James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper was born in Burlington, New Jersey on September 15, 1789 to William and Elizabeth Cooper. He was born the eleventh of twelve children. When James was one year old the family moved to the frontier of Lake Otsego, New York, and his father established the settlement of Cooperstown at the head of the Susquehanna River.
Cooper attended a private prep school in Albany, New York, and was then admitted to Yale in 1803. He was expelled during his junior year because of a prank. His family allowed him to join the navy, but he soon found that more discipline was present in the Navy than at Yale. In 1810 Cooper took a furlough, and never returned to active duty.
James Fenimore Cooper married Susan De Lancy in 1811, and for the next ten years he lived as a country gentleman. However, after the death of all five of his elder brothers he became responsible for supporting their widows and paying their debts. He then found out that his father’s estate had not been worth as much as originally thought.
In 1820 Cooper published his first fiction, Precaution, on a challenge from his wife. This novel was largely unsuccessful. In 1821 he published his second book, The Spy, which was modeled after Sir Walter Scott’s “Waverly” novels, except it was set during the American Revolution. The Spy brought Cooper international fame and a certain amount of wealth.
Cooper’s third book, The Pioneers, was the first of five novels that made up the Leatherstocking Tales. These were immensely popular frontier novels featuring a frontiersman by the name of Natty Bumpo, or Hawkeye. The Pioneers is generally considered to be the first truly American novel. The five novels of the series were not written in their narrative order, and were produced over a period of eighteen years.
Cooper and his wife had five children, and they lived in Europe from 1826 until 1833 for the education of their children. When Cooper returned to America in 1833 he found he was rather unpopular due to his works Notions of the Americans and Letter to General Lafayette, which he had written while living in Europe. He left New York City because of this unpopularity, and went to live in Cooperstown, New York, the settlement founded by his father.
Cooper died at Cooperstown on September 14, 1851, one day before his sixty-second birthday. Cooper was, and continues to be, an immensely popular writer, and he is generally considered to be the first major American novelist.
Fields, Wayne. James Fenimore Cooper. Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1979.
“Historic Burlington City, NJ.” Internet. October 10, 2000. Available: http://bc.scream.org/index.html?cooper.html;3.
“James Fenimore Cooper.” Internet. October 11, 2000. Available: www.cwrl.utexas.edu/maria/cooper/biograph.htm.
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