J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

Washington’s First Two Encounters with Colonel Louis

In early August 1775, or one month after he arrived in Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington received a couple of visitors from the north. One was a New Hampshire militia colonel and Vermont settler named Jacob Bayley.

The other was, the general told the Continental Congress, “a Chief of the Cagnewaga Tribe, who lives within 6 miles from Montreal.” Months later Washington identified that man from the Kahnawake Mohawk community by name: Colonel Louis.

Louis had been born about 1740 near Saratoga. His mother was Abenaki, and his father was of African descent, possibly the enslaved servant (or cook) of a British army officer. Their baby was first named Lewis Cook.

During King George’s War (1744-48), a raiding party of French and Indians captured the family, or at least the mother and young boy. Seeing Lewis’s African features, a French officer wanted to claim him as a slave and perhaps to sell him. Lewis’s mother appealed to the Mohawk leaders in the raiding party, and they insisted instead on adopting both mother and child into their nation.

Lewis Cook thus received new names. One was Mohawk; I’ve seen it rendered as Akiatonharónkwen (“He unhangs himself from the group”) and Atayataghronghta (“His body is taken down from hanging”). The former translation seems like a better match for his character.

The other name was French, since the people at Kahnawake were allied with the French and had taken up Catholicism. From then on, Lewis spelled his name Louis, in the French style. (He’s also sometimes called Joseph Louis Cook, and I don’t know where the first name came from.)

Louis fought on the side of the French Empire in the next war, started by a young Virginia officer in 1754. Evidently at some point in that war Louis added the rank of Colonel to his name.

As a young warrior Louis was at the 1756 fight known as the Battle of the Mononghela, the Battle of the Wilderness, or Braddock’s Retreat. He helped to rout a British army column that included Gen. Edward Braddock, Lt. Col. Thomas Gage, Capt. Horatio Gates, and that young Virginian George Washington, there as an unranked volunteer.

I suspect that Colonel Louis and Washington didn’t dwell on that earlier event when they met in Cambridge in 1775.

COMING UP: What they did have to talk about.

(The image above is a sketch of Colonel Louis by John Trumbull. He was an aide de camp to Gen. Washington during Louis’s August 1775 visit, but Trumbull drew this nearly a decade later in preparation for his Death of General Montgomery.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Chief Louis Cook secured for the Caughnawaga and St Regis Indians survival by forming an alliance Pre confederation between what was to become the Republic of mass. and pre union and pre United States Constitution. Lewis (Louis) Cook is the United States of America.
American St. Regis Indian Republic Mens Council.