ancestryink fisherman

Monday, May 20, 2013

Second Guessing Your Research: Death of a Cooke on the Whaleship "Lagoda"

Good morning, Maritime Monday.   Within the records of the whale ship "Lagoda's" many fruitful voyages, lies an unsolved mystery: the strange death of mariner Thomas Cooke of Falmouth, Mass., in 1848.

My now-routine online research for mariners and captains of Falmouth, Mass., rendered this newspaper record of drownings - all within the year of 1848.*

Thomas Cooke of Falmouth, 'in the woods' 1848

My keyword search is obvious:  the yellow highlighted "drowned." (An advanced search window included "Falmouth.")  Much to my surprise this one 1848 clipping revealed not one, but two separate stories of Falmouth men who died at sea: Crocker, and Cooke.

(click on image to read)

The second story, involving Thomas Cooke of Falmouth, and his crew mate Mr. E. K. Perry of Augusta, Me, drew my interest due to the rather bizarre story of their demise.

But, first, a very short biography of their Ship:

The "Lagoda" was a 340 ton ship built in Mass. in 1826.  In 1841, she was re-fitted to be a whale ship.  Her unique place in history is due to the fact that she was fitted out with a "tryworks" which allowed for converting whale blubber to oil, right on board the ship.  (She is also responsible for rescuing over 1,000 survivors of an Arctic ice trap, later, in 1871.)

The "Lagoda" was immensely successful and profitable for her new owner in 1841,  Jonathan Bourne, Jr., of New Bedford.   And that brings us to her 1846-1850 whaling voyages in the NorthWest coastal region.

Thomas Cooke of Falmouth perished in 1848 in San Diego, supposedly while on a trip aboard "Lagoda."  The New Bedford ship database reveals that the "Lagoda" was at sea off the North West Coast, for three consecutive trips between 1843 and 1850.

Voyages of the whaleship "Lagota"

Her final trip (of this list)  in that region took place between Aug. 1846 - Apr. 1850, Captain James Finch.  This would be the fateful trip for Thomas Cooke of Falmouth.

Why did Thomas Cooke and his fellow officer E. K. Perry "leave the ship in December and lay out in the woods for four days" before arriving in San Diego where they both mysteriously died??

Vital records research in Falmouth, for Thomas Cooke turned up nothing.  I did find a "James Franklin Cook" who was the s. of a Thomas Cook (no "e") :

The record shows: "Children of Thomas Cook  and(Died) Elizabeth E. his wife
-James Franklin Born May 17 1846
-Henry Weston (illegitimate) December 1850"**

The birth of the son James Franklin, seems quite plausible, given our Thomas Cook's supposed death, two years later,  in 1848 in San Diego.  However, the illegitimate son's supposed birth in 1850 proves to be confusing. (not to mention fascinating!)  Perhaps this is not the correct "Cook(e)" family, but it is the only family bearing that name that I found in Falmouth vital records.

One other record appeared:  a FindaGrave memorial page for "James Franklin Cook," buried in the Woods Hole Village Cemetery,  provides the information that he was the son of "Thomas Cook" born in Limerick, Maine in 1818...died in 1848 in San Diego, and was a 'whaler aboard the "Lagoda." Eureka!  Confirmation that Thomas "Cooke" out in the woods in CA, is indeed Thomas "Cook" of Falmouth.  It is also possible that his Maine birth connects him to his fellow shipmate in the woods: E. K. Perry.  (Another news clipping from Augusta, Maine telling the same "Lagoda" story, confirms that E. K. Perry is from Augusta.)

NOTE:  This is why volunteer websites like are so valuable.  The contributed information there, along with gravestone images and locations, when corroborated with your own research, can really be a "closer" to your case file mystery.

And now I have to leave you in suspense!!  I have yet to solve the riddle of why Cook and Perry hid out in the woods, and then eventually died in San Diego.

Were they running away from the "Lagoda?" They were officers.  This seems unlikely.

Had they contracted a contagious illness such as Yellow Fever (unlikely, considering their trip on the Lagoda was in Arctic waters), or, some other sickness that, being valorous,  they did not want to spread to others?

Had they committed a crime?

Did they mutiny??

Why "lay out in the woods for four days?"

Check back.  I will do my best come up with an answer.

PS.  The ship name "Lagoda" was nagging at me as very familiar, amidst my constant research of "men in ships."  It turns out that the New Bedford Whaling Museum has a magnificent 1/2 model of the "Lagoda" on the premises! It is the world's largest ship model.  There is also an interactive web page for "Lagoda."

It's been some time since I've been to the museum, but this week I plan to visit.  Perhaps I will find the answer to our mystery of Cook and Perry, right there.


  **We can probably assume that Henry Weston Cook, the illegitimate son, who I later found to be born in Boston in 1850, had to have been conceived from an out-of-wedlock relationship of the now widow of Thomas Cook: Elizabeth (Nye) Cook. This has yet to be proven as fact, however.**

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