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William Cocke

William Cocke was a distinguished Revolutionary War veteran, experienced legislator, Sevier faction partisan, one of Tennessee's first two U.S. senators, and the first Tennessee jurist to be impeached and removed from office. After serving as a captain in the Fincastle, Virginia, militia during the Revolutionary War, Cocke moved from his native Virginia to a new farm on Renfroe's Creek in present-day Sullivan County, Tennessee, in 1779. Already a veteran of the North Carolina House of Commons (1775, 1777-78), Cocke passed the bars of both Sullivan and Washington Counties in 1782. He then served in the North Carolina Senate in 1782 and again in the North Carolina House of Commons representing Hawkins County in 1788. This term followed his move from Renfroe's Creek to a new plantation called "Mulberry Grove" near present-day Mooresburg. Cocke owned 960 acres and operated a farm as well as a small ironworks, gristmill, and sawmill.

Cocke was a partisan in the State of Franklin controversy and is credited with helping convince John Sevier to serve as Franklin's first governor. Cocke was a member of its constitutional convention and served the new "state" on its council of state and as its brigadier general. As historian Cortez A. M. Ewing observed, "Sevier and Judge [David] Campbell may have wavered at times, but Cocke stood firm for the integrity and independence of the new state." (1) As a member of the Southwest Territory legislature, Cocke was an early supporter of education, serving as a trustee for Greeneville College, Blount College, and Washington College.

Cocke was a member of the first state constitutional convention in 1796; later that year the Tennessee General Assembly selected Cocke as one of the state's initial U.S. senators. He served from 1797 to 1798 and from 1799 to 1805.

In 1807 Cocke moved to Grainger County. He ran for governor twice, but lost in 1807 to John Sevier and in 1809 to Willie Blount. Then in 1812, while serving on the state's first circuit court, Judge Cocke became the first Tennessee jurist to be impeached, tried, and removed from office for using his position for private gain.

Cocke's judicial disgrace, however, did not end his political career. In 1813 he vindicated himself by winning election to the Tennessee House of Representatives. The following year, Cocke left Tennessee when President James Madison appointed him as federal agent for the Chickasaws. He lived in both Alabama and Mississippi and served in the Mississippi legislature, giving him the unique distinction of having served in the legislature of the Transylvania (Kentucky) colony, the assembly of Virginia, the North Carolina legislature, the Franklin council of state, the Southwest Territory legislature, the Tennessee House, the U.S. Senate, and the Mississippi legislature. He died on August 22, 1828, in Columbus, Mississippi. Cocke County, Tennessee, was named to honor his long political career.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010