee was going to make a visit to the homes of all Democrats with the object of hanging all whom they visited. This committee had headquarters in the vicinity of Manhattan. About this time a band of horse thieves was organized for the purpose of running horses out of the country, and it was suspected that this vigilance committee was made up to a more or less degree of members of this horse-thieving clique, who found the expedient of intimidating settlers considerably of a help in procuring horses without the formality of paying cash for them. In order to make their work easier they carried an American flag with them, which they conspicuously displayed while engaged in their underhanded work.

The image depicts "Jayhawkers" and
"Bushwhackers" skirmishing in the
Missouri-Kansas Border area.
“One Rock creek [sic] settler, Uriah Cook, familiarly known as ‘Old Man Cook,’ was in due season visited by this gang. One of the gang shook the flag at Mr. Cook while delivering a harangue. This aroused the ire of the old gentleman. In a burst of indignation he grabbed the flag and took it away from the individual who was shaking it, and roared at him: ‘Don't you shake that flag at me. I've lived under it a good many years longer than you have.’ He kept the flag, too.”[vi]  By the way, Uriah was apparently up to the task of holding off  hotheads of both persuasions because, according to his obituary, “During the civil war, when Missouri border ruffians [the “pro-slavery thugs” mentioned above] were preying on Kansas settlers, Mr. Cook took a large part in law enforcement. His section of the county was never raided.”[vii]

From Darnell’s description, the hoodlums may have been horse thieves more than political activists, but the threat would have been just as real.  But, despite the fact that Uriah was a Democrat in the 1850s when Kansas was seeking admission to the Union as a “free state” (i.e., a state where slavery was prohibited by law), his actions show that he was 100% opposed to slavery.  In addition to being devoted to the manumission of slaves, Uriah’s commitment to his Quaker philosophy of brotherly love is attested in another way. To be specific, those who knew him stated, “Because of his religious faith, he became a friend to the Indians and although many massacres took place in his neighborhood, his family was never molested.”[viii]

Depiction of William Penn, founder of the Quakers, beginning
a peaceful tradition between the Quakers and the Native Americans.

Uriah was almost immediately recognized in his community as a man who could be trusted.  In February, 1857, he was elected justice of the peace (some refer to his position as “judge”) for Pottawatomie County, as noted above.  In December of that year, he was appointed county election commissioner by acting governor of the Kansas Territory, Frederick P. Stanton.  He apparently performed his duties conscientiously because when it came time to establish a convention for the writing of a constitution for the Territory, Uriah Cook was elected as a delegate from Pottawatomie County.  There were actually four Kansas Constitutions drawn up, but the one attended by Uriah Cook was held at Leavenworth and is known in history as the Leavenworth Constitution.  Holding an anti-slavery convention in Leavenworth, Kansas, was a bold move in 1858 when Leavenworth was still a pro-slavery town.

According to the KHS, “The Leavenworth Constitution was the most radical of the four constitutions drafted for Kansas Territory. The Bill of Rights refers to ‘all men’ and prohibited slavery from the state. The word ‘white’ did not appear in the proposed document and therefore would not have excluded free blacks from the state.”  (The document provided protection for the rights of women as well.)[x]  The constitution was passed on April 3, 1858, and bears Uriah Cook’s name as a signatory.[xi]
By way of contrast politically, the preceding convention at Lecompton had been a pro-slavery convention, and the Lecompton Constitution, therefore, supported the institution of slavery in the Kansas Territory.  In Pottawatomie County, it received only two votes while 207 voted against it.  That was in January.  By April, J. D. Adams and Uriah Cook had been voted in as delegates to the anti-slavery convention at Leavenworth.[xii]  This goes some way toward showing the solidarity of the residents of Pottawatomie County behind the “free state” philosophy.

New York Times' publication of the
the Leavenworth Constitution
and its signatories.
Kansas voters approved the Leavenworth Constitution, so why did it fail to become the state's Constitution?  The Kansas Historical Society (KHS) explains it this way: “Freestaters were in control of the legislature and passed a radical antislavery constitution granting voting rights to African Americans. . . . Proslavery leaders controlled the Congress, where they ensured its failure at the national level.”  To show the Constitution’s character, the KHS describes one of the delegates to the convention, abolitionist John Ritchie, a friend of John Brown’s, who had been active in helping fugitive slaves make their escape to freedom.  On July 17, 1859, the Leavenworth Times went so far as to say, “The Radical of Radicals is John Ritchey [who] is an ultra Abolitionist, woman’s rights man, teetotaler, and general advocate for reform.”[xiii]  It’s likely the same could have been said of Uriah Cook.

Uriah Cook's Headstone
Old Westmoreland Cemetery
Uriah Cook still had one last public duty to perform.  On July 1, 1861, he was appointed treasurer of Pottawatomie County.[xiv]  William Darnell pointed out, “[T]he office of county treasurer was in his cabin for the first two years, and there the early settlers met to pay their taxes and transact the other business with the treasurer”[xv]—just as legal matters and church services had been conducted there before.
Uriah Cook passed away in Westmoreland, Kansas, on February 9, 1864, and was buried in what, at the time, was called the Cook Cemetery (today it is known as Old Westmoreland Cemetery).  I am proud to know my ancestor (third great-grandfather) was not just a man who could consistently live what he professed, but also that what he lived and professed served God, the brotherhood of man, and the cause of freedom.  May we all be inspired by his life.

©Eileen Cunningham, 2013                                                                      

[i] Hill, W. F. “Early History [of Westmoreland, Kansas].” The Westmoreland Recorder.  Railroad Edition.  2 Nov. 1899. Web.  n.d.  2 December 2013.
[ii] Darnell, William.  “Reminiscences of William Darnell.”  Ed. George A. Root.  The Kansas Collection.  Web.
[iii] Uriah Cook Obituary.  Westmoreland Recorder. 1864. Findagrave Memorial #44029709. Web. 7 November 2009.  2 December 2013.
[iv] “Reminiscences of William Darnell—Part Three.”  Ed. George A. Root.  Kansas State Historical Society.  Kansas Collections.  Web.  n.d. 2 December 2013.
[v] “Did You Know?” Frederick Douglas Republicans.  Web.  2013.  2 December 2013.
[vi] “Reminiscences of William Darnell—Part Three.”
[vii] Uriah Cook Obituary.  Westmoreland Recorder. 1864. Findagrave Memorial #44029709. Web. 7 November 2009.  2 December 2013.
[x] “Leavenworth Constitution.”  Kansas Historical Society.  Web.  2007-2013. 2 December 2013.
[xi] Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History. Ed. Frank Wilson Blackmar. Chicago: Standard. 1912.  Web. 29 July 2008.  2 December 2013.
[xii] Cutler, William G. “Territorial History—Part 52” and “Pottawatomie County—Part 2  History of the State of Kansas. Chicago: Andreas, 1833.  Web. April 1999.  2 December 2012.
[xiii] “Four Different Constitutions.” Online Exhibit. Kansas Historical Society. Web. 2013. 3 December 2013.
[xiv] Cutler.
[xv] Darnell, William.  “Reminiscences of William Darnell.”  Ed. George A. Root.  The Kansas Collection.  Web.


Map showing Pottawatomie County, Kansas.,_Kansas

Uriah Cook’s homestead.  Memorial #44029709.  Created by Judy. Web. 7 Nov 2009.  5 Dec 2013. 

Border skirmish.  Legends of America.  Web.

William Penn and Native Americans.  “European Colonization of the Americas.”  Wikipedia.  Web.

New York Times page.  Historical Newspapers Collection.

Uriah Cook’s headstone.  Memorial #44029709.  Created by Judy. Web. 7 Nov 2009.  5 Dec 2013. 

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