John Alexander Cocke

John Alexander Cocke (December 28, 1772 – February 16, 1854) was an American politician and soldier who represented Tennessee's 2nd district in the United States House of Representatives from 1819 to 1827. He also served several terms in the Tennessee Senate and the Tennessee House of Representatives, and was Speaker of the latter for two sessions (1811–1813 and 1837–1839). During the Creek War, Cocke commanded the Eastern Division of the Tennessee militia.

John Alexander Cocke
John Alexander Cocke.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1819 – March 3, 1827
Preceded byWilliam Grainger Blount
Succeeded byPryor Lea
Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives
In office
Preceded byJoseph Dickson
Succeeded byThomas Claiborne[1]
In office
Preceded byEphraim H. Foster
Succeeded byJonas E. Thomas
Personal details
Born(1772-12-28)December 28, 1772
Nottoway County, Virginia Colony, British America
DiedFebruary 16, 1854(1854-02-16) (aged 81)
Rutledge, Tennessee, U.S.
Resting placeRutledge Methodist Church Cemetery
Rutledge, Tennessee[2]
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Sarah Stratton Cocke
RelationsWilliam Cocke (father)
William M. Cocke (nephew)
Military service
Branch/serviceTennessee militia
Years of service1813–1814
RankMajor general
Commands1st Division (Eastern)
Battles/warsCreek War

Early lifeEdit

Cocke was born in Brunswick in Nottoway County in the Colony of Virginia in 1772,[3] the eldest son of frontiersman and future senator, William Cocke, and wife Mary (Maclin) Cocke. While still a young child, he moved with his parents across the Appalachian Mountains to what is now Tennessee, where his father was active in the State of Franklin movement. The family settled in what is now Grainger County, but was then part of Hawkins County. The younger Cocke studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1793.[4]

Cocke was elected to the inaugural Tennessee Senate in 1796, serving until 1801. In 1807, he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, and was elevated to Speaker in 1811.[4] On April 26, 1808, Cocke shot and mortally wounded Knoxville merchant Thomas Dardis in a duel.[5] In November 1811, during the first year of Cocke's speakership, the House voted to impeach his father, William, then a state supreme court justice.[6]

Creek WarEdit

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Cocke was Major General of the Eastern Division of the Tennessee militia, while Andrew Jackson was Major General of the Western Division. Responding to President James Madison's request for troops, Governor Willie Blount ordered Jackson and the Western Division south to Natchez in early 1813. Though Jackson's army was recalled within a few weeks, members of the Eastern Division grew restless, wanting to join the war. Cocke and a number of men (including his 65-year-old father, William) joined Colonel John Williams on a raid into the Seminole country of Florida in February 1813.[7]

Following the Fort Mims massacre in August 1813, Governor Blount ordered both Jackson and Cocke to invade Alabama and quell the hostile Red Stick Creeks. Since Jackson had received his commission earlier than Cocke, he was the senior commander. Planning to march against Talladega in November 1813, Jackson waited impatiently for Cocke's arrival at Fort Strother. Cocke, however, halted before reaching the fort, and instead dispatched James White to attack the Hillabee Creeks, not knowing Jackson had already made peace with them. White destroyed several Hillabee villages and killed dozens of tribesmen. The enraged Hillabees quickly renewed hostilities.[7]

Jackson believed Cocke was attempting to impede the operation. Cocke, however, suggested Jackson's peace with the Hillabee was a hoax, and that his victory over the Hillabee was too much for Jackson's "noble soul to bear." By the time Cocke arrived at Fort Strother in December 1813, many of Jackson's men, believing their enlistments had ended, had gone home. Realizing the enlistments of Cocke's men were almost up, Jackson sent them back to East Tennessee, and ordered Cocke to recruit more troops to help him put an end to the Creek resistance.[7]

By early 1814, Jackson had become irritated that Cocke had not arrived with reinforcements. When Cocke's newly recruited army finally moved south in March 1814, it stalled at Lookout Mountain, near modern Chattanooga, as the new recruits quarreled with officers over the length of their enlistment. Several officers reported to Jackson that Cocke was spreading rumors about Jackson among the men, telling them they had been drafted illegally, or that Jackson would ignore their terms of enlistment and order them to stay as long as he pleased. Incensed, Jackson had Cocke arrested. He was court-martialed in December 1814, but was acquitted.[7][8]

Congress and later lifeEdit

Following the death of John Sevier in 1815, Cocke ran for his vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, but was narrowly defeated by William Grainger Blount, 1,583 votes to 1,355. He ran against Blount in 1817, but was again narrowly defeated, 3,627 votes to 3,429. In 1819, Blount decided not to run for reelection, and Cocke was finally able to win the seat, edging James Porter, 3,792 votes to 3,434. He ran opposed for reelection in 1821 and 1823. In 1825, rising anti-Jackson politician Thomas D. Arnold challenged him for reelection, but Cocke won by a vote of 4,770 to 3,343.[9] A Democratic-Republican, Cocke served in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth congresses. During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth congresses (1823–1827), Cocke was chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs.[10]

As a congressman, Cocke generally opposed federal involvement in internal improvement projects. While he voted in favor of a bill that would have provided appropriations for the repair of the Cumberland Road in 1822, he vigorously opposed legislation that would have empowered the president to designate certain improvement projects as having "national worth," and thus eligible for federal funding. In 1823, he voted against federal appropriations for numerous improvement projects, including improvements to the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, an extension of the Cumberland Road, and a purchase of stock in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company.[11]

Cocke did not seek reelection in 1827, and returned to Tennessee, where he engaged in agricultural pursuits. In 1837, he was again elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, and served as Speaker for the 1837–1839 session. In 1843, he was again elected to the Tennessee Senate, serving a single term. In 1844, he introduced legislation establishing the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville.[12]

Cocke died in Rutledge, Tennessee, on February 16, 1854 at age 81 years. He is interred at Rutledge's Methodist Church Cemetery.[13]


Cocke's father, William, played a prominent role in the establishment of Tennessee in the late 18th century, and served alongside William Blount as one of the state's inaugural U.S. Senators. Cocke's nephew, William Michael Cocke, served in Congress in the late 1840s. Cocke married his first cousin, Sarah Stratton Cocke.[4] Their daughter, Eliza, married Knoxville industrialist Marcus De Lafayette Bearden (1793–1854) in 1821. Another daughter, Sarah, was married to Judge William B. Reese, who later became a justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, and served as president of East Tennessee University (the forerunner of the University of Tennessee) in the 1850s. Notable descendants of Cocke include Admiral Alan Goodrich Kirk, who commanded the Normandy landings in 1944, art collector Francis Henry Taylor, and Senator Luke Lea.[5]


  1. ^ Historical and Constitutional Officers of Tennessee: Speakers of the House, Tennessee State Library and Archives. Retrieved: January 7, 2013.
  2. ^ John Alexander Cocke at Find a Grave
  3. ^ The Northeast Mississippi Historical & Genealogical Society Quarterly
  4. ^ a b c Harriet Chappell Owsley, John Cocke Papers (finding aid), Tennessee State Library and Archives, 1967. Retrieved: February 21, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Mary Rothrock (ed.), The French Broad-Holston Country: A History of Knox County, Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1972), pp. 348, 378, 408, 474.
  6. ^ John Roderick Heller, Democracy's Lawyer: Felix Grundy of the Old Southwest (LSU Press, 2010), p. 157.
  7. ^ a b c d Tom Kanon, "Glories in the Field: John Cocke vs. Andrew Jackson During the War of 1812," Journal of East Tennessee History, Vol. 71 (1999), pp. 47-65.
  8. ^ Several historians mistakenly place Cocke at the Battle of New Orleans, confusing him with Colonel John Cocke of Montgomery County, Tennessee.
  9. ^ Candidate: John Cocke, Our Campaigns. Retrieved: February 21, 2013.
  10. ^ "John Alexander Cocke". Govtrack US Congress. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  11. ^ Stanley Folmsbee, Sectionalism and Internal Improvements in Tennessee, 1796–1845 (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1939), pp. 42n, 44n, 45.
  12. ^ John Wooldridge, George Mellen, William Rule (ed.), Standard History of Knoxville, Tennessee (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1900; reprinted by Kessinger Books, 2010), pp. 538-540.
  13. ^ "John Alexander Cocke". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved February 15, 2013.

External linksEdit

  This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
William G. Blount
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Pryor Lea