Dr. William Darby Cooke

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Dr. William Darby Cooke   1807 – 1885


Dr. William Cooke was a very active abolitionist who owned property and several houses on Lake Road where you enter Sprong Bluff. The main house that is visible from the road was used as a safe house and is the only local safe house that has a historical written reference for  harboring fugitive slaves. This written reference also gives the only name (Sam Williams) of a fugitive slave that came to Sodus Point. Read on ……


The following story is from the book “Uncovering the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, and African American Life in Wayne County, New York, 1820-1880 written by Judith Wellman and Marjory Allen Perez, with Charles Lenhart and others. Sponsored by the Wayne County Historian Office, Peter Evans, Historian and funded by Preserve New York,  a program of the Preservation League of New York State and the New York Council on the Arts.


William D. and Caroline Cooke House

7305 Lake Road

Town of Sodus, New York


Significance: William D. Cooke was one of six Liberty Party men in the Town of Sodus in 1840, all of whom had broken away from the Sodus Presbyterian Church over abolitionism and all of whom also kept safe houses on the Underground Railroad along the Lake Road. Cooke’s son, Alfred, married a daughter of William R. Smith, major Underground Railroad supporter in Macedon.


Cooke House 1 (390x260)

Looking north

April 2008



April 2008

Photo by Charles Lenhart


Cooke Tenant 1 (550x367)

Probably tenant house for Cooke farm

 Looking north, April 2008  


Map 1 (485x408)


Map of Wayne County (Gillette, 1858)


Description: The Cooke house is a modest five-bay story-and-a-half frame house, surrounded by rolling farmland that extends to the shores of Lake Ontario, just west of Sodus Bay. At least two other houses, most likely tenant houses, were once on the property. One still stands.


Discussion: William Darby Cooke (born on October 18, 1807, in Geneva, New York and died October 13, 1885, in Vineland, New Jersey) was well known locally as an Underground Railroad supporter. In 1895, Landmarks of Wayne County noted that Samuel C. Cuyler, a Dr. Cook, and William R. Smith of Macedon were all Underground Railroad operatives, bringing people from slavery to the shore of Lake Ontario, where they were sent by ship to Canada. Although he was a farmer rather than medical doctor in Sodus, he was called Dr. Cooke, referring to his early practice of medicine in Penn Yan, New York. He was also on the Board of Directors and once president of the Sodus Bay and Southern Railroad.[1]

Evidence from before the Civil War supports local traditions about Cooke’s Underground Railroad work. On May 5, 1844, for example, Lewis Clark (son of Eli Clarke) noted in his diary that “Timothy Ledyard came here with a ‘runaway slave,’ Sam Williams by name . .  . . He will stay here tonight and then we shall take him in the morning down to Dr. Cook’s.”[2]

Cooke was also active in abolitionist organizations. In January 1841, he was a delegate to an antislavery convention held in Penn Yan, New York. He was also one of six men–including also Seth Coleman, Eli Clark, Levi Gaylord, Kitchell Bell, and Jacob Buys–to cast a vote for the Liberty Party in the Town of Sodus, New York.  As local resident Edwin A. Green remembered in 1897,


Dr. Cooke’s conversion to the Liberty Party was almost as sudden as St. Paul’s. He was working for the Whigs with his well-known enthusiasm. He attended a Liberty Party meeting, however, at the Presbyterian Church. A speaker charged that Gen. Harrison had favored the passage of a law to suppress abolition meetings. Dr. Cooke promptly spoke up, ‘If he has, I will not vote for him.’ Proof was furnished on the spot by a published copy, and Dr. Cooke went out of the Whig Party in that same hour. [3]


Five of these Liberty Party men (and perhaps all six) also kept stations on the Underground Railroad along the shores of Lake Ontario on the Lake Road or in the village of Sodus. When the Sodus Presbyterian Church split in 1843, several of them left the Presbyterian Church to support radical abolitionism. Cooke’s son, Alfred, married a daughter of William R. Smith, major Underground Railroad supporter in Macedon.[4]

In 1860, two young African American women, Polly Ann Newport and her sister Chloe Jane Newport, lived with William D. Cooke and his wife Caroline Ward Cooke. [5]

William D. Cooke died on October 13, 1885, in Vineland, New Jersey, where many reformers once active in upstate New York had moved.





[1] George W. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County (Syracuse: D. Mason, 1895), 195, 207; Henry V. Poor, History of the Railroads and Canals of the United States, Vol. I (New York: John H. Schultz and Co., 1860), 312.

[2] Pat Johns, “The Underground Railroad in Wayne County,” 2007.

[3] Friend of Man, January 26, 1841; L.H.G., “Edwin A. Green and Old Times,” Wayne County Alliance, July 14, 1897.

[4] Lewis H. Clark, History of the Churches of Sodus (1876), 64.

[5] 1860 U.S. Census.