Reading The Pioneers as History

Originally a handout for a course on “Between the Rivers: The History of Otsego, Schoharie, and Delaware Counties from 1740-1840”, given for the Center for Continuing Adult Learning, Oneonta, New York, in 1994.

To use a novel as reading material for a course on History is perhaps unusual. I have chosen James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna: A Descriptive Tale (1823) for this course on the History of Otsego, Schoharie, and Delaware Counties from 1740-1840 for two reasons. First: it describes life “between the rivers” during the period with which this course is concerned, and it was written by a perceptive writer who knew his subject matter intimately. Second: it is in print, readily available in paperback, and can be found in almost any bookstore “between the rivers” for about $5.00.

I ask that you read attentively, not as a novel, but as a portrayal of life on the Central New York frontier at the end of the 18ᵗʰ Century, and for its presentation of issues that were critical to our early history. I have provided a list of characters, and a chapter-by-chapter outline, so you don’t have to remember the plot; each chapter entry is followed by a number of Notes and Questions. Before reading the chapter, I suggest that you look at the Notes and Questions referring to it, and examine especially carefully the passages to which they refer. The outline cannot, however, replace reading the novel, since our concern is not with plot but with details of description, attitude, and dialogue.

Hugh C. MacDougall (James Fenimore Cooper Society)

Preliminary Remarks

Editions: There are many editions of The Pioneers, which has never been out of print since it was first published in 1823. Any one of them is satisfactory for our purposes. The “best” text of The Pioneers is the edition published by the State University Press of New York at Albany in 1980, with an introduction and notes by James Franklin Beard. This edition seeks, according to accepted methods of literary scholarship, to approximate so far as possible Cooper’s own final intentions. This text is also used in the Library of America (New York) edition of the Leatherstocking Tales (2 volumes), and in paperback editions of The Pioneers published by Penguin Classics and by Oxford University Press. The easiest edition to find, however, may be that published by Signet Classics, which follows an 1850s text. For our historical purposes, the edition doesn’t make much difference.

Origins: The Pioneers was James Fenimore Cooper’s third novel. Its publication followed shortly that of The Spy in 1822, a tale of the American Revolution in Westchester County and one of America’s first best sellers. In the eagerly-awaited The Pioneers, Cooper turned to memories of his own childhood in Cooperstown, where he was brought from New Jersey as an infant in 1790 by his father, Judge William Cooper. The novel was immediately popular, and has never since been out of print. It introduced to the world the character of Natty Bumppo woodsman, hunter, wanderer, moralist, and celibate loner and that of his Indian friend Chingachgook, the “last of the Mohicans.” Thus started an American myth about itself that has survived down to the Lone Ranger and Tonto and the modern Western. There would be four other stories about Natty Bumppo — The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841)] — collectively known as the Leatherstocking Tales.

Setting: The Pioneers takes place in Templeton, based on Cooperstown, and the action runs from Christmas Eve 1793 to the Fall of 1794. Lake Otsego and a number of Cooperstown buildings are described as they really existed (though often at a slightly later time), including the interior of Judge Temple’s Mansion House (Judge William Cooper’s Otsego Hall), the Bold Dragoon Tavern (The Red Lion Tavern), and the Academy. For details, see Hugh C. McDougall’s Cooper’s Otsego County (Cooperstown: New York State Historical Association, 1989). But though Cooper was nostalgic about the village of his childhood, he also sought to generalize about central New York frontier society, and these similarities should not be overemphasized.

Form: The Pioneers is in form a “Pastoral”; i.e., an affectionate look at rural life, focused on the changing of the seasons around the year. Its format is inspired by James Thomson’s The Seasons (1726-30), an English book-length poem that was still immensely popular in 1823; quotations from the poem head several chapters (1, 27). The opening of Chapter 20, describing the coming of Spring, is virtually a paraphrase from Thomson, as many of The Pioneers’ early readers would have immediately recognized.

Title: We are so used to using the word “pioneers” to refer to those who extended the line of settlement across the American continent that it comes as a surprise to realize that Cooper was one of the first writers to use the word in this American sense. Moreover, he used it (except in the title) only twice, in the opening paragraph of the first chapter and in the last sentence of the last chapter! While the word “pioneer” (from peon, the Old French for foot soldier) has for centuries referred to laborers, diggers, and miners, and in recent centuries to innovators in various fields, its American usage dates only to 1817, and Cooper’s use of it in 1823 would have been a novelty to his readers.

Footnotes: Footnotes (in most editions) were written by Cooper for an edition published in England in 1832, usually to explain terms or customs he thought English readers might not understand. They are often helpful for 20ᵗʰ Century American readers too.

Epigraphs: Like many early 19ᵗʰ Century novelists Cooper placed short quotations (scholars call them Epigraphs; Cooper called them Mottos) at the head of each chapter and on the titlepage of his novels. These quotations, generally from American and English poets or dramatists, often cast important light on the intent of the Chapter. Cooper was not above occasionally making up an Epigraph himself specifically those he attributed to “Duo”.

The epigraph on the title page of The Pioneers (which some paperback editions omit), referring to the entire work, is of especial interest:

“Extremes of habits, manners, time and space, Brought close together, here stood face to face, And gave at once a contrast to the view, That other lands and ages never knew.”

Paulding, The Backwoodsman, lines 571-574

An important characteristic of the early central New York portrayed in The Pioneers was its ethnic and social diversity. By 1823 that diversity had greatly diminished, as hundreds of thousands of New Englanders crossed the Hudson River to settle in New York after the Revolution, creating a much more homogenous society.

Notes and Questions: These are not, generally speaking, “quiz” questions. That is, readers are not necessarily expected to find “the answers” by close study of the text. Rather, they are designed to amplify the text, to focus attention on significant cultural issues of the 1790-1810 period, or to notice unusual words, objects, events, and concepts which Cooper assumes his 1823 readers will find familiar. They are intended to start readers thinking, and to serve as topics for discussion.

List of Principal Characters:

The Temple Family

  • Judge Marmaduke Temple. Founder and leader of the village of Templeton. The Judge is partially based on Cooper’s father, Judge William Cooper of Cooperstown, but he is better educated than the real Judge, and unlike him is not engaged in party politics.
  • Elizabeth Temple, his only daughter. Cooper at first welcomed the notion that she was partly based on his beloved elder sister Hannah, but in later years emphasized differences between the two.

Their Household Servants

  • Remarkable Pettibone. Judge Temple’s New England housekeeper; pious, complacent, and resentful of authority.
  • Ben Pump (Benjamin Stubbs). Judge Temple’s major-domo; a British sailor from Cornwall, who interprets everything in terms of his limited naval experience.
  • Agamemnon (“Aggy”). Judge Temple’s Black slave, leased to Richard Jones.

Their Friends

  • Richard Jones (“Dickon”). Cousin, secretary, and business assistant to Judge Temple, who later becomes Sheriff of Otsego County. An ambitious and egotistical know-it-all with an agenda of his own.
  • Rev. Mr. Grant. Episcopal Clergyman, mild but devout. Perhaps based on Rev. Frederick Tiffany, who was in 1823 the Deacon and effective Rector of Cooperstown’s Christ Church. Tiffany later became Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Louisa Grant. His devoted daughter and housekeeper; companion and confidant of Elizabeth Temple.
  • Monsieur Le Quoi. French refugee from the West Indies; Judge Temple has set him up as a grocer and retail merchant. Based on a real person with the same name.
  • Major Frederick Hartmann (“Fritz”). A Palatine German from the Mohawk Valley; an old crony of Judge Temple. Based on Hendrick Frey of Canajoharie, a close friend of William Cooper.

Natty and his Cabin-Mates

  • Nathaniel Bumppo (” Natty“). An elderly hunter and scout, living on the fringes of Templeton. He resents the inroads of civilization, and guards the secret of his cabin. Perhaps partially based on David Shipman, an old scout who lived in a cabin near Fly Creek.
  • Oliver Edwards (later Edward Oliver Effingham) (called “the Young Eagle” by John Mohegan). A mysterious and morose young man, of good education, with an “attitude,” believed by many to be part Indian. Has recently arrived in Templeton to live with Natty Bumppo, but soon becomes Judge Temple’s Secretary and moves to the Mansion House.
  • Major Oliver Effingham (called “Fire-eater” by John Mohegan). Edward’s grandfather, who appears only at the end of the story.
  • John Mohegan (Chingachgook). An old Delaware Indian Chief, nominally a Christian, living with Natty Bumppo. Now an alcoholic hanger-on, he dreams of his past dignity and glory, and mourns the downfall of his people. Perhaps based on a Mohegan Indian, John Brushell, who in the early 1800s lived near Lake Canadarago.

The Village Professionals

  • Dr. Elnathan Todd. A young, self-taught doctor from New England; his common sense makes him a better physician than many doctors with more formal educations.
  • Dirck Van der School. An able Dutch lawyer, whose rambling speech can baffle the hearer. Supposedly based on a real person.
  • Chester Lippet (“Squire”). Another lawyer, less scrupulous and a rabble rouser. It seems possible that the Otsego county lawyer Jedediah Peck, founder of the New York Public School system, may have helped inspire his creation.
  • Captain Hollister. Scotch-Irish keeper of the Bold Dragon Tavern; a veteran of the British Army, devoted to reliving his military career.
  • Betty Hollister. His vigorous and loyal Scotch-Irish wife.


  • Hiram Doolittle. New England builder and carpenter, whose ambition exceeds his skill, and whose greed is stronger than his morals. When Richard Jones becomes Sheriff, Doolittle is named as Magistrate.
  • Jotham Riddel. A New England drifter, moving from place to place, and from occupation to occupation, in search of easy wealth.
  • Billy Kirby. An honest and decent wood-cutter from Vermont, though he cannot understand how anyone could love a tree.
  • Abraham Freeborn (” Brom“). A free Black, who runs a Christmas turkey shoot.


  • Old Brave. Elizabeth Temple’s aged mastiff.
  • Hector and The Slut. Natty Bumppo’s faithful hounds.

Plot Summary, Notes, and Questions


  • (1823 first edition): The Pioneers was written largely to please the author.
  • (1832 revised edition): Description of Lake Otsego and its early history.
  • (1851 edition): Elizabeth Temple not based on Hannah Cooper.

[Part One]: Christmas Eve and Christmas, 1793.

Chapter 1: [Prelude] Lyrical description of the headwaters of the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers, and their present (1823) economic and social prosperity. On Dec. 24, 1793, the widowed Judge Marmaduke Temple is bringing his only daughter Elizabeth home to Templeton (Cooperstown) from boarding school in New York, in a sleigh driven by the slave Agamemnon. As they approach their destination, a deer bounds by and is shot at both by Judge Temple and by Natty Bumppo and Oliver Edwards, who appear out of the woods. Judge Temple claims the deer, but Natty proves that Edwards shot it and that Temple has in fact accidentally wounded Edwards with a buckshot pellet in the shoulder. Temple takes Edwards into the sleigh to seek medical treatment in Templeton.

Notes and Questions:

  • Idealism: Does the atmosphere of The Pioneers, as it develops, live up to the idealized picture of Cooper’s opening paragraphs?
  • Blacks: The first character to be introduced is the slave Aggy, who drives the sleigh. As the book develops, ask yourself how Cooper views American Blacks? To what extent are his views personal ones; to what extent an expression of the “accepted wisdom” of his time?
  • Arguing over the deer: The deer-shooting scene foreshadows not only the major plot issue of The Pioneers, but important issues in “pioneer” America and even in America today. Who “owns” the deer? The man who shot it? The man who owns the woods in which it was shot? Who has the right to shoot a deer? Can laws properly limit that right? Does it make any difference why the deer is shot? How does The Pioneers treat this issue, even in this first chapter? Though at first the only issue seems to be who shot the deer, Natty early on refers to “my lawful dues in a free country,” and mutters (to himself) that “might often makes right here, as well as in the old country.” Later Judge Temple “gives” Edwards the privilege of hunting in “my” woods forever, as he has previously “given” it to Natty, and predicts that “the time is coming when it will be of value.” Natty is unimpressed, not only because he may claim an older right that Judge Temple’s, but because “who ever heard of a law, that a man shouldn’t kill deer where he pleased.” In medieval Europe, hunting was the private preserve of the King and nobility, who maintained “forests” and “parks” for the purpose. Those who lived on this land could not kill game, even to protect their crops. For many Englishmen who crossed the ocean to America, the right to hunt was an important part of the “freedom” they left Europe to find.
  • Miscellany: Notice Natty’s account of how he once operated on himself to remove a bullet. What was the “old war” and who was “Sir William”? Whose scalps were the Iroquois taking on the Schoharie River? If Delaware scalps, what were Delawares doing there — who are the Delawares anyway? And finally, Natty put three buckshot into the Iroquois’ “posterum” so close that “you might have laid a “broad joe” upon them all; what is a broad joe an American of 1823 would have known.

Chapter 2: [Family history] Marmaduke Temple’s Quaker ancestor had emigrated to Pennsylvania, but his sons soon lost the family money. Marmaduke’s father, however, had revived the family fortunes and given his son a good education. At school Marmaduke became friends with one Edward Effingham, wealthy son of Major Oliver Effingham of the British Army. Marmaduke entered into successful business, with Edward as his silent partner. When the Revolution broke out, Edward became Colonel of a Loyalist regiment, and turned over his money and papers to Marmaduke for safe keeping; Marmaduke was a patriot but did not join the Continental Army. After the Revolution Marmaduke became wealthy by buying up at low prices the confiscated properties of Loyalists in upstate New York, and then travelled to New York State to settle the properties he had bought. When a new county was formed, he became its first Judge.

Notes and Questions:

  • Riches to Rags to Riches: If we compare the Temple and Cooper families, we note that it is Judge Temple’s father who is the self-made man, while in real life it was Judge William Cooper himself who had that role. In this respect, Judge Temple resembles James Fenimore Cooper a well-educated son of a self-made man more than Judge Cooper. May this affect Judge Temple’s views on such matters as conservation, civility, “proper” behavior, etc.?
  • Whigs and Tories: Though Judge Temple is a “patriot” (the term at the time was Whig), his Revolutionary War activities are not really described. There is a suggestion of impropriety in the way in which he has acquired lands confiscated from “loyalists” (Tories) at bargain prices; how does this jibe with his old friendship with Edward Effingham? Moral issues of the Revolution are here rather left in the air consider whether they are ever really resolved?

Chapter 3: [The View from Mount Vision] As the sleigh approaches Templeton, Oliver Edwards insists that the carcass of the deer belongs to him, and refuses to sell it to Judge Temple. From Mount Vision they look down on the ice-covered Lake Otsego, with the bustling but unkempt new village at its foot. The village is described, as is the ugly roof of the Mansion House, Judge Temple’s home, designed and built by Hiram Doolittle and Richard Jones.

Notes and Questions:

  • Mount Vision: The view from “The Vision,” a hill just to the East of Cooperstown from which Judge Temple (Cooper) first saw the site of Cooperstown, was of almost mystic importance to the Cooper family. In addition to the two accounts of it in The Pioneers (here and at Chapter 21), the author returned to it in his novel of “Templeton” in the 1830s (Home as Found, 1838), and his daughter Susan later described what the view might have been like if “The Vision” were in Europe rather than America (“A Dissolving View” in The Home Book of the Picturesque, 1852).
  • Templeton: The village, though primitive, looks to a more refined future. Notice mention of a layout “that aped the streets of a city.
  • Hiram Doolittle: We meet (at second hand), Hiram Doolittle, archetype of the “jack of all trades and master of none” that Cooper often finds and satirizes in New Englanders. What is the “square rule” disastrously employed by Doolittle in designing the Mansion House’s absurd roof?

Chapter 4: [The Quarry] The party meets another sleigh coming to meet them, driven by Richard Jones and carrying the Rev. Mr. Grant, Monsieur Le Quoi, and Major Fritz Hartmann. The only place to turn this sleigh around is at a quarry. Jones almost runs the sleigh over a precipice, and is rescued by Oliver Edwards. Judge Temple hints to Agamemnon that he should not tell Jones about the unfortunate shooting of the deer (and of Edwards), reminding him that Santa Claus is expected with gifts, but Jones worms the story out of Aggy anyway.

Notes and Questions:

  • Frenchman and Palatine: We meet two samples of Templeton’s ethnic diversity the French refugee Monsieur Le Quoi and the German Fritz Hartmann. As indicated above, both are based on real characters. Note their “accents.” How are they treated by the “Americans” Judge Temple and the braggart Richard
  • Jones?
  • Agamemnon: Why does the slave have a name from Ancient Greece? Consider Aggy’s status: “Owing to the religious scruples of the Judge, Aggy was the servant of Richard, who had his services for a time. ... ” (and accompanying footnote). How is he treated by Judge Temple; by Richard Jones? Note the reference to Santa Claus; does this suggest an infantilization of the Black (there are precious few real children in The Pioneers or elsewhere in Cooper’s novels!)?.
  • Miscellany: The Quarry referred to is in real life located on Chicken Farm Hill just east of Cooperstown. The reference to Santa Claus is a first (“The Night Before Christmas”, published a little before The Pioneers, calls him only Saint Nicholas); Cooper had to include a footnote for British readers to explain who this New York Dutch character was. He also included a footnote for the British on the origin of the word “Yankee”; this explanation, though as good as most, has not been proven.

Chapter 5: [The Mansion House] The two sleighs enter Templeton, whose stump-filled streets and rude houses are described, and reach the Mansion House, where they are welcomed by the Judge’s servants. The interior is described in detail. Elizabeth admires the stolid Oliver Edwards, who awaits the arrival of a doctor.

Notes and Questions:

  • Templeton: Again, note the reference to streets wider than needed at the time, looking towards an urban future. This relates to William Cooper’s “real life” views, but perhaps also towards Judge Temple’s vision of what settlement on the frontier is all about.
  • Ben Pump and Remarkable Pettibone: Two more ethnic types introduced, one an English sailor, the other a Massachusetts housekeeper. How are they characterized? How do they differ as to their roles as servants, as evidenced in their views of Elizabeth Temple’s return home? Does this relate to their nationality? Note the care with which their way of speaking is transcribed.
  • The Stone Porch and the Hall of the Mansion House: These are based on Cooper’s fond childhood memories of Otsego Hall. But the exterior of the fictional stone Mansion House, with its bizarre roof, is not based on the brick Otsego Hall. The real Otsego Hall had only five doors opening off its central Hall; perhaps that is why the sixth bust here is only vaguely identified. What are the ashes of Dido? Would Judge Temple be likely to have wallpaper celebrating Wolfe’s victory at Quebec in 1759? I have seen pictures of real wallpaper of the period with George Washington’s arm extended in the fashion described. Note the “hot” temperature inside the Hall.
  • Miscellany: Judge Temple won’t use sleigh bells; Richard Jones will. Why?

Chapter 6: [Medicine in Templeton] Dr. Elnathan Todd’s upbringing and practical medical education described. With some interference from Richard Jones, who fancies his own medical skill, the pellet is extracted from Edwards’ shoulder. John Mohegan appears.

Notes and Questions:

  • Dr. Todd: How are New England views of the learned professions portrayed? The relation of “book learning” to practice? Note that Elizabeth doesn’t stay to watch the operation, though Remarkable Pettibone does.

Chapter 7: [Indian history] Originally Northeastern America was shared by two hostile Indian nations, the Delawares and the Iroquois. Among the Delaware tribes were the Mohicans or Mohegans, living east of the Hudson and in New England. John Mohegan was a Mohegan Chief who had fought with the British, become a Christian, and seen all his family killed; he alone of the Delawares has remained in the Otsego region of his youth. Mohegan has recently appeared in Templeton, and moved into Natty Bumppo’s cabin. He now treats Oliver Edwards’ wound, while Dr. Todd quietly seeks to learn from his traditional medical lore. Edwards moodily insists on keeping the deer carcass. There is discussion of whether the Judge, as landowner, has a right to all the deer in his woods. Rev. Mr. Grant invites John Mohegan to attend the Christmas service.

Notes and Questions:

  • American Indians: Consider Cooper’s view that all Northeastern American Indians are divided into Iroquois and Delaware, and that the Delaware include the New England tribes. Note the contrast between the New England wars against Indians (King Philip’s War) and the policy of William Penn as one of method, not of purpose or result. Mohegan Indians are described as refugees among the Delawares. What do you make of the Iroquois designation of Delawares as “women.?” Note the different names applied to the Iroquois Maquas, Mengwe, Mingo. Cooper appears to consider Mahicanni, Mohicans, and Mohegans as names referring to the same tribe. Do they? Why has John Mohegan turned Christian? How “Westernized” is he? William Penn is Miquon who are “the children of Miquon”? Cooper’s describes two kinds of Indian healers, but accepts only one. Mohegan says Judge Temple has never taken human life “when awake.” What might he mean by that?
  • Dr. Todd and Indian Medicine: Dr. Todd is willing to learn from the Indians, if only on the sly. Note the ironic tone with which the “rush of civilization and refinements” is reflected in “an affair of honour” or duel; what does this suggest of Cooper’s view of the “advance” of civilization.
  • The Deer Again: The argument over the deer is resumed, with Edwards asserting his legal right to meat from a deer he has shot, in which Judge Temple concurs. But Jones does not, asserting the deer is Temple’s because it was in his woods (with a possible lingering right to Mohegan because he is a “native”). What is the “Sallick Law” in France to which Jones refers? Did he get it right?

Chapter 8: [Some Templeton Inhabitants] Background of Monsieur Le Quoi, the French refugee, and Major Frederick Hartmann, a Palatine German living on the Mohawk. Description of the Academy, Templeton’s school and assembly room. The recent arrival of Rev. Dr. Grant, who will preach the first Episcopal Service to be heard in Templeton at the Academy that evening.

Notes and Questions:

  • Monsieur le Quoi: What had happened in St. Domingo [The island now divided into Dominican Republic and Haiti] and other French West Indian islands? Consider the stock of merchandise purchased by M. Le Quoi. What does it say about the settlers or what Cooper thinks about them? What is a “spider”?
  • Major Hartmann: A Palatine German. How does he differ from the Dutch?
  • The Academy: Cooper elsewhere wrote that while he put his “Academy” on the site occupied by the real Cooperstown “Academy” built in 1795 [now occupied by Toad Hall], the building he describes was a similar but somewhat grander edifice in Cherry Valley. Note the role of the Masonic Order in laying the cornerstone. A desultory effort is made to teach Latin: the “quotation” in schoolboy pronunciation is the opening of Virgil’s First Eclogue:

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi siluestrem tenui Musam meditaris auena;“ “Tityrus, lying back beneath wide beechen cover, You meditate the woodland Muse on slender oat;”

  • Religion: Note the diversity of sects. Why were the Presbyterians most numerous? Why were Episcopalians few in number, and why did the sect “languish” after the Revolution? Why do Richard Jones and Ben Pump carry evergreens into the Academy on the day before Christmas, and why do they carefully lock the door?

Chapter 9: [Christmas Eve Feast] Detailed description of the Christmas Eve feast at Judge Temple’s Mansion House. Judge Temple protests the wasteful burning of maple in the fireplace. Speculation about Oliver Edwards’ background, and his apparent hostility to Judge Temple.

Notes and Questions:

  • Conservation: Judge Temple raises the issue of conservation of maple trees. Why? Is he likely to find coal? Note Richard Jones’ response. The discourse continues through the dinner.
  • The Christmas Eve Feast: Richard offers Elizabeth “wing or breast.” The Pioneers was published in 1823; what might he have said in a book from 1850? Why is Remarkable Pettibone “aghast” at not being allowed to call Elizabeth Temple by her first name? Notice the way the food and drink is arranged on the table.
  • “ ... who first settled on the beaver-dam meadow”: What is a beaver-dam meadow, and why was it a favored site for settlement?
  • Gentleman: Note the discussion of whether Oliver Edwards is a gentleman. What factors are brought in as evidence?
  • Natty Bumppo: Of what is Leatherstocking suspected? Note the exchange between Judge Temple and Major Hartmann as to the value of the “strong arm of the law”?

Chapter 10: [Progress in Templeton] En route to the Christmas Eve service at the Academy, Elizabeth stops to talk with the Hollisters, proprietors of the Bold Dragoon tavern. Description of the unfinished new church, New St. Paul’s, which Temple and Richard Jones plan to complete as an Episcopalian edifice.

Notes and Questions:

  • Changes in Templeton: This is a new “frontier settlement”, but already Elizabeth finds it changing greatly from what she remembered only a few years before.
  • The Hollisters: Introduction of another ethnic element, the “Irish.” What would we call their ethnic origin? Notice the accent, though it does seem a bit mixed. What is Mrs. Hollister’s religion?
  • New St. Paul’s Church: Richard wants to build an Episcopalian Church, without revealing that fact to the New England builder Hiram Doolittle. What are the issues, as to windows, steeple, interior arrangements? What does Doolittle call the building?

Chapter 11: [Christmas Eve service] Description of the Academy, prepared for the Christmas-eve service, and of the frontier families who have come to attend it. Natty Bumppo and John Mohegan arrive. Rev. Mr. Grant gives an Episcopalian service, though only his daughter Louisa, Elizabeth Temple, and Oliver Edwards know how to give the responses. He reads a sermon, on the necessity of Faith because not all of God’s Truth is revealed to Man.

Notes and Questions:

  • Arrangements for the Service: Where is the “apology for the pulpit”? Why? Notice the seating of the congregation.
  • The Congregation: Notice their costumes. What ethnic groups are mentioned? Do they differ in adaptation to the frontier?
  • T he Service: How does the service differ from that to which the congregation is accustomed? What is a “service of forms”? How does Mr. Grant adapt his sermon to his audience? What is the congregation’s reaction?
  • Miscellany: What do you suppose had been in the empty box that Richard Jones brings in?

Chapter 12: [Religion Discussed] As the congregation disperses, Oliver Edwards admits to Rev. Mr. Grant that he was brought up as an Episcopalian. Natty Bumppo insists on returning to his cabin, and expresses doubts about formal religion. John Mohegan asserts that Edwards is “The Young Eagle” with the blood of a Delaware. Edwards walks Louisa Grant home, and learns how her mother and siblings had all died in poverty. He continues to express inexplicable hostility towards Judge Temple.

Notes and Questions:

  • Views of Religion: John Mohegan, Natty Bumppo, Mr. Grant, Oliver Edwards all profess Christianity, but their views of it differ widely; how would you sum up the essence of each. Notice the Chapter epigraph, by “Duo” (i.e., made up by Cooper himself).
  • Race: John Mohegan says that Oliver Edwards “has the blood of a Delaware in his veins,” and Edwards appears to confirm it. Consider how this notion affects the attitudes towards him of Judge Temple, Elizabeth Temple, Rev. Mr. Grant and his daughter Louisa, and Richard Jones as the novel progresses.

Chapter 13: [Tavern scene] The Bold Dragoon tavern described, as the townsmen gather to drink after the service. Squire Lippet argues that Oliver Edwards could bring a criminal case against Judge Temple for wounding him. Natty arrives and is welcomed. Natty muses on how John Mohegan has come down in the world since he was a Chief.

Notes and Questions:

  • Two Taverns: Note Templeton’s two contrasting taverns The Bold Dragoon and the Templeton Coffeehouse. Can you tell the religious denominations and ethnic origins of their respective owners? Both were based on real Cooperstown taverns: “The Red Lion” (where Church and Scott’s Drugstore now stands) and “The Blue Anchor” (now occupied by Mickey’s Place).
  • Tavern Manners: Note how the patrons of The Bold Dragoon do their drinking: shared glasses, payment, toasts, and the favored potions.
  • Squire Lippet: Ambulance chasers seem to have preceded ambulances. What might be the attorney’s political party (a subject never overtly raised in The Pioneers, but a major preoccupation of the real-life settlers of Cooperstown). How does his view of society differ from that of the Hollisters? What about Dr. Todd?
  • Settlement: How does Natty Bumppo look at the progress of settlement? Of “Christianizing” Indians?
  • Miscellany: What is an “atomy”?

Chapter 14: [Tavern Scene Continued] Judge Temple and his party enter, followed by Mohegan, and begin to drink, as Squire Lippet quietly retires. Jotham Riddel describes his tangled business transactions and vague plans for the future. Judge Temple calls for game laws to protect deer and fish; Natty argues that no real hunter would kill them out of season anyway. Richard Jones sings a drinking song. The intoxicated Mohegan sings fiercely in Delaware about past glories; he is soothed by Natty and taken to the barn to sleep it off. Judge Temple and his friends leave for the Mansion House, singing and weaving their way unsteadily through the snow.

Notes and Questions:

  • The Sermon: Mrs. Hollister and Hiram Doolittle complain that Rev. Mr. Grant’s sermon was written down. What is their concern?
  • Jotham Riddel: Portrait of a Yankee (as seen by a Yorker). How much is prejudice; how much accurate description? Connecticut is not called the “Nutmeg State” for nothing.
  • The Deer Again: Judge Temple is a member of the New York Legislature; he has been instrumental in establishing closed fishing and deer-hunting seasons on, and hopes to restrict timber cutting. Consider Natty Bumppo’s objections to this: natural law (“he who finds may kill”) and unenforceability. Why are deer becoming scarce? How do Natty and Major Hartmann view this scarcity? Who gets hurt? What does Major Hartmann “understand”?
  • Natty and Mohegan: Consider the “secret” (because in Delaware) conversation between Natty Bumppo and John Mohegan. Can you gather what they are talking about? Who is “the worst enemy of all”? Who are the Maquas and Mingos (see Chapter 7)?
  • Miscellany: What has been happening in France? Notice Monsieur Le Quoi’s conflicting reactions. What did Mrs. Hollister like about the French troops at Yorktown?

Chapter 15: [Conversation among Servants] Back at the Mansion House, Elizabeth Temple retires, and the servants Remarkable Pettibone and Ben Pump speculate whether her arrival will end their household authority. Ben tells anecdotes of his naval service. Judge Temple and his party arrive, and all retire for the night.

Notes and Questions:

  • The Servant Problem: Remarkable Pettibone displays a “Yankee” objection to being considered a “servant”. She insists that she only offered to “help out” the Temple family as a favor, because of the death of Judge Temple’s wife. Evidently the widower Judge Temple had let her run things her own way, but the returning Elizabeth wants both to be in charge of her own household and to maintain her privacy. Pettibone interprets this as snobbishness. The Yankee invasion of New York brought Yankee views into conflict with a society more accustomed to a hierarchical order; since “servants” were still needed, they became “help”, and “masters” became “bosses” (adapting a Dutch word). This will become an even more important Cooper theme in later novels.
  • Language: Pettibone prides herself on her Massachusetts “pronounsation.” Ben Pump speaks in incomprehensible nautical lingo. Cooper is always alert to nuances of language and their relation to culture.

Chapter 16: [Christmas Morning] On Christmas morning Elizabeth tells Richard Jones that he has been appointed county Sheriff, and Jones prepares to enjoy his new-found authority. Walking through the grounds, they eavesdrop on Natty, Oliver Edwards, and John Mohegan, who want to take part in a Christmas turkey shoot, though Natty is out of money and Edwards has only one shilling left. Mohegan says he can no longer shoot straight because of age and the white man’s liquor. Elizabeth presents herself and offers to pay anyone who will shoot the turkey for her; Natty accepts the shilling, though he recognizes that Billy Kirby may have the best prospects.

Notes and Questions:

  • Sheriff Jones: The real first Sheriff of Otsego County was Richard Smith, a Cousin of Judge Cooper’s, who did indeed paint the sign for the “Red Lion”, the prototype of the “Bold Dragoon” Tavern. So far as is known, Smith did not share Richard Jones’ peculiarities of character.
  • Indians: Again, we find Mohegan bemoaning the fate of his people, seduced by the white man’s guns and rum, and perhaps by the very Christianity he has espoused.
  • Manners and Morals: Jones, believing Oliver Edwards to be a “half-breed”, assumes he is no gentleman and will accept money. He also assumes that a turkey shoot is no place for a lady like Elizabeth. Judge Temple expresses a similar view in the next Chapter.
  • Miscellany: Notice that wild turkeys have already become extinct in Otsego County. Why is Richard feeding “brick bats” to his domestic turkeys?

Chapter 17: [Turkey shoot] Near the lake Abraham (“Brom”) Freeborn has tied up a turkey behind a stump, with only its head showing, as a target to be shot at from 100 yards away, and is collecting entry fees. Billy Kirby, a Vermont woodcutter who clears land for a living, is described. Kirby shoots and misses. Oliver Edwards shoots and misses. Natty shoots, but his gun misses fire, and it is ruled that he has lost his turn. Kirby again misses. Natty shoots again and kills the turkey, which he presents to Elizabeth, who in turn gives it to Edwards. Judge Temple arrives and joins the sport.

Notes and Questions:

  • Turkey shoot: How does it differ from the modern version?
  • Billy Kirby: Note the description of how land is cleared.
  • Shilling: Note Cooper’s footnote on the value of the shilling in 1793. At this period, each State had its own “shilling”, which differed in value from that of other States and from England, though the most common silver coin was the Spanish (American) dollar. Why do we call a quarter dollar “two bits”? Until about the Civil War, many Americans continued to calculate prices in “shillings”, generally valued at 12½ cents.
  • Abraham Freeborn: Though free, and running his own business, Brom shows some uncertainty about the fairness he can expect from Templeton’s white settlers. How do they treat him? Cooper was criticized in 1823 for stooping to replicate Brom’s way of speaking. Note, as in Chapter 1, Cooper’s notion that Blacks are peculiarly sensitive to cold. Also, his notion of Black “mirth”.
  • Miscellany: Natty speaks of the “Dutch settlements on the Schoharie,” but notes that the “Dutch” swear in “Garman.” Who is he talking about?

Chapter 18: [Edwards Joins the Family] Judge Temple invites Oliver Edwards to become his secretary, since Richard Jones has been named Sheriff, and to move into his house. Urged by Natty and John Mohegan, the reluctant Edwards finally accepts. Despite Richard Jones’ objections, Judge Temple insists that Edwards will be considered a gentleman and treated as part of the family. Edwards, returning to Natty’s cabin with Mohegan, expresses great distaste at serving Judge Temple. The Temples return to the Mansion House, and a rainstorm ensues.

Notes and Questions:

  • Oliver Edwards’s Status: Edwards’ reluctance to become an inmate of Mansion House relates, of course, to the working out of the plot. Again we have a discussion over whether Edwards is a “gentleman” and where he should eat. Jones assumes that no Indian would agree to eat with Blacks, because “the natives hold the negroes in great contempt.”
  • Genealogy: Notice the discussion on Americans’ tendency to attribute high status to their immigrant ancestors, and the folkloric legends of the three (generally noble) brothers as ancestors of American families. Any genealogist can testify to the accuracy of this discussion.
  • Edwards’ Discussion with Natty and Mohegan: Aside from questions of plot (Edwards’ real identity) this discussion raises many issues of White-Indian relations.

Chapter 19: [The End of Part One] Ben Pump insists that the night will turn frigid, and preparations are made. The next morning the Lake is covered with black ice, and every branch and twig sparkles with an icy coating. Oliver Edwards takes up residence as Judge Temple’s secretary. There is discussion of Edwards’ possible Indian blood. Three months pass.

Notes and Questions:

  • Civilization and Nature: What would Natty think of Elizabeth’s soliloquy: “The enterprise of Judge Temple is taming the very forests!. ... How rapidly is civilization treading on the footsteps of nature”?
  • Edwards’ Indian Ancestry: This time Louisa, Elizabeth, and Judge Temple express differing views of Edwards’ presumed Indian blood. Who was Corn-planter?

[Part Two: March - July Vignettes of Village Life]

Chapter 20: [Maple Sugaring] At the end of March Richard Jones proposes to Elizabeth, Louisa Grant, Oliver Edwards, Judge Temple, and Monsieur Le Quoi, that they ride to visit a sugar bush where Billy Kirby is making maple sugar, and then go on to see a view of the Lake. There is still snow on the ground, and the riding is rough. Judge Temple argues the need to protect sugar maples, and claims that maple sugar can be refined as white as the cane sugar produced in Monsieur Le Quoi’s West Indies. They find Kirby boiling sap and singing a sugaring song to the tune of Yankee Doodle. Details of sugaring described. Kirby tricks Monsieur Le Quoi into drinking boiling sap. Judge Temple bemoans Kirby’s harmful methods of tapping trees, and foresees a loss of ancient forests that no one will live to see replaced. Kirby wonders how anyone can like a tree, though he understands that rich men in Europe treasure them. The Judge retorts that he wants to conserve trees for their economic utility, rather than as ornaments; soon there will be laws to protect both trees and game. The party continues on its way.

Notes and Questions:

  • Spring: Cooper once remarked that Spring was much overrated, and only got its good reputation as a season because it comes after the miseries of Winter. Judge Temple seems to agree see the next Chapter. Here Cooper’s discussion of the conflict between warm and cold weather is taken pretty directly from Thomson’s poem The Seasons.
  • Sugaring: The proper production of maple sugar, and its possible substitution for cane sugar from the West Indies, was a major interest of the real Judge Cooper, as it is of Judge Temple. It was also, for a Quaker, a moral issue: many people in England and America felt guilty about using cane sugar produced by slaves under appalling conditions to substitute maple sugar would be a blow against slavery.
  • Yankee Doodle: Billy Kirby’s song is to the tune of Yankee Doodle, but the words appear (like those of other “songs” in The Pioneers) to have been made up by Cooper.
  • Trees: The debate between Judge Temple and Billy Kirby over the value of trees is central to the ethos of the American frontier, which considered trees only as an enemy to be destroyed. Note, however, the Temple’s objections are utilitarian, not aesthetic for that one must seek Natty Bumppo. Potash, made from ashes, was the standard “first crop” of new settlers, bringing in cash until they could clear land and grow a first crop; it was used in Europe for making munitions, and hence European wars benefited American settlers.

Chapter 21: [The Founding of Templeton] As they ride, Judge Temple describes the wilderness view from Mount Vision when he first visited Otsego, and recounts the early history of the settlement and its hardships (taken directly from William Cooper). Temple had stayed in Natty Bumppo’s cabin, who treated him well but objected to his plans for a settlement. After admiring a view of the lake, the party starts back to Templeton. Suddenly and silently a decayed tree falls, barely missing them. As they approach the village, a spring blizzard begins.

Notes and Questions:

  • The Founding of Templeton: Judge Temple’s account is mirrored in Judge Cooper’s account of the founding of Cooperstown in his A Guide in the Wilderness, amplified by James Fenimore Cooper’s recollections of the family tradition. Not mentioned in the novel is Judge Cooper’s obtaining of a relief appropriation from the State Legislature to buy grain for the hungry settlers. Government welfare does not jibe with the “pioneer” tradition, but it was there.
  • Land Title: Again there is a discussion between Judge Temple and Oliver Edwards over who really owns, or should own, the land. Land east of the Unadilla River was available for settlement after 1768, but to get a Royal patent one had first to obtain title by hook crook from the local Indians. When Edwards refers to Temple’s title as “both legal and equitable” he is not just being sarcastic. In England and early America there were two systems of courts dispensing two different systems of justice “law” from the law courts, and “equity” from the Courts of Chancery. They were not combined until the mid-19ᵗʰ Century.

Chapter 22: [Shooting Pigeons] During April the ice on Lake Otsego finally breaks up, and pigeons migrate overhead. Everyone turns out to shoot the huge wheeling flocks of birds, from the village and the surrounding hills, even pressing into service a small swivel cannon abandoned years before by passing troops, and now used for Fourth of July salutes. Natty Bumppo is appalled at the wasteful slaughter, and contents himself with shooting a single bird. Finally the flocks depart, and Judge Temple hires local boys, at sixpence a hundred, to kill the thousands of wounded birds now covering the ground.

Notes and Questions:

  • Pigeons: These are, of course, the legendary passenger pigeons whose migrating flocks darkened the skies of early America. The last of the species died in zoo in 1914. Though only mentioned in passing in the novel, they could cause great damage to crops, so organized shooting at the flocks was as much to frighten them away as to obtain food. The “urchins” Temple hires to wring the necks of the wounded birds seem to be the only children in Templeton!
  • Miscellany: The swivel cannon is taken from real life; the cannon, left behind by General Clinton in 1779, was called “The Cricket”, and used for salutes in Cooperstown until it cracked. What is a swivel cannon?

Chapter 23: [Fishing] Spring continues, the ice and the ice fishers are gone, and the newly enacted bass season has opened on Lake Otsego. Preparations are made to net the fish at night from a point near the village; Oliver Edwards, Elizabeth Temple, and Louisa Grant walk over to watch it. Around a bonfire, Ben Pump and Richard Jones argue the relative merits of sea and lake. The long net is drawn in to shore and huge piles of fish deposited there; Judge Temple deplores the waste of the Otsego Bass, one of the world’s finest fish, which are already becoming scarce. Richard Jones tells the Judge he has just learned an important secret, and invites him on an expedition to visit what he hints may be a mine.

Notes and Questions:

  • Otsego Bass: Judge Temple’s description was probably taken from one by Governor De Witt Clinton, who in 1822 published an article about the fish. Note that the bass too are already declining in number, and that Judge Temple has had a closed fishing season enacted. (In point of fact Judge William Cooper in 1791 got the State of New York to enact its first closed fishing season law: protecting Otsego bass on Lake Otsego.) Richard Jones sees fish, as he sees trees, as an inexhaustible resource needing no conservation.

Chapter 24: [Fishing Continued] Louisa Grant tells Elizabeth Temple that Natty Bumppo is hiding some secret in his always-locked cabin, and that he is rumored to be an Indian. A gradually approaching light proves to be Natty Bumppo and John Mohegan in a canoe, with a torch for spear fishing mounted on it. Natty refuses to accept any of the fish piled on shore, and invites Oliver Edwards and Elizabeth to come fishing with them in the canoe. Natty spears a large salmon trout, and they paddle back to watch the other fisherman. Ben Pump and Billy Kirby are setting the net from a rowboat, and Ben falls overboard. Natty rescues him by catching his hair with his spear, and Ben is revived.

Notes and Questions:

  • Natty’s Cabin: Natty’s atypical behavior in locking his cabin, and letting no one inside, is of course related to the plot. The settlers obviously find it bizarre and hence sinister; what does this suggest about frontier manners?
  • Fishing: Judge Temple’s conservation concerns remain utilitarian in nature, in contrast with Natty’s essentially esthetic and moral views about fishing and “wasty ways” expressed in this Chapter. Notice the “ordinary manner” for dividing up the piles of fish.

[Part Three: July-August 1794. The Events of the Plot].

Chapter 25: [A Mysterious Letter] Next morning Richard Jones finds Judge Temple drawn and anxious; he has received a mysterious letter from England, apparently reporting someone’s death in a shipwreck over a year before. The expedition to visit the mine is forgotten. The Judge calls for his lawyer, Dirck Van der School, to assist him in preparing some papers. Oliver Edwards offers his services, but Elizabeth says that it is a private family matter. When Elizabeth expresses sympathy for John Mohegan, Edwards is pleasantly surprised, and seems to be in love with her. When he leaves the house he encounters Van der School bearing a packet of papers, which the lawyer refuses to discuss. Summer comes on. Richard Jones is often seen in conference with Jotham Riddel, and early in July again suggests to Judge Temple that they make the deferred expedition on the following day.

Notes and Questions:

  • The Epigraph: Notice the epigraph (“Duo” is really Cooper himself); Cooper has been enjoying himself painting verbal portraits of village activities, and recognizes that he must get on with the story.
  • Indian Descent: Again the conversation turns to Oliver Edwards’ supposed Indian ancestry, and we find Elizabeth expressing the wish that she (on account of her dark hair) may share that ancestry and thus perhaps have a better right to the land on which she lives. She does not, however, believe in turning back the clock.
  • Dirck Van der School: We shall need two lawyers later on, for the trial scene. Van der School, with his elliptical and parenthetic way of speech, is supposed to have been based on a real person. Contrast his “Dutch” morals with those of the “New England” Squire Chester Lippet.

Chapter 26: [Beauty of the Catskills] Judge Temple and Richard Jones set forth on their expedition. Elizabeth Temple and Louisa Grant decide on a walk in the woods, accompanied by her mastiff “Brave”. Oliver Edwards offers to escort them, but is refused; he goes boating instead and rows to Natty Bumppo’s cabin (in what is now Fairy Spring Park), where he goes inside. As he leaves the cabin Natty’s tied-up hounds are barking, and Edwards sees Hiram Doolittle skulking in the bushes. He returns to his boat and goes fishing; off Point Judith he encounters Natty and John Mohegan canoeing. Natty says Otsego Lake is the finest place he knows, and mourns the old days before settlers came. The only place he ever liked better was in the Catskills, which he had visited during the Revolution; he describes in loving detail an overlook above the Hudson and the nearby Kaaterskill Falls. Natty’s hounds are heard chasing an animal; he is surprised because he thought them safely tied up at the cabin. A buck springs into the Lake, followed by the hounds.

Notes and Questions:

  • The Catskills: The overlook became (1824) the site of the Catskill Mountain House; in 1825 young Thomas Cole, attracted by Cooper’s description, visited the area and painted the Falls, thus inaugurating the Hudson River School of landscape painting. Cooper’s descriptions, based on his visit in 1822, has graced every Catskill guidebook since.
  • Early Inhabitants: Notice Natty’s account of who could be found around Lake Otsego in the mid-eighteenth century: Delaware hunting parties, Iroquois scouts, “one or two Frenchmen that squatted in the flats, further west, and married squaws; and some of the Scotch-Irishers, from the Cherry Valley.” The Frenchmen have not been identified, but are probably based on a real tradition.

Chapter 27: [Natty Kills a Deer] Despite Oliver Edwards’ warning that Judge Temple has vowed to prosecute anyone killing deer out of season, Natty, John Mohegan, and Edwards pursue the deer in the water; Edwards catches its antlers in a noose and Natty cuts its throat. The hounds are examined, and it is seen that the thongs with which they were tied up have been cut with a knife on the end of a long stick.

Notes and Questions:

  • The Deer, Once Again: Natty’s killing of a deer out of season is crucial to the rest of the story, and again raises two questions: (1) Why is Judge Temple so eager to protect deer? (2) Why is Natty so resentful of hunting restrictions, even though he is himself a preservationist by nature? Notice that both Natty and Oliver Edwards, though they respect the law, find the opportunity for killing the deer irresistible. What attitudes about hunting did English settlers bring to America? Consider Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. The issues raised were of vital importance in developing the “American” character, and remain relevant today.

Chapter 28: [Threatened by a Panther] Meanwhile Elizabeth Temple and Louisa Grant ramble through the woods overlooking the east side of the Lake (Prospect Rock) above Natty’s cabin. Louisa tells Elizabeth what she has heard about Natty’s background, and speculates that he may be Oliver Edwards’ father. She also mentions the abject poverty of her own upbringing, when she and her siblings were left hungry at home while her father, too proud to beg, rode off to console others. The two young women encounter the cub of a panther (mountain lion), which is killed by the mastiff Brave, and are then attacked by the cub’s mother. Brave dies trying to defend them, Louisa faints, and Elizabeth has given herself up for dead when Natty silently appears and shoots the panther. They return to the village, and Natty returns to his cabin, near which he encounters Hiram Doolittle, who has heard his shot. Doolittle obliquely accuses Natty of illegally shooting deer, and Natty leads him on until they come to the bodies of the dead mastiff and the panthers. Natty claims the bounty on panther scalps, and Hiram persistently but unsuccessfully tries to gain admission to his cabin on pretext of preparing the bounty order. Natty examines Doolittle’s knife, making it clear he thinks Doolittle responsible for loosing his hounds, and Doolittle’s discomfiture demonstrates his guilt. Natty warns Doolittle to stay away from his cabin, and Doolittle responds that he knows Natty has broken the law and as Magistrate intends to bring him to justice. Oliver Edwards assures Natty that nobody has entered the cabin.

Notes and Questions:

  • The Panther Scene: No event in The Pioneers became so famous, or was so often depicted in illustrations, as Elizabeth and Louisa threatened by the panther.

Chapter 29: [Suspicious Behavior] Meanwhile, Richard Jones and Judge Temple have ridden forth to see Richard’s discovery, made, he says, by Hiram Doolittle and Jotham Riddel. It is, he asserts, a silver mine. As evidence, they have seen Natty Bumppo and John Mohegan going up the mountain with picks and shovels, and then carrying things mysteriously to their cabin. On one occasion, Natty went away and returned dragging a sledge with a large burden covered with bear-skins, and since then has let no one enter his cabin. Now Oliver Edwards spends his time digging mysteriously. Jones and Temple arrive at their destination, where Jones shows the Judge a natural cave on the hillside, the interior of which has been recently excavated and enlarged; this evidence makes the Judge suspicious. They return to the village, where they find Elizabeth and Louisa returning from their encounter with the panther, and the Judge for the time forgets his suspicions of Natty in his gratitude for the saving of his daughter.

Notes and Questions:

  • Miscellany: How plausible is Richard Jones’ belief that a Natty has found a silver mine on Judge Temple’s land? What is a “jumper”? What makes Judge Temple prone to believe Jones’ suspicions?

Chapter 30: [Natty Fights Back] Hiram Doolittle asks Judge Temple for a warrant to search Natty’s cabin for the carcass of an illegally killed deer. The Judge reluctantly agrees, but privately assures Elizabeth that if Natty is found guilty she can pay his fine. Unable to find Sheriff Jones, who is away from the village, Hiram Doolittle deputizes a reluctant Billy Kirby as Constable to execute the search warrant, telling Kirby only that the suspect is a powerful wrestler. Accompanied by Jotham Riddel, they set forth. When Kirby realizes that they are heading for Natty’s cabin, he rebels, but finally agrees to a peaceful talk with him. Natty, however, adamantly refuses to accept the search warrant, shoves Doolittle into the bushes, and aims his rifle at Billy Kirby to warn him off; Doolittle and Riddel promptly flee. Natty then drops his gun, and amicably turns over the remains of the deer to Kirby.

Notes and Questions:

  • Questions of Justice: Judge Temple believes it necessary to go forward with the arrest of Natty for killing a deer out of season, though he will let Elizabeth pay the small fine herself: “surely my reputation as a Judge is worth that trifle.”
  • Miscellany: What is a “beetle-ring”? Evidently something of little or no value perhaps related to beetle in the sense of a mallet?

Chapter 31: [Different Views of Justice] Squire Lippet tells a horrified Oliver Edwards that Judge Temple had issued a warrant to search Natty’s cabin, and that Natty was now liable to fine and imprisonment for assaulting a magistrate and threatening a constable with firearms. Edwards goes to see Elizabeth, who assures him that her father would never imprison a man who had just saved her life. However the Judge, who joins them, insists that he cannot allow his personal feelings to impede justice, and that the law must now take its course. An outraged Edwards accuses Judge Temple of having usurped possession of his lands; the Judge defends his title, and dismisses Edwards from his employment. Apologizing to Elizabeth, Oliver Edwards rushes from the Mansion House.

Notes and Questions:

  • Questions of Justice: The question of justice becomes more complex, when Judge Temple decides that Natty’s saving of Elizabeth’s daughter cannot enter into his decision to put him on trial on charges now more serious than killing a deer out of season. Is the Judge really concerned with impartial justice, or is he concerned with protecting his reputation from charges of favoritism?

Chapter 32: [Natty Arrested] Returning to the village, Richard Jones arrives at the Mansion House to find the dead mastiff Brave, and to learn in convoluted fashion from Ben Pump of Elizabeth’s encounter with the panther, her rescue by Natty, the quarrel between Judge Temple and Oliver Edwards, and eventually of the charges against Natty. He gathers a posse to arrest Natty, but when they reach the cabin they find it burned to the ground by its owner; a sorrowful Natty gives himself up quietly and is carried off to jail.

Notes and Questions:

  • Miscellany: With regard to Ben Pump’s slate, “Boreas” (“boar’s head”) is the Greek God of the North Wind, represented by a head blowing. I don’t know what an Irishman’s hurricane is, but I suspect it is a dead calm. “Meridium” = meridian, and in this context probably means noon. “Jamaiky” is presumably Jamaica rum. Cooper uses the English spelling of “gaol”, instead of the current American “jail”.

Chapter 33: [The Trial] It is Court day, and crowds are wending their way to Templeton to attend it as jurors or litigants. Richard Jones leads a procession from the Bold Dragoon to the courtroom, located over the log jail, and the proceedings begin. Natty Bumppo is brought before the Judge on two indictments. Dirck Van der School, as District Attorney, charges Natty with assault and battery on Hiram Doolittle; Squire Lippet defends him on the grounds that Doolittle, though a Magistrate, was not a Constable, and thus had no right to execute the search warrant. The jury finds Natty not guilty. On the second indictment, for threatening a constable with firearms, the jury finds Natty guilty even though Billy Kirby insists he was never put in fear. The Judge sentences Natty to a fine of one hundred dollars, to be placed in the public stocks for one hour, and to be jailed for a month. Natty asks not to be jailed, since he cannot stand being shut in, and offers to earn the fine money by hunting. Ben Pump offers to pay the fine, but Judge Temple ends the proceedings and orders Natty placed in the stocks.

Notes and Questions:

  • Questions of Justice: What do you make of the dialogue between Judge Temple and the convicted Natty Bumppo?
  • Miscellany: The description of Cooperstown’s (Templeton’s) first courtroom and jail appears to be an accurate one.

Chapter 34: [Natty Jailed] Natty is placed in the stocks; Ben Pump insists on joining him there, and seeks to console him. When Hiram Doolittle comes by to gloat, Ben grabs his legs and knocks him down. When the hour is over, both Natty and Ben are locked up in the jail, where Oliver Edwards comes to confer with them through the barred window.

Notes and Questions:

  • Miscellany: Notice Cooper’s remark that the “more merciful expedients of the public prisons” had not yet supplanted the stocks and whipping post. Prisons (as opposed to jails) are a 19ᵗʰ Century invention.

Chapter 35: [A Jail Break] That evening Elizabeth and Judge Temple argue about the justice of Natty’s conviction, the Judge insisting that he could not interfere with justice even though Natty had saved his daughter’s life, and Elizabeth arguing the inhumanity of the result. The Judge gives Elizabeth two hundred dollars to pay Natty’s fine and ease his condition, and she and Louisa set out to visit Natty in jail. Near it they encounter an ox cart driven by Oliver Edwards in disguise. They are admitted to the jail, where Natty refuses the money, but admits that Edwards plans to rescue him through a hole cut in the logs. He asks that Elizabeth buy some gunpowder, and meet him with it at noon the next day on top of Mount Vision. Elizabeth agrees, and helps him and Ben escape. The escape is soon discovered, and a posse formed to search the mountains.

Notes and Questions:

  • Settlements and Game: Not for the first time, Natty remarks on the scarcity of wild animals caused by clearing the land; specifically deer and beaver.
  • Miscellany: Once again there is reference to “broad joes”; but Elizabeth says they are English guineas. How does Elizabeth know that the disguised Oliver Edwards is not a professional “teamster”?

Chapter 36: [Mohegan Mourns] Next morning Elizabeth and Louisa buy gunpowder from Monsieur Le Quoi, and Elizabeth climbs Mount Vision alone. She finds John Mohegan, dressed in Indian costume and bemoaning his lost people. He had given the Otsego lands to the Fire-eater, but Judge Temple had usurped them. Now Mohegan’s family are all dead; he has no son but the Young Eagle, who is a white man. A forest fire suddenly springs up, and as Elizabeth and Mohegan turn to flee, Oliver Edwards appears.

Notes and Questions:

  • Frontier Manners: “The freedom of manners that prevailed in the new settlements, commonly leveled all difference in rank, and with it, frequently, all considerations of education and intelligence.” Compare with the following extract from Home as Found (1838), Cooper’s “sequel” to The Pioneers: “At the commencement of a settlement, there is much of that sort of kind feeling and mutual interest, which men are apt to manifest towards each other, when they are embarked on an enterprise of common hazards. ... The gentleman, even while he may maintain his character and station, maintains them with that species of good-fellowship and familiarity, that marks the intercourse between the officer and the soldier, in an arduous campaign. Men, and even women, break bread together and otherwise commingle, that, in different circumstances, would be strangers. ... The parties meet ... on a sort of neutral ground, one yielding some of his superiority, and the other laying claims to an outward show of equality.”
  • John Mohegan’s Plaint: Like Indians before and after (including many in Cooper’s novels), John Mohegan calls attention to the disparity between white men’s professed morality and their actions. When Elizabeth says that he has “learned to fear God and to live at peace,” he asks rhetorically whether the French who fought with the English, or the Americans who fought with the English, have feared God or lived in peace. What about those who displaced Fire-eater?

Chapter 37: [Forest Fire] Oliver Edwards and Elizabeth seek in vain to escape the spreading flames. John Mohegan resigns himself to death. Elizabeth urges Edwards to save himself, but he vows to die with her. As their situation becomes desperate, Natty appears.

Notes and Questions:

  • Miscellany: Notice that the settlers’ custom of cutting trees and leaving piles of branches behind to dry out has contributed to the intensity of the fire.

Chapter 38: [Another Rescue] Shortly before, Natty had learned from Louisa of Elizabeth’s departure for Mount Vision and rushed off to find her. He picks up the dying John Mohegan and, using his woodcraft skills, leads Elizabeth and Edwards to a place of safety on a terrace above the cave, from which emerges Ben Pump. Rev. Mr. Grant unexpectedly appears; also seeking Elizabeth, he had been led to safety by Natty’s hounds. John Mohegan dies, to the horror of Mr. Grant renouncing his Christianity. A heavy rain begins, extinguishing the fire, but Edwards fails to invite Elizabeth into the cave. Instead he leads her back to the village, promising to reveal his secret on the morrow; on their way home they encounter a grateful Judge Temple.

Notes and Questions:

  • Forest Fires: In a footnote at the end of this Chapter, for the benefit of English readers, Cooper in 1832 explained about the danger of forest fires on the American frontier.

Chapter 39: [The Battle at the Cave] The next day the fire is out, and Jotham Riddel is found dying from burns. As it is rumored that Natty Bumppo had started the forest fire, the Templeton Light Infantry is mustered in by Richard Jones to find him. They surround the cave, but Natty insists they may not enter until two hours before sundown. Captain Hollister leads a charge, but Ben Pump fires the swivel cannon into the air and the troops hastily retreat. Only Hiram Doolittle is wounded, when Natty shoots him in the behind. Judge Temple calls a halt to the battle, just as Oliver Edwards appears surrenders.

Chapter 40: [Explanations and Reconciliations] On the terrace above the cave, is an old and senile man, who gravely welcomes them. Oliver Edwards (now Edward Oliver Effingham) explains that the man is Major Effingham, his grandfather, known to the Indians as Fire-eater, who has been living secretly in Natty’s cabin. After the Revolution, Oliver had been left in Nova Scotia while his loyalist father, Colonel Effingham none other than Judge Temple’s old silent partner sought compensation from the British government for the loss of his American properties. The Colonel had succeeded, but in 1792 died in a shipwreck of which Judge Temple learned only two years later (Chapter 25). Judge Temple explains to Edwards that he had purchased properties confiscated from the Effinghams because of their loyalty to the crown, but had always held them for the Effinghams as a personal sacred trust. On learning of his father’s death Oliver had sought out his old grandfather, but found that he had been taken from Connecticut to Otsego by Natty Bumppo, a faithful family servant. Natty had lived at Otsego for many years, looking after lands that the Delawares had given Major Effingham at the same time that they adopted him and his family as honorary Indians. Oliver had joined them at the cabin shortly before Elizabeth’s return to Templeton, and he and Natty continued to keep the Major’s presence secret so that no one would know of his poverty and growing senility. Judge Temple and the rest all return to the Mansion House, where Judge Temple shows Oliver the will he has recently executed, leaving half his property to Major Effingham and his descendants, and the other half to his daughter Elizabeth. Now he promises to transfer half his property to Oliver immediately, and surmises that Elizabeth’s share will soon become Oliver’s as well.

Notes and Questions:

  • Questions of Justice: Judge Temple deliberately kept secret from his old friend Col. Effingham the fact that he had bought up the Effingham lands and was holding them in trust so that the Colonel could “honestly apply for his just remunerations.” When the newly independent United States reneged on its agreement to recompense Loyalists for property seized during the Revolution, the British Government eventually paid the claims itself. Thus Col. Effingham (or his son Oliver Edwards Effingham) could both (1) collect remuneration from the British Government for the lands that had been confiscated; and (2) keep the lands anyway because of the secret “trust” established by Judge Temple. An early case, perhaps, of “double-dipping.” But is it fair? I have never seen any discussion of this critical moral element in The Pioneers.

[Part Four: October, 1794. Epilogue]

Chapter 41: [The End of the Story] Between August and October Edward Oliver Effingham and Elizabeth Temple have been married, and Edward’s grandfather has died. Natty and Ben Pump had to return to jail, but were soon pardoned by the Governor and freed. Hiram Doolittle, duly compensated for his troubles, has moved on west, and Monsieur Le Quoi has returned to Paris. In mid-October, Oliver asks his bride Elizabeth to walk with him on the east side of the lake. Elizabeth worries about the Grant family, but her husband says Judge Temple has arranged for Rev. Grant to become Minister of a church in the Hudson Valley, where he will be comfortable and Louisa can meet appropriate suitors. They arrive at the site of Natty Bumppo’s cabin, where they find two gravestones which Natty is vainly trying to read. Oliver reads them for him: one is that of his grandfather, Major Oliver Effingham, with an inscription saluting the devotion of Nathaniel Bumppo who had cared for him in old age. The other is of John Mohegan, the last of his people. Natty says that since the Indians are now all gone, it is time for him to leave as well; he plans to seek the wilderness of the Great Lakes. He refuses to accept any money, shoulders his rifle, calls his dogs, and departs, “the foremost in that band of Pioneers, who are opening the way for the march of the nation across the continent,” and is never seen in Templeton again.

Notes and Questions:

  • “Pioneers”: Except for the title, and in the first paragraph of the story, this is the only use of the word “pioneer” in the novel.
  • Yankee Indians: Once, says the departing Natty, one could see the smoke of twenty Delaware campfires; now the only Indians are “a drunken vagabond from the Oneidas, or them Yankee Indians, who, they say, be moving up from the sea-shore; and who belong to none of God’s creaters, to my seeming, being, as it were, neither fish nor flesh; neither white-man, nor savage.” The “Yankee Indians are undoubtedly the Christian Indians settled in Oneida territory a few miles west of Cooperstown at Brothertown (mostly Mohegans from Connecticut), and New Stockbridge (mostly Mahicans from the Hudson valley).

Hugh C. MacDougall, May 1994