When something sounds too good to be true, it
usually is. That old maxim doesn’t apply to Colonel Louis Cook,
whose war record during the America Revolution would sound too amazing
to be true if it weren’t for the noteworthy officers on both sides of
the conflict who mention him in their writings. This week we look
at some of the missions he was assigned…as well as the intelligence
that was gathered about him by his enemies.
Got a fleet of enemy British warships you’d like to see disappear? The man to talk to would have been Colonel Louis Cook, our illustrious ancestor. He was given a mission to do exactly that by American General Philip Schuyler in March of 1778:
Reflecting that Congress might perhaps have in Contemplation the Reduction of Niagara on our Expedition into Canada thro Ontario, I have engaged Louis, commonly called Colonel Louis a friendly Caghnawaga and [ ] of sense & Enterprize who is going into Canada by the way of Aswegatchie with three or four trusty Oneidas to burn if possible the Enemy’s Vessels on Ontario if not to attempt the Destruction of those at St. John’s and have promised a thousand Dollars in Species as a Reward if the one or the other is accomplished. I hope for the Approbation of Congress. Louis who expects to return in less than Forty days is also charged to bring me the most exact account he can procure of the Enemy’s Force in Canada, the posts occupied by them and the numbers at each post to inform himself if possible what military operations the Enemy mean to prosecute from Canada in the ensuing Campaign and to engage some of our Caghnawaga Friends to give the earliest Intelligence of the movement of the Enemy and what provisions & military Stores may be sent either to St. John’s or up the St. Lawrence.
Cook was also charged with monitoring the actions of Joseph Brant, the pro-British Mohawk warrior, as the following quote from a letter from James Deane to Schuyler dated March 29, 1779 illustrates:
Colonel Louis arrived here this afternoon from Oneida and brings an account that he has received undoubted Intelligence that Joseph Brandt is gone with a very large Belt of Wampum to the seven Tribes in Canada. He is sent to call those Indians to Oswego where Colonel Butler is to meet them with what force he can collect of Indians Tories, &c. and to take post as soon as the Season will permit. In consequence of which Intelligence Louis is now on his Way for Canada & leaves this to morrow. He determines if possible to frustrate the Design of the Enemy as to his Countrymen and prevent their being imposed on by the Arts of Brandt. Should any military operations be carried on to the Westward in which the Assistance of our Indian Allies will be required “ I beg leave to observe to the Commission that a Quantity of Indian goods paint &c. will be found very necessary.
Schuyler informed General George Washington of Cook’s expedition in July of that year:
Two days ago Col. Lewis the Indian returned from Canada by way of Oneida-- he left the neighborhood of Caughnawaga in the beginning of June, as a reward was offered in Canada for apprehending him he did not dare to venture amongst the inhabitants. His Caghnawaga friends assured him that no troops had been sent up the river St. Lawrence this spring, that no preparations were making for any force to come thro’ lake Champlain, that Brant had not been able to prevail on any of the Caghnawagas to go the westward, that he understood a few of the Canosedago Indians would accompany him. That a thousand Otawas & Chippaways from Lake Huron were to join the Senecas as Brandt gives out to desolate the frontiers.
Apparently Joseph Brant and his sister Molly (widow of the late Sir William Johnson) kept an eye on Colonel Louis and his pro-American activities, just as he kept a careful eye on their activities for the British. Molly’s friend, Mary Hill, was the Mohawk mistress of General Philip Schuyler and often shared intelligence with Molly that was forwarded to the British. This we find in a letter by Captain Al Frasier dated November 5th, 1780:
I acquainted Sir John Johns. for your Excellency’s information that Captain Dame of the Rangers with nine soldiers & above twenty Indians of those of his party that were missing had come in three days ago.
Along with those men there is come a sister of Captn. Aaron the Mohawk chief, a very intelligent woman who has much in the confidence of all the principal Indians that adhered to the Rebels, as she was herself always attached to their cause & till now lived among them-
She informed Miss Molly that the St. Regis Indian named the Negroe had been at Rhode Island, and was charged by the Commander in Chief of the French troops with a great many letters to Canadians English & Indians, with which he set off for St. Regis from Schenectady five weeks ago, and that she had once been engaged herself to come along with him--She further says that some of the principal Indians were told in confidence that the Rebels were determined to invade Canada this winter or early in the Spring by three different Routes. And they said that their designs upon Canada might fail of success, yet they were sure of reducing the upper posts, as they were determined at all costs to take Carleton Island, which wd. oblige the higher Garrisons to surrender for want of provisions --She says Schuyler was himself to command this latter enterprise.
This woman also confirms the late news respecting General Gates Army & likewise that Arnold is going into New York.
There are certainly two Indians which always reside at the village of St. Regis for the purpose of conveying letters & intelligence of all our movements to the Rebels. I hope to be able to give Your Excellency their names by next opportunity.
Long after the war was over, Colonel Louis continued to be a thorn in the side of the loyalist Joseph Brant. Both were sent to the Great Lakes area to promote peace on behalf of the United States government, although Colonel Louis strenuously objected to Brant’s involvement. When both men became involved in land sales with the Americans, they used each other as scapegoats when controversy erupted. The end result was that a war almost broke out between their respective communities and their allies, something that was narrowly averted by careful diplomacy. Eleazer Williams’ biography of the Colonel has this to say about his relationship with Brant:
A spirit of unfriendly feelings was created between Col. Lewis & Col. Brandt during the Revolution. They were in opposite parties. This feeling was cherished by Brandt to unmanly degree. After Lewis' return to St. Regis he was often disturbed by the British Indian agents. Although living peacably with his Indian friends, yet, his former course in the american struggl was not easily forgotten by the tories who had taken a refuge in the Province.
Col. Brandt at Montreal in 1797 made a visit, with a large party of the Mohawks & held a council with Sir John at La Chine. The Mohawks were heard with threats against the life of Col. Lewis. Some of the friendly Cahnowagas, gave timely notice to Lewis of those threats. As it was expected, on the return of Brandts party, they crossed the St. Lawrence from Cornwall with a view to execute those threats uttered at La Chine. But he was secured by his friends. An account of which there was a fray with the Mohawks by some of the St. Regis Indians.
Sources: Indian Affairs Papers: American Revolution, by Maryly B. Penrose, A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York, by Franklin B. Hough, the Frederick Haldimand Papers, and the biography of Colonel Louis by Eleazer Williams in the Papers of Franklin B. Hough, New York State Archives.
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