James Fenimore Cooper Society Website
Return to Susan Fenimore Cooper
Introductions to novels by her father, with significant biographic and literary information, were written by Susan Fenimore Cooper as prefaces to excerpts from 25 Cooper novels in Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, with Notes by Susan Fenimore Cooper (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1861). She also wrote introductions to 15 (not all the same) novels published between 1876-1884 as the Household Edition of the Works of J. Fenimore Cooper (New York and Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. [Hurd and Mifflin]).
These introductions are collected for the first time on the Cooper Society Website. Lengthy quotations have been reproduced in indented form, but retaining the quotation marks of the original, and their sources have been indicated in [square brackets].
I: From Pages and Pictures
Cooper's childhood in Cooperstown, early education in Cooperstown and Albany, 1790-1802; genesis of The Pioneers; Shipman and Natty Bumppo; other Cooperstonians who were (or were not) inspirations for characters in The Pioneers (Father Nash, Col. Hendrick Frey, M. Ebbal, Esaias Hausman, M. Le Quoy); The "Cricket"; The Pioneers as fiction
II: From Household Edition
Cooper's childhood in Cooperstown, early education in Cooperstown and Albany, 1790-1802; genesis of The Pioneers; Shipman and Natty Bumppo; William Cooper's A Guide in The Wilderness (1810); Very long quotation from A Guide....
Contents: THE PIONEERS -- The author's boyhood -- Lake Otsego -- Master Cory -- The organ -- The Beggar's Petition -- School-boy's journey to Albany -- The great turnpike -- A third book planned -- Natty and Shipman -- Mr. Le Quoy -- Hausman -- Father Nash not the original of Mr. Grant -- Indian alarm -- Extract, Pigeon-Shooting
 THE earliest years of the author of "The Spy" were passed in the little village on the shores of Lake Otsego. Although born at Burlington, he was carried when an infant a few weeks old, to the hamlet then growing up at the eastern sources of the Susquehanna. His childish recollections were all closely connected with the forests and hills, the fresh clearings, new fields and homes on the banks of the Otsego. It was here his boy's strength was first tried in those sports to which gray-headed men, amid the cares of later life, delight to look hack. From the first bow-and-arrow, kite, and ball, to later feats in fishing, riding, shooting, skating, all were connected with his highland home. It was on the waters of the Otsego that he first learned to handle an oar, to trim a sail. Healthy and active, he delighted in every exercise of the kind -- a brave, blithe-hearted, impetuous,  most generous and upright boy, as he is remembered by those who knew him in childhood.
Master Oliver Cory kept the village school in those days, and for many years later. He was a man remarkably well qualified for that honorable post, laborious, upright, firm in discipline, yet patient and kindly by nature. His training of the boys under his care was excellent. Every Saturday was devoted to religious instruction, while morals and manners were the subject of careful, though quiet attention on his part. Among his pupils was the youngest son of Judge Cooper, considered by his master as a very promising and intelligent lad. The school was kept in an ambitious edifice called the Academy, described as "one of those tasteless buildings that afflict all new countries." [James Fenimore Cooper, The Chronicles of Cooperstown (Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), p. 41.] It served many different purposes in its day; political meetings, religious services and the public courts were held under its roof, varied by an occasional ball. Those were not the times of lectures or concerts. Master Cory and his pupils, however, seem to have had a taste for music; Judge Cooper had brought from Philadelphia a large upright barrel-organ, of more than common power and dignity of exterior, altogether the most imposing musical instrument which had yet found its way to the shores of the Otsego; it was put up in the hall of the mansion-house, where for years it went on playing reels, and country dances, almost every evening, to say nothing of its many graver performances. The arrival of this organ in the village, produced a sensation which might be compared to the appearance of some brilliant musical star, some prima donna assoluta in a large town, at the present day; when carefully put in its position, and duly prepared for performance, a sort of rehearsal was held; the weather was warm, the broad doors and ample windows of the house were all open as usual, and as Master Oliver Cory soon learned to his cost. The Academy stood on the street adjoining the grounds of Otsego Hall, and as the first strains of Hail Columbia poured into the school-room, the effect on the children was electrical, never before had they heard such music. Jenny Lind could scarcely have delighted the students of a German university in a higher degree. Astonishment, inattention, confusion, succeeded each other; at length disorder and disorganization threatened the whole school; fortunately Master Cory, equal to the emergency, saw clearly the only course to be taken:
"Boys, that organ is a remarkable instrument. Yon have never heard the like of it before. I give you half an hour's intermission; go into the street, and listen to the music!"
But Master Cory and his pupils were not always content to play audience; they chose to be performers themselves sometimes. Annual exhibitions took place, during which the Academy was thronged, to hear the speeches of Coriolanus  and Iago, of Brutus and Cassius, delivered by raw lads from the village and adjoining farms, equipped inn the local militia uniform, hats of the date of 1776, blue coats faced with red, and matross swords, exhibitions which are still a subject for merriment among the few who remember them. The future author of "The Pioneers," then a child some eight years old, was much commended on one of these occasions for his moving recitation of the "Beggars' Petition," in the character of an old man, wrapped in a faded cloak, and bending over his staff; it is to be feared that Master Cory, half a century later still indulged in certain emotions of undue pride when dwelling on the correctness of his little pupil's pathetic performance on that occasion.
Ere long, however, a school Of higher aims, in the way of instruction, was deemed necessary. The youngest son of the house was sent from home. This first eventful journey was made under the care of a worthy farmer of the neighborhood, who was carrying toward the Hudson, a load of wheat, from the new fields of Otsego, then considered a great grain country. The route taken was the turnpike, a great western thoroughfare at that day, running between the valley of the Hudson and the Chenango River. This road had been only recently completed as far as Cherry Valley, and wonders were expected from it; the young traveller had heard this new triumph of civilization so much discussed at his father's table, by the gentlemen visiting at the house, that his curiosity to see it was extreme. Directors and stockholders were endeavoring to solve the difficult question of what should be done with the proceeds of the tolls, a dividend of ten per cent. being all that was allowed by the charter; stone bridges were planned; nay, some visionary spirits even talked of the necessity of lighting the road at night, as a means of disposing of the surplus fund. At length they arrived at the famous turnpike; the school-boy's eyes were gratified with actual observation of its magnificent breadth, its scientific construction, the directness of its course, the excellence of its condition -- merits which to one who reached it by the primitive, irregular, corduroy tracks then the common highways of the region, were very impressive, indeed. As they trotted slowly along, the farmer pointed out among other marvels, the taverns which were springing up within sight of each other, throughout the sixty miles between Albany and Lake Otsego: "A tavern for every mile!" as it was boastfully proclaimed; a fact certainly remarkable, showing clearly as it does the very rapid strides with which civilization moved over new ground at that period. A long train of farm wagons, heavily laden with the precious wheat, then higher than ever in value, owing to the great European wars, were rolling slowly eastward, and the number of emigrant teams, crowded with growing families and household gear, moving in the opposite direction toward the lake shores, were all full of interest for the young traveller, and seemed to promise ample prosperity to the new road, and the county. But, alas for the great turnpike; its track is now quiet and all but deserted, its toll-gates have been thrown down, its stone bridges were never built, its lamps were never lighted! Traffic from the quiet shores of the Otsego now moves northward, following the trail of the old Indian portage toward the valley of the Mohawk. In 1798, there was movement enough, however, on the new road to render it no unworthy approach to the capital of the state. Ere long the young traveller reached Albany.
He was set down at the door of St. Peter's Rectory. Here he became a pupil of the Rev. Mr. Ellison, an English clergyman of high scholarship, who received three or four boys into his family. The young lad from Otsego soon became a favorite with his tutor, who took pleasure in instructing him. Had Mr. Ellison lived, his pupil's career might have been different; though it is scarcely probable that one so active in body, as well as in mind, would have been satisfied with the quiet and comparative monotony of a student's life. In 1802, Mr. Ellison died. His pupil soon after entered Yale College, at the early age of thirteen. At the close of three years more he went to sea, his first voyages being made before the mast, to England and to Spain. In 1805, he entered the navy. Some years later his marriage gave him an interest in another part of the country; but in ail the wanderings of early life, and still at a later day, the home of his childhood, the highland valley where his father's hearth-stone lay, was never forgotten by him.
And now that a new career was opening before hire, his eyes were again turned toward the forest-clad hills at the sources of the Susquehanna. The Spy was just finished; the glow of success was still fresh upon him when he again resolved to "try one more book!" The new narrative, like that which had preceded it, was to be connected in one sense with the history of the country; it should follow the first steps of civilization in its conquests over the wilderness, and its scenes should be enacted in the valley of the Otsego. Affection for the ground, interest in the people, the pleasing character of the natural scenery, all united to point out the banks of the highland lake as fitting frame-work for his pictures. The new book was immediately commenced, and Natty Bumppo, with his silent footfall, stepped from beneath the shadows of the old pines into the winter sunlight.
There was an old hunter by the name of Shipman living in the Otsego hills during the first years of the little colony, who came frequently to offer his game at Judge Cooper's door, and whose rude equipment, dogs, and rifle, had much  attraction for the lads of the house. But even then, at the close of the first ten or fifteen years of clearing, game was no longer as abundant as it had been. The wild creatures were already bounding away before the sound of the axe. Occasionally, it is true, a bear was seen feasting on the wild fruits which usually grew in profusion on the borders of newly-cleared ground, or mayhap he was surprised by the hunters in one of the shallow caves of those hills, where he had lain down for his long winter nap. The peculiar wailing cry of the sharp-toothed panther, so like the voice of woman in distress, was still heard at times by the wanderer on the quiet wood-roads. Now and then the howl of the wolf came across the icy field of the Otsego, in the winter nights. The deer lingered last; they were not unfrequently seen, bounding through the forest, or drinking at familiar springs, during the first three or four years of this century. One autumn day, the future author of "The Pioneers," then a pupil under Master Cory's charge, was at play in his father's garden, when suddenly he was surprised by a deer which came leaping over the fence from the street, almost brushing his face, as it bounded away into the pine-wood in the rear of the house, dogs and men in hot pursuit. The incident was even then so unusual as to make a great impression on the boy In after years, when walking with his children over the same ground, Mr. Cooper repeatedly spoke of it. And this is said to have been one of the last of those beautiful creatures driven in chase through the village, and over ground where so very lately they had roamed at will. They still continued, however, to be hunted among the hills, and in the lake, for several years longer. At length they gradually took flight, retreating to the wilder mountains to the southward, where Shipman and his brother hunters were compelled to follow them, or else exchange the rifle for the axe. A vague recollection of Shipman seems to have lingered in the mind of the writer, and to have suggested the idea of the principal character in "The Pioneers." And yet to call this man the original of Natty Bumppo, would be clearly an error. The assertion is true only just so far as the barest resemblance in outline may go -- in pursuit, something in rude accoutrement, and in the ground over which they both hunted. Here all similarity ceases. In every higher sense of the words, the character of Natty is wholly original; in all that gives worth, and dignity, and poetry, and soul, to the conception, it comes in full freshness and freedom, direct from the mind of the author.
Many of the figures filling the canvas of "The Pioneers" are said to have once lived on the same ground. But there is no one instance in which this assertion is strictly true. There is no character in the book which the writer aimed at copying closely from real life; some vague resemblance may be traced  here and there, but in most instances the personages are wholly fictitious. Classes were represented, and not individuals.
Chingachgook, old Indian John, is supposed to have been drawn from life; but this again is an error. The character is imaginary. The head-waters of the Susquehanna were favorite hunting-ground with the neighboring tribes, but they had no permanent village on the ground. Their forts, or "castles," as these were so strangely miscalled by the whites, and their burial-places, lay on either hand, north or south, in the valley of tie Mohawk, or on the southern banks of the Susquehanna, They did not, therefore, linger on the shores of the Otsego, as at some other points; when the white man appeared with his team, his plough, and his axe, they abandoned their canoes on the lake, gave up its choice fish to his steel hook and twine net, and followed the flying game farther toward the setting sun; or, in diminished numbers, they still wandered to and fro, over ground rendered sacred to them by older traditions connected with their lodges, and the graves of their fathers. Occasionally only they came in family groups, or in small parties, to taste the bass, or tap the maples in the forest, during the first years of the village. But it is not known that any one individual remained long enough to fill the position ascribed to Chingachgook in "The Pioneers."
An Indian alarm, however, occurred quite as a matter of course in connection with the early days of most American frontier hamlets. In the annals of the village, the year 1794, or that following the date given in the openings chapter of "The Pioneers," is especially remembered for an incident of this kind. A large party of Indians -- of what tribe, we are not told -- were seen lurking in the woods within a short march of the village. As they did not show themselves openly, but sought or affected concealment, their movements naturally excited suspicion. Their numbers were, of course, exaggerated; the women and children were thrown into great alarm, and some of the good people seem to have actually feared a repetition of the horrors of Cherry Valley, so thoroughly impressed on the household memories of the county.
It was deemed prudent to take steps for defence; weapons were prepared for action, and scouts were sent out into the woods to watch the red men. Meanwhile, with well-barred doors and windows, the women and children were gathered in their homes. Suddenly, in the dead of night, the report of firearms was heard, and the tramp of horse and foot passed along the quiet street. Had the scouts returned! Were the Indians upon them! The whole village was aroused and thrown into strange alarm. The men hurried into the street to face a possible foe; they were met by a party of constables, who had gone out in pursuit of a gang of counterfeiters, and now, returning at midnight with their prisoners, had fired off their pistols on entering the village, thus throwing the little community into great agitation. It was not until the next day that the alarm subsided. The Indians, not long after, passed noiselessly on their way through the forest; the object of their approach was never known. This is said to have been the last occasion on which the red men drew near the village in sufficient numbers to assume in any way the aspect of a war-party, moving over old forest pathways of their own, so long familiar to their race, but now wholly effaced by the plough of the white man. Whatever may have been their object, whatever feeling of secret enmity may have lurked in their hearts, this party could never have actually plotted any work of general violence against the little colony; the day for massacre had wholly passed away. The horrors of Cherry Valley dated nearly twenty years back in time, and a century in facts.
It has been said that the character of Mr. Grant, the missionary, was drawn from life. The assertion is entirely unfounded. The author of "The Pioneers" had much too strong a personal regard for the venerable clergyman supposed to be referred to under the name of Mr. Grant, to have wished to introduce him into a work of fiction. On the contrary, he has filled the position actually occupied by him with a figure purely imaginary, and, in many personal particulars, directly the opposite of Father Nash. The trials and difficulties of missionary life at that day, on frontier ground, were great; and probably not one of his brethren suffered more privations from poverty, and the many hardships of a new country, than the venerable man whose sincere piety, earnest zeal, courage, and perseverance were greatly blessed to the many parishes of that region, springing up under his laborious itinerant ministry. But between Mr. Grant, the missionary of "The Pioneers," and Father Nash, there is absolutely no resemblance whatever to be traced, beyond that of position, and the peculiar trials  connected with it. This was precisely what the writer aimed at representing, purposely avoiding any approach to individual portraiture of character or person. a single glance at the household circle of each will show how little the author of "The Pioneers" aimed at presenting his honored friend to the public under a feigned name; instead of being the sad, subdued, bereaved man, with one living child remaining of a large family, which Mr. Grant is represented, Father Nash, at the same period of his missionary labors, full of life and vigor himself, was blessed with a most worthy and diligent wife, and surrounded with a large flock of young children, most of whom survived him.
In one particular, however, the trials of real life were even greater, perhaps, than those of the fictitious narrative. It seems to us, of the present hour, almost incredible that suffering for want of food should have ever been known, by any hut the very improvident, in this land of plenty. Such, however, was not the case. Scarcity was repeatedly felt by all during the first years of settlement, more especially by the families of the farmers, living beyond the village; and it is well known that the poor missionary family suffered severely in this way, on more than one occasion. There were those at hand however, always ready to offer relief, where privation was known. The most severe trial of this kind occurred during the season still remembered as "the starving time," in the traditions of the country, and which fell upon the whole region, for many miles beyond the lake shores. It was at an early day when the green fields were yet very few, when there were no roads through the forest, and no mills to grind the little corn among the stores of the colonists. The hamlet was then literally in the heart of a wilderness, and the number of newly arrived emigrants increasing beyond the amount of food within reach, something approaching to actual famine was felt in many a cabin. Families accustomed to abundance, in the homes they had left farther eastward, were now pining for the want of daily bread, the poor hungry children feeding on the scrapings of the iron pots in which their sapaen had been prepared. In this emergency, the leader of the little colony exerted himself to the utmost; grain was purchased at a distance, brought up the Mohawk in boats, thence on pack horses through the forest, from Canajoharie and Fort Plain, out dealt and liberally to the people. Most happily shoals of herring came up the Susquehanna, from the Chesapeake, at the same moment, filling the lake so abundantly, that they were actually dipped out of the water, by the bucketful. Salt was sent for in great quantities, and the fish were cured, and carried into the cabins of the people, scattered through the neighboring woods. The pigeons also came in large flocks, and after a period of great distress for some weeks, plenty was once more restored to the half famished people.
 The number of foreigners finding their way to the shores of this quiet inland lake at that early day, was quite remarkable. Among these, were several Frenchmen, driven from their own country by the terrors of the Revolution. A few incidents of border life, connected with their history are given in the words of Mr. Cooper:
"In the course of the winter of 1789-90, during one of the periodical visits of Colonel Frey [Colonel Hendrick Frey, of Frey's Bush, on the Mohawk], a large lumber-sleigh was fitted out, with four horses, and the whole party sallied out upon the lake, for a morning drive. An ex-officer of the French army, a Monsieur Ebbal, resided by himself, on the western bank of the lake. Perceiving the sleigh, and four horses approaching his house, this gentleman with the courtesy of his nation, went forth upon the ice, to greet the party, of whose character he was not ignorant, by the style in which it appeared. Mr. Cooper invited his French friend to join him, promising him plenty of game, with copious libations of Madeira, by way of inducement. Though a good table companion in general, no persuasion could prevail on the Frenchman to accept the offer that day, while, provoked by his obstinacy, the party laid violent hands on him, and brought him to the village by force.
"Monsieur Ebbal took his captivity in good part, and was soon as buoyant and gay as any of his companions. He habitually wore a long-skirted surtout, which at that time was almost a mark of a Frenchman, and this surtout he pertinaciously refused to lay aside, even when he took his seat at table. On the contrary, he kept it buttoned to the very throat, as it might be in defiance. The Christmas joke, a plentiful board, and abundant potations, however, threw the guest off his guard. Warmed with wine and the blazing fire, he incautiously unbuttoned; when his delighted companions discovered that the accidents of a frontier life, the establishment of a bachelor who kept no servant, and certain irregularities in washing-days, that were attendant on both circumstances, coupled with his empressement to salute his friends, had induced the gallant Frenchman to come abroad without a shirt. He was uncased on the spot, amid the roars of the  convives, and incontinently put into linen. 'Cooper was so polite,' added the mirth-loving Hendrick Frey, when he repeated the story for the hundredth time, 'that he supplied a shirt with ruffles at the wristbands, which made Ebbal very happy for the rest of the evening. How his hands did go, after he got the ruffles!'
"These wags told Monsieur Ebbal, that if chased by a bear, the most certain mode of escape was to throw away his hat or his coat, to induce the animal to stop and smell at it, and then to profit by the occasion, and climb a sapling that was too small to enable his enemy to fasten its claw in it, in the way it is known to ascend a tree. The advice was well enough; but the advised having actually an occasion to follow it the succeeding autumn, scrambled up a sapling first, and began to throw away his clothing afterward. The bear, a she one, with cubs, tore to pieces garment after garment, without quitting the spot, keeping poor Ebbal treed throughout a cool autumnal night, almost as naked as when he uncased at the celebrated Christmas banquet. It appears that the real name of this person was L'Abbé de Raffcourt." [James Fenimore Cooper, The Chronicles of Cooperstown (Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), pp. 26-28]
* * * * * * *
"In 1801, a man dressed in a sailor's jacket, without stockings, or neckcloth, but cleanly, and otherwise of respectable appearance, and who seemed of middle age, presented himself to Judge Cooper, with a request to know whether a small piece of low meadow land, that lies between 'Fenimore' and the village, was to be sold. The answer was in the affirmative, but the applicant was informed that on account of its position, the price would be relatively high, amounting to a considerable sum. The stranger requested that a deed might immediately be made of it, and he counted, down the money, in gold, giving his name as Esaias Hausman. Mr. Hausman left the hall the owner of the lot in question, which has ever since been known as the 'Hausman lot.' The habits, attainments and character of this man soon attracted attention. He spoke five or six of the living languages, and had a tolerable knowledge of the classics. He lived entirely alone, in a small house he had caused to be built on his purchase, and in the rudest manner. Occasionally he would disappear, and his absences sometimes extended to months. He frequently spoke of his past life, though it is not known that he ever gave any explicit or connected history of his origin, or of the events that led him to America. According to his own account of his adventures, he had served in the French imperial army, and he was once heard to say that the death of Robespierre alone saved him from the block. Casual remarks of this kind increased curiosity, when Hausman became more reserved, and soon ceased to touch at all on the events of his past life. Some time about the year 1805, he  had been absent for several months, when it was discovered that he was teaching Hebrew to the president of one Of the Eastern Colleges. This occupation did not last long, however, for he was soon back again, in his hut on the lake shore. In this manner, this singular man passed many years, apparently undetermined in his purposes, rude, and even coarse in many of his habits, but always courteous and intelligent. He died at Herkimer, in 1812, and without making any revelations concerning himself, or his family. As he died intestate, his property escheated, the lot on the lake shore being sold by the public. It is said that a considerable sum in gold was found in a purse, worn between his shoulder-blades.
"Nothing farther was ever known of Esaias Hausman. He was certainly shrewd and observant, and his acquisitions, which were a little exaggerated, probably, by vulgar report, were of that kind which denote, in Europe, a respectable education. He had not the appearance or manner of a Polish gentleman, though he called himself a Pole, and the most probable conjecture concerning him, a conjecture which we believe is sustained by some of his own remarks, made him a Jew. The name is German, but the people of that persuasion often assume new appellations." [James Fenimore Cooper, The Chronicles of Cooperstown (Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), pp. 59-61]
* * * * * * *
"M. Le Quoy excited a good deal of interest during his stay in the place, as he was a man altogether superior to his occupation, which was little more than that of a country grocer; an interest that was much increased by the following circumstance.
"Among the early settlers in Otsego county was M. Louis de Villers, a French gentleman of respectable extraction and good manners. M. de Villers was at Cooperstown, about the year 1793, at a moment when a countryman, a M. Renouard, who afterward established himself in the county, had recently reached the place. M. Renouard was a seaman, and had the habit of using tobacco. Inquiring of M. de Villers where he could make a purchase of the weed, M. de Villers directed him to the shop of M. Le Quoy, telling him he could help a countryman by making his purchase there. In a few minutes M. Renouard returned from the shop, agitated and pale. M. de Villers inquired if he were unwell. 'Who is the man who sold me this tobacco?' demanded M. Renouard. 'M. Le Quoy is a countryman of ours.' 'Yes; M. Le Quoy de Mersereau!' 'I know nothing about the de Mersereau; he calls himself Le Quoy. Do you know any thing of him?' 'When I went to Martinique, to be port-captain of St Pierre,' answered M. Renouard, 'this man was the civil governor of the island, and refused to confirm my appointment.'
 "Subsequent inquiry confirmed this story, M. Le Quoy explaining that the influence of a lady had stood in the way of M. Renouard's preferment.
"The history of M. Le Quoy has since been ascertained to be as follows: When governor of Martinique, he had it in his power to do a friendly office to Mr. John Murray, of New York, by liberating one of his ships; Mr. Murray being at the head of the old and highly respectable commercial house of John Murray and Sons, then one of the principal firms of the country, this act brought about an exchange of civilities between Mr. Murray and M. Le Quoy, which continued for years. When the French Revolution drove M. Le Quoy from the island, he repaired to New York, and sought his friend Mr. Murray, to whom he stated that he had a small sum of money, which he wished to invest in a country store, until his fortunes might revive. Between Mr. Murray and Judge Cooper there existed an intimacy, and to the latter gentleman M. Le Quoy was referred. Under the advice of Judge Cooper, M. Le Quoy established himself in Cooperstown, where he remained a year or two. At the end of that time he made his peace with the new French government, and quitting his retreat, he was employed for some months in superintending the accounts of the different French consulates in this country. It is said that he soon after returned to Martinique in his old capacity, and died the first season of yellow fever.... The following letter appears to have been written by him soon after he left Cooperstown, and at the moment he commenced his consular duties:
"'PHILADELPHIA, October 10, 1794.
"'DEAR SIR: -- I have experienced too much of your friendship to believe you will not hear of my fate with some degree of concern. I am to go to Charleston, S.C., about some business which will keep me most all the winter. I hope for a more permanent employment than what I have at present; if not, I know where to find peace, good business, good friends. I shall always consider you among the number.
"'I wish you and all your family health and happiness.
'And I remain, dear sir, your most humble servant,
"'F. T. LE QUOY.
"'MONS. W· COOPER, in Cooperstown, Otsego county.'"
[James Fenimore Cooper, The Chronicles of Cooperstown (Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), pp. 35-38]
The singular name of this gentleman, who is said to have died without representatives, was given to the French emigrant of "The Pioneers," the character of the latter, however, was entirely imaginary.
 In the chapter selected for this volume from "The Pioneers," the reader will find an allusion to a piece of artillery, very famous in its day among the good people on the lake shores, and to whose report the Otsego hills have a thousand times re-echoed on days of rejoicing. This was the "Cricket," so thoroughly enjoyed by all the lads of the village.
The following account of the "Cricket" is given in Mr. Cooper's words:
"The present site of Cooperstown is connected with an event of some interest, which occurred during the war of the Revolution. An expedition having been commanded to proceed under the orders of General Sullivan, against the Indians who then dwelt in the vicinity of Seneca Lake, a brigade employed in the duty, under Brigadier-General James Clinton, father of the celebrated De Witt Clinton, marched from Albany for that purpose. After ascending the Mohawk as far as Fort Plain, this brigade cut a road through the forest to the head of Lake Otsego, whither it transported its boats. Traces of this road exist, and are still known by the name of the Continental Road. Embarking at the head of the lake, the troops descended to the outlet, where they encamped on the site of the present village. General Clinton's quarters are said to have been in a small building of hewn logs, which then stood in what are now the grounds of Otsego Hall, and which it is thought was erected by Colonel Croghan, as a place in which he might hold his negotiations with the Indians, as well as for a commencement of the settlement.
"This building, which was about fifteen feet square, and intended for a sort of block-house, was undoubtedly the first ever erected on this spot. It was subsequently used by some of the first settlers as a dwelling, and by Judge Cooper as a smoke-house. There were found the graves of two white men in the same grounds, which were believed to contain the bodies of deserters, who were shot at the time the troops were encamped there. These graves are supposed to have been the first of any civilized men in the township of Otsego. A11 traces of them have now disappeared.
"As soon as encamped, the troops of General Clinton commenced the construction of a dam at the outlet, and when the water had risen to a sufficient height in the lake, the obstruction was removed, the current clearing the bed of the river of flood-wood. After a short delay for this purpose, the troops embarked and descended the river as far as the junction with the Tioga, where they were met by another brigade commanded by General Sullivan in person. On this occasion the Susquehanna below the dam is said to have been so much reduced that a man could jump over it. Traces of the dam still exist, and for many years they were very obvious.
"At a later day, in digging the cellar of the house first occupied by Judge Cooper, a large iron swivel was discovered, which was said to have been buried by the troops, who found it was useless for their service. This swivel was the only piece of artillery used for the purposes of salutes and merry-makings in the vicinity of Cooperstown for years after the settlement of the country. It is well and affectionately remembered by the name of the "Cricket," and was bursted lately in the same good cause of rejoicing on the fourth of July. At the time of its final disaster, for it met with manly vicissitudes by field and flood, having actually been once thrown into the lake, it is said that there was no very perceptible difference in size between its touch-hole and its muzzle."
[James Fenimore Cooper, The Chronicles of Cooperstown (Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), pp. 11-13]
 With a few more remarks from Mr. Cooper's pen, these notes to "The Pioneers" must close:
"In order to prevent mistake, it may be well to say that the incidents of this tale are purely a fiction. The literal facts are chiefly connected with the natural and artificial objects, and the customs of the inhabitants. The academy, and court-house, and jail, and inn, and most similar things, are tolerably exact. They have all, long since, given place to buildings of a better character. There is some liberty taken with the truth in the description of the principal dwelling; the real building had no 'firstly' or 'lastly.' It was of bricks, and not of stone; and its roof exhibited none of the beauties of the 'composite order.' It was erected in an age too primitive for that ambitious school of architecture. But the author indulged his recollections freely when he had fairly entered the door. Here all is literal, even to the severed vase of Wolfe, and the urn which held the ashes of Queen Dido."
"The author has elsewhere said that the character of Leather-Stocking is a creation, rendered probable by such auxiliaries as were necessary to produce that effect. Had he drawn still more upon fancy, the lovers of fiction would not have so much cause for their objections to his work. Still the picture would not have been in the least true, without some substitute for most of the other personages. The great proprietor resident on his lands and giving his name to, instead of receiving it from his estates, as in Europe, is common over all New York. The physician with his theory, rather obtained than corrected by experiments on the human constitution; the pious, self-denying, laborious, and ill-paid missionary; the half-educated, litigious, envious, and disreputable lawyer, with his counterpoise, a brother of the profession, of better origin and of better character; the shiftless, bargaining, discontented seller of his "betterments;" the plausible carpenter, and most of the others, are familiar to all who have ever dwelt in a new country."
"It may be well to say here, a little more explicitly, that there was no intention to describe with particular accuracy any real characters in this book. It has been repeatedly said -- and in published statements -- that the heroine of this book was drawn after a sister of the writer, who was killed by a fall from a horse now nearly half a century since. So ingenious is conjecture, that a personal resemblance has been discovered between the fictitious character and the deceased relative. It is scarcely possible to describe two females of the same class in life, who would be less alike, personally, than Elizabeth Temple and the sister of the author, who met with the deplorable fate mentioned. In a word, they were as unlike in this respect as in history, character, and fortunes."
"Circumstances rendered this sister singularly dear to the author. After a lapse of half a century, he is writing this paragraph with a pain that would induce him to cancel it, were it not still more painful to have it believed that one whom he regarded with a reverence that surpassed the love of a brother, was converted by him into the heroine of a work of fiction."
"From circumstances which, after this introduction, will be obvious to all, the author has had more pleasure in writing "The Pioneers" than the book will, probably, ever give any of its readers. He is quite aware of its numerous faults, some of these he has endeavored to repair in this edition; but, as he has, in intention, at least -- done his full share in amusing the world, he trusts to its good nature for overlooking this attempt to please himself."
[James Fenimore Cooper, 1851 Introduction to The Pioneers (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), pp. 9-11]
Excerpt: "Pigeon-Shooting" [James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980),Chapter 22, pp. 242-250].
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"THE PIONEERS" was the first, in point of time, of the Leather-Stocking Tales, having been published in 1822 [sic].
[xi] The "Spy" had just appeared, and had met with a warm reception. The glow of success was still fresh upon the author when he again decided to try "one more book." The new narrative, like that which preceded it, was, in one sense, to be connected with the history of the country; it should follow the first steps of civilization in its conquests over the wilderness, and its scenes should be enacted in the valley of the Otsego, the home of his own boyhood. His first childish recollections were all closely connected with the forests and hills, the fresh clearings, new fields and homes on the banks of the Otsego. It was here his boy's strength was first tried in those sports to which gray-headed men, amid the scenes of later life, delight to look back. From the first bow and arrow, kite and ball, to later feats in riding, fishing, swimming, skating, all were connected, during the first ten years of his life, with his highland home. Healthy, and remarkably active, he delighted in every exercise of the kind -- a brave, blithe-hearted, impetuous, but most generous and upright lad, as he is remembered by those who knew him in childhood. Here also his education began. His first lessons were learned by the side of an elder sister, an uncommonly lovely and engaging person, who was lost to her family at the age of twenty-two by a most painful accident, a full from her horse. Her young [xii] pupil and brother never spoke of this sister without emotion, to the very last months of his own life.
But school days soon began for him in earnest. "Master" Oliver Cory kept the village school at that date, a man remarkably well qualified for the honorable post -- laborious, upright, firm in discipline, yet patient and kindly by nature. His training of the boys was excellent. Every Saturday was devoted to religious instruction, while morale and manners mere the subject of careful though quiet attention on his part. He took pleasure in being called "Master" Cory, a title generally conceded to him. The school was kept in an ambitious edifice called "the Academy," one of those tasteless buildings which afflict all new countries It served many different purposes in its day -- political meetings, religions services, and the public courts were held under its roof, varied by an occasional ball. Those were not the times for lectures and concerts. Master Cory and his pupils, however, seem to have had a taste for music. Judge Cooper had brought from Philadelphia a large, upright, barrel organ of more than common power, and dignity of exterior, altogether the most imposing musical instrument which had yet found its way to the shores of the Otsego; it was put up in the hall of the mansion-house, where for years it went on playing reels and country-dances almost every evening, to say nothing of its many graver performances. The arrival of this organ in the village produced a sensation which might be compared to the appearance of some brilliant musical star, some prima donna assoluta in a large town, at the present day. When carefully put in its position, and duly prepared for performance, a sort of rehearsal was held. The weather was warm, the broad doors and ample windows of the hall mere all open as usual, and as Master Cory found to his cost. The Academy stood on the street adjoining the grounds of Otsego Hall, and as the first strains of "Hail Columbia" poured into the school-room, the effect on the children was electrical; never before had such music been heard by them. Jenny Lind could [xiii] scarcely have delighted the students of a German university in a higher degree. Amazement, inattention, confusion succeeded each other until disorder threatened the whole school. Fortunately Master Cory was equal to the emergency; be saw clearly the only course to he taken: "Boys, that organ is a remarkable instrument; you have never heard the like of it before. I give: you half an hour's intermission. Go into the street, and listen to the music!"
But Master Cory and his pupils were not always content to play audience. They chose to be performers sometimes. Annual exhibitions took place, during which the Academy was thronged to hear the speeches of Coriolanus or Othello, of Brutus and Cassius, delivered by raw lads from the village and adjoining farms, equipped in the local militia uniform -- hats of the date of 1776, blue coats faced with red, and matross swords -- exhibitions which are still a subject or merriment to those who remember them. The future author of "The Pioneers," then a child of seven or eight, was much commended on one of these occasions for his moving recitation of the "Beggar's Petition," in the character of an old man, wrapped in a faded cloak, and bending over his staff. It chanced more than half a century later, that one summer's day, as good old Master Cory, then more than fourscore years of age, was crossing the village bridge, driven by a relative, he met his former pupil going out to his farm at the Chalet. Mr. Cooper, then already suffering item the first stages of his fatal illness, no sooner saw the venerable white-haired old man than he stopped his horse, got down from his wagon, and went to shake hands with the old Master. But Master Cory, with a high estimate of literary merit, natural, perhaps, to one of his former pursuits, but which others might not have felt, with old fashioned courtesy also left his wagon, unwilling to remain seated while his old pupil stood on foot by his side. Most kindly was the greeting on both sides. One who was present at this meeting on the bridge, spoke of it afterwards as very pleasing. After a little chat Master Cory was persuaded to [xiv] return to the Hall, where he and his old pupil passed a pleasant morning together, talking over old times. But there was one point on which Master Cory was sensitive; he mould not allow even a smile in connection with the "Beggar's Petition." It is to be feared that even after the lapse of half a century the good old man still indulged in certain emotions of undue pride when dwelling on the correctness of his little pupil's pathetic performance on that occasion. He evidently considered it as high tragedy.
After a year or two at the Academy, however, at school of higher aims in the way of instruction had been deemed necessary. The youngest son of the house was sent from home. This eventful journey was made under the care of a worthy farmer of the neighborhood, who was carrying toward the Hudson a load of wheat from the new fields of Otsego, then considered a great grain country. The route taken was the turnpike, a great western thoroughfare at that day, running between the valley of the Hudson and the Chenango River. This road had been only recently completed as far as Cherry Valley, and wonders were expected from it. The young traveller had heard this new triumph of civilization so much discussed at his father's table, that his curiosity to see it was extreme. Directors and stockholders mere endeavoring to solve the difficult question as to what should be done with the tolls, a dividend of ten per cent. being all that was allowed by the charter; stone bridges were planned, and certain visionary spirits even talked of lighting the road at night as a means of disposing of the surplus fund! At length the school-boy's eyes were gratified with a sight of this famous turnpike -- its magnificent breadth, its scientific construction, the directness of its course, its excellent condition, when compared with the rude corduroy track by which it had been reached, became very impressive indeed. As they trotted slowly along, the farmer pointed out among other marvels the taverns springing up within sight of each other, throughout the sixty miles between Albany and Lake Otsego -- "A tavern for every [xv] mile!" as it was boastfully proclaimed, a fact certainly remarkable, showing clearly as it does the very rapid strides with which civilization moved through the forest at that period. A long train of farm wagons, heavily laden with the precious wheat, then very high in value owing to the great European wars, were rolling slowly eastward. Emigrant teams, crowded with growing families and household gear, were moving in the opposite direction toward the Lake shore, hearing with them the promise of prosperity to the new road and country. But alas for the great turnpike! Its track is now quiet, and all but deserted, its toll-gates have been thrown down, its stone bridges were never built, its lamps were never lighted. Traffic now rushes swiftly over the iron rails, both northward and southward, and the old highways have become mere by-paths.
In 1798, however, there was movement enough on the turnpike to render it no unworthy approach to the capital of the state. Ere long, after a three days' journey, the young traveller reached Albany. He was set down at the door of St. Peter's Rectory. Here he became a pupil of the Rev. Mr. Ellison, an English clergyman of high scholarship, who received three or four boys into his family. Judge William Jay, Judge Sutherland of Geneva, Dr. Van Rensselaer, Mr. James Stevenson of Albany, were there with him, and all continued warm personal friends of Mr. Cooper through life. Mr. Ellison took greet pleasure in instructing the young lad from Otsego. Had he lived his pupil's career might have been different; though it is scarcely probable that one so very active in body as well as in mind, would have ever been satisfied with a quiet student's life. In 1802 Mr. Ellison died. His pupil soon after entered Yale College, at the early age of thirteen. At the close of three years more he went to sea, his first voyages being made before the mast to England and Spain. In 1805 he entered the navy. Some years later his marriage gave him an interest in another part of the country, but in all his wanderings of early life, and still at a later day, the [xvi] home of his childhood, the highland valley where his father's hearth-stone lay, was always very dear to him.
And now that a new career was opening before him, his eyes were again turned towards the forest-clad hills at the sources of the Susquehanna. Affection for the ground, interest in the people, the pleasing character of the scenery, all united to point out the banks of the Otsego as a fitting framework for his new pictures. "The Pioneers" was immediately commenced. and Natty Bumppo, with his silent footfall stepped from beneath the shadows of the old pines, into the winter sunlight.
There was an old hunter by the name of Shipman living in the Otsego Hills during the first years of the little colony, who came frequently to offer his game at Judge Cooper's door, and whose rude equipments, dogs, and rifle, had much attraction for the lads of the house. The game, however, was no longer very abundant. The wild creatures were already bounding away before the crack of the rifle and the sound of the axe. Only occasionally a bear was seen feasting on the wild fruits. Now and then the howl of the wolf came across the icy field of the Otsego in winter. The deer lingered last. One autumn day, the future author of "The Pioneers," then a pupil of Master Cory, was at play in his father's garden, when suddenly he was surprised by a deer leaping over the fence from the street, almost brushing his face, as it bounded away into the pine wood in the rear of the house, dogs and men in hot pursuit. The incident was even then so unusual as to make a great impression on the boy. This was said to have been the last of those beautiful creatures driven in chase through the village. The spot where it leaped the fence is now occupied by the stone building of the Otsego Bank. One of the very last deer seen near the village was observed about the year 1805, drinking in the early morning from a brook, which has been called Deerbrook on that account, about halfway between the village and the gates of "Fenimore." As the game gradually took flight, Shipman and his fellow-bunters [xvii] were compelled to follow toward the wilder mountains southward. A vague recollection of Shipman seems to have suggested the idea of the principal character in "The Pioneers." And yet to call this man the original of Natty Bumppo would be clearly an error. The assertion is true only just so far as the barest resemblance in outline may go -- in pursuit, in rude accoutrement, and in the ground over which both hunted. Here all similarity entirely ceases. In every higher sense of the words, the character of Natty wholly original; in all that gives worth, and dignity, and poetry, and soul to the conception, it comes in full freshness and freedom direct from the mind of the author.
Other figures filling the canvas of "The Pioneers" have been said to have once lived on the same ground. But there is no one instance in which this assertion is entirely true. Some vague resemblance may be traced here and there, but in most instances the personages are wholly fictitious. Classes were represented, not individuals. Chingachgook, old Indian John, is entirely an invention. Indians occasionally came in family groups, or small parties, to the banks of the Otsego, but it is not known that any one individual lingered long enough to fill the position ascribed to Chingachgook, in "The Pioneers." The number of foreigners who collected at the new village on Lake Otsego in its early years, was quite remarkable. The political convulsions in Europe at that period were, no doubt, the cause of this movement. There were French, Germans, Poles, and colonists from Barbadoes, Jamaica, and Martinique, found on the Lake shores. A French émigré from Martinique actually kept a small shop in the Main Street for several years. His singular name of Le Quoi, was borrowed by the author for the fictitious character, in "The Pioneers." Quite a number of French travellers also appeared from time to time at this remote hamlet, a frontier post of civilization at that date.
In connection with this Introduction to "The Pioneers," a partially fictitious sketch of a state of things now passed [xviii] away forever in the same region of country, the reader may be interested by a few passages relating to the actual early settlement of Otsego County. These passages may soon claim, in a small way, something of the dignity of history; they mere written about seventy years since, by Judge Cooper, the father of James Fenimore Cooper, and the founder of the little colony at the source of the Susquehanna. About the year 1805, Mr. William Sampson, a prominent lawyer of New York, an Irish exile, and companion of Emmet, applied to Judge Cooper for information relating to the settlement of new lands. A series of letters were written in answer to Mr. Sampson's application. After Judge Cooper's death, in 1809, these letters were embodied in a pamphlet, by Mr. Sampson, and published in Dublin, for the benefit of Irish emigrants, under the title of "A Guide to [sic] the Wilderness." The pamphlet has never been reprinted in this country. The copy once owned at Otsego Hall has been lost. Mr. Fenimore Cooper once accidentally met with the pamphlet in the hands of an emigrant, on board ship, in crossing the ocean. The writer of this Introduction is indebted for the copy now in her possession, to the kindness of a kinsman of her father, Mr. W. Wager Cooper of Cambridge. This historical record of facts forms a commentary on the fictitious narrative not without interest at the present day.
"SIR, -- I shall cheerfully answer the queries you have put to me. The manly way in which you have challenged me, and the good sense you have shown upon a subject on which you can have no experience, and the object I perceive you to have at heart, that of procuring information in a matter interesting to your countrymen, do you honor, and make it a pleasure for me to satisfy so fair a curiosity....
"I shall first make the general supposition that either a wealthy individual, or else a company, purchase a large tract of land, say fifty thousand acres. The purchaser, or some [xix] one strongly interested in the purchase, should go upon the spot, and give public notice when he means to open the sales. The conditions should be advertised, and notice given that every person desirous of buying should have as much, or as little land as he chose, on a credit of seven or ten years, paying annual interest. The price will naturally vary, according to soil and situation.
"It should be distinctly understood that the whole tract is open for settlement, without any reserve an the part of the landlord, as nothing is more discouraging than any appearance in him of views distinct from the prosperity at the whole, and this would be evident, if in the very outset he reserved any part, in contemplation of a future advance, at the expense of the labor of the original settlers, to whose advantage these reserved tracts had not contributed. The reason is plain; the first difficulties are the greatest, and it is only by combination and cooperation, that they can be surmounted. The more the settlers are in number, the more hands can be brought to effect those works which cannot be executed by a few, such as the making of roads, and bridges, and other incidents to the cultivation of the wilderness, which are impossible to individuals, but which numbers render practicable and easy.
"Besides, he who comes to better his condition by embarking in such an enterprise, would find it no relief from his present poverty to be doomed to a life of savage solitude; he will still desire the society of his species, and the ordinary comforts of life; he will look for some religious institution, some school for his children. There must be mechanics to build houses, and erect mills, and for other useful or necessary purposes. Where there are a number of settlers, each bearing his proportion of the labor, and contributing to the expense, these things arise of course, hut it would be very discouraging to a few scattered settlers, to reflect that they were toiling under all the hardships and disadvantages of a new and arduous undertaking while others, who had contributed nothing, should afterwards come [xx] in and reap ail the advantages of their activity. The reserved tracts, therefore, serving only to separate them from each other, and depriving them of the comforts of society, and the advantages of cooperation, would be sources of just discontent, and the landlord who seemed to harbor the ungenerous project of trafficking with the future profits of their industry, and to give all his care to his own interest, without any sympathy with them, would become deservedly an object of distrust and jealousy; his influence mould cease, and that confidence which could alone, animate and invigorate a difficult enterprise, once vanishing, nothing but failure could ensue.
"Thus it is the advantage of the landlord to reserve no part, if he can possibly dispose of it. Sometimes a man of large property, with an enterprising spirit, will seek for a tract suitable to his means, and his ambition. Such a one may have friends and connections, who may want courage to face the first difficulties, or venture on untried ways, but whom he hopes to draw after him by example. It is of great importance to promote the success of such a person, and he will be justly entitled to kindness and support. His task will be to smooth the way for others. As soon as he is himself seated, his next wish will be to draw around him a neighborhood of relatives and friends, whose habits are congenial to his own. He will he repaid for his labor and risk, by selling at a small advance. Such a man, besides that he will come provided with stock and capital, will be useful as it were to sound the horn, and proclaim the settlement, and will be a new centre of attraction.
"But while me acknowledge the importance of the wealthy undertaker, we must not despise the offer of the poor man. He can never be insignificant, who is willing to add his labor to the common stock; for the interest of every individual, from the richest landholder to the poorest settler, contributes to the great primary object of causing the wilderness to bloom and fructify; and each man prospers as he contributes to the advantage of his neighbors.
"[xxi] With respect to the lands, although they will naturally vary in quality, I never, in the first instance, make any difference in price, but leave the matter to regulate itself. In the beginning, the poorer settler will refuse the rougher spots, and rightly, as they will yield him no immediate subsistence. I therefore leave them until the period when the timber they afford shall become valuable for the purposes of fencing and for fuel; and by the simple measure of letting things take their own course, I find my interest, and that of the whole community promoted, and in no instance have the rough grounds and the swamps failed to be eventually most profitable to me; nay, in fifteen years' time their value has increased sevenfold.
"The poor man, and his class is most numerous, will generally undertake about one hundred acres. The best mode of dealing with him, is to grant him the fee-simple by deed, and secure the purchase-money by a mortgage on the land conveyed to him. He then feels himself, if I may use the phrase, as a man upon record. His views extend themselves to his posterity, and he contemplates with pleasure their settlement on the estate he has created, a sentiment ever grateful to the heart of man. His spirit is enlivened; his industry is quickened; every new object he attains brings a new ray of hope and courage; he builds himself a barn, and a better habitation; plants his fruit trees, and lays out his garden; he clears away the trees until they, which were the first obstacles to his improvements, becoming scarcer, become more valuable, and he is at length as anxious to preserve, as he was at first to destroy them. He no longer feels the weight of debt, for having the fee he can sell at an improved value, nor is he bound to remain against his will.
"Not so if he had been bound by special contracts and conditions, subjecting him to the forfeiture of his land, and with it of his labors. Gloomy apprehensions then seize upon his mind; the bright view of independence is clouded; [xxii] his habits of thought become sullen and cheerless, and he is unable to soar above the idea of perpetual poverty.
"Thus by the adoption of a rational plan, it appears that the interest of all parties are made to coincide. The settler sleeps in security, from the certainty of his possessions, the landlord is safe in the mortgage he holds, and the state profits by the success of each, in the increase of its wealth and population.
"A moderate price, long credit, a deed in fee, and a friendly landlord are infallible inducements to a numerous settlement; and where there is much people there will be trade; where there is trade there will be money; and where there is money the landlord will succeed. But he should be ever in the midst of the settlers, aiding and promoting every beneficial enterprise.
"In rural phrase we may compare the poor settler to the creature of draft. Unsustained, overloaded, and oppressed, he yields no profit; well treated, in good heart, and gently driven, his labor is lighter, and his profit more. It is no [sic] otherwise with man. He can bear so much, and no more; if forced beyond that, his spirits will finally sink under oppression; whereas by timely aids, and encouraging words from a landlord who has his confidence, and whom he feels to be his friend, he will perform wonders and exceed his own hopes.
"You have desired to know something of my own proceedings, and since I am to speak of myself I can nowhere better introduce the subject than now in proof of what I have asserted.
"I began with the disadvantage of a small capital, and the encumbrance of a large family, and yet I have already settled more acres than any man in America. There are forty thousand souls now holding, directly or indirectly, under me; and I trust that not one among so many, can justly impute to me any act resembling oppression. I am now descending into the vale of life, and I must acknowledge that I look back with self-complacency upon what I [xxiii] have done, and am proud of having been an instrument in reclaiming such large and fruitful tracts from the waste of the creation. And I question whether that sensation is not now a recompense more grateful to me than all the other profits I have reaped. Your good sense and knowledge of the world will excuse this seeming boast; if it be vain, we must all have our vanities, but it will at least serve to show that industry has its reward, and age its pleasures, and thus become an encouragement to others to persevere and prosper.
"In 1785, I visited the rough and hilly country of Otsego, where there existed not an inhabitant, nor any trace of a road; I was alone, three hundred miles from home, without bread, meat, or food of any kind; fire and fishing-tackle were my only means of subsistence. I caught trout in the brook, and roasted them on the ashes. My horse fed on the grass that grew on the edge of the waters. I laid me down to sleep in my watch-coat, nothing but the melancholy wilderness shout me. In this way I explored the country, termed my plans of future settlements, and meditated upon the spot where a place of trade, or a future village should afterwards be established.
"In May, 1786, I opened the sales of 40,000 acres, which in sixteen days were all taken up by the poorer order of men. I soon after established a store, and went to live among them, and continued to do so until 1790, when I brought on my family. For the ensuing four years the scarcity of provisions was a serious calamity; the country was mountainous, there were neither roads nor bridges.
"But the greatest discouragement lay in the extreme poverty of the people, none of whom had the means of clearing more than a small spot, in the middle of the thick and lofty woods, so that their grain grew chiefly in the shade; their maize did not ripen; their wheat was blasted; and the little they did gather they had no mill to grind, within twenty miles' distance. Not one in twenty had a horse, and the way lay through rapid, streams, across swamps, or over [xxiv] bogs. They had neither provisions to take with them, nor money to purchase them; nor if they had were there any to be found. If the father of a family went abroad to labor for bread, it cost him three times its value before he could bring it home, and all the business on his farm stood still until his return.
"I resided among them, and saw too clearly how bad their condition was. I erected a store-house, and during each winter filled it with large quantities of grain purchased in distant places. I procured from my friend Henry Drinker a credit for a large quantity of sugar-kettles, he also lent me some potash kettles, which we transported as best we could, sometimes by partial roads on sleighs, and sometimes over the ice. By these means I established potash works among the settlers, and made them debtors for their bread, and laboring utensils. I also gave them credit for their maple sugar and potashes at a price that would bear transportation, and the first year after the adoption of this plan I collected in one mass forty-three hogsheads of sugar, and three hundred barrels of pearl ashes, worth about nine thousand dollars. This kept the people together, and the country soon assumed a new face.
"I had not funds of my own sufficient for the opening of new roads, but I collected the people at convenient seasons, and by joint efforts we were able to throw bridges over the deep streams, and to make in the cheapest manner such roads as suited our then humble purposes.
"In the winter preceding the summer of 1789, grain rose in Albany to a price before unknown. The demand swept all the granaries of the Mohawk country. The number of beginners who depended upon it for their bread greatly aggravated the evil, and a famine ensued, which will never he forgotten by those who, though now in the enjoyment of ease and comfort, were then afflicted with the cruelest of wants.
"In the month of April, 1789, I arrived among them with several loads of provisions, destined for my own use, [xxv] and that of laborers I had brought with me for certain necessary operations; but in a few days all was gone, and there remained not one pound of salt meat, nor a single biscuit. Many were reduced to such distress, as to live upon the roots of wild leeks; some more fortunate lived upon milk, while others supported nature by drinking a syrup made of maple sugar and water. The quantity of leeks they ate had such an effect upon their breath that they could be smelled at many paces distance, and when they came together it was the cattle that had pastured in a garlic field. A man of the name of Betts, mistaking some poisonous herb for a leek, ate it, and died in consequence. Judge of my feelings at this epoch, with two hundred families about me, and not a morsel of bread.
"A singular event seemed sent by a good Providence to our relief. It was reported to me that unusual shoals of fish were seen moving in the clear waters of the Susquehanna. I went, and was surprised to find they were herrings. We made something like a small net, by the intertwining of twigs, and by this rude and simple contrivance we were able to take them by thousands. In less than ten days each family had an ample supply, with plenty of salt. I also obtained from the Legislature, then in session, seventeen hundred bushels of corn. This we packed on horses' backs, and on our arrival made a distribution among the families, in proportion to the number of individuals of which each was composed.
"This was the first settlement I made, and the first attempted after the Revolution. It was, of course, attended with the greatest difficulties; nevertheless, to its success many others owed their origin. It was besides the roughest land in all the state, and the most difficult of cultivation of all that has been settled; but for many past years it has produced everything necessary to the support and comfort of man. It maintains at present eight thousand souls, with schools, academies, churches, meeting-houses, turnpike roads, and a market-town. It annually yields to commerce large [xxvi] droves of fine oxen, great quantities of wheat and other grain, abundance of pork, potash in barrels, and other provisions. Merchants with large capitals, and all kinds of useful mechanics, reside upon it; the waters are stocked with fish, the air is salubrious, and the country thriving and happy. When I contemplate all this, and above all, when I see these good old settlers meet together, and hear them talk of past hardships, of which I bore my share, and compare the misery they then endured with the comforts they now enjoy, my emotions border upon weakness which manhood can scarcely avow.
"Some rich theorists let the property they purchase lie unoccupied and unproductive, and speculate upon a full indemnity from the future rise in property. But I can assert from practical experience, that it is better for a poor man to pay forty shillings an acre to a landlord who heads the settlement, and draws people around him by good plans for their advancement and convenience, than to receive ten hundred acres gratis from one of these wealthy theorists. If fifty thousand acres be settled so that there is but one man upon a thousand acres, there can be no one convenience of life attainable; neither road, school, church, nor any of those advantages without which man's life would resemble that of a wild beast.
"Of this I had full proof in the circumstances of the Burlington Company. They were rich, and purchased a tract of sixty-nine thousand acres, and made a deed of gift of one hundred acres out of each thousand to actual settlers; and this they were bound to do, in compliance with a condition of the King's Patent. They provided those settlers with many articles of husbandry. But the agent very soon returned, and not long afterwards the settlers followed, saying they could not support themselves so far in the woods in that scattered situation.
"I then resided in Burlington, and when I undertook to make the settlement on those very lands, where so rich a company had failed, it was thought a romantic undertaking, [xxvii] for a man unprovided with funds, to attempt what gratuitous donations had not been able to achieve. Nevertheless I succeeded, and for that very reason that I made no partial gifts, but sold the whole, at a moderate price, with easy payments, having for myself a handsome profit, and people were readily induced to come when they saw a number of cooperators, and the benefits of association.
"But let me be clearly understood in this, that no man who does not possess a steady mind, a sober judgment, fortitude, perseverance, and above all, common sense, can expect to reap the reward which to him who possesses these qualifications is almost certain....
"In all these countries the ground is throughout the winter covered with snow, and wherever there is most snow in winter, there is most grass, and most wheat in summer. The snow is emphatically and truly called 'the poor man's manure.' In climates where there is alternate rain and frost the root perishes. Not so with us. It is best to sow late, but not too late, for that also has its risks. It is a saying among old experienced farmers 'If you get a good crop from late seed, do not tell it to your sons.' In general the seed ought to be put in the ground from the 10th to the 20th of September. When improvements were rare in Otsego County the frost destroyed our fall crops, and no month passed over without frost; but since the surface has been open to the sun, we are no longer in fear that our crops will be injured by the autumnal frosts, and for the last two years I have succeeded in peaches....
"The mutton of this hilly country is fat and juicy, and very delicate; the wool fair, and the fleece heavy. I have observed generally that the farther we go north in the United States, the better we find both beef and mutton; and the farther we go south, the smaller and sweeter the pork. We cannot make hams equal to those of Virginia and Maryland. Horses grow larger, and are more robust In the Southern States. The air with us being probably too sharp for their growth, the animal is small, but hardy.
[xxviii] "Our taxes are so light that a rich man will readily spend more in one or two entertainments than the amount of all his taxes; and generally his voluntary donations for benevolent and useful institutions are ten times more than the law requires of him. Some poor men probably spend as much needlessly in taverns, as the law demands of them for every public purpose. The fair average tax for a well seated farmer on a hundred acres, is about the produce of one sixth of an acre per annum. Large tracts of forest lands pay about twelve cents per hundred acres, more or less, according to the situation, the soil, and the wants of the country.....
"You will probably expect from me some estimate of the cost of clearing new lands. If a man is careful of his ashes. and profits by the advantage which newly cleared lands afford, that of raising his first crop, without the expense of either ploughing or weeding, he is rather a gainer by the woods which he has had to cut down. If a farmer hires choppers to clear his land, it will cost him about seven dollars and a half per acre. For this sum he will have the trees felled and cut into logs of fourteen feet in length, and the branches thrown together in heaps, ready for burning. If he contracts to have the whole fenced, as well as cleared, the common price is twenty-five dollars per acre, the farmer reserving the ashes for himself. Some have their lands cleared for the ashes, and the first crop. I have myself given the first three crops to have the land well inclosed, and fitted for the scythe. But in every stage of the business one dollar in the hands of a thoroughly practical man will reproduce more than ten under the management of a theorist. Hence the European would do well, instead of following his own whims, or acting upon plans, however prudent in his own country, impracticable here, to hire a capable and experienced person for six months, and be guided by him in the mode of clearing, planting, sowing, and gathering his crop. t is to be observed, also, that one American will clear more land in a day than three Euro[xxix]peans. The Irish laborer excels with the spade and the flail, but is not a match for the American at other country work. In the woods, as elsewhere, the Scotch succeed, being frugal, cautious in their bargains, living within their means, and always punctual in their engagements. If a Scotchman kills a calf, he will take the best of it to market, and husband up the price received. If he consumes any part of the meat, it will be the coarsest and the cheapest. On the contrary, the American will eat the best part himself, and, if he sells any, will lay out the money upon some article of show.....
"It is difficult to point out any general rules for the direction of a stranger in our country, as to the choice of lands. In the eastern counties of Pennsylvania, for instance, the chestnut indicates a lean soil, whereas in the western counties of New York that wood is found on rich and generous land, suited entirely to the growth of wheat. Where bass-wood, butternut, the sugar-maple, white ash, elm, and tall red beech make the prevailing growth, you may be sure of a good soil, both for grain and grass. If hemlock is interspersed, the land is not the worse. The black walnut is never found but in strong and durable ground. The large-topped, short, mossy beech denotes ungenerous land. The poplar in our climate promises good land for wheat. The pitch-pine uniformly bespeaks a thin sandy land.
"White pine is found on all sorts of ground; when it grows on a plain, the soil is apt to be quick, and very kindly; but the stump, being two or three feet in diameter, will take more time to decay than the tree took to grow, owing to its resinous nature. Yet such tracts will be among the most valuable on account of the timber.
"The alder bush is a sign of a good soil for grass. The many kinds of oak grow on as many kinds of soil. The large smooth-barked black oak is never found but on a good soil; the large tall white oak only on a clay bottom. The hickory, where it is a tall tree, is a favorable symptom. Lands which produce spontaneously the spruce and the birch, are the last taken up.
[xxx] "Limestone is the truest of all indications, and will never deceive the man who is in quest of a profitable farm. Limestone land is good, in all situations. The graystone is generally a good token; hut wherever it is round, oval or smooth like what is called "the cobbler's lap stone," and apparently water-worn, that soil will be sterile.
"To an attentive and practiced observer the running waters will afford instruction. If the course of the little brook is lively, and the water in time of freshets, or the sediment deposited by them be of a light chocolate color, loose and loamy, it proves that the water has passed through a good tract of country. Whereas if the water is whitish, and there be many large round stones, that brook must have had its course through a poor tract. If it appears black, it heads in a tamarac or spruce swamp, but may pass through much good land, which can always be detected by the little banks and shoals, formed by its deposits here and there.
"When a great tree is cut down, on poor clay ground, and happens to fall upon smaller ones, if they break under its weight, it is a proof that the ground is hard, and poor: or, if instead of breaking they he forced up by the roots, the roots will he found large, and with much dirt adhering to them. But where the tree turns up with small roots, the ground is loose, and good. Clays will hold manure longer than any other soil, but the clay soil, generally speaking, fails in a dry season. The three ingredients which, when combined, form the most productive of all soils, are limestone, the chocolate loam, and dark brown sand. Ground so composed will hear rain, and drouth, and is certain and durable.
"There is a kind of clay which in common in the Genesee country. It is of a loose quality; plants take good root in it, and grow of a darker green than in ordinary soil. The wheat raised in those lands has less bran, and makes whiter flour than that raised in the mere loam.
"Wherever land produces good natural grass it will not [xxxi] be easily worn out in tillage. The natural grass of the country is the white clover, which shows itself spontaneously, very soon after the sunbeams have been let in on the earth. It is the bed of pasture, but it is not profitable to mow in a rough bottom, which all new lands must have. The farmer therefore prefers timothy and red clover which grows as high as three feet; then, although the scythe should leave stubble of six inches, a plentiful crop of hay is gathered in. After the land has been ploughed and leveled, the white clover can be mown, and it makes the beet of hay.....
"Throughout this tract of country, the wife and daughters of the farmer spin and weave their own bed-clothes, and their common wearing apparel. The cloth made is about three quarters, of a yard wide, and very stout. They comb part of the wool, and manufacture a worsted cloth for petticoats and gowns. They also make a strong durable chequered cloth for aprons. When the fleeces are shorn, about the 20th of May, the mistress sets apart the best for stockings, and the next best for the clothing of her husband and sons. The rougher wool is made into blankets. About three pounds is the average yield of each fleece when washed; though some sheep will give seven, but rarely as much as ten pounds.....
"No article has a more rapid sale than iron, and no establishment so much needed, or so ardently desired, as an iron foundry. Specimens of the richest ore are found close to populous and flourishing settlements, where plentiful streams and falls offer sites for mills of every kind. Excellent scythes and hoes are now made, however, and other implements of husbandry. Those imported from England are useless here. But cross cut saws, hand saws, planes of all kinds, chisels, turning tools, and trace-chains we cannot, as yet, make so good or so cheap as those brought from Europe.....
"I close my correspondence with a relation of some absurdities fatal to success. An Irish gentleman of fortune [xxxii] purchased a large tract. Full of ideal superiority, and of high-minded enterprise, he cast his eyes around and interpreted all he saw into proofs of the weakness of our uncultivated minds. His plans were immediately formed, and he enjoyed in confident expectation the pleasures of self-aggrandizement, the glory of rescuing a people from the empire of ignorance, and, I dare say, the generous pride of doing good. He sent home for what he conceived would be instrumental to his success; he got a supply of tackle, blocks, windlasses, and capstans with other mechanical auxiliaries; and with these and a number of men, he went to work. By the force of men and machines he pulled down the trees -- some he broke, some he overturned by the roots; but, in order to effect this, he often spent five times more labor, independent of his mechanic power, in barely chopping through the spreading roots, than would have served at first to hew down the tree. His pride forbade him to recede, and he cleared a few acres at an enormous expense. I foresee that you will applaud him, at least for having got rid of those stumps and roots which encumber, and in the eye of a European, so much disfigure the face of the soil; but I can assure you that the deep holes made by his violent process, and the quantities of cold and barren earth which the roots brought up to bury, or impoverish the layer of rich mould and ashes, which is the encouraging reward of the settler's first toil, were greater evils than all the stumps and roots would have been, if suffered to remain. Besides it is next to impossible to roll the monstrous roots together to be burnt, damp as they are, and covered with masses of earth. It is a puzzle to be quit of them, after laboring to bring them above ground, more indeed than it was before to dispose of the whole tree, and especially in a country where the poorest laborer will, in the shortest day, receive half a dollar for his work, over and above his provisions.
"At length this gentleman found that it was one thing to clear his pleasure-grounds in Ireland, and another to clear [xxxiii] the wilderness in America, and he finished by admitting that in matters of husbandry, experience was a better guide than either fancy or philosophy, and that none were more capable than those whom practice had made proficients.
"Another Irish gentleman bought a larger tract, and brought with him a number of his own tenants -- his patent kitchen, his huntsmen, his hounds, his fishing apparatus, together with workmen and all that he supposed fitting provision for founding a large establishment. He did not forget hampers of good claret, so needful to give wisdom to a young beginner. Perhaps, sir, this latter item is not that for which you will be inclined to censure him too severely. During three summers he toiled in this manner, and never raised ten bushels of grain nor a hundred-weight of hay: but he expended in the country about twelve hundred pounds of Irish money, and then bade adieu to his farm, and to the Western Hemisphere.
"An Englishman purchased a farm of me, and scoffing at our Yankee mode of clearing away the trees, he also sent for ropes, tackle falls, and pullies, and moreover for leathern girdles, with buckles and straps, and also furnished his men with polished chisels and mallets. Either himself, or his men would climb to the top of a high tree and there fix a purchase: then another man below, girded with a belt that had straps and stirrups attached to it, was hoisted up by a rope, taking with him a basket of tools to a height of about a hundred feet. There he began operations by sawing off the top of a tree. This done he was lowered from limb, to limb, sawing away, branch after branch. When the branches encumbered each other, so that the saw would not work, he took out his chisel and mallet, stood up in his stirrups, and chiseled away at the branch. So the owner proceeded for one whole summer, and while the heat was on him, it would have been impertinent, if not dangerous, to advise him. He had left a country distinguished for agricultural improvements, and could look only with disdain on our infant arts. [xxxiv] Our counsels he considered as the lessons of a school-boy to his preceptor. He did not break his neck -- but he destroyed his fortune, and finally bade farewell to the woods, leaving no representatives but thousands of bare Doles, resembling the masts of dismantled shipping in a harbor.
"Another English gentleman would not condescend to cut down a tree except with an English axe, nor plough but with a heavy English plough. he would not sow seed until every stump was grubbed up; anti it seemed his chief maxim to do nothing as it would he done by Americans. Of this he was so punctilious that he shocked his wheat with the head downward, because, said he, the ground would take the rankness out of the grain. His crop stood in shock in wet weather, during ten or twelve days, and in that inverted position began to grow, more to the amusement of his neighbors than to the owner's profit. But he remains to this day obstinate, and poor.
"While making free with the errors of others, let me not be supposed to glorify myself. I have in like manner committed follies which I have not forgotten. On first going to the woods, T was as bigoted to the methods I had observed in Pennsylvania, as these Europeans mere to theirs. I would not sow until the saplings had been first grubbed up, and I ploughed for the first crop, not considering that the immense quantity of timber to be burnt consumed all the small roots, and of itself prepared the ground for seed. I found fault, too, with their fences, I cavilled at the construction of their wagons and their gear, I condemned their tools and farming implements, and thus talked much and to very little purpose. They continued their own practices, and I found after some time that I had nothing better to do than to conform, and am every day more convinced that wherever men's minds are uncontrolled, they will in a short time discover what is most for their interest. In countries where actions are free, what is most in use will be found pretty nearly the best, in what concerns husbandry and its appliances.....
[xxxv] "The clergy are supported without any establishment by law, and they live with decency; and the people show a willingness to support religious institutions, generally attending places of public worship, which convinces me that neither the interference of the laws, nor the excitements of persecution, or of controversy are required to stimulate to that which seems more a principle of their nature an a matter of regulation or convention.
"I have often witnessed the beneficial effects of this religious disposition, and of the institutions growing out of it. The first settlement of Cooperstown was made by the poorer class of men; they labored hard all the week, but on Sunday they either went hunting or fishing, or else collected in taverns, and loitered away the day, careless of their dress or actions. The sons caught the manners of the fathers, and for the first ten years, or before any religious establishment was formed, the want of it was manifest. We then turned our attention to remedy the evil, and our pains were rewarded; for, since that time, new and better morals and manners have prevailed, and it has now become a matter of honest pride, and as it were a fashion, to be orderly and correct. If any still follow the ancient practice of fishing and hunting on Sunday, they no longer go openly and publicly, but privately and unseen. The people now appear in decent clothing; they are taught to love each other, and the pastor mixing among them, promotes by his influence and persuasion a happy spirit of union and good will. When neighbors quarrel he interposes, soothes their angry passions, gently chides the froward, points out the mischiefs that accompany contention, and exhorts them by the love of a religion whose spirit is pence. The respect they bear his person gives weight to his reasons; they soon feel in the quiet and satisfied state of their minds the benefit of his counsels; they listen to him not as to a master, but as a friend, and pay him a willing obedience, beyond what the authority of the magistrates, or the power of the government could enforce.....
"After having been employed for twenty years in the same pursuit of improving lands, I am now, by habit, so attached to it, that it is the principal source which remains to me of pleasure and recreation."
[William Cooper, A Guide in the Wilderness; or, the History of the First Settlements in the Western Counties of New York, with Useful Instructions to Future Settlers. In a Series of Letters Addressed by Judge Cooper, of Coopers-Town, to William Sampson, Barrister, of New York (Dublin: Gilbert and Hodges, 1810). [facsimile reprint, © 1986, Paul F. Cooper, Jr.]
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