Benjamin Thomas Cook (1842-1924) Berrien County, GA
Benjamin Thomas Cook came to Berrien County, GA after the Civil War and settled on land near Empire Church, not far distant from the grist mill Thomas M. Ray and Levi J. Knight had established on Beaver Dam Creek, a tributary of Cat Creek in southern Berrien County. Cook was a veteran who had been a prisoner of war, and came to Berrien to join others of the Cook family connection.
Benjamin Thomas Cook was born in Georgia in 1842, a son of Martha Knight and John Cook. His parents were married December 5, 1841, in Wilkinson County, and Ben was first enumerated at eight years old on his father’s farm in the 1850 census of the county.
By the time of the 1860 census, John Cook had moved his family to Milledgeville, Baldwin County, GA. John Cook was a miller and Benjamin Thomas Cook was employed as a “common laborer.”
Milledgeville was then capitol of the State of Georgia, also the site of the state arsenal, penitentiary, lunatic asylum, and Oglethorpe University. Milledgeville was a bustling city, with a cosmopolitan flair. The Cook residence was near the Milledgeville Hotel, and the neighbors of the Cooks included not only doctors, pharmacists, craftsmen, politicians and state administrators, but also professionals such as editors and engineers from New York, fencing masters from France, merchants from many states and countries, attorneys from Scotland, watchmakers from Ireland, daguerreotype artists from Germany, and many others who simply gave their occupation as “gentleman.”
At the age of 20, Benjamin Thomas Cook was a resident of Milledgeville, Georgia, of florid complexion, dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and 5 ft, 3 3/4 inches tall. When the Civil War got underway Benjamin and his brother, Henry Cook, joined the Confederate cause. He enlisted May 1, 1862, at Macon, GA with Company A, 1st Confederate Georgia Regiment, according to the Confederate Pension application he later filed. He appears in the National Park Service database of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors as a private of Company A, 1st Georgia Reserves. There were over thirty Georgia battle units incorporating the “First Georgia” title, so Benjamin’s unit service record remains unclear.
Georgia Ordinances of 1861 required that “every free white person, who shall be engaged in actual service, military or naval, of the State, and shall take an oath of his intention to continue in such service for at least three months, unless sooner discharged honorably, and, also, the oath of allegiance below prescribed.”
“That the oath of allegiance to this State shall be in the following form, to wit: ‘I do swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and true allegiance bear to the State of Georgia so long as I may continue a citizen thereof.”
Those who were residents of Georgia at the time the Ordinance of Secession was passed were implicitly no longer citizens of the United States, but citizens of the State of Georgia. After the passage of Secession, anyone who came from a Union state to reside in Georgia was required to take the Oath of Abjuration, an explicit statement renouncing their American citizenship.
“The oath of abjuration shall be in the following form, to wit: ‘I do swear (or affirm) that I do renounce and forever abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every prince, potentate, State or sovereignity whatsover, except the State of Georgia.’
While in Confederate service, Benjamin Cook was captured at Milledgeville, GA. The Roll of Prisoners of War at Point Lookout, MD shows he was captured November 23, 1864, and held as a POW at the federal prison there at Point Lookout, MD. His brother, Henry Cook, was also among the POWs at Point Lookout, as were John A. Gaskins, John T. Ray, Benjamin Harmon Crum and Aaron Mattox of Berrien County, GA.
Point Lookout had been hastily constructed in 1863 to confine Confederate prisoners of war captured at Gettysburg.
At the end of August 1863, Point Lookout’s stockade held more than 1,700 Confederate soldiers. The prison population swelled to 9,000 by the end of the year. During the summer of 1864, the prison population grew to 15,500, well more than the stockade’s designed capacity, and reached 20,000 in June 1865. Conditions for the prisoners severely worsened as the population exploded. The military did not construct barracks or other permanent housing; instead, tents provided inadequate shelter from the sweltering summer heat and brutal winters. Contaminated water, meager rations, malaria and typhoid fever, and exposure to the elements led to a high death rate in the camp. Approximately 4,000 of the total 50,000 Point Lookout prisoners died while incarcerated. – National Park Service
Following the Confederate surrender, B.T. Cook swore an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, and was released from Point Lookout on June 10, 1865.It appears from the Point Lookout records that B.T. Cook was transported to Hilton Head, SC arriving on July 1, 1865.
After the War, Ben and his brother, Henry, came to Berrien County, GA. In doing so, Ben and Henry were joining about a dozen or so families originating from Wilkinson county who had made the move to the newly established Berrien County some ten years earlier. These included the families of Ben’s cousins Elijah, Tabitha, and Piety Cook. Tabitha married Daniel Avera and Piety married Nicholas Lewis, both of these couples moving to Berrien. Dawson Webb, father of Elijah’s first wife, had also moved to Berrien around 1856, and Webb’s daughter Louisa Eliza Webb and son-in-law Moses G. Sutton came to Lowndes County (now Berrien) a few years prior.
In Berrien County on 14 December 1865, Ben married Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor. Jane was the daughter of blacksmith William Jackson Taylor and his wife, Samantha Jane Rogers, originally from Marion County, SC. The marriage ceremony was performed by Jane’s brother, Thomas L. Taylor, Justice of the Peace.
Back from the war, Benjamin Cook endured the conditions of Reconstruction in Berrien County, GA. “It was also a time when the entire nation, but especially the South, was forced to come to grips with the legacy of slavery and the consequences of emancipation.” -National Park Service
Congress passed the Reconstruction Act in 1867 requiring the former Confederate states to ratify the 14th Amendment, which “defined all persons born in the United States as national citizens, who were to enjoy equality before the law.” States were compelled to adopt new state constitutions, providing “equal protection of the laws” to all national citizens, black and white. Southern states which continued to deny the vote to black men would lose representation in Congress.
W. H. Griffin, Jr., who was born during the Civil War, described the post-war perspective of ex-Confederates in Berrien County:
“Georgia had been placed under military rule, Union soldiers stood guard everywhere, indignities were piled upon the citizens of Berrien county by scalawags and carpet baggers who subjected war worn soldiers to almost brutal treatment in order to force them to take the oath of allegiance.” – The unpublished papers of W.H. Griffin Jr., (1863-1932)
In July 28, 1866 The Albany Patriot wrote:
“Unjust and discriminating taxes are heaped upon us, and we are allowed no voice or representation in the councils of the Government. We are invited to degrade ourselves on a level with the most miserable and debauched class of people known among us. With our oaths of allegiance staring us in the face, we are baselessly charged with disloyalty and our motives impugned.”
By 1867, white Georgia voters were required to complete the Oath of Allegiance in order to be listed in the register of qualified voters. White southern men whose national citizenship had been renounced by way of the Ordinance of Secession, oaths of abjuration of national citizenship, oaths of allegiance to Confederate states, or acceptance of Confederate citizenship were required to swear a new oath of allegiance to the United States in order to have their national citizenship restored and to qualify for the right to vote. Some whites who had held posts in the Confederate government or the governments of Confederate states were disqualified from having their citizenship restored through the oath of allegiance.
Like many other men of Berrien County, Benjamin Thomas Cook swore to this new Oath of Allegiance, signifying his acceptance on the written oath by making his x mark over his printed name:
I, B. T. Cook do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that I am a citizen of the State of Georgia; that I have resided in said State for 24 months next preceding this day, and now reside in the County of Berrien in said State; that I am 21 years old; that I have not been disenfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, nor for felony committed against the laws of any State or the United States; that I have never been a member of any State Legislature, nor held any executive or judicial office in any state, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State Legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, and afterwards engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the enemies thereof, that I will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, encourage others so to do. So help me, God”
The 1870 census records show Benjamin T. Cook took up farming next door to his brother-in-law, Thomas L. Taylor, and cousin, Elijah Cook, in the 1148th Georgia Militia District. Ben owned $50 in real estate and $85 in personal property. Benjamin T. Cook was undoubtedly a cousin of Elijah Cook, although the exact relationship is not known. Like B. T. Cook, Elijah was a native of Wilkinson County, GA.
Around 1874 Benjamin Thomas Cook acquired 65 acres of Berrien County land on Lot 219 in the 10th Land District. About that time, Elijah Cook let go of his land on Lot 217, and acquired Lot 198 which was just to the north. In 1879, Benjamin T. Cook had 40 acres on lot 217, and Elijah Cook held 680 acres along Five Mile Creek, on Lots 217 and 198.
In 1880, Benjamin and Samantha Jane “Mantha” Cook were enumerated by L. E. Lastinger in the 1148th Georgia Militia District of Berrien County. Children in the Cook household were William (13), Fannie (11), Mary (9), Henry (5) and James (3). William and Mary attended school. The 1880 census also recorded sickness or disability on the day of enumeration; 11-year-old Fannie Cook was enumerated as at home, suffering from “rheumatism” that left her classified in the census as “maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled.”
Next door to the Cooks was the family of Samantha’s sister, Emaline Taylor Lewis, and her husband, Joseph Lewis. Joseph Lewis was Ben’s cousin, a son of Piety Cook and Nicholas Lewis. Two of the sons of Joseph Lewis and Emaline Taylor Lewis, 14-year-old Thomas Lewis and 4-year-old William Lewis, also suffered from debilitating “rheumatism.”
The 1880 population census also shows that three of the children of Ben’s cousin Elijah Cook and his wife Arinda Chandler Cook were also disabled. These Cook daughters were Juda, Amanda, and Sarah. These girls were known locally as the “alligator children,” and apparently presented a rare, debilitating form of the genetic skin condition ichthyosis. Two of the grandchildren of Elijah Cook also suffered from ichthyosis, and Ben’s nephew Andrew Cook, son of Henry Cook, was also disabled (When Henry Cook went to prison for manslaughter in 1907, an application was submitted on behalf of Andrew to receive his father’s Indigent Soldiers pension as a dependent.)
Benjamin T. Cook in 1880 had 390 acres on Lot 215. In 1884 Benjamin gave up 160 acres on Lot 215, retaining 130 acres there.
Children of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Samantha Jane Taylor include:
- William Jackson “Jack” Cook – born March 13, 1867; married 1st Annie Laura Mathis (1871-1910), September 25, 1887; married 2nd, Nancy Barker; married 3rd, Carrie E. Sullivan (1878-1942); died February 1, 1951; Jack, Laura, and Carrie are buried Empire Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA.
- Francis “Fannie” Cook – born April 3, 1868; married Enoch “Bud” Benefield, August 18, 1887, Berrien County GA;
- Mary Elizabeth Cook – born December 31, 1878; married James Elijah Benefield March 24, 1891 in Berrien County, GA; died May 22, 1947; buried Poplar Springs Cemetery, Berrien County, GA
- Henry Cook – born abt 1875; married Fannie Giddens
- James Lewis Cook – born February 7, 1876; married Elizabeth Virginia “Lizzie” Duren, August 24, 1899, Berrien County, GA; died May 31, 1945; buried Pine Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA
- Elijah “Lige” Cook – born December 10, 1881 in Berrien County, GA; married Eva Studstill, February 9, 1905; died October 19, 1963; buried Union Hill Cemetery, Atkinson County, GA
- Martha Cook – born abt 1884; married Charlie S. Tucker, December 10, 1909 in Berrien County, GA; buried Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA
Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor Cook died on Thursday, June 7, 1888. She was buried at Empire Church Cemetery, about seven miles northeast of Ray City, GA.
Just seven weeks after the death of Samantha Jane “Mantha” Taylor Cook, Benjamin T. Cook married his second wife, Arrilla “Sis” Stone. They were married on Thursday, July 26, 1888, in Berrien County, GA, the bride’s name appearing on the Marriage license as “Gurila” Stone. The marriage ceremony was performed by J.P. Patten, Notary Public. Arrilla was a daughter of Elizabeth Harris (1840-1929) and David Stone (1838-1899). The groom was 46 and the bride was 21; she was born in March of 1867. Her father, a Confederate veteran, served with the Okefenokee Rifles, Company G, 26th Georgia Infantry and was wounded in the abdomen at the Battle of Brawner’s Farm.
On January 29, 1898, Ben was enrolled into the Berrien County Confederate Veterans Association in Nashville, GA. Ben and Arrilla Cook appear in the 1900 Census in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County, GA. In their household were four children: David (7), Elizabeth (5), Nancy (2), Leonard (1). Also living in the Cook home was Fannie Taylor; the census taker recorder her relationship to Ben as “Grandmother” but she was actually the sister of his first wife, Samantha Jane Taylor. Around their farm were the farms of their son, Lewis Cook, and their sons-in-law, Enoch Benefield and James Elijah Benefield.
In the 1910 census records Benjamin T. Cook and Arrilla Cook appeared in the 1300 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County, GA; Arrilla was enumerated under the name “Gorilla.” Ben owned his farm, free and clear of mortgage. Ben and Arrilla were listed as parents of seven children: David (16), Elizabeth (15), Nancy 14), Leonard (10), William Harrison (8), and Celia Samantha (2).
Some time between 1910 and 1920, Benjamin Cook became a widower for the second time. Arrinda Stone Cook was buried at Empire Church Cemetery, Lanier County, GA, near the grave of Benjamin Cook’s first wife, Mantha J. Taylor Cook. The date death came for Arrinda Stone Cook is not known; the marker for her grave bears only her date of birth.
Children of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Arrinda “Sis” Stone include:
- David”Dave” Cook – born June 22, 1891; married Lou Annie Gray6/22/1891; died April 1, 1957; buried at Empire Cemetery.
- Elizabeth Cook – born September 1894
- Nancy Cook – born October 1897; married Isaac Gray
- Leonard Cook – born February 1899; moved to Alabama
- William Harrison Cook- born September 13, 1902; married Mineola Smith (b.3/10/1904); Died February 1, 1967. both are buried at Empire.
- Celia Samantha Cook- born June 5, 1907; married Eddie Gray November 11, 1922 in Berrien County (Separated and resumed her maiden name.); died December 1, 1997; buried at Empire Cemetery
By 1918, B.T. Cook was 75 years old. He deeded 30 acres of his land on Lot 309 to his son, James Lewis Cook, and four .
Benjamin T. Cook applied for a Confederate Veteran’s pension in 1919. His application for a pension was accepted, and he was awarded $6.00 a month.
By 1920, Benjamin Cook was 77 years old. He was residing in the household of his son-in-law James Elijah Benefield and daughter Mary Cook Benefield. The Benefield place was situated on the Milltown & Willacoochee Road. Elijah was engaged in general farming with the assistance of his eldest sons, Willie and Eddie Benefield. Just down the Milltown & Willacoochee Road were the farm places of William J. Cook and Elijah Cook.
Ben died at home on October 5, 1924. The certificate of death, filed in Berrien County, GA, gave his cause of death as “old age & heart trouble.” His daughter, Mary Benefield, was the informant and R. N. Mathis was the local registrar. There was no doctor in attendance to sign the death certificate or undertaker to handle funeral arrangements.
Family members who remember Ben recall a man with a temper, who enjoyed family get-togethers, such as barbecues. He was a man who walked with a limp, which was the result of his breaking his leg when he fell from a barn roof. He rebroke it before it healed, thus the limp.
Ben died at his home in the 10th district of the newly formed Lanier County sometime in the early part of 1924. He is buried between his two wives at Empire Cemetery. His home still stands as a reminder of the industrious man who came to Berrien County and carved a home for himself and his large family after the Civil War.
Special thanks to Linda Ward Meadows for contributions of content and images to this article, and for the following selected sources : Tombstones Empire Cemetery; GA Census records 1850 Wilkinson, Co., 1860 Baldwin Co., 1870-1910 Berrien Co.; Interviews with Grandchildren of Ben & Jane Cook; Pension Records from GA Archives; Berrien Co. and Wilkinson Co. marriage records; Interview with Celia Samantha Cook and her sister-in-law, Mineola Smith Cook, at their home on 10/13/1990; Cook family Bibles. Mineola Smith Cook and Celia Samantha Cook went to the Berrien County, GA nursing home shortly after my visit with them in 1990. Both are deceased; GA Death Certificate Berrien Co, GA.: Linda Ward Meadows is a great-great granddaughter of Benjamin Thomas Cook and Samantha Jane Taylor Cook. (9088 Val-Del Road, Adel, GA, 31620. Ph 912-896-3591) firstname.lastname@example.org