JAMES FENIMORE COOPER
James Fenimore Cooper was born September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, to William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper. In 1790 the family moved to the frontier country of upstate New York, where William had established a village he called Cooperstown. Although cushioned by wealth and William’s position as a judge, the Coopers found pioneer life to be rugged, and only seven of the thirteen Cooper children survived their early years. Profoundly affected by the challenges of frontier living, James would repeatedly draw on his childhood experience in The Pioneers and many of his other novels.
Cooper was educated by private tutors at Yale, where he enrolled in 1803; he was expelled in 1805 after setting off an explosion that blew off another student’s dormitory door. As a midshipman in the U.S. Navy, he served at an isolated post on Lake Ontario and in a relatively leisurely assignment in New York City, where he met his future wife, Susan Augusta DeLancey, daughter of a wealthy family. In 1811 he resigned his commission to marry her.
According to family lore, Cooper fell into writing on a dare: One evening he threw down a novel in disgust, saying he could write a better book himself; when Susan challenged him and reminded him that he could barely stand to write a letter, Cooper wrote his first novel, Precaution, published in 1820. Encouraged by favorable reviews, Cooper wrote other books in quick succession and was soon regarded as a major voice in America’s emerging literary tradition. He eventually published thirty-two novels and was the first American to make a living as a professional novelist. Natty Bumppo, who appears in Last of the Mohicans and the four other Leatherstocking Tales that Cooper published between 1823 and 1841, became one of America’s favorite fictional heroes. Cooper and his family lived in Europe for seven years but returned to America in 1833. Eventually settling in Cooperstown, Cooper remained on the American literary scene as a prolific writer of political tracts, naval histories, and works of fiction. He died in Cooperstown on September 14, 1851.
THE WORLD OF JAMES FENIMORE COOPER AND THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
1789 The twelfth of thirteen children, James Cooper is born on Septem ber 15 to Judge William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper in Burlington, New Jersey. George Washington is inaugurated presi dent of the United States.
1790 The Coopers move to the frontier country of upstate New York, where William had founded Cooperstown a few years earlier. In his later novels, James will repeatedly draw on the rigors of his early frontier experiences.
1803 James Fenimore Cooper enters Yale.
1805 He is expelled from Yale for blowing off a fellow student’s door with gunpowder.
1806 Cooper works as a sailor on the Stirling, a merchant vessel. His trav els take him to Spain and England.
1808 Cooper joins the Navy, making Atlantic passages and serving at an isolated post on Lake Ontario.
1811 Cooper marries Susan Augusta De Lancey, the daughter of a wealthy family in Westchester County, New York. The couple, plagued by fi nancial troubles for the next several years, moves to various towns in New York State before buying a country home near Scarsdale, where they settle with their seven children.
1812 The United States declares war on Great Britain.
1814 British troops set fire to Washington, D.C. Francis Scott Key writes “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
1819 Washington Irving’s tale “Rip Van Winkle” appears.
1820 After accepting a challenge from his wife to write a book, Cooper pens Precaution, a novel of manners. The Missouri Compromise draws the line between free states and slave states.
1821 The Spy, a historical romance set during the American Revolution, is published, establishing Cooper as a major literary figure.
1823 Cooper publishes The Pioneers, the first of the five Leatherstocking Tales, which are set in the 1700s, both before and after the Amer ican Revolution, and tell the life of hunter, trapper, and scout Natty
Bumppo, known as Leatherstocking; the books follow Natty through various periods of his life, but not in chronological order.
1826 The Last of the Mohicans, the second Leatherstocking Tale, is published; Natty aligns himself with Uncas, the Indian of the title, and works as a scout in the British army. The Cooper family moves to Europe, and resides in Paris, Switzerland, Belgium, and England for the next seven years.
1827 The Prairie, the third novel in the Leatherstocking series, is pub lished ; Natty Bumppo dies among the Indians west of the Missis sippi, where he has been driven by the advancing line of pioneers.