[Wed Oct 09 2002]

Back in June, this column told the story of Nathaniel Pope, who served as secretary of the Illinois Territory in the days before statehood. He presented the successful petition for statehood to Congress and was instrumental in adding a northern strip of territory that became a significant part of the state of Illinois.

But it was a younger relative of Pope, Daniel Pope Cook, who had conceived the idea of Illinois statehood and promoted it in a newspaper he owned.

If the name Cook sounds familiar, it is because when Cook County was organized in 1831, it was named for Daniel Pope Cook, who had had an impressive career in the short 33 years of his life.

Born in 1794 in Kentucky, Cook set up an Illinois law practice in 1815 in Kaskaskia, where he became editor of the state's first newspaper, the Illinois Herald. Two years later, he and a partner, Robert Blackwell, bought the paper and renamed it the Illinois Intelligencer. When the state capital was moved to Vandalia in 1820, the paper moved with it.

Meanwhile, Cook began to move into public service.

Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards named him auditor of public accounts in 1816.

Cook then visited his relative, Nathaniel Pope, in Washington, where he met President-Elect James Monroe and was entrusted with some dispatches to England. There he met John Quincy Adams, who represented the United States in Great Britain.

The dispatches included an invitation for Quincy Adams to serve as secretary of state in the Monroe cabinet. Cook and Quincy Adams sailed back to the United States together and became friends on the voyage.

Cook returned from Washington with an appointment as circuit court judge for several Southern Illinois counties.

The late area historian Barbara Burr Hubbs, in a 1940s Egyptian Key article (later included in the book "Idols of Egypt" described an early session of that court:

"The honorable court met in the log house of Jacob Hunker on May 11, 1818. Only the judge and a lawyer or two wore 'store clothes.'

"The citizens were dressed in hunting shirts and coon-skin caps. Many were barefoot; the others wore deerskin moccasins. Shot pouch and hunting knife hung at their belts, but there was no lack of solemnity and order.

"Judge Cook addressed the gathering:

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"Gentlemen of the grand jury, you are charged with the affairs of the County of Union in the Territory of Illinois and the weal and woe of litigants and criminals. Mr. Sheriff, you will now be pleased to conduct the grand jury to their room for deliberation."

"In dignified silence, the jurors filed from the court room and out into the woods, where the sheriff indicated a fallen log beneath the trees. That was the grand jury room.

"Among the cases at this term of court was a 'hot' trial over the meat of a wild hog, which one hunter had shot and another had captured.

Hubbs did not record the outcome of the proceedings.

Cook was elected secretary of the territorial House of Representatives in 1817 and began to campaign for Illinois statehood, so Illinoisans could select their own officers instead of having them chosen by the federal government. He suggested the territory organize more counties, to make a better showing. Franklin, Union and Washington counties were organized on Jan. 2, 1818.

After statehood was approved later in the year, new Gov. Shadrach Bond named Cook the state's first attorney general on March 5, 1819.

But Cook soon began a personal campaign for Congress against incumbent John McLean, with a 16-line rhymed song, "Cook and Liberty." Although born in a slave state, Cook spoke against making slavery legal in Illinois. He won election to the House of Representatives and, as Hubbs wrote in her article:

"On the first Monday of August, 1819, Judge Cook became Congressman Cook. His life work began. He was twenty-five; he had eight years of life before him. They were devoted to the people of Illinois whom he represented as their single member in the lower house of Congress."

Cook served four terms in Congress and was defeated only when he cast his vote for John Quincy Adams in the hotly contested presidential election of 1824, in which Southern Illinoisans had supported Andrew Jackson.

Cook died in Kentucky in 1827.

More than three years later, when Cook County was organized, residents there named it for Cook.

BEN GELMAN is the former Sunday news editor for The Southern Illinoisan and is an avid bird watcher.

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