Day Three:

Wednesday, June 19
Writings of the New York Frontier: Re-situating Cooper


Visiting scholar: Alyssa Mt. Pleasant (Department of Transnational Studies, University at Buffalo)


The works of James Fenimore Cooper were integral to the imagining of frontier democracy. Four of the five Leatherstocking Tales are set in New York State, and Cooper provided the lens through which Tocqueville and Beaumont perceived the area as they travelled through the state. The first Leatherstocking Tale, The Pioneers (1823), portrayed the early years of a settlement modelled on Cooperstown, the village that his father founded on Otsego Lake in the late eighteenth century. Last of the Mohicans (1826), the most famous novel in the series, is set northeast of Cooperstown, at Glen's Falls and Lake George. This novel is widely read as a reflection on Indian Removal and the absorption or extinction of Native societies. Cooper returned to the series with The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841), both set in upstate New York at earlier moments in its history, suggesting Cooper's renewed concern with the region's origins.

This session will use the Leatherstocking Tales as a launching point into the complex settler colonial dynamics in the western New York region, where Haudenosaunee communities continued to exercise power and defend their sovereignty. Even as The Pioneers and Last of the Mohicans were achieving international popularity, Tuscarora writer David Cusick published an ethnographic work about the Iroquois that literary historian Philip Round described as "the first Native-authored, Native-printed, and Native-copyrighted text." Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations (1826/27) appeared from a press at the Tuscarora village of Lewiston, near Niagara Falls, with an expanded and illustrated edition appearing from the press in 1828. Cusick's versions of traditional tales and his remarkable images show a different side of the era of Indian Removal than Cooper's novels, enabling seminar participants to resituate the Leatherstocking Tales in a more textured history of the region.

Gustafson and Samuels have both published scholarly treatments of Cooper. They will be joined by Professor Alyssa Mt. Pleasant (Tuscarora), from the Department of Transnational Studies at the University at Buffalo, who will focus on the relations between the nations of the Iroquois confederacy and white settlers.

Tentative Readings:

David Cusick, Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations (1828 edition); excerpts from James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer (1841)

Optional Readings:

The Pioneers (1823); The Last of the Mohicans (1826); and/or the full text of The Deerslayer (1841)

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Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this seminar do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

View of the Erie Canal by John William Hill (1829)