James Fenimore Cooper
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James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) was an American writer of the first half of the 19th century, whose historical romances depicting colonist and Indigenous characters from the 17th to the 19th centuries brought him fame and fortune. He lived much of his boyhood and the last fifteen years of life in
Cooperstown, New York Cooperstown is a Administrative divisions of New York#Village, village in and county seat of Otsego County, New York, United States. Most of the village lies within the town of Otsego, New York, Otsego, but some of the eastern part is in the tow ...
, which was founded by his father William Cooper on property that he owned. Cooper became a member of the Episcopal Church shortly before his death and contributed generously to it. He attended
Yale University Yale University is a Private university, private research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Established in 1701 as the Collegiate School, it is the List of Colonial Colleges, third-oldest institution of higher education in the United Sta ...
for three years, where he was a member of the Linonian Society. Lounsbury, 1883, pp. 7–8 After a stint on a commercial voyage, Cooper served in the U.S. Navy as a
midshipman A midshipman is an officer of the lowest Military rank#Subordinate/student officer, rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Royal Can ...
, where he learned the technology of managing sailing vessels which greatly influenced many of his novels and other writings. The novel that launched his career was '' The Spy'', a tale about espionage set during the
American Revolutionary War The American Revolutionary War (April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783), also known as the Revolutionary War or American War of Independence, was a major war of the American Revolution. Widely considered as the war that secured the independence of t ...
and published in 1821. He also created American
sea stories Nautical fiction, frequently also naval fiction, sea fiction, naval adventure fiction or maritime fiction, is a literary genre, genre of literature with a setting on or near the sea, that focuses on the human relationship to the sea and sea voyag ...
. His best-known works are five
historical novel Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a Setting (narrative), setting related to the past events, but is fictional. Although the term is commonly used as a synonym for historical fiction literature, it can also b ...
s of the frontier period, written between 1823 and 1841, known as the ''
Leatherstocking Tales The ''Leatherstocking Tales'' is a series of five novels by United States, American writer James Fenimore Cooper, set in the eighteenth-century era of development in the primarily former Iroquois areas in central New York. Each novel features ...
'', which introduced the iconic American frontier scout, Natty Bumppo. Cooper's works on the U.S. Navy have been well received among naval historians, but they were sometimes criticized by his contemporaries. Among his more famous works is the Romantic novel ''
The Last of the Mohicans ''The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757'' is a historical romance Historical romance is a broad category of mass-market fiction focusing on romantic relationships in historical periods, which Walter Scott helped popularize in the e ...
'', often regarded as his
masterpiece A masterpiece, ''magnum opus'' (), or ''chef-d’œuvre'' (; ; ) in modern use is a creation that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or a work of outstanding creativity, ...
. Hale, 1896, p. 657 Throughout his career, he published numerous social, political, and historical works of fiction and non-fiction with the objective of countering European prejudices and nurturing an original American art and culture.


Early life and family

James Fenimore Cooper was born in
Burlington, New Jersey Burlington is a City (New Jersey), city in Burlington County, New Jersey, Burlington County, in the U.S. state of New Jersey. It is a suburb of Philadelphia. As of the 2020 United States census, the city's population was 9,743. Burlington was ...
, in 1789 to William Cooper and Elizabeth (Fenimore) Cooper, the eleventh of 12 children, half of whom died during infancy or childhood. Shortly after James' first birthday, his family moved to
Cooperstown, New York Cooperstown is a Administrative divisions of New York#Village, village in and county seat of Otsego County, New York, United States. Most of the village lies within the town of Otsego, New York, Otsego, but some of the eastern part is in the tow ...
, a community founded by his father on a large piece of land which he had bought for development. Later, his father was elected to the
United States Congress The United States Congress is the legislature of the federal government of the United States. It is Bicameralism, bicameral, composed of a lower body, the United States House of Representatives, House of Representatives, and an upper body, ...
as a representative from Otsego County. Their town was in a central area of New York along the headwaters of the
Susquehanna River The Susquehanna River (; Unami language, Lenape: Siskëwahane) is a major river located in the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, overlapping between the lower Northeastern United States, Northeast and the Upl ...
that had previously been patented to Colonel
George Croghan George Croghan (c. 1718 – August 31, 1782) was an Kingdom of Ireland, Irish-born fur trader in the Ohio Country of North America (current United States) who became a key early figure in the region. In 1746 he was appointed to the Onondaga Cou ...
by the Province of New York in 1769. Croghan mortgaged the land before the Revolution and after the war part of the tract was sold at public auction to William Cooper and his business partner Andrew Craig. By 1788, William Cooper had selected and surveyed the site where Cooperstown would be established. He erected a home on the shore of Otsego Lake and moved his family there in the autumn of 1790. Several years later he began construction of the mansion that became known as Otsego Hall, completed in 1799 when James was ten. Lounsbury, 1883, p. 2 Cooper was enrolled at
Yale University Yale University is a Private university, private research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Established in 1701 as the Collegiate School, it is the List of Colonial Colleges, third-oldest institution of higher education in the United Sta ...
at age 13, but he incited a dangerous prank which involved blowing up another student's door—after having already locked a donkey in a recitation room. He was expelled in his third year without completing his degree, so he obtained work in 1806 as a sailor and joined the crew of a
merchant vessel A merchant ship, merchant vessel, trading vessel, or merchantman is a watercraft that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire. This is in contrast to pleasure craft, which are used for personal recreation, and naval ships, which are us ...
at age 17. By 1811, he obtained the rank of
midshipman A midshipman is an officer of the lowest Military rank#Subordinate/student officer, rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Royal Can ...
in the fledgling
United States Navy The United States Navy (USN) is the maritime military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the eight uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most powerful navy in the world, with the es ...
, conferred upon him by an officer's warrant signed by
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Fathers of the United States, Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 18 ...
. William Cooper had died more than a year before, in 1809, when James was 20. All five of his sons inherited a supposed-large fortune in money, securities, and land titles, which soon proved to be a wealth of endless litigation. He married Susan Augusta de Lancey at Mamaroneck, Westchester County, New York on January 1, 1811, at age 21. She was from a wealthy family who remained loyal to Great Britain during the Revolution. The Coopers had seven children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Their daughter Susan Fenimore Cooper was a writer on nature, female suffrage, and other topics. Her father edited her works and secured publishers for them. One son, Paul Fenimore Cooper, became a lawyer and perpetuated the author's lineage to the present.


Service in the Navy

In 1806, at the age of 17, Cooper joined the crew of the merchant ship ''Sterling'' as a common sailor. At the time, the ''Sterling'' was commanded by young John Johnston from Maine. Cooper served as a common seaman before the mast. His first voyage took some 40 stormy days at sea and brought him to an English market in
Cowes Cowes () is an England, English port, seaport town and civil parish on the Isle of Wight. Cowes is located on the west bank of the estuary of the River Medina, facing the smaller town of East Cowes on the east bank. The two towns are linked by ...
where they sought information on where best to unload their cargo of flour. There, Cooper saw his first glimpses of England. Britain was in the midst of war with Napoleon's France at the time, so their ship was immediately approached by a British
man-of-war The man-of-war (also man-o'-war, or simply man) was a Royal Navy expression for a powerful warship or frigate from the 16th to the 19th century. Although the term never acquired a specific meaning, it was usually reserved for a ship armed wi ...
and was boarded by some of its crew. They seized one of the ''Sterling's'' best crew members and impressed him into the
British Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by Kingdom of England, English and Kingdom of Scotland, Scottish kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were foug ...
. Cooper thus first encountered the power of his country's former colonial master, which led to a lifelong commitment to helping create an American art independent culturally as well as politically from the former mother country. Their next voyage took them to the Mediterranean along the coast of Spain, including Águilas and
Cabo de Gata Cabo de Gata is a cape A cape is a clothing accessory or a sleeveless outer garment which drapes the wearer's back, arms, and chest, and connects at the neck. History Capes were common in medieval Europe, especially when combined with a H ...
, where they picked up cargo to be taken to London and unloaded. Their stay in Spain lasted several weeks and impressed the young sailor, the accounts of which Cooper later referred to in his ''Mercedes of Castile'', a novel about Columbus. After serving aboard the ''Sterling'' for 11 months, he joined the
United States Navy The United States Navy (USN) is the maritime military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the eight uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most powerful navy in the world, with the es ...
on January 1, 1808, when he received his commission as a
midshipman A midshipman is an officer of the lowest Military rank#Subordinate/student officer, rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Royal Can ...
. Cooper had conducted himself well as a sailor, and his father, a former U.S. Congressman, easily secured a commission for him through his long-standing connections with politicians and naval officials. Phillips, 1913, p. 53 The warrant for Cooper's commission as midshipman was signed by President Jefferson and mailed by Naval Secretary Robert Smith, reaching Cooper on February 19. On February 24, he received orders to report to the naval commander at New York City. Joining the United States Navy fulfilled an aspiration he had had since his youth. Cooper's first naval assignment came on March 21, 1808, aboard the , an 82-foot bomb ketch that carried twelve
guns A gun is a ranged weapon designed to use a shooting tube (gun barrel) to launch projectiles. The projectiles are typically solid, but can also be pressurized liquid (e.g. in water guns/water cannon, cannons, spray nozzle, spray guns for spra ...
and a thirteen-inch mortar. For his next assignment, he served under Lieutenant Melancthon Taylor Woolsey near Oswego on
Lake Ontario Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded on the north, west, and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south and east by the U.S. state of New York (state), New York. The Canada–United ...
, overseeing the building of the brig for service on the lake. The vessel was intended for use in a war with Great Britain which had yet to begin. The vessel was completed, armed with sixteen guns, and launched in Lake Ontario in the spring of 1809. It was in this service that Cooper learned shipbuilding, shipyard duties and frontier life. During his leisure time, Cooper would venture through the forests of New York state and explore the shores of Lake Ontario. He occasionally ventured into the
Thousand Islands The Thousand Islands (french: Mille-Îles) constitute a North American archipelago of 1,864 islands that straddles the Canada–United States border, Canada–US border in the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake ...
. His experiences in the Oswego area later inspired some of his work, including his novel '' The Pathfinder''. After completion of the ''Oneida'' in 1809, Cooper accompanied Woolsey to
Niagara Falls Niagara Falls () is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge, spanning the Canada–United States border, border between the Provinces and territories of Canada, province of Ontario in Canada and the U.S. state, state ...
, who then was ordered to
Lake Champlain Lake Champlain ( ; french: Lac Champlain) is a natural freshwater lake in North America. It mostly lies between the US states of New York (state), New York and Vermont, but also extends north into the Canada, Canadian province of Quebec. The New ...
to serve aboard a
gunboat A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to shore bombardment, bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for troopship, ferrying troops or au ...
until the winter months when the lake froze over. Cooper himself returned from Oswego to Cooperstown and then New York City. On November 13 of the same year, he was assigned to the under the command of Captain
James Lawrence James Lawrence (October 1, 1781 – June 4, 1813) was an officer of the United States Navy. During the War of 1812, he commanded in a single-ship action against , commanded by Philip Broke. He is probably best known today for his last words, " ...
, who was from Burlington and became a personal friend of Cooper's. Aboard this ship, he met his lifelong friend William Branford Shubrick, who was also a midshipman at the time. Cooper later dedicated '' The Pilot'', ''
The Red Rover ''The Red Rover'' is a novel by American writer James Fenimore Cooper. It was originally published in Paris on November 27, 1827, before being published in London three days later on November 30. It was not published in the United States until Ja ...
'', and other writings to Shubrick. Assigned to humdrum recruiting tasks rather than exciting voyages, Cooper resigned his commission from the navy in spring 1810; in the same time period he met, wooed, and became engaged to Susan Augusta de Lancey, whom be married on January 1, 1811.


Writings


First endeavors

In 1820, when reading a contemporary novel to his wife Susan, he decided to try his hand at fiction, resulting in a neophyte novel set in England he called '' Precaution'' (1820). Its focus on morals and manners was influenced by
Jane Austen Jane Austen (; 16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique, and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen's plots oft ...
's approach to fiction. ''Precaution'' was published anonymously and received modestly favorable notice in the United States and England. By contrast, his second novel '' The Spy'' (1821) was inspired by an American tale related to him by neighbor and family friend
John Jay John Jay (December 12, 1745 – May 17, 1829) was an American statesman, Patriot (American Revolution), patriot, diplomat, Abolitionism in the United States, abolitionist, signatory of the Treaty of Paris (1783), Treaty of Paris, and a Founding ...
. It became the first novel written by an American to become a bestseller at home and abroad, requiring several re-printings to satisfy demand. Set in the "Neutral Ground" between British and American forces and their guerrilla allies in Westchester County, New York, the action centers on spying and skirmishing taking place in and around what is widely believed to be John Jay's family home "The Locusts" in
Rye, New York Rye is a coastal suburb of New York City in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is separate from the Rye (town), New York, Town of Rye, which has more land area than the city. The City of Rye, formerly the Village of Rye, was part o ...
of which a portion still exists today as the historic
Jay Estate The Jay Estate is a 23-acre park and historic site in Rye, New York, with the 1838 Peter Augustus Jay House at its center. It is the keystone of the Boston Post Road Historic District (New York), Boston Post Road Historic District, a National Hist ...
. Following on a swell of popularity, Cooper published '' The Pioneers'', the first of the ''Leatherstocking'' series in 1823. The series features the inter-racial friendship of Natty Bumppo, a resourceful American woodsman who is at home with the Delaware Indians, and their chief, Chingachgook. Bumppo was also the main character of Cooper's most famous novel ''
The Last of the Mohicans ''The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757'' is a historical romance Historical romance is a broad category of mass-market fiction focusing on romantic relationships in historical periods, which Walter Scott helped popularize in the e ...
'' (1826), written in New York City where Cooper and his family lived from 1822 to 1826. The book became one of the more widely read American novels of the 19th century. At this time, Cooper had been living in New York on Beach Street in what is now downtown's Tribeca. In 1823, he became a member of the
American Philosophical Society The American Philosophical Society (APS), founded in 1743 in Philadelphia, is a scholarly organization that promotes knowledge in the sciences and humanities through research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and communi ...
in Philadelphia. In August of that same year, his first son died. He organized the influential Bread and Cheese Club that brought together American writers, editors, artists, scholars, educators, art patrons, merchants, lawyers, politicians, and others. In 1824, General Lafayette arrived from France aboard the ''Cadmus'' at
Castle Garden Castle Clinton (also known as Fort Clinton and Castle Garden) is a circular sandstone Sandstone is a Clastic rock#Sedimentary clastic rocks, clastic sedimentary rock composed mainly of grain size, sand-sized (0.0625 to 2 mm) silicate m ...
in New York City as the nation's guest. Cooper witnessed his arrival and was one of the active committee of welcome and entertainment.


Europe

In 1826, Cooper moved his family to Europe, where he sought to gain more income from his books, provide better education for his children, improve his health, and observe European manners and politics firsthand. While overseas, he continued to write. His books published in Paris include ''The Prairie,'' the third Leather-Stocking Tale in which Natty Bumppo dies in the western land newly acquired by Jefferson as the Louisiana Purchase. There he also published ''
The Red Rover ''The Red Rover'' is a novel by American writer James Fenimore Cooper. It was originally published in Paris on November 27, 1827, before being published in London three days later on November 30. It was not published in the United States until Ja ...
'' and ''The Water Witch'', two of his many sea stories. During his time in Paris, the Cooper family became active in the small American expatriate community. He became friends with painter (and later inventor)
Samuel Morse Samuel Finley Breese Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872) was an American inventor and painter. After having established his reputation as a portrait painter, in his middle age Morse contributed to the invention of a single-wire Electrical ...
and with French general and American Revolutionary War hero
Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), known in the United States as Lafayette (, ), was a French aristocrat, freemasonry, freemason and military officer who fought in the Ameri ...
. Cooper admired the patrician liberalism of Lafayette, who sought to recruit him to his causes, and eulogized him as a man who "dedicated youth, person, and fortune, to the principles of liberty." Cooper's distaste for the corruption of the European aristocracy, especially in England and France, grew as he observed them manipulate the legislature and judiciary to the exclusion of other classes. In 1832, he entered the lists as a political writer in a series of letters to '' Le National'', a Parisian journal. He defended the United States against a string of charges brought by the ''Revue Britannique''. For the rest of his life, he continued skirmishing in print, sometimes for the national interest, sometimes for that of the individual, and frequently for both at once. This opportunity to make a political confession of faith reflected the political turn that he already had taken in his fiction, having attacked European anti-republicanism in '' The Bravo'' (1831). Cooper continued this political course in '' The Heidenmauer'' (1832) and '' The Headsman: or the Abbaye of Vigneron'' (1833). ''The Bravo'' depicted
Venice Venice ( ; it, Venezia ; vec, Venesia or ) is a city in northeastern Italy and the capital of the Veneto Regions of Italy, region. It is built on a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by over 400  ...
as a place where a ruthless
oligarchy Oligarchy (; ) is a conceptual form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may or may not be distinguished by one or several characteristics, such as nobility Nobility is a social class foun ...
lurks behind the mask of the "serene republic". All were widely read on both sides of the Atlantic, though some Americans accused Cooper of apparently abandoning American life for European—not realizing that the political subterfuges in the European novels were cautions directed at his American audiences. Thus ''The Bravo'' was roughly treated by some critics in the United States.


Back to America

In 1833, Cooper returned to the United States and published "A Letter to My Countrymen" in which he gave his criticism of various social and political mores. Promotional material from a modern publisher summarizes his goals as follows:
A Letter to My Countrymen remains Cooper's most trenchant work of social criticism. In it, he defines the role of the "man of letters" in a republic, the true conservative, the slavery of party affiliations, and the nature of the legislative branch of government. He also offers her most persuasive argument on why America should develop its own art and literary culture, ignoring the aristocratically tainted art of Europe.
Influenced by the ideals of
classical republicanism Classical republicanism, also known as civic republicanism or civic humanism, is a form of republicanism developed in the Renaissance inspired by the governmental forms and writings of classical antiquity, especially such classical writers as Ar ...
, Cooper feared that the orgy of speculation he witnessed was destructive of civic virtue and warned Americans that it was a "mistake to suppose commerce favorable to liberty"; doing so would lead to a new "moneyed aristocracy". Drawing upon philosophers such as
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Jean-Jacques Rousseau (, ; 28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) was a Republic of Geneva, Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Age of Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects ...
, Burlamaqui, and
Montesquieu Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, Lot-et-Garonne, Montesquieu (; ; 18 January 168910 February 1755), generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French judge, intellectual, man of letters, historian, and p ...
, Cooper's political ideas were both democratic, deriving from the consent of the governed, and liberal, concerned with the rights of the individual. In the later 1830s—despite his repudiation of authorship in "A Letter to My Countrymen"—he published ''Gleanings in Europe'', five volumes of social and political analysis of his observations and experiences in Europe. His two novels ''Homeward Bound'' and ''Home as Found'' also criticize the flamboyant financial speculation and toadyism he found on his return; some readers and critics attacked the works for presenting a highly idealized self-portrait, which he vigorously denied.q In June 1834, Cooper decided to reopen his ancestral mansion Otsego Hall at Cooperstown. It had long been closed and falling into decay; he had been absent from the mansion nearly 16 years. Repairs were begun, and the house was put in order. At first, he wintered in New York City and summered in Cooperstown, but eventually he made Otsego Hall his permanent home. On May 10, 1839, Cooper published ''History of the Navy of the United States of America'', a work that he had long planned on writing. He publicly announced his intentions to author such a historical work while abroad before departing for Europe in May 1826, during a parting speech at a dinner given in his honor:
Encouraged by your kindness ... I will take this opportunity of recording the deeds and sufferings of a class of men to which this nation owes a debt of gratitude—a class of men among whom, I am always ready to declare, not only the earliest, but many of the happiest days of my youth have been passed.


Historical and nautical work

Cooper's historical account of the U.S. Navy was well received, though his account of the roles played by the American leaders in the Battle of Lake Erie led to years of disputes with their descendants, as noted below. Cooper had begun thinking about this massive project in 1824, and concentrated on its research in the late 1830s. His close association with the U.S. Navy and various officers, and his familiarity with naval life at sea provided him the background and connections to research and write this work. Cooper's work is said to have stood the test of time and is considered an authoritative account of the U.S. Navy during that time. Phillips, 1913, p. 277 In 1844, Cooper's ''Proceedings of the naval court martial in the case of
Alexander Slidell Mackenzie Alexander Slidell Mackenzie (April 6, 1803 – September 13, 1848), born Alexander Slidell, was a United States Navy The United States Navy (USN) is the maritime military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one ...
, a commander in the navy of the United States, &c:'', was first published in ''
Graham's Magazine ''Graham's Magazine'' was a nineteenth-century periodical A periodical literature (also called a periodical publication or simply a periodical) is a published work that appears in a new edition on a regular schedule. The most familiar example i ...
of 1843–44''. It was a review of the court martial of
Alexander Slidell Mackenzie Alexander Slidell Mackenzie (April 6, 1803 – September 13, 1848), born Alexander Slidell, was a United States Navy The United States Navy (USN) is the maritime military branch, service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one ...
who had hanged three crew members of the brig USS ''Somers'' for mutiny while at sea. One of the hanged men, 19-year-old Philip Spencer, was the son of U.S. Secretary of War John C. Spencer. He was executed without court-martial along with two other sailors aboard the ''Somers'' for allegedly attempting mutiny. Prior to this affair, Cooper and Mackenzie had disputed each other's version of the
Battle of Lake Erie The Battle of Lake Erie, sometimes called the Battle of Put-in-Bay, was fought on 10 September 1813, on Lake Erie Lake Erie ( "eerie") is the fourth largest lake by surface area of the five Great Lakes in North America and the eleventh-la ...
. However, recognizing the need for absolute discipline in a warship at sea, Cooper still felt sympathetic to Mackenzie over his pending court martial. Phillips, 1913, pp. 305–306 Clymer, 1900, pp. 110–111 In 1843, an old shipmate, Ned Myers, re-entered Cooper's life. To assist him—and hopefully to cash in on the popularity of maritime biographies—Cooper wrote Myers's story which he published in 1843 as ''Ned Myers, or a Life before the Mast'', an account of a common seaman still of interest to naval historians. In 1846, Cooper published ''Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers'' covering the biographies of
William Bainbridge William Bainbridge (May 7, 1774July 27, 1833) was a Commodore (United States), Commodore in the United States Navy. During his long career in the young American Navy he served under six presidents beginning with John Adams and is notable for his ...
,
Richard Somers Richard Somers (September 15, 1778 – September 4, 1804) was an Commissioned officer, officer of the United States Navy, killed during an assault on Tripoli, Libya, Tripoli during the First Barbary War. Early career Born at Great Egg Harbor ...
, John Shaw, John T. Shubrick, and Edward Preble. Cooper died in 1851. In May 1853, Cooper's ''Old Ironsides'' appeared in Putnam's Monthly. It was the history of the Navy ship and, after ''European and American Scenery Compared'', 1852, was one of several posthumous publication of his writings. In 1856, five years after Cooper's death, his ''History of the Navy of the United States of America'' was re-published in an expanded edition. The work was an account of the U.S. Navy in the early 19th century, through the Mexican War. Among naval historians of today, the work has come to be recognized as a general and authoritative account. However, it was criticized for accuracy on some points by some contemporaries, especially those engaged in the disputes over the roles of their relatives in Cooper's separate history of the
Battle of Lake Erie The Battle of Lake Erie, sometimes called the Battle of Put-in-Bay, was fought on 10 September 1813, on Lake Erie Lake Erie ( "eerie") is the fourth largest lake by surface area of the five Great Lakes in North America and the eleventh-la ...
. Whig editors of the period regularly attacked anything Cooper wrote, leading him to numerous suits for libel, for example against Park Benjamin, Sr., a poet and editor of the ''Evening Signal'' of New York.


Critical reaction

Cooper's writings of the 1830s related to current
politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and political), power relations among individuals, such as the distribution of res ...
and social issues, coupled with his perceived self-promotion, increased the ill feeling between the author and some of the public. Criticism in print of his naval histories and the two ''Home'' novels came largely from newspapers supporting The Whig party, reflecting the antagonism between the Whigs and their opposition, the Democrats, whose policies Cooper often favored. Cooper's father William had been a staunch Federalist, a party now defunct but some of whose policies supporting large-scale capitalism the Whigs endorsed. Cooper himself had come to admire Thomas Jefferson, the bete-noire of the Federalists, and had supported Andrew Jackson's opposition to a National Bank. Never one to shrink from defending his personal honor and his sense of where the nation was erring, Cooper filed legal actions for
libel Defamation is the act of communicating to a third party false statements about a person, place or thing that results in damage to its reputation. It can be spoken (slander) or written (libel). It constitutes a tort or a crime. The legal defini ...
against several Whig editors; his success with most of his lawsuits ironically led to more negative publicity from the Whig establishment. Buoyed by his frequent victories in court, Cooper returned to writing with more energy and success than he had had for several years. As noted above, on May 10, 1839, he published his ''History of the U.S. Navy''; his return to the ''Leatherstocking Tales'' series with '' The Pathfinder, or The Inland Sea'' (1840) and ''
The Deerslayer ''The Deerslayer, or The First War-Path'' (1841) was James Fenimore Cooper's last novel in his ''Leatherstocking Tales The ''Leatherstocking Tales'' is a series of five novels by United States, American writer James Fenimore Cooper, set i ...
'' (1841) brought him renewed favorable reviews. But on occasion he returned to addressing public issues, most notably with a trilogy of novels called the ''Littlepage Manuscripts'' addressing the issues of the anti-rent wars. Public sentiment largely favored the anti-renters, and Cooper's reviews again were largely negative.


Later life

Faced with competition from younger writers and magazine serialization, and lower prices for books resulting from new technologies, Cooper simply wrote more in his last decade than in either of the previous two. Half of his thirty-two novels were written in the 1840s. They may be grouped into three categories: Indian romances, maritime fiction, and political and social controversy—though the categories often overlap. The 1840s began with the last two novels featuring Natty Bumppo, both critical and reader successes: ''The Pathfinder'' (1840) and ''The Deerslayer'' (1841). ''Wyandotte'', his last novel set in the Revolutionary War, followed in 1843 and ''Oak Openings'' in 1848. The nautical works were ''Mercedes of Castile'' (in which Columbus appears, 1840),''The Two Admirals'' (British and French fleets in battle, 1842), ''Wing-And-Wing'' (a French privateer fighting the British in 1799, 1842), ''Afloat and Ashore'' (two volumes exploring a young man growing up, 1844), ''Jack Tier'' (a vicious smuggler in the Mexican-American War, 1848), and ''The Sea Lions'' (rival sealers in the Antarctic, 1849). He also turned from pure
fiction Fiction is any creative work, chiefly any narrative work, portraying character (arts), individuals, events, or setting (narrative), places that are imagination, imaginary, or in ways that are imaginary. Fictional portrayals are thus inconsistent ...
to the combination of art and controversy in which he achieved notoriety in the novels of the previous decade. His ''Littlepage Manuscripts'' trilogy--''Satanstoe'' (1845), ''The Chainbearer'' (1845), and ''The Redskins'' (1846)--dramatized issues of land ownership in response to renters in the 1840s opposing the long leases common in the old Dutch settlements in the Hudson Valley. He tried his hand with serialization with ''The Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief'', first published in ''Graham's Magazine'' in 1843, a satire on contemporary nouveau riche. In ''The Crater, or Vulcan's Peak'' (1847) he introduced
supernatural Supernatural refers to phenomena or entities that are beyond the laws of nature. The term is derived from Medieval Latin , from Latin (above, beyond, or outside of) + (nature) Though the corollary term "nature", has had multiple meanings si ...
machinery to show the decline of an ideal society in the South Seas when demagogues prevail. ''The Ways of the Hour'', his last completed novel, portrayed a mysterious and independent young woman defending herself against criminal charges. Cooper spent the last years of his life back in Cooperstown. He died on September 14, 1851, the day before his 62nd birthday. He was buried in the Christ Episcopal Churchyard, where his father, William Cooper, was buried. Cooper's wife Susan survived her husband only by a few months and was buried by his side at Cooperstown. Several well-known writers, politicians, and other public figures honored Cooper's memory with a memorial in New York, six months after his death, in February 1852.
Daniel Webster Daniel Webster (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852) was an American lawyer and statesman who represented New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress and served as the U.S. Secretary of State under Presidents William Henry Harrison, ...
gave a speech to the gathering while
Washington Irving Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories "Rip Van Winkle" (1819) and "The Legend ...
served as a co-chairman, along with William Cullen Bryant, who also gave an address which did much to restore Cooper's damaged reputation among American writers of the time.


Religious activities

Cooper's father was a lapsed Quaker; probably influenced by his wife's family, the DeLanceys, Cooper in his fiction often favorably depicted clergy of the Episcopal Church, though Calvinist ministers came in for their share of both admiring and critical treatment. In the 1840s as Cooper increasingly despaired over the United States maintaining the vision and promise of the Constitution, his fiction increasingly turned to religious themes. In ''The Wing-And-Wing'', 1842, the hero, a French revolutionary free-thinker, loses the Italian girl he loves because he cannot accept her simple Christianity. In contrast, in the 1849 ''The Sea Lions'' the hero wins his beloved only after a spiritual transformation while marooned in the Antarctic. And the 1848 ''The Oak Openings'' features a pious Parson Amen who wins the admiration of the Indians who kill him, praying for them during torture. After establishing permanent residence in Cooperstown, Cooper became active in Christ Episcopal Church, taking on the roles of warden and vestryman. As the vestryman, he donated generously to this church and later supervised and redesigned its interior with oak furnishings at his own expense. He was also energetic as a representative from Cooperstown to various regional conventions of the Episcopal church. But only several months before his death, in July 1851, was he Confirmation, confirmed in this church by his brother-in-law, the Reverend William H. DeLancey.


Legacy

Cooper was one of the more popular 19th-century American authors, and his work was admired greatly throughout the world. While on his death bed, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert wanted most to read more of Cooper's novels. Honoré de Balzac, the French novelist and playwright, admired him greatly. Phillips, 1913, p. 350 Henry David Thoreau, while attending Harvard, incorporated some of Cooper's style in his own work. D.H. Lawrence believed that Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Maupassant, and Flaubert were all "so very obvious and coarse, besides the lovely, mature and sensitive art of Fennimore Cooper." Lawrence called ''The Deerslayer'' "one of the most beautiful and perfect books in the world: flawless as a jewel and of gem-like concentration." Cooper's work, particularly ''The Pioneers'' and '' The Pilot'', demonstrate an early 19th-century American preoccupation with alternating prudence and negligence in a country where property rights were often still in dispute. Cooper was one of the early major American novelists to include African, African-American and Native American characters in his works. In particular, Native Americans play central roles in his ''
Leatherstocking Tales The ''Leatherstocking Tales'' is a series of five novels by United States, American writer James Fenimore Cooper, set in the eighteenth-century era of development in the primarily former Iroquois areas in central New York. Each novel features ...
''. However, his treatment of this group is complex and highlights the relationship between frontier settlers and American Indians as exemplified in ''The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish'', depicting a captured white girl who marries an Indian chief and has a baby with him, but after several years is eventually returned to her parents. Often, he gives contrasting views of Native characters to emphasize their potential for good, or conversely, their proclivity for mayhem. ''Last of the Mohicans'' includes both the character of Magua, who fearing the extinction of his race at the hands of the whites savagely betrays them, as well as Chingachgook, the last chief of the Mohicans, who is portrayed as Natty Bumppo's noble, courageous, and heroic counterpart. In 1831, Cooper was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician. According to Tad Szulc, Cooper was a devotee of Poland's causes (uprisings to regain Polish sovereignty). He organized a club in Paris to support the rebels, and brought flags of the defeated Polish rebel regiment from Warsaw to present them to the exiled leaders in Paris. With his friend the Marquis de La Fayette, he supported liberals during the regime changes in France and elsewhere in the 1830s. . Though some scholars have hesitated to classify Cooper as a strict Romantic, Victor Hugo pronounced him ''greatest novelist of the century'' outside France. Honoré de Balzac, while mocking a few of Cooper's novels (''"rhapsodies"'') and expressing reservations about his portrayal of characters, enthusiastically called ''The Pathfinder'' a masterpiece and professed great admiration for Cooper's portrayal of nature, only equalled in his view by Walter Scott. Mark Twain, the ultimate Realist, criticized the Romantic plots and overwrought language of ''The Deerslayer'' and ''The Pathfinder'' in his satirical but shrewdly observant essay, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" (1895). Cooper was also criticized heavily in his day for his depiction of women characters in his work. James Russell Lowell, Cooper's contemporary and a critic, referred to it poetically in ''A Fable for Critics'', writing, "... the women he draws from one model don't vary / All sappy as maples and flat as a prairie." Cooper's lasting reputation today rests largely upon the five ''Leatherstocking Tales''. In his 1960 study focusing on romantic relationships, both hetero- and homo-sexual, literary scholar Leslie Fiedler opines that with the exception of the five Natty Bumppo-Chingachgook novels, Cooper's "collected works are monumental in their cumulative dullness." More recent criticism views all thirty-two novels in the context of Cooper's responding to changing political, social, and economic realities in his time period. Cooper was honored on a U.S. commemorative stamp, the ''Postage stamps and postal history of the United States#Famous Americans Series of 1940, Famous American'' series, issued in 1940. Three dining halls at the State University of New York at Oswego are named in Cooper's remembrance (Cooper Hall, The Pathfinder, and Littlepage) because of his temporary residence in Oswego and for setting some of his works there. Cooper Park in Michigan's Comstock Township, Michigan, Comstock Township is named after him. The New Jersey Turnpike has a James Fenimore Cooper service area, recognizing his birth in the state. The gilded and red Toleware, tole chandelier hanging in the library of the White House in Washington DC is from the family of James Fenimore Cooper. It was brought there through the efforts of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in her great White House restoration. The James Fenimore Cooper Memorial Prize at New York University is awarded annually to an outstanding undergraduate student of journalism. In 2013, Cooper was inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame. Cooper's novels were very popular in the rest of the world, including, for instance, Russia. In particular, great interest of the Russian public in Cooper's work was primarily incited by the novel ''The Pathfinder'', which the renowned Russian literary critic Vissarion Belinsky declared to be "a Shakespearean drama in the form of a novel". The author was more recognizable by his middle name, Fenimore, exotic to many in Russia. This name became a symbol of exciting adventures among Russian readers. For example, in the 1977 Soviet movie ''The Secret of Fenimore'' (russian: Тайна Фенимора), being the third part of a children's television miniseries ''Three Cheerful Shifts'' (russian: :ru:Три весёлые смены, Три весёлые сменыSee ), tells of a mysterious stranger known as ''Fenimore'', visiting a boys' dorm in a summer camp nightly and relating fascinating stories about Native Americans in the United States, Indians and extraterrestrials.


Works


Notes


References


Bibliography

* * * ; ''James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years,'' Yale University Press, 2017. p. 805 . * * * * * * *


Primary sources

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Url1
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* ——— (1852). ''The Chainbearer, Or The Littlepage Manuscripts'', Stringer and Townsend, 228 pages
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Further reading

* Clavel, Marcel (1938). ''Fenimore Cooper and his critics: American, British and French criticisms of the novelist's early work'', Imprimerie universitaire de Provence, E. Fourcine, 418 pages
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* Darnell, Donald. (1993). ''James Fenimore Cooper: Novelist of Manners'', Newark, Univ. of Delaware * Dekker, George (2017). ''James Fenimore Cooper the Novelist'', Routledge, 2017, ISBN 978-1-351-58001-4 * Doolen, Andy (2005). ''Fugitive Empire: Locating Early American Imperialism'', Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota P. * Franklin, Wayne (1982). ''The New World of James Fenimore Cooper'', Chicago: Univ. of Chicago P
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* –—— (2007). ''James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years'', New Haven: Yale UP
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* Krauthammer, Anna. The Representation of the Savage in James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. NY: Peter Lang, 2008. * Long, Robert Emmet (1990). ''James Fenimore Cooper'', NY: Continuum. , * MacDougall, Hugh C. (1993). ''Where Was James? A James Fenimore Cooper Chronology from 1789–1851''. Cooperstown: James Fenimore Cooper Soc. * Rans, Geoffrey (1991). ''Cooper's Leather-Stocking Novels: A Secular Reading''. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina * Redekop, Ernest H., ed. (1989). ''James Fenimore Cooper, 1789–1989: Bicentennial Essays'', ''Canadian Review of American Studies'', entire special issue, vol. 20, no. 3 (Winter 1989), pp. 1–164. * Reid, Margaret (2004). ''Cultural Secrets as Narrative Form: Storytelling in Nineteenth-Century America''. Columbus: Ohio State UP * Ringe, Donald A. (1988). ''James Fenimore Cooper''. Boston: Twayne. * Romero, Lora (1997). ''Home Fronts: Domesticity and Its Critics in the Antebellum United States''. Durham: Duke UP * Smith, Lindsey C. (2008). ''Indians, Environment, and Identity on the Borders of American Literature: From Faulkner and Morrison to Walker and Silko''. NY: Palgrave Macmillan. * * Verhoeven, W.M. (1993). ''James Fenimore Cooper: New Historical and Literary Contexts''. Rodopi publishers.
Book Google.


External links

* * * *
James Fenimore Cooper
at Open Library
James Fenimore Cooper Society Homepage
*
Finding Aid for the James Fenimore Cooper Collection of Papers, 1825–1904
New York Public Library
James Fenimore Cooper Letters and Manuscript Fragments
Available online though Lehigh University'

* [http://www.c-span.org/video/?163765-1/writings-james-fenimore-cooper "Writings of James Fenimore Cooper"] from C-SPAN's ''American Writers: A Journey Through History''
"Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses"
an essay by Mark Twain * hdl:10079/fa/beinecke.cooper, James Fenimore Cooper Collection. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. {{DEFAULTSORT:Cooper, James Fenimore James Fenimore Cooper, 1789 births 1851 deaths 19th-century American novelists American expatriates in France American historical novelists American male novelists American naval historians American people of English descent Christian writers Deaths from edema Hall of Fame for Great Americans inductees People from Burlington, New Jersey People from Cooperstown, New York People from Scarsdale, New York Romanticism United States Navy officers Writers of historical fiction set in the modern age Knickerbocker Group Novelists from New Jersey American male non-fiction writers Historians from New York (state) Historians from New Jersey