(born Sept. 15, 1789, Burlington, N.J., U.S.—died Sept. 14, 1851, Cooperstown, N.Y.) The first major U.S. novelist. Cooper grew up in a prosperous family in the settlement of Cooperstown, founded by his father. The Spy (1821), set during the American Revolution, brought him fame. His best-known novels, the series The Leatherstocking Tales, feature the frontier adventures of the wilderness scout Natty Bumppo and include The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841). He also wrote popular sea novels, notably The Pilot (1823), and a history of the U.S. Navy (1839). Though internationally celebrated, he was troubled by lawsuits and political conflicts in his later years, and his popularity and income declined.
Learn more about Cooper, James Fenimore with a free trial on Britannica.com.
James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century. He is best remembered as a novelist who wrote numerous sea-stories and the historical novels known as the Leatherstocking Tales, featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo. Among his most famous works is the Romantic novel The Last of the Mohicans, which many consider to be his masterpiece.
He joined the Navy and obtained the rank of Midshipman before leaving in 1811.
He anonymously published his first book, Precaution (1820). He soon issued several others: The Spy (1821); The Pioneers (1823), the first of the Leatherstocking series featuring Natty Bumppo, the resourceful American woodsman at home with the Delaware Indians and especially their chief Chingachgook, not wholly an Indian nor a white man; and The Pilot (1824); Lionel Lincoln (1825) ; Last of the Mohicans (1826), a book that in the nineteenth century was one of the most widely read American novels. The book was written in a second-story storefront-apartment in Warrensburg, New York, just north of where most of the book's plot takes place. Leaving America for Europe Cooper published in Paris The Prairie (1826) and The Red Rover (1828).
These novels were succeeded by: The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish (1829); by The Notions of a Traveling Bachelor (1828); and by The Waterwitch (1830), one of his many sea-stories. In 1830 he entered the lists as a party writer; in a series of letters to the National, a Parisian journal, he defended the United States against a string of charges brought against them by the Revue Britannique. For the rest of his life he continued skirmishing in print, sometimes for the national interest, sometimes for that of the individual, and not infrequently for both at once.
This opportunity to make a political confession of faith appears not only to have fortified him in his own convictions, but to have inspired him with the idea of elucidating them for the public through the medium of his art. His next three novels, The Bravo (1831), The Heidenmauer (1832) and The Headsman: or the Abbaye of Vigneron (1833), were expressions of Cooper's republican convictions. The Bravo depicted Venice as a place where a ruthless oligarchy lurks behind the mask of the "serene republic." All were widely read on both sides of the Atlantic, though The Bravo was a critical failure in the United States.
In 1833 Cooper returned to America and immediately published A Letter to My Countrymen, in which he gave his own version of the controversy in which he had been engaged and sharply censured his compatriots for their share in it. This attack he followed up with The Monikins (1835) and The American Democrat (1835); with several sets of notes on his travels and experiences in Europe, among which may be remarked his England (1837), in three volumes, and with Homeward Bound and Home as Found (1838), notable as containing a highly idealized portrait of himself.
All these books tended to increase the ill feeling between author and public; the Whig press was virulent and scandalous in its comments, and Cooper plunged into a series of actions for libel. Victorious in all of them, he returned to his old occupation with something of his original vigor and success. A History of the Navy of the United States (1839), supplemented (1846) by a set of Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers, was succeeded by The Pathfinder (1840), the fourth "Leatherstocking" novel; by Mercedes of Castile (1840); The Deerslayer (1841), the last in the series of books about Natty Bumppo; by The Two Admirals and by Wing and Wing (1842); by Wyandotte, The History of a Pocket Handkerchief, and Ned Myers (1843); and by Afloat and Ashore, or the Adventures of Miles Wallingford (1844).
He turned again from pure fiction to the combination of art and controversy in which he had achieved distinction, and in the two Littlepage Manuscripts (1845—1846) he wrote with a great deal of vigour. His next novel was The Crater, or Vulcan's Peak (1847), in which he attempted to introduce supernatural machinery; and this was succeeded by Oak Openings, The Two Admirals, and Jack Tier (1848), the latter a curious rifacimento of The Red Rover; by The Sea Lions (1849); and finally by The Ways of the Hour (1850), another title with a purpose, and his last completed novel.
Cooper spent the last years of his life in Cooperstown, New York (named for his father). He died of dropsy on September 14, 1851, a day before his 62nd birthday. His interment was located at its Christ Episcopal Churchyard where his father William Cooper was buried.
Cooper was certainly one of the most popular 19th century American authors. Cooper's work was admired greatly throughout the world. While on his death bed, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert became an avid reader of Cooper's novels. His stories have been translated into nearly all the languages of Europe and into some of those of Asia. Balzac admired him greatly, but with discrimination.
Though some scholars may dispute Cooper being classified as a Romantic, Victor Hugo pronounced him greater than the great master of modern romance, and this verdict was echoed by a multitude of less famous readers, who were satisfied with no title for their favorite less than that of “the American Scott.” As a satirist and observer he is simply the “Cooper who's written six volumes to prove he's as good as a Lord” of Lowell's clever portrait; his enormous vanity and his irritability find vent in a sort of dull violence, which is exceedingly tiresome. He was most memorably criticized by Mark Twain whose vicious and amusing "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" is still read widely in academic circles. His reputation today rests upon the five Leatherstocking tales and some of the maritime stories; his presentation of race relations and native Americans has generated much comment, not all of it sympathetic.
Cooper was also criticized heavily for his depiction of women characters in his work. Contemporary critic James Russell Lowell referred to it poetically in A Fable for Critics: "...the women he draws from one model don't vary, / All sappy as maples and flat as a prairie.
|Date||Title: Subtitle||Genre||Topic, Location, Period|
|1821||The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground||novel||Westchester County, New York, 1778|
|1823||The Pioneers: or The Sources of the Susquehanna||novel||Leatherstocking Tales, Otsego County, New York, 1793-1794,|
|1823||Tales for Fifteen: or Imagination and Heart||2 short stories||written under the pseudonym: "Jane Morgan"|
|1824||The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea||novel||John Paul Jones, England, 1780|
|1825||Lionel Lincoln: or The Leaguer of Boston||novel||Battle of Bunker Hill, Boston, 1775-1781|
|1826||The Last of the Mohicans: A narrative of 1757||novel||Leatherstocking Tales, French and Indian War, Lake George & Adirondacks, 1757|
|1827||The Prairie||novel||Leatherstocking Tales, American Midwest, 1805|
|1828||The Red Rover: A Tale||novel||Newport, Rhode Island & Atlantic Ocean, pirates, 1759|
|1828||Notions of the Americans: Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor||non-fiction||America for European readers|
|1829||The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish: A Tale||novel||Western Connecticut, Puritans and Indians, 1660-1676|
|1830||The Water-Witch: or the Skimmer of the Seas||novel||New York, smugglers, 1713|
|1830||Letter to General Lafayette||politics||France vs. US, cost of government|
|1831||The Bravo: A Tale||novel||Venice, 18th century|
|1832||The Heidenmauer: or, The Benedictines, A Legend of the Rhine||novel||German Rhineland, 16th century|
|1832||No Steamboats||short story|
|1833||The Headsman: The Abbaye des Vignerons||novel||Geneva, Switzerland, & Alps, 18th century|
|1834||A Letter to His Countrymen||politics||Why Cooper temporarily stopped writing|
|1835||The Monikins||novel||Antarctica, aristocratic monkeys, 1830s; a satire on British and American politics.|
|1836||The Eclipse||memoir||Solar eclipse in Cooperstown, New York 1806|
|1836||Gleanings in Europe: Switzerland (Sketches of Switzerland)||travel||Hiking in Switzerland, 1828|
|1836||Gleanings in Europe: The Rhine (Sketches of Switzerland, Part Second)||travel||Travels France, Rhineland & Switzerland, 1832|
|1836||A Residence in France: With an Excursion Up the Rhine, and a Second Visit to Switzerland||travel|
|1837||Gleanings in Europe: France||travel||Living, travelling in France, 1826-1828|
|1837||Gleanings in Europe: England||travel||Travels in England, 1826, 1828, 1833|
|1838||Gleanings in Europe: Italy||travel||Living, travelling in Italy, 1828-1830|
|1838||The American Democrat : or Hints on the Social and Civic Relations of the United States of America||non-fiction||US society and government|
|1838||The Chronicles of Cooperstown The Chronicles of Cooperstown||history||Local history of Cooperstown, New York|
|1838||Homeward Bound: or The Chase: A Tale of the Sea||novel||Atlantic Ocean & North African coast, 1835|
|1838||Home as Found: Sequel to Homeward Bound||novel||Eve Effingham, New York City & Otsego County, New York, 1835|
|1839||The History of the Navy of the United States of America||history||US Naval history to date|
|1839||Old Ironsides||history||History of the Frigate USS Constitution, 1st pub. 1853|
|1840||The Pathfinder, or The Inland Sea||novel||Leatherstocking Tales, Western New York, 1759|
|1840||Mercedes of Castile: or, The Voyage to Cathay||novel||Christopher Columbus in West Indies, 1490s|
|1841||The Deerslayer: or The First Warpath||novel||Leatherstocking Tales, Otsego Lake 1740-1745|
|1842||The Two Admirals||novel||England & English Channel, Scottish uprising, 1745|
|1842||The Wing-and-Wing: le Le Feu-Follet (Jack o Lantern)||novel||Italian coast, Napoleonic Wars, 1745|
|1843||Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief , also published as ||novelette||Social satire, France & New York, 1830s|
|1843||Wyandotte: or The Hutted Knoll. A Tale||novel||Butternut Valley of Otsego County, New York, 1763-1776|
|1843||Ned Myers: or Life before the Mast||biography||of Cooper's shipmate who survived an 1813 sinking of a US sloop of war in a storm|
|1844||Afloat and Ashore: or The Adventures of Miles Wallingford. A Sea Tale||novel||Ulster County, New York & worldwide, 1795-1805|
|1844||Miles Wallingford: Sequel to Afloat and Ashore||novel||Ulster County, New York & worldwide, 1795-1805|
|1844||Proceedings of the Naval Court-Martial in the Case of Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, &c.|
|1845||Satanstoe: or The Littlepage Manuscripts, a Tale of the Colony||novel||New York City, Westchester County, Albany, Adirondacks, 1758|
|1845||The Chainbearer; or, The Littlepage Manuscripts||novel||Westchester County, Adirondacks, 1780s (next generation)|
|1846||The Redskins; or, Indian and Injin: Being the Conclusion of the Littlepage Manuscripts||novel||Anti-rent wars, Adirondacks, 1845|
|1846||Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers||biography|
|1847||The Crater; or, Vulcan's Peak: A Tale of the Pacific (Mark's Reef)||novel||Philadelphia, Bristol (PA), & deserted Pacific island, early 1800s|
|1848||Jack Tier: or the Florida Reefs |
a.k.a. Captain Spike: or The Islets of the Gulf
|novel||Florida Keys, Mexican War, 1846|
|1848||The Oak Openings: or the Bee-Hunter||novel||Kalamazoo River, Michigan, War of 1812|
|1849||The Sea Lions: The Lost Sealers||novel||Long Island & Antarctica, 1819-1820|
|1850||The Ways of the Hour||novel||"Dukes County, New York," murder/courtroom mystery novel, legal corruption, women's rights, 1846|
|1850||Upside Down: or Philosophy in Petticoats||play||satirization of socialism|
|1851||The Lake Gun||short story||Seneca Lake in New York, political satire based on folklore|
|1851||New York: or The Towns of Manhattan||history||Unfinished, history of New York City, 1st pub. 1864|
Cooperstown: Village of Legends; the Home of Baseball Legends and the Legendary Novels of James Fenimore Cooper Is Celebrating Its 200th Anniversary This Year
Oct 01, 1986; COOPERSTOWN: VILLAGE OF LEGENDS Say "Cooperstown' in a word-association game, and the immediate response is "baseball.' There are...