Mary Russia Cook

Mary Russia is an unusual name. She was born about 1854, in the red hot smelting days of Londonderry-Acadian Iron Mines in Colchester County. Her father was Thomas Carr Cooke, farmer, from the line of James, Ralph and John Boyd Cook, already Presbyterian-turned-Baptist. Her mother was Catherine Fitzgerald, born Roman Catholic from Cape John, Pictou County. The spelling of their family name changed back and forth over the years but the name of Mary Russia, their first-born, remained unchanged while she lived in Nova Scotia.

Her name made unwanted headlines when, in her youth, Mary Russia was charged with hiding a dead infant in a haymow. There was an inquest but the outcome is unknown. What is known is that Mary Russia had another child named Alma who would remain in the care of her grandmother Catherine. Catherine, or Katie Cooke, operated a boarding house and also a confectionary store—probably out of a front room of her house—in the thriving Londonderry of her times.

It’s no surprise that Mary Russia couldn’t wait to move on. At age 22, she married a lad from Londonderry, a miner, but in the city of Halifax at The Royal Hotel. His name was Thomas Holland and where they went or what happened to Mary Russia over the next 35 years remains a mystery.

Stranger than Fiction

Acadia Mines as interpreted in a wood engraving print. –Schell & Hogan circa 1882

In 1911, 84 year old Catherine Cook died in Londonderry. Her husband and sons had predeceased her. Mary Russia was still missing and only Alma remained. In her Last Will and Testament, Catherine refers to a “Fitsgerald” brother and to Alma. Then she writes a codicil wherein she scratches her brother’s name and makes this wistful provision for her only daughter. “If she is living or can be heard from during her natural life, and in the event of her now being dead, the said hundred dollars to be paid to my granddaughter Alma Cook(e).”

The lost daughter is here referred to as “Mary Jerusha Ritcey”. We suddenly realize that Mary is actually Mary Jerusha Cooke and she must have had a subsequent marriage to that with Thomas Holland and that her name, naturally-enough, came from a paternal aunt, Jerusha Cook, sister of Thomas. In a time when language was more often spoken than written, a name such as Mary Russia Cooke could easily become contorted from Mary Jerusha Cooke.

Just what became of Mary Jerusha-Russia-Jerusha has vanished to record keepers but, at least, bits of her lost-and-found story survive along with her actual name.





In the case of Mary’s family, the existing records are partial. The family name is spelled both Cook and Cooke. The middle name of her father, Thomas Cook, is spelled both Kerr and Carr. It happened to be his mother’s family name.
Mary’s birth year is extrapolated from the 1871 Census of Canada at which time she was seventeen which puts her birth ±1854. Mary’s brother Hiram Hyde Cook was born in 1857. Mother Catherine Cook is widowed prior to 1871 when she was only 44 years. In 1873 when Mary was aged nineteen she has a daughter, Alma B. who is variously called the granddaughter and daughter of her grandmother, Catherine. In 1875, Mary is charged with hiding a dead infant in a haymow.
From The Halifax Evening Reporter, dated 27th April, 1875: DIED- the dead body of an infant (male) about one week old, was found yesterday afternoon, at the Acadian Iron Mines, Londonderry. It was hidden in a hay mow. The mother (Russia COOKE, unmarried) is under arrest and an inquest on the body was held today. Transcribed by William T. Hill, Births, Deaths, Marriages from Nova Scotia Newspapers 1855-1881, Vol. VI, p.39.
In 1876 when Mary is aged 22, she marries at a Halifax hotel to a young miner, also from Londonderry, NS. Two references are available: October 20th 1876 – Marriage – At the Royal Hotel, Halifax, on Monday, Oct 16th, by the Rev. J.F. Avery. Miss Mary Russia, only daughter of the late Thomas and Catherine Cooke, of Londonderry, N.S. to Thomas Holland, of Lelant County, Cornwall. Compiled by J. & S. McCormick from the Presbyterian Witness, Sat 21 Oct 1876, Vol. XXIV, No.43 p.336.
Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics, Marriages, Holland-Cook, Registration Year: 1876 – Book: 1816 – p.166 – Number: 410.
Following 1876, Mary Russia disappears while the only surviving members of the family, Catherine and Alma continue to live in Londonderry. They are listed in subsequent Census of Canada for 1881, 1891 and 1901. In due course, Catherine writes her will. Registry of Probate Wills, Vol. F. (1907-1917), Family History Collection, film #0573563.
The June 14, 1911 The Truro Daily News carried an obituary for 84 year old Catherine Cooke of Londonderry with the note “Pictou papers please copy”. Her family name was Fitzgerald, and she had at least one brother. They may have originated near Cape John in Pictou County since a son Luther Cook was born there. One might assume she was born in Cape John but her death record in the Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics (NSHVS) database indicates she was born in Londonderry. It also mistakenly says her age was 73 years. The explanation could be simply that old Katie Cook had lived in Londonderry as long as anyone could remember and the informant, the undertaker, knew nothing about her origins.