Londonderry November 24th 1767
Accord to Your Instructions I have got William Cooks Estate Appraised the Inventory whereof You have Inclosed.
I did not know whither it was Necessary to appraise the Real Estate or not but as the man was on the Spot thought it was, I asked Mr. Steples whether he or his wife would Administer or not who said he would if it must be done, but he was in hopes Your Honour would settle it without the cost of Administrating the oldest Boy being 14 Years last May is Bound to me and the 2’d to Mr. Thomas Fletcher of this Township the two Youngest live Yet with Steples I shall Expect further Instructions from You first Opportunity and am Sir, Your Honour Assured Most Humble Serv’t
The youngest Cook children, Rebecca and James, go with their mother to the new household. There’s no provision of guardianship for Sidney’s first two girls so it may be assumed they also went to the new household. Elizabeth Marshall will return to England to marry there while Rachel will marry a local boy, John Crowe (1748-1825), also a child of immigrants. The only two accounted for in Fulton’s letter are William’s first two boys. They were, in the language of the day, farmed out.
In 1770, a nominal Census is conducted in Londonderry District. The categories for the households of James Fulton and Thomas Fletcher correspond to the presence of two young Irish-born males referred to in the letter of guardianship.8 Future census will name every member in a household, but in 1770, it is just heads of households.
Because the birth years of the first Cook boys correspond to the same years Sidney is giving birth to the Marshall girls we must conclude that William Cook, like Sidney Holmes, had a previous marriage and fathered these two sons, though the name of his first wife remains unknown. Furthermore, her name is unlikely ever to be found unless Irish Presbyterian records for the early 1700s have remarkably survived. The names of the boys emerge from studying land transfers, census and vital statistics and they turn out to be John and William Cook Jr. When their father drowns, these boys were of minor age adding to the four that were now dependent on Sidney (Holmes) (Marshall) Cook. William and Sidney’s family illustrates the kind of blended family that occurs again and again in early planter Nova Scotia. William has two, Sidney has two; together they have two more.
That Sidney was the step mother rather than the birth mother of the first Cook boys is further corroborated from the names of the children she had with Matthew Staples. Their two sons became John and William Staples, the names of the first two Cook boys. It’s impossible to believe she would have agreed to exactly the same names for her last two boys.
In 1775 when the land grants were finally in the hands of the settlers, we know that William Cook Sr. had already died. Another immigrant, James Cook, a brother of William Sr., had come with his wife Martha and their children, also from Northern Ireland.9 Brother James obtained 1,000 acres in Londonderry Township whereas the land allotted to William Cook Sr. went to the “Heirs of William Cook” and as far as land records indicate, the “heirs of William Cook” become John and William Cook. For example, twenty years later, there’s a property transfer dated 1795 in Portaupique that refers to a part of the original land grant to “the Heirs of William Cook”. The property transfer is in the name of only one person, John Cook, though the record indicates that his brother William once occupied the land.10 Just what was meant by William “once occupying the land” remains obscure because he seems to have disappeared altogether. Did he move away or join a military regiment? There was no documentation of his death or how John became the sole proprietor and was entitled to sell it. Clues to William’s whereabouts may yet be found in regimental records of immigrant sons enlisted in the Revolutionary War.
The large families produced by first-generation settlers created more young men willing to farm than the family farm could support. Some sons joined the military and at their disbandment were entitled to petition for land of their own as payment for loyal service to the Crown. This occurred at the same time as pro-British Loyalist refugees poured in from the United States, and the Nova Scotia government could hardly keep up with petitions for lands to be laid out to them. The choice lands close to Cobequid Bay, the rivers, brooks and lakes were already occupied so this second wave of settlers were obliged to accept what was called “wilderness lands”.
On 26 January 1786, a William Cook is included in a petition headed by Robert Blades, who obtained a grant near Lake Egmont in the vicinity of Gays River close to the county boundary between Colchester and Halifax. These written petitions sometimes included a brief history of the supplicants but no such detail was given for Cook. He was granted 250 acres.
Years later, family historians would ask, did this William Cook have any connections to the Portaupique settlers? Some said, “Absolutely not, he was a Loyalist.” Some said, “Of course he was. There was a great deal of traffic of people across the Bay and between townships. People used to cross the Bay for Saturday night dances and come home on the next tide.” However persuasive were the arguments on each side of the question, the evidence remained, at best, circumstantial.
On the yes side, a marriage between Susanna Cook of Gays River and William Smith of Onslow was offered as evidence.11 Susanna was the daughter of William Cook of Gays River and from her marriage were born children with names such as Sydney Holmes Smith and William Cook Smith. It sounds promising, but there’s a further twist to this story. Susanna Cook’s husband, William Smith, was the son of Rebecca Cook Smith, daughter of William Cook and Sidney Holmes Cook. The perpetuaton of Sidney Holmes’ name could have come from either side of that union.
When the relationships are sorted out—no small task—we can determine that of the six earliest children connected to Sidney, the two who passed on her name were her daughters: Elizabeth Marshall and husband John Crowe and Rebecca Cook and David Smith. In the marriage between Susanna Cook and William Smith, Sidney’s kinship is through William Smith’s side rather than the Cook side. Absent in these naming patterns were the first two Cook boys. Neither John nor William perpetuated Sidney’s name and it’s entirely possible they held little sentimental attachment toward her. If the oldest son was fourteen when his father died, he and his brother would have lost both their mother and father and their new mother saw fit to send them off to other households rather than sustain the motherly connection into her next marriage. James Cook, the last Cook child, born about 1764 to William and Sidney remained single and had no heirs.12