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Colonel Louis of the Oneidas. John Trumbull sketched this pencil drawing in 1785.[1]

Joseph Louis Cook, or Akiatonharónkwen (died October 1814) (Mohawk), was an Iroquois leader and commissioned officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Born to an African father and an Abenaki mother in what is now Schuylerville, New York, he and his mother were taken captive in a French-Mohawk raid and taken to Kahnawake, a Mohawk village south of Montreal. They were adopted by a Mohawk family. His mother soon died and he served Catholic missionaries, learning French. He became an influential leader among the Mohawk and distinguished himself as a warrior for their allies the French during the French and Indian War.

During the American Revolutionary War, Cook supported the rebel colonists and joined their fight against the British. He became the highest-ranking Native American officer in the Continental Army, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. He led Oneida warriors, who were allied with the rebels, against the British in some actions. After the war, he settled in central New York State, where he became an important adviser to the Oneida. He represented them and the Seven Nations of Canada to negotiate with the government of New York state in trying to achieve more justice in postwar land deals. He later settled at Akwesasne, eventually a formal Mohawk reserve that straddles the New York, USA-Quebec, Canada borders.


Early life and educationEdit

Cook was born as Nia-man-rigounant to an Abenaki mother and black father; while living in what is today Schuylerville, New York, the family was taken captive in a French-Mohawk raid in 1745.[2] A French officer planned to keep the boy as a slave, but the Mohawk intervened and saved him. They took the boy and his mother with them when they returned to their village of Kahnawake south of Montreal.[3] Cook was formally adopted by a Mohawk family and assimilated into the tribe; he grew up learning their culture and language. In the Mohawk language, he was named Akiatonharónkwen, translates as "he unhangs himself from the group."[2] Over the years, Cook also learned French, as he was educated by Jesuit Catholic missionaries in the village.

Later he learned English as well. Among English-language records, he is most often referred to as Louis Cook or Colonel Louis.

French and Indian WarEdit

Cook lived in the Mohawk village of Kahnawake. He fought with the Mohawk nation on the side of the French against the British colonists in the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War.[4] A friend and minister, Eleazer Williams, later wrote that Cook was at the battle against the Braddock expedition in 1755 (the Braddock party included the young George Washington), and served under General Montcalm at the Battle of Fort Oswego in 1756.[3] The same year, he was wounded in a skirmish with Rogers' Rangers near Fort Ticonderoga.[3]

Cook was given his first command in the 1758 Battle of Carillon, where he was praised by General Montcalm. He was also present at the Battle of Sainte-Foy in 1760, serving under the Chevalier de Levis.

Following the war, Cook returned to Caughnawaga and married Marie-Charlotte.[5] As he never fully accepted the British victory and found his homeland increasingly overrun by British colonists, he moved with his family to Akwesasne, a Mohawk village along the St. Lawrence River in what was then Quebec.

American RevolutionEdit

Although the Mohawk and three other of the Iroquois nations sided with the British during the American Revolution, hoping to expel the colonists from their lands, Cook allied with the Thirteen Colonies, as did the Oneida and Tuscarora. As early as 1775, he offered his services to General George Washington.[7] Cook was with Benedict Arnold on his expedition into Quebec, when he was already known as "Colonel Louis."[8] Washington met again with Cook in 1776.[9]

In New York, Louis Cook was present at the Battle of Oriskany, and participated in the Saratoga Campaign.[5] He led a large body of Oneida warriors under General Robert Van Rensselaer. Following the Battle of Klock's Field, Cook forded a river in pursuit of Sir John Johnson while General Rensselaer delayed. Infuriated, Colonel Louis shook his sword at Rensselaer and accused him of being a Tory.[10]

Cook was with the Continental Army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777. In spring 1778, Peter Stephen DuPonceau wrote of meeting Cook, dressed in American regimentals, after hearing the officer singing a French aria.[11] In March of that year, General Philip Schuyler sent Cook to destroy British ships at Niagara in order to prevent another Canadian expedition.[12][13]

The nickname of "Colonel Louis" was made fact on June 15, 1779, when Cook received a commission from the Continental Congress as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army.[5] This commission was the highest rank awarded to an American Indian during the Revolution.[14] It is the only known Continental Army commission given to a man of known African descent.[15][16] Colonel Louis was with Lieutenant-Colonel Marinus Willett at the Battle of Johnstown in 1781, one of the last North American battles of the Revolution.[5]

During the war, Cook became a personal enemy of Captain Joseph Brant, a Mohawk who supported the British. When each returned to their homes after the war, their personal conflict divided the Mohawk nation. The Seven Nations of Canada and the Iroquois at what would be the Six Nations Reserve, who were mostly emigrants from the New York colony, were brought to the brink of war.[2]

Later lifeEdit

Cook settled in the area of Sterling, New York following the war. He became an influential adviser to the Oneida tribe because he could speak both French and English in addition to Oneida.[17] While living at Onondaga, Cook married Marguerite Thewanihattha. They had several children.[5]

Cook convinced the Oneida to lease their lands, using the example of the Mohawk tribe at Kahnawake. The Oneida leased nearly 5 million acres (20,000 km2) to Colonel John Livingston for 999 years.[15] Conflicting claims were made on many of the Iroquois lands, and much of the land was lost to the state of New York because the Iroquois were forced to cede land, as the majority had been allies of the defeated British.

The Oneida named Cook and Peter Otsequette to negotiate with Governor George Clinton for a return of, or compensation for, their land. Governor Clinton made some minor concessions to the Oneida in the Treaty of Fort Schuyler, but generally did not yield much to the Oneida representatives.[18] Today, Cook has been criticized for negotiating bad land deals for the Oneida.

Despite his shortcomings in the Oneida land negotiations, between 1792 and 1796 Cook was selected by the Seven Nations of Canada on six separate occasions to represent them in land negotiations with New York state.[19] The negotiations were related to lands sold by the people of two villages, Grand River and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ontario, who were led by Joseph Brant. The Mohawk peoples of Akwesasne and Kahnawake, then considered two of the Seven Nations, denied that those villages had the right to sell what was common Mohawk land in New York. Ultimately, New York prevailed in keeping control of the land, and the division between Cook and Brant was deepened.

By 1789, Cook had settled at Akwesasne, where he became an influential chief. The Mohawk reserve eventually established there spans the New York (US)-Quebec (Canada) border and the St. Lawrence River. He argued that the St. Regis Indians (as they were called in New York) and the Seven Nations should remain neutral in the War of 1812 between the US and Great Britain.[20] The United States forgot Cook's earlier service and detained the Mohawk at Fort Niagara; he was released after producing proof of his commission in the Continental Army, as well as letters from George Washington.[21]

Although too elderly to participate in the War of 1812, Cook followed the United States Army into Canada during the war; he was present at the Battle of Lundy's Lane. He was involved in a skirmish and fell from his horse. The injuries proved fatal; he died in the American camp in October 1814. Cook was given a military salute at his funeral,[21] and was buried near Buffalo, New York.[5]


  1. ^ Taylor, 169
  2. ^ a b c Darren Bonaparte, "Too Many Chiefs", Wampum Chronicles, p. 6
  3. ^ a b c Darren Bonaparte, "Louis Cook: A French and Indian Warrior", Wampum Chronicles, 16 September 2005
  4. ^ Taylor, 172
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Colonel Louis Cook", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  6. ^ Cooper, 84
  7. ^ Bonaparte, Darren "Louis Cook: A “Colonel” of Truth?", Wampum Chronicles, accessed 13 April 2009
  8. ^ "1776: The Chapter Closes On Canada", Mother Bedford Website, accessed 13 April 2009
  9. ^ Washington describes "Colonel Louis" in a note as the principal of the "French Caghnawaga tribe". [Note: Because many of the Mohawk at Caughnawaga had converted to Catholicism, some Americans referred to them as a different tribe, but they identified as Mohawk.] His note is available online from the Library of Congress.
  10. ^ Stone, pp. 121-122
  11. ^ Darren Bonaparte, "Colonel Louis at Oriskany and Valley Forge", Wampum Chronicles', 30 September 2005
  12. ^ Bonaparte, Darren "The Missions of Atiatonharongwen", Wampum Chronicles', accessed 13 April 2009
  13. ^ Neimeyer, Charles Patrick (1997). America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army. New York University Press. p. 99. ISBN 0-8147-5782-0.
  14. ^ Oneida Nation of New York Conveyance of Lands Into Trust Archived 2009-04-20 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Indian Affairs, pg 3-159
  15. ^ a b Taylor, 173
  16. ^ African Americans in the American Revolution, website
  17. ^ "Oneida Nation of New York Conveyance of Lands Into Trust" Archived 2009-04-20 at the Wayback Machine pg 3-168, Department of Indian Affairs
  18. ^ Taylor, 180-185
  19. ^ Taylor, 345
  20. ^ Benn, Carl (1998). The Iroquois in the War of 1812. University of Toronto Press. p. 61. ISBN 0-8020-8145-2.
  21. ^ a b Williams (see link, below)