Early Cocky (AKA Cocke) Emigrates To Virginia

In seventeenth Century Henrico County, Virginia’s most powerful families were the Randolphs, Cockes, Eppses, and Byrds. Research shows them all among my ancestors.   In fact, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cocke (13 Dec.1597- 4 Oct 1665), was my paternal 10th great-grandfather. He was a graduate of Caius (sounds like “keys”) College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England.

Richard was the son of my 11th great-grandparents, John Cocke (1569-1630) and Elizabeth Wallfurlong (1570-1630).  According to Jamestowne.org Richard Cocke was born at Pickthorn, Stottesdon, Shropshire, England, and arrived in Virginia by 24 Dec 1627. He settled on the James River near present-day Richmond. In court in Jamestown on the above date, Cocke testified that “four of Sharples’ men ran away while being transported to Virginia while I was the purser of the Thomas and John,” (the first of as many as six ships by this name and owned by brothers Thomas and John Culpeper). 

During his early appearances in the colony, Richard had many successes. He was a tobacco planter and a leader in the affairs of the colony. He served as a member of Burgesses in 1632, 1644, and 1654; a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia Militia; and a member of the Grand Assembly of Virginia (which was established on July 30, 1619, as the first elected legislative assembly in the New World). This colonial governing body was established to “provide one equal and uniform government over all Virginia and to pass just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the settlers”.

Richard Cocke accumulated considerable wealth for his time. By 1632, he had married the widow (1) Temperance Baley Browne.  He paid a fee of 6,937 pounds of tobacco to settle Temperance’s late husband’s (John Browne) estate. In 1624/25, Temperance Baley, mother of Browne’s two daughters Mary and Margaret, was listed as a member of Widow Cecily Jordan’s household in Jordan’s Journey. Identified in a 1620 patent as an ancient planter, Cecily Jordan is believed to be Temperance’s mother by an early marriage to a Baley.  Temperance and Richard Cocke had two sons, Thomas and Richard, (who became known as Richard the Elder). Temperance’s death led Richard Cocke to marry (2) Mary Aston, daughter of Walter Aston. The couple had five children: Richard “the Younger,” Elizabeth, John, William, and Edward.

Richard Cocke acquired 10,916 acres of land in Virginia, mostly in Henrico County, but also in Surry County where he first lived in the 1630s. When Virginia’s tobacco production was booming, planters realized that they needed to control the quality and quantity of their products to keep its prices up. The General Assembly ordered the destruction and burning of low quality and excess tobacco crops. The wasteful practices of planters growing three or four crops of tobacco on the same field was depleting the soil in and around Jamestown. Thus, the settlers began to search for virgin ground where they could grow even more tobacco on each field. In 1632, the Assembly passed a law to reduce the number of tobacco plants that each settler could grow to 1,500 in that year and the two years that followed. Fourteen viewers were appointed to monitor tobacco growth in Henrico County.  Richard Cocke and two others were appointed for Curls, Bremo, and Turkey Island, (the three homes he built were named Bremo, Curles, and Malvern Hill (his plantation on the James River.)) This land must have reminded him of the Malvern Hills in England, which was only a few miles from his birth city of Pickthorn.

Malvern Hill figured in three wars. Lafayette encamped here in July and August 1781 during the Revolutionary War; the Virginia militia made camp here in the War of 1812. The bloody Civil War Battle of Malvern Hill took place nearby during the Peninsula campaign. Some 5,500 Confederates fell on the slopes of the hill on July 1, 1862.

Colonel Cocke’s Malvern Hill House served as a Federal headquarters during the battle, but was destroyed by fire in 1905. Today, only the chimney and foundation remain. He represented Weyanoke in 1632 (a plantation farmstead in Charles City County, Virginia, where the first Africans arrived in 1619), and Henrico from 1644 to 1654. His sons and grandsons occupied nearly every office of dignity and profit in Henrico County and in other parts of the Virginia colony as well.

One of Richard’s sons, Colonel Thomas Cocke, named his home “Pickthorn Farms,” perhaps in memory of his family’s ancestral village.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cocke was buried at Malvern Hills Cemetery, (possibly the oldest graveyard in Virginia). In his will, he asked, “to be Interred in my Orchard near my first wife”. There is a memorial mounted on a stone wall near his grave.

The inscription reads: BREMO – Richard Cocke the immigrant and founder of his family in Virginia. Born in England, patented land here March 6, 1636. Near the spot he made his home and called it “Bremo.” Here he lived and his descendants after him for six generations. And here he and some of them lie buried. (The cemetery lists 10 early Cocke family members interred there.) His son Thomas lived nearby at “Malvern Hills.” His other children were Richard the Elder, who inherited “Bremo,” John, William, Richard the Younger, Elizabeth and Edward. Erected in 1988 by Descendants of Richard Cocke.

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