(Colonel Joseph is holding up his tomahawk in the picture)
Joseph Louis Cook or Akiatonharónkwen (died October 1814) was an Iroquois leader and American soldier. Born to a black father and an Abenakimother in what is now Quebec, he was adopted as a Mohawk. He became an influential leader in the Iroquois Confederacy and distinguished himself during the French and Indian War. He later supported the United States during the American Revolutionary War, becoming the highest ranking Native American officer in the Continental Army. After the war, he became an important adviser to the Mohawk and Oneida, as well as a leading figure in the Seven Nations of Canada
Cook’s name in the Mohawk language, Akiatonharónkwen, translates as “he unhangs himself from the group.” In English, he is most often referred to as Louis Cook or Colonel Louis. Louis was born to an Abenaki woman and an African father, both of whom were taken captive in a French raid in 1745. A French officer planned to keep him as a slave, but the Iroquois intervened and gave him back to his mother. Out of gratitude, she followed the Iroquois back to their village of Caughnawaga in New York, and Cook was adopted into the Iroquois.
Louis Cook lived in the village of Kahnawake. He fought with the Mohawk nation on the side of the French in the French and Indian War. A friend, 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. The same year, he was wounded in a skirmish with Rogers’ Rangers near Fort Ticonderoga. His first command came in the 1758 Battle of Carillon, where he was commended 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. He never fully accepted the British victory, and moved to St. Regis, Canada prior to the American Revolution.
Although most of the Iroquois sided with the British during the American Revolution, Louis Cook allied himself with the 13 colonies. He offered his services to General George Washington as early as 1775. Cook was with Benedict Arnold on his expedition into Quebec, and was already known as Colonel Louis. Washington again met with Cook in 1776 and referred to him as “Colonel Louis.”
In New York, Louis Cook was present at the Battle of Oriskany, and participated in the Saratoga Campaign. Cook led a large body of Oneida warriors under General Robert Van Rensselaer. Following the Battle of Klock’s Field, Colonel Louis 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.
Colonel Louis was with the Continental Army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777. In spring 1778, Peter Stephen DuPonceau wrote of his meeting Colonel Cook, dressed in American regimentals, when he overheard Cook singing a French aria. In March of that year, General Philip Schuyler sent Colonel Louis to destroy British ships at Niagara to prevent another Canadian expedition.
The familiar name “Colonel Louis” became official on June 15, 1779, when he received a commission from Continental Congress as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army. This commission was the highest rank awarded to an American Indian during the Revolution, and is the only known Continental Army commission given to a man of African descent. Colonel Louis was with Lieutenant-Colonel Marinus Willett at the Battle of Johnstown in 1781, one of the last North American battles of the American Revolutionary War.
During the war, Colonel Louis 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 and brought the Seven Nations and Iroquois to the brink of war.
Louis Cook settled in the area of Sterling, New York following the war, and became an influential advisor to the Oneida tribe because he could speak both French and English. It was while living at Onondaga that Cook married Marguerite Thewanihattha. They had several children. 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. Conflicting claims were made on many of the Iroquois lands, and much of the land was lost to the state of New York. The Oneida named Colonel Louis 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 out negotiated the Oneida representatives. Today, Cook is sometimes criticized for negotiating bad land deals for the Oneida.
Despite his shortcomings in the Oneida land negotiations, between 1792 and 1796 the Seven Nations sent Colonel Louis six separate times to represent them in land negotiations with New York state. The negotiations were in response to lands sold by two villages, Grand River and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ontario under the leadership of Joseph Brant. The Akwesasne and Kahnawake denied that the villages had the right to sell the land. Ultimately, New York prevailed, and the division between Cook and Brant was deepened.
By 1789, Cook had settled in the St. Regis area, where he became an influential chief. He argued that the St. Regis Indians and the Seven Nations should remain neutral in the War of 1812. His earlier service in the Continental Army was forgotten. He was detained at Fort Niagara until he produced his commission, as well as letters from George Washington. Although too elderly to participate, Cook followed the American army into Canada and was present at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
Colonel Louis was involved in a skirmish when he 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, and was buried near Buffalo, New York.