JOHN COOK – SMUGGLER
John Cook, born about 1780, is my “Mystery Man”. I cannot find a baptism for him in Folkestone but recently a marriage has been found to Susanna Fagg on 20th October 1807 at Bonnington. John is described at marriage as “of Folkestone”. It is possible John was born in a nearby Parish but so far I have not found anything. It is also possible his baptism occurred abroad as I have my suspicions that he was a smuggler. I have not found this however and there appears to be no record of his death.
My suspicions began when I read the obituary of William Cook, John′s son, a well known preacher in Folkestone. The Preacher
This is what was reported about his life:
... William Cook was the son of an old Folkestonian, who obtained a living, as many another did in the early part of the century, by smuggling. Cookie′s father went for the last voyage in the smuggling lugger “Jane” whose crew numbered fifty, every one of whom was drowned, and Cookie and his five brothers and sisters, were left orphans. In telling the sad story the old man said in that year there were not less than 200 orphan children in Folkestone, and he gratefully spoke of the late Mr Pearce, then Vicar of Folkestone, who, he said was indeed a friend to the fatherless and the widow...
(Newspaper cutting Folkestone Heritage Centre: Folkestone Express dated 29th Sept 1888)
The above account agrees with his family records which show seven children one of whom died young. The last baby was baptised April 1823.
This account bears a striking resemblance to another of the Cutter “Jane”, captained by Will West, which can be found in “Smuggling in Folkestone” Edited by Nicholas Reed which is a reissue of “Reminiscences of Old Folkestone Smugglers” by John English, first Published 1883. The account given in this is attributed to an “Old Smuggler” living in Folkestone in the 1880s:
“My father was a smuggler back in the 1820s. He used to go every winter for a cruise starting from Folkestone for Flushing, where their vessel, the “Jane”, used to lay. The captain, I have always heard, had made up his mind never to be taken by a man–of–war or custom house cutter, he having been declared an outlaw in consequence of his frequent smuggling operations, and he determined to scuttle his ship and drown all hands rather than be captured. Whenever they fell in with a King′s ship, if they could not get away, an engagement ensued. They carried, I think, ten guns, five on each side, besides a “Long Tom” as they called it. An old friend of my father′s told me many times of his gallant deeds. On one occasion they were caught in a very heavy gale of wind, and the vessel was hove down on her beam ends, and her mainsail was filled with water. My Father jumped on the main boom, and with his knife cut a great hole in the sail, thus allowing the water to escape; the cutter righted immediately, and on she drove.
So it appears that the “Old Smuggler” above was William Cook (who had been a smuggler in his youth) and his father was John Cook. The dates would suggest the Cutter “Jane” went down in the winter of 1822/3 and the ages of John′s children eldest b.1807, William b.1815 and the youngest b.1823 would substantiate this. William was the son of John and Susanna Cook and Uncle to Stephen Cook, the Lifeboatman.
I can remember when my father started for his last voyage. I was then only six years old, and cried to go with him, as he was going out with his bag on his shoulder. He told me not to cry, and promised to bring me home “a young Jane”. But it appeared they fell in with a heavy gale of wind, and the cutter was knocked down. The fact was, she was so heavily laden with tobacco and gin that she was not able to encounter the gale, and down she went with all hands. The crew numbered 52, and every soul perished. When the news came, it was in the depth of a very cold and hard winter. We were all waiting anxiously for the return of the men. We lived then in a sort of old farmhouse up by where the Gunn Inn is now, and one cold night we were all packed in the chimney corner for warmth, when the news came that the cutter was lost and the crew were drowned. Six of us were made orphans; the eldest was sixteen, and the youngest a babe in arms. .....”
In “Folkestone The Story of a Town” by C.H.Bishop this account is attributed to the son of the captain of the “Jane” but the above suggests it was in fact William Cook′s account.
In the book “Smugglers′ Tales” by Tom Quinn the memories from 1871 of the writer John Banks are recalled:
“There was a story current in Hastings at the commencement of the nineteenth century of one Captain Dore – at least, Dore was an assumed name. He was a fine man, full of what Englishmen admire, pluck and daring, and he declared he never would be taken. He was married, and his wife′s name was Johanna. He had a remarkably fast sailing cutter called the “Jane”, built by Ransom and Ridley, a shipbuilding firm once existing in Hastings. It was said of him when he was being pursued, that he would frequently exclaim, “Go along, Jane, or Johanna will be a widow.” It came to pass that Johanna became a widow, though it was never positively known what became of the captain, his vessel, and crew; it was, however, generally believed that being hard pressed, he scuttled and sank her and all on board, somewhere off the south coast of Ireland.”
My theory was confirmed recently when I received another obituary for William Cook which gave further information on his youth and on his father, John.
This is the information given:
The deceased′s father by trade was a brick-maker, but in the winter months, like many scores of his neighbours, he indulged very freely in the smuggling trade. One of the various plans used by the Government to prevent the extensive smuggling was to press the offenders into the Navy, and in this way “Cookey” was deprived his father for a considerable time. He was captured in a very curious manner. A badger fight was announced to take place in the Cherry–tree–gardens and consequently a large number collected to witness the sport. At the same time a large party of soldiers were commissioned to block them in, and as the excitement of the badger fight increased, so the soldiers drew nearer, and commenced to capture their men. A fight ensued, and John Cook was amongst the men who were taken aboard the ships lying in the Downs. Parson Pierce was approached by the unfortunate wives, but beyond expressing a little sympathy, could do nothing to facilitate the release of their husbands. They were, however, eventually released through the influence of Lord Darnley, who then lived at Sandgate. Some time afterwards he attempted another voyage with a party of fifty–two smugglers in the cutter Jane, but on the return journey the cutter, with all hands, was lost, and William, then but a child was left an orphan.”
(Newspaper Cutting Folkestone Heritage Centre: Folkestone Chronicle dated 29th September 1888)
So this gives confirmation of the identity, occupation and fate of John Cook. He is still a “Mystery Man” but there is a little more information.
Born about 1780, he married Susanna Fagg in 1807. He was said, by William, to be a brick–maker by trade who regularly went on smuggling voyages in the winter, however, he is clearly listed in the Parish Register as a Fisherman when his daughter Sarah was born in 1813. He was listed as a labourer in 1815 and 1818 and a Mariner in 1823 when his last child was baptised almost certainly after his death. He was “Press Ganged” into the Navy (probably about 1819) and died when the cutter “Jane” sank with all fifty–two hands in the winter of 1822/3