Six Nations Research

The Cayuga Diaspora

Based on fieldwork and archival research, this project examines Cayuga participation in the Revolutionary War and its late 18th and 19th century aftermath for Cayuga society and human geography. The Cayuga split into factions under extreme political and social pressure in the 1780s and 1790s. This research is designed to disclose as much as possible about the social and historical processes at work, and their effects on persistent but changing Cayuga identities.

Louis Cook

In 1776, while Francisco Garcés was on his journey in Arizona and California, Louis Cook, a poorly-known figure in American history but who became the highest-ranking African-American and Native American soldier in the American War of Independence was leading a company of Native troops for George Washington. Born in 1737 or 1738 to a Black father and a Native American mother, Louis Cook’s life and larger significance is somewhat an enigma. While Joseph Brant, a Mohawk soldier who fought for the Loyalists during the American Revolution, is widely renowned as a war hero, the figure of Louis Cook has been largely absent from the narrative of American History.

He was born on the Schuyler Plantation north of Albany, New York: a place of convergence between British and French colonial territories. Little is known about either his father or his mother but that his father was a slave and that his mother was Abenaki. The family was captured in 1745 in a French raid, supported by large numbers of Native troops both Algonquian and Iroquoian, on Saratoga. Cook and his mother were taken in by the Kahnawake Mohawks near Montreal. By the 1750s, he could most likely speak five languages: Abenaki, Mohawk, Dutch, some English, and French.

Six Nations Research
Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, John Trumbull, 1786 (Yale University Art Gallery)
Six Nations Research
Col. Louis Pencil sketch, John Trumbull, ca. 1785Basis for depiction in Death of Montgomery (Yale University Art Gallery)
Six Nations Research
Letter from George Washington to the President of Congress John Hancock where Washington refers to Cook as "Colonel Louis." Cambridge, January 24th 1776. (U.S. National Archives)

In August 1775, Cook arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offering military assistance to General George Washington and a detailed report about the number of Native American troops he could supply. By January 1776, Washington refers to Cook in a letter as “Colonel Louis.” There is evidence that Cook fought for the Patriots in several major battles of the Revolutionary War, such as Oriskany, Saratoga, at Valley Forge, and on the New York frontier. In 1779, the Continental Congress awarded him a special commission as Lt.-Col., at the same time as awarding commissions of lower rank to several Oneida and Tuscarora warriors who fought in Cook’s company for the Patriots.

Why do we not know more about him? Whiteley’s latest project involves writing a biography of Colonel Louis Cook, with hopes of uncovering more stories about how he came to fight so heroically for the Patriots in the American Revolution, and how his multiply hybrid identity shines a light on relations among colonists and Natives during the foundational period of the American republic.