Nicholas Cooke

Nicholas Cooke (1717–1782) was a governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations during the American Revolutionary War, and after Rhode Island became a state, he continued in this position to become the first Governor of the State of Rhode Island. Born in the maritime town of Providence, he early in life followed the sea, eventually becoming a Captain of ships. This occupation led him to become a merchant, becoming highly successful in this endeavor, and he ran a distillery and rope-making business as well. He is depicted as one of the affluent merchants in John Greenwood's satirical painting from the 1750s entitled Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam.

Cooke first became politically active in 1752 when elected as an Assistant from Providence, which position he held for a total of four years. He devoted most of his energy to mercantile pursuits and local government in the 1760s, and in 1766 represented his Congregational Church in becoming a trustee of the new college in Rhode Island, later named Brown University. In 1768 he was elected as Deputy Governor of the Rhode Island colony under Josias Lyndon as Governor. He stepped down from this position after a year, but in 1775, after the war with Great Britain had begun, he was once again elected as Deputy Governor, this time under Governor Joseph Wanton. Maintaining Loyalist sympathies, Wanton was officially deposed as Governor in November 1775, and Cooke was then named to succeed him. When Cooke was re-elected to the Governorship in May 1776, the most important act of his tenure took place: by decree of the General Assembly, the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations officially broke ties with Great Britain, this occurring two months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the 13 American colonies.

During the nearly three years of Cooke's tenure as governor, he had to constantly deal with issues stemming from the war with Britain. One of the most difficult situations was the British capture and occupation of Newport, which required evacuation before the British troops arrived. The war took a heavy toll on Cooke, and in 1778 he refused re-election, being replaced by William Greene. Cooke lived for four more years after his retirement, dying in Providence in November 1782. He is buried in the North Burial Ground in Providence.

Read more about Nicholas Cooke:  Early Life, Governorship, Family, See Also

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