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William Cocke

William Cocke (September 6, 1747 – August 22, 1828) was an American lawyer, pioneer, and statesman. He has the distinction of having served in the state legislature of four different states: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi, and was one of the first two United States senators for Tennessee.


William was born in Amelia County, Virginia in 1747. He was the sixth of ten or eleven children of Abraham (c.1695–1760) and Mary (Batte) Cocke. William was educated at home before reading law. He was admitted to the bar in Virginia and engaged in a limited law practice.

Cocke spent more time on the frontier than he did in a law office. He was involved in exploration in the company of Daniel Boone, seeing much of what was to become eastern Kentucky and East Tennessee. He was elected a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and a colonel of militia; in 1776, he led four companies of that militia into to what became Tennessee for action against the Indians. Later that year, he left Virginia and moved to what was to become Tennessee. During the attempted organization of the State of Franklin, Cocke was elected as the would-be state's delegate to the Congress of the Confederation.

In 1796, Cocke was chosen as a delegate to the convention that wrote the first Tennessee state constitution. The newly formed government then selected Cocke to be one of the new state's initial senators, along with William Blount. Cocke and Blount then presented their credentials to the United States Senate on May 9, 1796. The Senate refused to seat Cocke and Blount while they debated the admission of Tennessee into the Union. When Tennessee was finally admitted on June 1, the issue of Cocke and Blount's seating was again raised. The Federalist Senate held by a narrow margin (11–10) that Cocke and Blount's election was illegal because it had occurred without Congressional authorization. The Tennessee legislature duly reselected Cocke and Blount on August 2.[1]

His initial term expired on March 3, 1797. However, the Tennessee General Assembly initially neglected to elect a Senate successor to Cocke; he was subsequently appointed to the post in his former seat by governor of Tennessee John Sevier on April 22, 1797, until the General Assembly belatedly elected his successor, Andrew Jackson. Later, he was elected by the Tennessee Assembly to the other U.S. Senate seat, serving in it from March 4, 1799 to March 3, 1805.

Cocke was appointed a judge of the First Judicial Circuit of Tennessee in 1809. He later resigned this position and moved to Mississippi. There, he was elected to the state legislature in 1813. He briefly returned to military duty, serving under Andrew Jackson in the Creek War. In 1814, he was appointed by President James Madison to be Indian agent to the Chickasaw nation; he died in Columbus, Lowndes County, Mississippi, in 1828 and is buried there, in Friendship Cemetery.

Cocke County, Tennessee is named in his honor. His son John Alexander Cocke (1772–1854) was a four-term U.S. Representative from Tennessee; his grandson, William Michael Cocke (1815–1896), was a two-term U.S. Representative from Tennessee.


  1. ^ Butler, Anne M.; Wolff, Wendy (1995). "Case 4: William Blount and William Cocke". Senate Election, Explusion and Censure Cases from 1793 to 1990. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. pp. 10–12.  

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United States Senate
Preceded by
United States Senator (Class 1) from Tennessee
Served alongside: William Blount
Succeeded by
Andrew Jackson
Preceded by
Joseph Anderson
United States Senator (Class 2) from Tennessee
Served alongside: Joseph Anderson
Succeeded by
Daniel Smith

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