The Continentals’ Last Claimant: The Story of Lemuel Cook

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Kevin Pawlak

New York state has a rich American Revolution history. Battlefields at Saratoga, Oriskany, Fort Ticonderoga, Long Island, and more dot the state’s connection to our nation’s founding. But growing up in the western part of the state, those sites were at least a few hours’ drive.

Recently, I discovered a neat story related to the American Revolution that was in my own home county—Orleans County. It is not a battlefield, though it is about a man who stood on those battlefields with George Washington’s Continental Army. Lemuel Cook, who died at the age of 107, spent the last thirty years of his life in the next town over from my hometown and died there. While he was not the last surviving veteran of the war for America’s independence, he was the last to claim a pension for his service.

Lemuel Cook

Ninety-one years prior to his death in 1866, the sixteen-year-old Connecticut native enlisted with the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons. He saw service with the dragoons at Brandywine and Yorktown.

Cook moved frequently after his service expired until he settled in Clarendon, New York in 1832. Cook’s devotion to the nation he helped create never waned until his dying days. He regularly attended town hall meetings and elections until a few years before his death. Souvenir seekers continually asked for the old veteran’s autograph, which he obliged. In 1861, a photographer captured this national treasure in a photograph.

Unfortunately, even Cook could not defeat Father Time. As he aged, his speech became “very fragmentary,” according to one newspaper. “He recalls the past slowly, and with difficulty, but when he has his mind fixed upon it, all seems to come up clear.” Despite his weariness, Cook’s spunk occasionally showed, “the old determination still manifesting itself in his look and words.” Specifically, during an interview in the midst of the American Civil War, Cook pounded his cane on the floor and proclaimed, “It is terrible, but terrible as it is the rebellion must be put down.” Incredibly, he lived to see the rebellion “put down” and died on May 20, 1866.

Cook’s grave, located in the Cook Cemetery on Munger Road in Clarendon, suffered damage in a windstorm in 2017 but was quickly fixed. In the same year, descendants and local historians unveiled a state historic marker alerting passersby to this unique niche of Revolutionary War history in a place far from the famous battlefields that achieved our nation’s independence.