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James Fenimore Cooper

Well-known literary master

James Fenimore Cooper was born September 15th, 1789 to Elizabeth Fenimore and William Cooper in Burlington, New Jersey. When he was only 1 year of age, they moved to upstate New York where his family founded Cooperstown.

Cooper enjoyed a gentlemen’s education first attending private school in Albany and then studying at Yale College from 1803-1805.  After being dismissed for misconduct, he joined the Navy and served several months aboard the Vesuvius, which was stationed at the frontier outpost in Oswego, New York. When his father passed away in 1809 Cooper became financially independent and began to take an interest in the large tracts of land in his estate.

Cooper married Susan De Lancey in 1811 and during the first ten years of their marriage he worked odd jobs including dabbling in agriculture, politics, the American Bible Society, and the Westchester militia. In 1823, the first of his renowned Leatherstocking Tales, The Pioneers, became the finest and most detailed literary account of frontier life in America; it is considered the first true American novel. Because of the success of  The Pioneers, Cooper was encouraged to write sequels, the next being the famous tale of the French and Indian War, The Last of the Mohicans. Some of Cooper’s other works include: The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), The Deerslayer (1841), The Pilot (1823), The Red Rover (1827), and The Sea Lions (1849). The Pilot was the first in a series about the sea. In these novels, Cooper personified the sea, making it not just an element of nature like many before him, but rather, a principle character. Hudson River School Founder and Catskill resident Thomas Cole produced four paintings based on Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, which was famous for its specific writings in narrative combined with the dramatic setting of American Wilderness.

The four paintings are:

  • Landscape with Figures: "The Last of the Mohicans" which represents the final climax and the capture of Cora
  • "Last of the Mohicans:" The Death of Cora which shows the moments before Cora's death
  • Landscape Scene from "The Last of the Mohicans:" Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund (two versions) capturing the moment when Cora throws herself at the feet of Tamenund, the old and prophet-like Delaware Chief.

After his many travels in Europe, Cooper returned to Cooperstown to settle on his father’s estate and continue writing.  He died in Cooperstown in 1851.