Brigadier General John Hartwell Cocke II led four Virginia Brigades against the British during the War of 1812, a conflict that some call the “Second American Revolution”. After the war, General Cocke joined former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the founding of the University of Virginia in 1819. The general would serve on the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors until 1856.
Two years after the death of General Cocke’s friend Thomas Jefferson, he embarked on the designing and the construction of the Fluvanna County Courthouse and of a jailhouse, which is presently known as the “Old Stone Jail”. Both structures were built in Palmyra, a town in Fluvanna County named after King Solomon’s former trading post.
Brigadier General John Hartwell Cocke II, whom was born in Surry County, Virginia, attended school at William and Mary, where he empathized with abolitionist views from the abolitionist minded faculty on campus. In 1800, General Cocke ran for the Virginia House of Delegates and lost, never to run for that seat again. General Cocke lived in Surry County until he moved to the Bremo estate, in Fluvanna County, in 1809. On May 5th, 1817, General Cocke founded the Agricultural Society of Albemarle and devoted time towards educating the African American slaves that he inherited from his father John Hartwell Cocke and his mother Elizabeth Kennon Cocke. General Cocke became an official of the American Colonization Society, which sought to resettle freed black slaves and manumitted slaves to the African country of Liberia, and he joined the Virginia Society for the Promotion of Temperance. Soon after joining the Virginia Society for the Promotion of Temperance, he became the Vice President in 1826 and the President of that organization in 1830. As a devout Christian, not only did he not consume alcohol, he never sought ownership of any tobacco crops, despite the popularity of tobacco in the Commonwealth. Later in life his abolitionist views, which he acquired at William and Mary, subsided and he turned more into an anti-abolitionist by siding with the Confederacy during the start of the U.S. Civil War.
General Cocke had three sons, one of whom was named Philip Saint George Cocke. Philip Cocke was born in 1809, in Surry County, and attended the University of Virginia from the years of 1825 and 1827 to 1828. On July 1st, 1828, Philip Cocke entered the United States Military. In 1832, after graduating from the United States Military Academy, Philip Cocke served in Charleston, South Carolina as a second lieutenant of artillery, for the U.S. Army, during the South Carolina Nullification Crisis. On April 1st, 1834, Philip Cocke resigned his military commission so that he could marry Sally Elizabeth Courtney Bowdoin. From 1853 to 1856, Philip Cocke served as president of the Agriculture Society to Albemarle, that his father has once served as president for. In 1860, in response to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry the year prior, Philips Cocke organized a calvary troop and the year after he joined the Confederate army. Upon joining the Virginia volunteers for the Confederate cause, his rank was reduced from Brigadier General to Colonel. During the Battle of First Manassas, which was called the First Battle of Bull Run by the Union Army, Philip Cocke commanded the fifth brigade of Confederate Virginia volunteers, as U.S. Senators, Confederate President Jefferson Finis Davis. and others were looking on as spectators. Months after the battle, Philip Cocke resigned from the Confederate army, due to physical disability and nervous prostration, and committed suicide in December 26th, 1861.
The Albert and Shirley Hall Small Collections Library contains the John Hartwell Cocke Papers, the Cocke Family Papers at the University of Virginia, and other resources for researchers to review.