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|James Fenimore Cooper
James Cooper was born in Burlington, New Jersey, on September 15, 1789, the eleventh child born to William and Elizabeth Cooper. A year after his birth the family moved to upstate New York, where his father founded Cooperstown. He entered Yale College in 1803, but was expelled in his junior year because of a prank. He subsequently worked as a sailor on a merchant ship, and joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1806. After the death of his father in 1809, Cooper left the Navy and returned to upstate New York intending to become a gentleman farmer. On January 1, 1811, he married Susan Augusta DeLancey, with whom he would have seven children. He legally added Fenimore, his mother's maiden name, to his name in 1826.
Cooper's career as a writer began while reading a novel aloud to his wife. When he remarked that he could write a better one, Susan challenged him to do so. The result, Precaution (1820), received little critical praise, but Cooper chose to try again. The Spy (1821), a novel about the Revolutionary War, was an immediate success and from that time on Cooper earned his living as an author.
Cooper is best known for The Leatherstocking Tales, five novels about frontiersman Natty Bumppo and his constant retreat from the advancing settlement of the frontier. The action-filled stories contrast two ways of life. Natty and his Native American friends live a life of freedom close to nature. The settlers bring civilization and social order to the frontier, but they also thoughtlessly misuse the wilderness. The novels introduce Natty as a young man and follow him to old age and death and are, in n the order of the main character's life, The Deerslayer (1841), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Pathfinder (1840), The Pioneers (1823), and The Prairie (1827). In them, Cooper became the first author to seriously portray American scenes and characters.
Cooper also wrote the first American novel about the sea, The Pilot (1823), featuring Long Tom Coffin. His other sea-based novels include Red Rover (1827), and The Sea Lions (1849).
In addition to his many novels, Cooper wrote several nonfiction works criticizing American life, including the essays A Letter to His Countryman (1834), and The American Democrat (1838). His belief in the rights of property owners dominates a series of novels called The Littlepage Manuscripts -- Satanstoe (1845), The Chainbearer (1845), and The Redskins (1846). He also authored several nonfiction books about history, including History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839), The Lives of Distinguished Naval Officers (1846), and The Towns of Manhattan (1851).
James Fenimore Cooper died at his home in Cooperstown on September 14, 1851, and is buried in the family plot at the Christ Episcopal Churchyard. His wife Susan survived him by just a few months.
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This page was last updated on 09/14/2018.