James Fenimore Cooper’s family was originally from New Jersey. The family bought former Iroquois lands in what is now Cooperstown and moved there in 1790 to a mansion called Otsego Hall.
Cooper went to Yale but was expelled for a dangerous prank that purportedly involved blowing up another student’s door. He previously locked a donkey in a recitation room. Cooper then joined the Navy.
At 20, Cooper inherited a fortune from his father and was living the life of a country gentleman. In 1821, at the age 30 or so, his wife bet him that he could not write a book better than the one she was reading. Cooper then began his career as a novelist.
The Last of the Mohicans is one of the most widely read novels throughout the world. Mark Twain criticized Cooper’s romanticized version of the American frontier, which has remained etched in the American collective consciousness for generations. The frontiersman, Natty Bumppo, was portrayed as strong, fearless, and ever resourceful. Chingachgook, the last of the Mohicans, was portrayed as stoic, wise, and noble. On the other hand, Magwa, a rival Huron chief, was a hard and vengeful man. These are certainly characteristics evident across the spectrum of human beings of all races and nationalities. Yet, in choosing to portray Chingachgook in that manner, Cooper’s work certainly evoked sympathy for the declining Native American population.
Cooper’s son Paul Fenimore Cooper and his grandson James Fenimore Cooper were both attorneys and partners in the law firm that eventually came to be called Cooper Erving & Savage.