Jay Cooke was a man of faith throughout his adult life. When he was about 42 years old, in 1864, Jay Cooke purchased a small island in the harbor at Put-in-Bay. Today the island is in the care of Ohio State University. The Cooke family web site has information about Jay Cooke and Gibraltar’s early years.
At Gibraltar Jay Cooke opened his Guest Book with this from the Psalms: “Except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.” He was known for his generosity to poor clergymen. In addition to building churches, Mr. Cooke had been very free with his gifts of Prayer Books, tracts and Bibles in hospitals and camps during the Civil war.
Jay Cooke helped provide funds for may churches and Episcopal institutions. In addition to providing support to St Paul’s Put-in-Bay he helped fund a much larger church near his home in Philadelphia, giving them $30,000. He endowed a chair at Bexley Hall Seminary and he provided Funds to help construct other churches. One example is his gift of $1,000 to Pilgrim Church of Duluth MN was organized on January 18, 1871. This was 20% of the cost to build their first church building.
Mr. Cooke had very rigid views about how he and his family would observe the sabbath. He thought others should do likewise. He would not travel by rail or boat on Sunday, and preferred not to receive guests on the sabbath. On Sunday, June 17, 1866, General Sherman came to Gibraltar from Detroit with a party of army officers. After they left, Mr. Cooke wrote in the Gibraltar Records:
“Why is it that the grave duty and rich pleasure of keeping sacred the Lord’s day is almost wholly unknown amongst the warriors and statesmen of our country? It is a sad thought that that righteousness which exalteth a nation, so far as our rulers and leaders are concerned, is not thought of or regarded as it should be.”
Jay Cooke and St Paul’s Episcopal at Put-In-Bay
Jay Cooke was a well known philanthropist by the time he purchased Gibraltar island in 1864. Various Episcopal churches and Episcopal organizations and schools received a large portion of his donations. He provided resources for the construction of a number of churches. One of those churches was St Paul’s Episcopal Church at Put-in-Bay, Ohio. The land was purchased by Jay Cooke from Jose de Rivera for $10.00 (the land for the school was sold for $1.00). The deed to the land stipulated it was for the construction of an Episcopal church. Islanders raised the initial funds to build a church and were financially assisted by Jay Cooke. Church records show he gave $200 – $300 to the church each year to support the salary of the clergy to begin the worship services there. The Rev Miles Kendrick arrived about the time Gibraltar was purchased in 1864, and held beginning services in the island’s school. Rev. Kendrick officiated at several baptisms and funerals before the first services were held at St Paul’s in October 1865. Although Jay Cooke provided the funds, his name did not appear anywhere on the building until the Lake Erie Island Historical Society placed a plaque there. He preferred for his gifts to be given to the Glory of God without attribution.
Cooke gave vast sums of money to rebuild churches in the South. He became known as a great philanthropist; and he received many requests for financial support from churches, clergy and others. Many gifts ranging from small amounts up to five and ten thousand dollars were granted from his OJP fund or his own personal resources.
Because Mr. Cooke respected the sabbath, he insisted his partners and coworkers in the financial world (and any others he could influence) observe it as a day of rest. In his journal he remarks about how his sabbath was disturbed by dignitaries and by South Bass Island visitors.
He was identified with many charitable and civic societies in Philadelphia, and was liberal in his gifts to the American Bible Union. He was known for distributing religious pamphlets and leading a large bible study for his Episcopal church in Philadelphia. Although he was a devoted Episcopalian throughout his life, he gave generously to charities without concern for their beliefs as long as the work done was for the benefit of all. He knew no lines of creed or religious differences.
In 1864, Jay Cooke bought a small island in the harbor at Put-in-Bay, in Lake Erie near Sandusky which was close to Jay Cooke’s boyhood home. His brother, Pitt Cooke, supervised the construction of a large stone summer house that still stands and is known as Cooke Castle. Cooke and his extended family spent several weeks there every spring and fall. They also spent time on the New Jersey Shore and at his hunting lodge. When the family was not occupying the island in the summer, Jay Cooke offered his home as a retreat for clergy of various denominations from throughout the Midwest. When he was in residence he attended the worship services at St Paul’s on South Bass island. His guests also attended services at St Paul’s and were invited to preach at times.
The Rev Kendrick was the first rector of St. Paul’s. After two years he moved to a new position, eventually becoming the Episcopal Bishop of the Arizona territory. The second rector was The Rev Duerr who remained at St Paul’s for about 2 years. Rev Duerr was a German immigrant who lead services in German and English. Mr Duerr went to Cleveland to serve a larger German community. The next Rector was The Rev Weldon.
The Rev. Weldon, was also called the private chaplain to Mr. Jay Cooke at his summer retreat on Gibraltar. Initially Mr Weldon was able to invite ministers, who were Mr. Cooke’s guests, to his pulpit from time to time, without censure from his Bishop. This became an item of concern to the bishop in 1869. At the time, none of the denominations allowed ministers from other faiths to preach in their pulpits. Jay Cooke remained a committed Episcopal member of his Philadelphia church throughout his life. Under Mr Weldon’s leadership, with the knowledge of Mr Cooke, St Paul’s became a congregationalist church for several years. Jay Cooke saw the church affiliate with the “Reformed Episcopal Church” in 1872 but did not live long enough to see the parish return to the Episcopal Church in 1912. Many of the clergy who served St Paul’s in 1870-1912 were former Episcopalians who continued to lead services in a way that was familiar to Episcopalians of the time.
It was only from the ritualists of his own Episcopal church, the “Closed Communion” Baptists, and the adherents of those sects which seemed to deny the divinity of Christ, that Mr. Cooke withheld his financial support. In worship he preferred the “Low Church” traditions and spoke freely against those who observed the “Romanist” ways. He combated everything which looked like “priestcraft, apostolic-succession dogmas, regeneration dogmas, exclusive dogmas, uncharitable, unchristian, inhospitable dogmas.”
Cooke lost most of his money in bankruptcy after the fall of Jay Cooke & Co. Later, he regained a significant amount of his former wealth and lived comfortably at the end of his life. He died in Orgontz on February 16, 1905, and was interred in Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.
Since his death, the Episcopal Church has made many changes. Some of them would have pleased Jay Cooke like the “open communion” extended to all who are baptized regardless of denomination. Other current observances would have disappointed him, including the use of “High Church” forms of worship and the engraving of individual names on altar ware or other items used in worship.
Today, St Paul’s has a beautiful stained glass window behind the altar which was given by his daughter in memory of Jay Cooke’s wife, Dorothea. Perhaps he would have appreciated the one visible reminder of his family’s contribution to St Paul’s on Put-in-Bay which recalls Jesus’s words to Peter and Andrew as Jesus says “Follow Me.”
Both his son Henry E. Cooke and his nephew E. Jay Cooke (his brother Pitt’s son) became Episcopal priests. After St Paul’s affiliated with the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Rev Henry Cooke and Rev. E. Jay Cooke would lead Episcopal worship services for the family on Gibraltar or Green Island. Other times the family attended services at Grace Episcopal Church in Sandusky which was the church Jay Cooke’s parents belonged to. His son Henry joined the Bishop’s staff in Cleveland. Canon Henry Cooke wrote a number of short articles for “Episcopal Life,” the Diocesan paper while he was the editor. He died at the age of 58. (Revised Dec 2011)