The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 12. James Fenimore Cooper; Youth; Naval Career
The task weighed less upon Cooper than it might had he been from boyhood at all bookish or, when he began his career, either scholar or conscious man of letters. But, unlike Brown, he had been trained in the world. Born at Burlington, New Jersey, 15 September, 1789, the son of Judge William Cooper and Susan Fenimore, James Cooper was taken in November, 1790, to Cooperstown, the raw central village of a pioneer settlement recently established by his father onOtsego Lake, New York. Here the boy saw at first hand the varied life of the border, observed its shifts and contrivances, listened to tales of its adventures, and learned to feel the mystery of the dark forest which lay beyond the cleared circle of his own life. Judge Cooper, however, was less a typical backwoodsman than a kind of warden of the New York marches, like Judge Templeton in The Pioneers, and he did not keep his son in the woods but sent him, first to the rector of St. Peter’s in Albany, who grounded him in Latin and hatred of Puritans, and then to Yale, where he wore his college duties so lightly as to be dismissed in his third year. Thinking the navy might furnish better discipline than Yale, Judge Cooper shipped his son before the mast on a merchant vessel to lear the art of seamanship which there was then no naval academy to teach. His first ship, the Sterling, salied from New York in October, 1806, for Falmouth and London, thence to Cartagena, back to London, and once more to America in September of the following year. They were chased by pirates and stopped by searching parties, incidents Cooper never forgot. In January, 1808, he was commissioned midshipman. He served for a time on the Vesuvius, and later in the same year was sent with a party to Lake Ontario to build the bridg Oneida for service against the British on inland waters. He visited Niagara, commanded for a time on Lake Champlain, and in November, 1809, was ordered to the Wasp In the natural course of events he would have fought in the War of 1812, but, having been married in January, 1811, to Miss Susan Augusta DeLancey, he resigned his commission the following May and gave up all hope of a naval career.