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Coodes Rebellaion

American Rebel at Valley Forge and elsewhere

Coode, John (c. 1648 - between 27 Feb and 28 Mar. 1709) one of the most colorful and persistent rebels in American colonial history, was born in Penryn, Cornwall, the second son of John Coode, a lawyer, and Grace Robins. Coode matriculated at age sixteen at Exeter College, Oxford. He was ordained as a deacon in July 1668 and later claimed ordination as a priest. Coode served briefly in a chapel under the vicar of St. Gluveas in Cornwall before being turned out of the ministry for unspecified reasons. By early 1672, Coode was in Maryland, first settling in St. George's Hundred where he officiated as a minister on several occasions. Two years later he moved to St. Clement's Hundred after marrying Susannah Slye, the recent widow of a wealthy merchant, Robert Slye, and the daughter of Catholic Thomas Gerard, a powerful landholder and opponent of the proprietary family. At least fifteen years older than Coode, Susannah was subject to periodic fits of madness exacerbated by the recent deaths of a son, her first husband, and her father. Marriage provided Coode a measure of financial security through his management of the estate Robert Slye had left for his children. Coode devoted considerable attention during the next few years to law suits and other measures to build upon these holdings and to acquire land and wealth of his own.

Control of the Slye estate and Coode's own extensive education, rare among colonists then, brought the attention and patronage of Charles Calvert (1637 - 1715), the resident governor who would soon become the proprietor. Coode also apparently had a charismatic ability to generate support in the short term, though he rarely could command respect and a following over time. Coode was a militia officer by 1675, with promotion to captain in 1676 and a special assignment to Virginia in response to Bacon's Rebellion. That same summer of 1676, Coode won election to the assembly and an appointment as a county justice. Other local offices quickly followed.

Within three years, however, Coode's home had become a gathering place for persons opposed to the proprietor. The reasons for Coode's disaffection are not clear. He and others resented the growing favoritism shown to Catholics in appointments to the highest offices in the colony, and they disagreed with Calvert on some provincial issues, such as the powers of the elected lower house of the assembly, possible responses to the problems of the tobacco economy, taxes and fees being levied on the colonists, and policies toward Indians within the territory claimed by Maryland. Coode's motivations, however, seem to have derived also from his apparent inability to serve anyone very faithfully for any extended period and from his disruptive behavior. Comments in the 1680s and in later years compare Coode to the leading incendiaries of history. He is described as having an uncontrollable temper and problems with alcohol; possible psychological problems arising from his having a club foot and a disfigured face were also mentioned.

Something prompted Calvert to drop Coode from a new court commission in 1680, although he was reinstated a few weeks later. At the next court, Coode reportedly made a profane and drunken assault on other justices, which again cost him his appointment. Coode soon allied with Josias Fendall, longtime opponent of the Calverts, and both men were arrested in 1681 on charges of sedition. Coode, free on bail, successfully stood for election to an open assembly seat. In an important challenge regarding what constituted legitimate grounds for dismissing an elected representative to an assembly, the lower house withstood Calvert's efforts to bar Coode from sitting. Several months later, the provincial court found insufficient evidence to convict Coode of sedition.

Although free, Coode lost all his appointed offices, and voters did not return him to the next assembly. For several years, he maintained a lower profile. Susannah Coode died by 1683, leaving Coode with two infant sons and several underage children from her first marriage. Coode later wed a woman named Elizabeth with whom he had another son and three daughters.

As political tensions mounted in the 1680s over the economy, trade regulations, the powers of the legislature and proprietary favoritism and patronage, Coode again emerged to lead discontented planters. He won a by-election in 1688. A year later, when proprietary deputies delayed acknowledging the overthrow of James II and the accession of William and Mary, Coode led Maryland's own "glorious revolution." He organized a militia force in July 1689, which captured the government without bloodshed and removed all Catholic officeholders. A new government of Protestant associators emerged with Coode as the primary military figure and his brother-in-law Kenelm Cheseldyne elected as Speaker of the ruling convention. That body appealed to the new monarchs to make Maryland a royal colony. In 1690, Coode and Cheseldyne sailed for England to defend their revolution. The mission was successful, but Coode personally lost status under the new royal government with disclosure of his misuse of funds and the negative impressions he registered with influential persons in England.

Again an outsider, Coode capitalized a few years later on a power struggle between Governor Lionel Copley and Sir Thomas Lawrence, the provincial secretary and second ranking official in the colony. Siding with Lawrence, Coode regained favor when Copley died in 1693 and the Crown upheld Lawrence's position. A new governor, Francis Nicholson, made Coode a militia colonel and sheriff of St. Mary's County, and his neighbors elected him to the vestry. In a familiar pattern, however, within two years Coode had alienated Nicholson with his poor performance in office, misuse of power, drunken and blasphemous behavior in public, and a challenge to the governor's authority locally as well as a meddlesome correspondence with persons in England to discredit the governor. When Coode won another by-election, Nicholson challenged the seating on the grounds of Coode's earlier ordination as a priest. Coode initially denied the charge under oath and won support from the credentials committee and later the full lower house, but subsequent gloating that he actually had been ordained led his embarrassed defenders to eject him from the assembly.

Judicial proceedings against him initiated by Nicholson prompted Coode to retreat to Virginia where he resided for the next few years. Out of legal reach, Coode conspired with Philip Clarke and others against Nicholson, but the governor squelched the opposition. Upon assuming the governorship of Virginia in 1699, Nicholson issued an order there for Coode's arrest. The exile returned to St. Mary's and surrendered to the new governor, Nathaniel Blakiston. Following imprisonment again, Coode was eventually cleared of sedition for insufficient evidence but was convicted of blasphemy. Blakiston suspended the sentence and later pardoned Coode because of his former services to the colony and his present financial straits.

In 1708, Coode once more challenged authority when he participated in a movement against still another governor, John Seymour, who, like Nicholson, was attempting to reform local government procedures, especially the judiciary, and to hold county officials more accountable. Coode won election to a disgruntled assembly that September, but the entire delegation from St. Mary's was dismissed on the grounds that the sheriff, Coode's son William, had not properly scheduled the time and place of election. Coode was promptly reelected, but this time Seymour challenged Coode's sitting on the same grounds that Nicholson used in 1696, his ordination. The lower house concurred and ruled Coode ineligible. William Coode refused to hold another election until after his father's death.

Coode possessed over 1,000 acres at his death, a tangible mark of economic success for a seventeenth-century immigrant to Maryland. But more important than his worldly gains was Coode's legacy of four decades of prominence in the political life of Maryland, including participation in at least five opposition movements and leadership of the revolution in 1689. As far as is known, he died in St. Mary's County.


Records of Coode's career in Maryland are available in numerous volumes of the Archives of Maryland that cover the years from 1672 to 1709, and in unpublished provincial papers kept at the Hall of Records in Annapolis. The most complete biographical study is David W. Jordan, "John Coode, Perennial Rebel," Maryland Historical Magazine 70 (1975): 1 - 28, with the fullest treatment of the most important period of Coode's career in Lois Green Carr and David William Jordan, Maryland's Revolution of Government, 1689 - 1692 (1974).

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