Reverend Samuel Cooke Silhouette

The Minister and the Revolution: April 19 and Reverend Samuel Cooke of Menotomy, Massachusetts

Reverend Samuel Cooke Silhouette
Reverend Samuel Cooke, 1708-1783

The Cookes fought well and married better. Samuel Cooke, minister of the Menotomy Church in 1775, grew up in Hadley, which had been the blood-soaked frontier during King Philip’s War. His great grandfather and grandfather were militia captains in a part of Massachusetts where militia service meant more than just a bit of parading before repairing to the nearest tavern. Great grandfather Cooke won fame as a killer of wolves and helped found three towns. While grandfather Captain Aaron Cooke fought warring tribes and represented the Hampshire County town in the General Court in Boston (and married both Sarah Westwood and her father’s lands), Reverend Cooke’s father, Lieutenant Samuel Cooke, farmed and with wife Ann raised the requisite New England brood of children, mostly girls.

In a short autobiography Samuel Cooke, minister of the Northwest Parish of Cambridge—known as Menotomy— recounted his early educational zigzag course, alternating “studying Latin” with farm chores until finally freed to become the family scholar by the serendipitous birth of his younger and agriculture-inclined only brother. He eventually graduated from Harvard in 1735, but he had to scramble and scrimp, serving as a tutor to the son of Medford’s wealthy Isaac Royall, a schoolmaster in Roxbury, and even as the Harvard cafeteria’s bartender.

Once ensconced in his Menotomy ministry in 1740, he bought an acre of land from neighbor and parishioner Jason Russell to build his Pleasant Street home, where he lived for four decades with three wives (not at the same time.) A conscientious pastor and colleague, Reverend Cooke recorded the births, deaths, and marriages of Menotomy folk in a minute spidery hand on liver-spotted pages, and he preached numerous sermons, well…religiously…Sunday after Sunday for 44 years and in many a neighboring pulpit.

18th-century Bostonians had no multiplexes, no casinos and no pro sports teams, but they did have witch trials, the odd war or two, and entertaining, thump-thrashing sermons from the big guns like Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards. While Reverend Cooke was no Jonathan Edwards, he was asked to preach on important Massachusetts occasions; most notably The Artillery Election sermon in 1753; The Dudleian Lecture at Harvard, 1767; and the Election Day Sermon of 1770.

Reverend Mr. Cooke’s finest hour was his Election Day sermon given to the Massachusetts General Court (the clerk was Samuel Adams), to His Majesty’s Council (members included Artemus Ward, James Otis, and Isaac Royall) and to King George’s right-hand man in America, Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Hutchinson. American-born Hutchinson, though he often counseled moderation to his imperial bosses, loyally enforced its decrees, including the wildly unpopular 1765 Stamp Act–and he suffered for it. Poor Hutchinson, first his house is torn down by one of Sam Adam’s mobs, and now he has to sit and squirm through one of Sam Cooke’s sermons.

So on a May day in 1770 with the Boston Massacre of March still in the headlines, Reverend Sam was in fine form: his text is clear, his similes smile from the page, and his logic roars against British injustice. He was preaching against unjust power, and the unjust power himself, Thomas Hutchinson, was sitting right in front of him. Although not usually given to a few-jokes-first-to soften up the crowd, perhaps Reverend Cooke, the son of Samuel Cooke, a pioneer of Massachusetts’ Wild West, smiled to himself when he chose his text: 2 SAMUEL 23:3, 4:” The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God….” And so Samuel Cooke spoke like Israel’s own Rock, like the son of a killer of wolves, to the King’s own, Thomas Hutchinson, mano a mano:

“When a people are in subjection to those who are detached from their fellow citizens, under distinct laws and rules, supported in idleness and luxury, armed with the terrors of death, under the most absolute command, ready and obliged to execute the most daring orders—what must, what has been the consequence?”

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