William Hemmings Cook (1768 - 1846)

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Birthplace: Holborn, St. Andrew’s Parish, London, England
Death: Died in Red River Settlement, Manitoba, Canada
Occupation: Chief Factor, R.R.S., MARRIED 8 MAY 1838
Managed by: Jamie Dean Penner
Last Updated:

About William Hemmings Cook

Added by E. Nickerson - Citations-Irene M. Spry, “COOK, WILLIAM HEMMINGS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 28, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cook_william_hemmings_7E.html /ECN/

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William Hemmings Cook was married to three First Nations women. He had children with all of them and there is some confusion about who the mother of each child is.

Governor Simpson wrote to Andrew Colvile on May 20, 1822, " Cook is a most extraordinary mixture of generous excentricity, Religion, Drunkenness and Misanthropy, he cannot live with [James] Bird and [Thomas] Thomas because they are too sober and penurious for him, yet must be near them to enjoy their conversation; he cannot live with [John] Pritchard because both in and out of his Cups he engrosses the whole of the conversation, and he has changed his residence about a Doz. different times for as many ridiculous reasons; he is now turning his attention to Farming and rearing cattle but has not solidity to do any good."

-------------------- Cook and many of his company colleagues, including his eldest son Joseph, had long been concerned to secure “a retreat for our children.” By 1815 Cook had ten sons and daughters, children of three or possibly more country wives. One of these wives had died by 1821. Another, Matthew Cocking*’s daughter Mith-coo-coo-man E’Squaw (Agathas or Mary), he married formally on 8 March 1838, thus fulfilling what Thomas Simpson had described in a private letter of 1836 as his “intention of bringing his 35 years courtship to an early close.” A third wife seems also to have been one of Cocking’s daughters, Wash-e-soo E’Squaw (Agathas, Aggathas).

By 1821 Cook was established in the Red River settlement, where the HBC made him a free grant of 500 acres and paid him an annuity of £100 for seven years. He apparently worked as a “petty trader” (retailer) and freighter. Appointed a councillor to the governor of Assiniboia on 29 May 1822, he attended six meetings. On 27 Feb. 1839, three years after ownership of the district passed from the estate of Lord Selkirk [Douglas*] to the HBC, he was appointed to the Council of Assiniboia in spite of the fact that in the 1820s Governor George Simpson* had considered Cook to be “timid and weak,” “useless from age and want of firmness” and from fear of losing popularity, a “most extraordinary mixture of generous eccentricity, Religion, Drunkeness and Misanthropy.” According to Simpson in 1822, he had changed “his residence about a Doz. different times for as many absurd reasons.” Though Donald Gunn* thought of him as a “kind hearted gentleman,” Cook was often at odds with other principal settlers at Red River who had been his colleagues in the HBC, and in 1838 he quarrelled with Andrew McDermot* over a freighting bill and damaged goods. By 1843, when his name last appeared in the census returns, he had only 20 acres under cultivation.

Cook’s will provided an income for his “beloved wife Mary” and bequests for four sons, seven daughters, and a granddaughter. His land was divided equally among ten of his children. It was his children and their progeny who constituted his most notable contribution to western Canada. His descendants included not only countless Cooks but also Garriochs, Budds, Settees, Calders, Wrens, and Erasmuses. Recording Cook’s death, Peter Garrioch, a grandson and a trader and freighter at Red River, called him “the Father of us all.”

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William Hemmings Cook's Timeline

1768
May 30, 1768
Holborn, St. Andrew’s Parish, London, England
1785
1785
Age 16
York Factory, Manitoba, Canada
1785
Age 16
York Factory, Manitoba, Canada
1787
1787
Age 18
Ruperts Land, Manitoba, Canada
1788
1788
Age 19
York Factory, Manitoba, Canada
1788
Age 19
1794
1794
Age 25
1805
1805
Age 36
1823
October 28, 1823
Age 55