top of page
cynthia badge.png

John F. Cook, (1810?–1855), a black Washingtonian, is named chair of the Republican Party (the OLD Republican Party).

Address/es SW corner of 17th and H NW; 1851 sq 198, lot 5, 6

Born into slavery; his freedom was purchased by his aunt, Alethia Tanner, in 1826. Cook attended the Columbia Institute and later repaid the cost of his manumission by working as shoemaker’s apprentice. From about 1831–33, he worked as a messenger and clerk in the U.S. Land Office; Commissioner Elisha Hayward was said to be much attached to him.

Cook was perhaps the most prominent African American activist and “race man” in Washington. He organized Asbury Sunday School in 1829, preached at the Israel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1830s, and he helped to found and fundraised on behalf of the Union Bethel Church. He also founded the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in 1841 and became an ordained Presbyterian minister in July 1843: he was officially installed as the pastor of this church on 14 July 1855. As a school activist and teacher, Cook took charge of the Columbian Institute, ca. 1833. He renamed it the Union Seminary and supervised its affairs until his death.

Cook was also a founding member of the American Moral Reform Society, active in the Masons and Oddfellows, and in the Negro Convention Movement. From 1833–35, Cook was the Corresponding Secretary of the Committee representing the District of Columbia: he was elected Secretary of the National Negro Convention in 1835. He had to flee the city during the Snow Riots or Snow Storm in 1835. M.B. Goodwin states: “The rioters sought, especially, for John F. Cook, who, however, had seasonably taken from the stable the horse of his friend Mr. Hayward, the Commissioner of the Land Office, an anti-slavery man, and fled precipitously from the city. Mr. Cook went to Columbia, Pennsylvania, opened a school there, and did not venture back to his home until August 1836.

During his year’s absence he was in charge of a free colored school in Columbia, Lancaster County, PA, which he surrendered to Benjamin M. McCoy when he came back to his home, Mr. McCoy going there to fill out his engagement. While in Pennsylvania, Cook is said to have met with radical abolitionists Lewis Tappan and Gerrit Smith. After his return to Washington in August 1836, Cook made frequent visits to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and central New York State, where he met with other abolitionists. He is also said to have “regularly received visits from Chaplin and Tappan during their stays in Washington.”

bottom of page