Author:John Esten Cooke

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John Esten Cooke
United States novelist and poet, with a special interest in the history of Virginia.
John Esten Cooke

Born in Winchester, Virginia, he is noted for writing about that state. He illustrated Virginia life and history in the novels, The Virginia Comedians (1854), and The Wearing of the Gray, a tale of the American Civil War, and more formally in a respected Virginia history. He was the author of The Youth of Jefferson.

Parents: John Rogers Cooke and Maria Pendleton Cooke. He was born on the family's plantation, "Amber's Hill," near Winchester, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. In 1854 after his father’s death, he almost immediately became a successful novelist and prolific short story writer, eventually authoring 31 books and almost 200 published articles and poems. Cooke joined the Richmond Howitzers, a militia artillery unit, in the 1850s, earning the rank of sergeant.

Civil War

In March and April 1862, Cooke served as an unpaid volunteer aide for Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart in the Confederate cavalry. Cooke was a first cousin of General Stuart's wife, Flora Cooke Stuart. On May 19, 1862, he was formally commissioned as a lieutenant and officially joined Stuart's staff.


Was born in Winchester, November 3, 1830, son of John Rogers Cooke, a distinguished lawyer of Richmond. He spent the first nine years of his life near Frederick at Glengary, his father's country house, and in 1839 removed with the family to Richmond. He left school at ten years of age to study law with his father, was admitted to the bar and practiced about four years, in the course of which he wrote verses and short prose articles for the magazines. His first publication was "Leather Stocking and Silk," "followed by the "Youth of Jefferson, or a Chronicle of College Scrapes." Then he devoted himself to novel writing, and in four years produced six novels, including "The Virginia Comedians" and "The Last of the Foresters." The former was issued anonymously. The success of this work induced Mr. Cooke to avow his authorship and receive the benefit in literature of his growing reputation, though still devoted to the law. In 1861 he entered the Confederate army, serving on the staff of Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, and taking an active part in almost every engagement on Virginia soil. At Lee's surrender he was inspector-general of the horse artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war he wrote a "Life of General Lee," a "Life of Stonewall Jackson," and over twenty novels. His publications not already mentioned include "Henry St. John, Gentleman," a sequel to the "Comedians;" "Surrey of Eagle's Nest," which is an autobiography depicting military incidents in the Confederate cavalry; "Hilt to Hilt," "Out of the Foam;" "Hammer and Rapier," and "Stories of the Old Dominion," from the settlement until the end of the revolution. Nearly all his writings relate to Virginia life, past and present. Besides he wrote a vast number of sketches, stories, poems, etc., for periodicals, which have never been collected in permanent form. He died at his home, The Briars, near Boyce, Clark county, Virginia, September 20, 1886.

Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Volume III VII--Prominent Persons


  • [[1]] A poem, The Broken Mug, Confederate Veteran Vol.14 pps 222-223.

Works on Project Gutenberg[edit]

[2] Works on Project Gutenberg include:

1.The Last of the Foresters
Or, Humors on the Border; A story of the Old Virginia Frontier.

2.A Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

3.Mohun, or, the Last Days of Lee.

4.The Youth of Jefferson
Or, a Chronicle of College Scrapes at Williamsburg, in Virginia, A.D. 1764


Works by this author published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago. Translations or editions published later may be copyrighted. Posthumous works may be copyrighted based on how long they have been published in certain countries and areas.