Introduction to The Last of the Mohicans (1826)
Introductions to novels by her father, with significant biographic and literary information, were written by Susan Fenimore Cooper as prefaces to excerpts from 25 Cooper novels in Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper, with Notes by Susan Fenimore Cooper (New York: W.A. Townsend and Co., 1861). She also wrote introductions to 15 (not all the same) novels published between 1876-1884 as the Household Edition of the Works of J. Fenimore Cooper (New York and Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. [Hurd and Mifflin]).
These introductions are collected for the first time on the Cooper Society website. Lengthy quotations have been reproduced in indented form, but retaining the quotation marks of the original, and their sources have been indicated in [square brackets].
I: From Pages and Pictures Cooper joins party of aristocratic British tourists to Glens Falls and Adirondacks in 1824; Natty Bumppo on Catskill scenery (quotation); Englishman (later Prime Minister) suggests an “Indian romance”; Natty’s description of Glens Falls; writing Mohicans; Mrs. Cooper now the author’s chief literary advisor; Cooper gets sunstroke and near-delirium; novel’s publication; Cooper’s sources about Indians (writers and visiting Indian delegations); European reception of Mohicans; why Cooper called Lake George the Horican.
II: From Household Edition Cooper joins party of aristocratic British tourists, including Mr. Stanley (later Prime Minister Lord Derby) to Glens Falls and Adirondacks in 1824; at Glens Falls Mr. Stanley suggests writing an “Indian romance”; Mohicanswritten in Astoria on Long Island, where Cooper kept a small boat; sunstroke and near-delirium; Cooper’s early interest in Indians, based on available writings, the few Indians around Cooperstown in his childhood, and encounters with Indians on Lake Ontario while in the Navy; Mohicans had occupied banks of upper Hudson, and were allied to Mohegans and other New England Indians; Mohicans and Iroquois; Uncas the chief of the Mohegans; Samson Occum, Mohegan Presbyterian Minister who settled near Oneidas; Hendrick, the Mohawk chief; Mohicans not extinct, as Cooper knew; relations between Delawares and Mohicans; siege of Fort William Henry accurately described; quotation from account by Father Roubaud (who accompanied Montcalm) on siege, surrender, and massacre; Montcalm’s error; background to Cooper’s use of “Horicon” as name for Lake George.
Contents: THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS — Excursion — Catskill — Natty’s description — English travellers — Lake George — Glenn’s Falls — Promise given in the cave — First Indian romance — The author’s illness — Very rapidly written — Name of Horican — Extract, Canoe-chase on the Horican.
 IN the summer of 1825 [sic], a travelling party of some half-dozen gentlemen left New York with the intention of making an excursion to Saratoga and Lake George. Of this party Mr. Cooper was one. Several young Englishmen of note were among his companions, all of whom, at a later period, became prominent in public life as members of the British government. Those were happy days for travellers — ere the shrill steam-whistle had been heard, startling the quiet flocks in rural fields; tradition tells us that it was possible at that period to move leisurely, actually to find pleasure in travelling itself, to feel a sense of enjoyment in moving over a road, from one point to another, to see clearly, to breathe freely — a state of things extremely difficult to comprehend, when, captives in a close and crowded car, we are whirling at the will of a desperate locomotive. A day could then be given to a river shore and its varied beauties, to an inland valley and its quiet repose; while, at the present moment, we are condemned to rush blindly, over the same ground, in an atmosphere of smoke and dust, at the speed of a steeplechase, and with the constraint of a German “Par-force Jagd!” The excursion proved a very pleasant one. Parts of the ground were new to Mr. Cooper, whose eye for natural scenery was delicate end sensitive as that of a poet, while his interest in every thing practical, in all true progress, was as thorough and comprehensive as that of any plodding utilitarian. The conversation of a party of highly-educated young men, with European views of things, naturally gave additional interest to the journey. Mr. Cooper was much struck with a remark on the size of the forest-trees of America, smaller than was  anticipated, scarcely equal in size, it was asserted, to those of the older parks, and church-yards and village greens of England. One is scarcely prepared indeed for this result of civilization; we should rather have believed that the pride of the forests would naturally reveal itself in grander forms within the bounds of the wilderness — that the fostering care of man could do little for the woods. Such was then, the usual American idea on this subject; but we are beginning, it is hoped, to learn another lesson, to discover that the forests and groves are one of the higher forms of husbandry. As yet, in America, man has done absolutely nothing to improve, and much to mar, this great gift of Providence.
A conversation occurring at the time, in connection with a very different subject, may be alluded to. It relates to a point connected with that singular fragment of feudal ages, the framework of English society; to a point of legal precedence in rank, among the English peers — as to which of the House of Peers could claim to be premier baron of England: Mr. Cooper, unless the writer’s memory is deceived, asserted that it was Howard, Duke of Norfolk, as Baron Fitzalan, who held this rank. Another peer was named by the gentleman with whom he was conversing; each was confident as to his own view, and a wager was laid on the subject. Returning to New York, inquiry proved that the nobleman named by Mr. Cooper actually held the rank of premier baron of England, and the author received, as a memento of the discussion, a seal with a baron’s coronet for the device, and for inscription, the old Scottish proverb, “He that will to Cupar, maun to Cupar!” Some years earlier Mr. Cooper had amused himself with a course of reading in English biography and heraldry, which gave him confidence in the correctness of the opinion he bad expressed.
The party moved slowly up the Hudson, halting in the Highlands at West Point; thence to Catskill, which Mr. Cooper had already seen with delight, a few years earlier, as Natty can testify:
“’It must have been a sight of melancholy pleasure, indeed,’ said Edwards, while his eye roved along the shores and over the hills, where the clearings, groaning with the golden corn, were cheering the forests with the signs of life, ‘to have roamed over these mountains, and alone; this sheet of beautiful water, without a living soul to speak to, or to thwart your humor.’
“’Haven’t I said it was a cheerful!’ said Leather-Stocking. ‘Yes, yes — when the trees begun to be kivered with the leaves, and the ice was out of the lake, it was a second paradise. I have travelled the woods for fifty-three years, and have made them my home for more than forty, and I can say that I have met but one place that was more to my liking; and that was only to eyesight, and not for hunting or fishing.’
 “’And where was that?’ asked Edwards.
“’Where! why up on the Catskills. I used often to go up into the mountains after wolves’ skins, and bears; once they bought me to get them a stuffed painter; and so I often went. There’s a place in them hills that I used to climb to when I wanted to see the carryings-on of the world, that would well pay any man for a barked shin or a torn moccasin. You know the Catskills, lad, for you must have seen them on your left, as you followed the river up from York, looking as blue as a piece of clear sky, and holding the clouds on their tops, as the smoke curls over the head of an Indian chief at a council-fire. Well, there’s the High-peak and the Round-top, which lay back, like a father and mother among their children, seeing they are far above all the other hills. But the place I mean is next to the river, where one of the ridges juts out a little from the rest, and where the rocks fall for the best part of a thousand feet, so much up and down, that a man standing On their edges is fool enough to think he can jump from top to bottom.’
“’What see you when you get there?’ asked Edwards.
“’Creation!’ said Natty, dropping the end of his rod into the water, and sweeping one hand around him in a circle — ” all creation, lad. I was on that hill when Vaughan burnt ‘Sopus, in the last war, and I seen the vessels come out of the Highlands as plain as I can see that lime-scow rowing into the Susquehanna, though one was twenty times further from me than the other. The river was in sight for seventy miles, under my feet, looking like a curled shaving, though it was eight long miles to its banks. I saw the hills in the Hampshire grants, the high lands of the river, and all that God had done or man could do, as far as eye could reach — you know that the Indians named me for my sight, lad — and from the flat on the top of that mountain, I have often found the place where Albany stands; and as for ‘Sopus! the day the royal troops burnt the town, the smoke seemed so nigh, that I thought I could hear the screeches of the women.’
“’It must have been worth the toil, to meet with such a glorious view!’
“’If being the best part of a mile in the air, and having men’s farms and housen at your feet, with rivers looking like ribbons, and mountains bigger than the ‘Vision,’ seeming to be haystacks of green grass under you, gives any satisfaction to a man, I can recommend the spot. When I first come into the woods to live, I used to have weak spells, and I felt lonesome; and then I would go into the Catskills and spend a few days on that hill, to look at the ways of man; but it’s now many a year since I felt any such longings, and I’m getting too old for them rugged rocks. But there’s a place, a short two miles back of that very hill,  that in late times I relished better than the mountain; for it was more kivered with the trees, and more nateral.’
“’And where was that?’ inquired Edwards, whose curiosity was strongly excited by the simple description of the hunter.
“’Why, there’s a fall in the hills, where the water of two little ponds that lie near each other breaks out of their bounds, and runs over the rocks into the valley. The stream is, maybe, such a one as would turn a mill, if so useless a thing was wanted in the wilderness. But the hand that made that ‘Leap’ never made a mill! There the water comes crooking and winding among the rocks, first so slow that a trout could swim in it, and then starting and running just like any creater that wanted to make a far spring, till it gets to where the mountain divides, like the cleft hoof of a deer, leaving a deep hollow for the brook to tumble into. The first pitch is nigh two hundred feet, and the water looks like flakes of driven snow, afore it touches the bottom; and there the stream gathers itself together again for a new start, and maybe flutters over fifty feet of flat-rock, before it falls for another hundred, when it jumps about from shelf to shelf, first turning this-away, and then turning that-away, striving to get out of the hollow, till it finally comes to the plain.’
“’I have never heard of this spot before!’ exclaimed Edwards; ‘it is not mentioned in the books.’
“’I never read a book in my life,’ said Leather-Stocking; “and how should a man who has lived in towns and schools know any thing about the wonders of the woods! No, no, lad; there has that little stream of water been playing among them hills, since He made the world, and not a dozen white men have ever laid eyes on it. The rock sweeps like mason-work, in a half-round, on both sides of the fall, and shelves over the bottom for fifty feet; so that when I’ve been sitting at the foot of the first pitch, and my hounds have run into the caverns behind the sheet of water, they’ve looked no bigger than so many rabbits. To my judgment, lad, it’s the best piece of work that I’ve met with in the woods; and none know how often the hand of God is seen in a wilderness but them that rove it for a man’s life.’
“’What becomes of the water — in which direction does it run? Is it a tributary of the Delaware?’
“’Anan!’ said Natty.
“’Does the water run into the Delaware?’
“’No, no; it’s a drop for the old Hudson; and a merry time it has till it gets down off the mountain. I’ve sat on the shelving rock many a long hour, boy, and watched the bubbles as they shot by me, and thought how long it would be  before that very water, which seemed made for the wilderness, would be under the bottom of a vessel, and tossing in the salt see. It is a spot to make a man solemnize. You can see right down into the valley that lies to the east of the High-Peak, where, in the fall of the year, thousands of acres of woods are before your eyes, in the deep hollow, and along the side of the mountain, painted like ten thousand rainbows, by no hand of man, but with the ordering of God’s providence.’
“’Why, you are eloquent, Leather-Stocking,’ exclaimed the youth.
“’Anan!’ repeated Natty.
“’The recollection of the sight has warmed your blood, old man.’” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), Chapter 26, pp. 291-94.]
Farther up the river, the poor deluded Shakers were visited, and beheld with compassion in their beautiful valley and neat village at Lebanon. Good dinners were eaten at hospitable tables in Albany. The Cohoes, formerly a favorite spot with the writer, were seen and still admired, in spite of the busy mills springing up on their banks. The gentlemen mingled awhile with the gay throng at Saratoga and Ballston. Thence they passed to Lake George and Glenn’s Falls. There the ground was quite new to the American as well as to the European members of the party. With Lake George, still so freshly wild in its wooded heights, its untilled islands, its crystal waters, its silent shores, the author was greatly charmed. After lingering awhile on its banks with delight, the party retraced their steps, pausing, like others, at Glenn’s Falls. The hand of man had already been busy here, turning the power of the stream to account for industrial purposes, but there  was far more of natural beauty still clinging about the spot than at the present hour, and the singular character of the dark and silent caverns in the heart of the troubled stream was then very impressive. The travellers were much struck with those dark and sombre rocks, and the flood falling in fantastic wreaths of foam about them. While in the caverns, one of the gentlemen of the party observed to Mr. Cooper that here was the very scene for a romance. Some pleasantry passed between them on the subject, and the writer promised his companion, that a book should actually be written in which these caves should hold an important place; and the idea of a romance, essentially Indian in character, then first suggested itself to his mind. The gentleman to whom the promise was given has since been prime minister of England. Before leaving the falls, the ground was examined closely, with a view to accurate description at a later hour. The actual natural features of the spot were combined in imagination with those which had been partially defaced by man: the ancient forests were again restored, the first rude and unfinished steps of early civilization disappeared, and the waters fell once more, as they had fallen for thousands of forgotten years, in full, natural torrents, unchecked by any barrier raised by human labor. In the tale which was soon after written, the reader, with a beautiful touch of poetical instinct, is led to those, wild caverns, through the unbroken forest, in company with the backwoodsman and the savage, in a moment of peril, and in the dark hours of night. Natty’s picture of the spot, given to his wondering companions, seeking shelter within the caves, of which they had still but a vague impression, is offered to the reader.
“When the voice of Hawk-eye ceased, the roar of the cataract sounded like the roar of distant thunder.
“’Are we quite safe in this cavern?’ demanded Heyward. ‘Is there no danger of surprise? A single armed man, at its entrance, would hold us at his mercy.’
“A spectral-looking figure stalked from out the darkness behind the scout, and, seizing a blazing brand, held it toward the further extremity of their place of retreat. Alice uttered a faint shriek, and even Cora rose to her feet, as this appalling object moved into the light; but a single word from Heyward calmed them, with the assurance it was only their attendant, Chingachgook, who, lifting another blanket, discovered that the cavern had two outlets. Then, holding the brand, he crossed a deep, narrow chasm in the rocks, which ran at right angles with the passage they were in, but which, unlike that, was open to the heavens, entering another cave, which answered to the description of the first, in every essential particular.
 “’Such old foxes as Chingachgook and myself are not often caught in a burrow with one hole,’ said Hawk-eye, laughing; ‘you can easily see the cunning of the place — the rock is black limestone, which every body knows is soft; it makes no uncomfortable pillow, where brush and pine-wood are scarce; well, the fall was once a few yards below us, and, I dare to say, was, in its time, as regular and handsome a sheet of water as any along the Hudson. But old age is a great injury to good looks, as these sweet young ladies have yet to learn. The place is sadly changed! Those rocks are full of cracks, and in some places they are softer than in other some, and the water has worked out deep hollows for itself, until it has fallen back, aye, some hundred feet, breaking here, and wearing there, until the falls have neither shape nor consistency.’
“’In what part of them are we?’ asked Heyward.
“’Why, we are nigh the spot that Providence first placed them at, but where, it seems, they were too rebellious to stay. The rock proved softer on each side of us, and so they left the centre of the river bare and dry, first working out these two little holes for us to hide in.’
“’We are, then, on an island?’
“’Aye! There are falls on two sides of us, and the river above and below! If you had daylight, it would be worth the trouble to step up on the height of this rock, and look at the pervarcity of the water. It falls by no rule at all; sometimes it leaps; sometimes it tumbles; there it tumbles, here it shoots; in one place ‘tis white as snow, and in another ‘tis green as grass; hereabouts, it pitches into deep hollows, that rumble and quake the ‘arth; and there-away, it ripples and sings like a brook, fashioning whirlpools and gulleys in the old stone, as if ‘twas no harder than trodden clay. The whole design of the river seems disconcerted. First it runs smoothly, as if meaning to go down the descent as things were ordered; then it angles about and faces the shore; nor are there places wanting where it looks backward, as if unwilling to leave the wilderness and mingle with the salt! Aye, lady, the fine cobweb-looking cloth you wear at your throat is coarse and like a fish-net to little spots I can show you where the river fabricates all sorts of images, as if, having broken loose from order, it would try its hand at every thing. And yet, what does it amount to! After the water has been suffered to have its will, for a time, like a headstrong man, it is gathered together by the hand that made it, and a few rods below you may see it all flowing on steadily toward the sea, as was preordained from the first foundation of the ‘arth!’” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983), Chapter 6, pp. 54-55.]
Returning home, the book was immediately commenced. It was very rapidly written, and some three or four months from the time its first pages were composed, the last chapter was finished. Planned beneath the summer leaves, those  leaves had scarcely fallen when the story was told, and Natty and Chingachgook were left in the wilderness, beside the rude gave of Uncas. It was with some hesitation that the writer attempted, what has always been considered as a dangerous experiment, the introduction for a second time of a prominent and successful character already familiar to the reader, in an earlier book. It was very seldom, however, that he now consulted with any friend but one, regarding the work in hand; and the affectionate counsellor at his side, well aware that the consciousness of power might, in itself render practicable a task in which so much interest was shown, advised his carrying out the plan. The step was taken, and Natty and Chingachgook were once more brought before the reader; but at a period supposed to be earlier in their own career than that of the Pioneers, and beneath the shadow of the unbroken forest.
Although the book was very rapidly written, yet during its progress — soon after commencing it, indeed — the writer was seized with a serious illness. Naturally of a very sound and vigorous constitution, he had scarcely known until lately what a day’s physical ailing was. But a year or two earlier, while returning from a visit to Bedford, the carriage be was driving broke down at one of the villages on the Sound, and, always glad of an excuse for being afloat, he took passage for New York in a sloop. The wind began to fail; he was anxious to reach home, and, in order to make the utmost of the tide, he took the helm, steering the little craft himself through Hell-Gate; the day was extremely sultry, and exposure to the intense heat brought on a sudden and severe attack of fever, which in its first hours partook something of the character of a stroke of the sun. And now, in the autumn of 1825, exposure again brought on the same disease. During the height of the attack, his mind was filled with images connected with the book recently begun. One afternoon, suddenly rousing himself, he called for pen and paper; but, too ill to use them himself, he requested Mrs. Cooper, watching anxiously at his side, to write to his dictation. Most reluctantly, and in fear of delirium, the request was complied with, and solely with a view of relieving his  mind from temporary excitement, a page of notes was rapidly dictated, and written out; to his alarmed nurse they appeared the wild incoherent fancies of delirium, with which the names of Natty, Chingachgook, and Cora, already familiar to her, were blended. But in truth there was no delirium; a clear and vivid picture of the struggle between Magua and Chingachgook filled his mind at the moment, and only a few weeks later the chapter — the twelfth of the book — was actually written from that rude sketch. And this proved to be one of the very few instances in which preliminary notes relating to a work in hand were thrown on paper. At the same period he was visited by his old college tutor and kind friend, Professor Silliman, who left the house with some serious fears as to the result of the attack. By the mercy of Providence, however, he soon recovered from all immediate danger; though for several years he suffered from the consequences of the disease by a form of nervous dyspepsia, previously unknown to him.
Early in the winter of 1826, “The Last of the Mohicans” was published, by Messrs. Carey & Lea, of Philadelphia. Its success was greater than that of any previous book from the same pen. The freshness of the subject gave it a singular charm, while the rapid succession of spirited incident, entirely original in character, and the powerful interest infused into the whole work, commanded attention in a very unusual degree. Natty was greeted anew with delight; there could be no doubt as to the success of the experiment of presenting him a second time to the reader. The character was sketched even more forcibly, though with less of poetical light, perhaps, than in the first book. It was the difference between vigorous manhood and venerable age. And instead of the single Indian, in the person of Chingachgook, warrior after warrior appears, until the scene is filled with numerous war-parties, and the villages of contending tribes. The writer had been at pains to obtain accurate details regarding Indian life and character, although the sources of information open to him at that day were very few indeed, compared with those which he might have commanded at the present hour; the earlier writers on those subjects, Heckwelder [sic], Charlevoix, Penn, Smith, Elliot, Colden, were studied. The narratives of Lang, of Lewis and Clarke, of Mackenzie, were examined. His own opportunities of intercourse with the red man had been few; occasionally some small party of the Oneidas, or other representatives of the Five Nations, had crossed his path in the valley of the Susquehanna, or on the shores of Lake Ontario, where he served when a midshipman in the navy. And more recently, since the idea of introducing these wild people into his books had occurred to him, he had been at no little pains to seize every opportunity offered for observation. Fortunately for his purpose,  deputations to Washington from the Western tribes, were quite frequent at that moment; he visited these different parties, as they passed through Albany and New York, following them in several instances to Washington for the purpose of closer observation, and with a view also to gathering information from the officers and interpreters who accompanied them. From these sources he drew the details of his pictures in “The Mohicans.”
In Europe the book produced quite a startling effect; the freshness of the subject, in the sense of fiction, naturally adding greatly to the vivid interest of the narrative. As yet, there had been but one American work of the imagination in which the red man was introduced with any prominence: “Edgar Huntley,” by Brockden Brown, a writer of undoubted talent, but scarcely known in England. While alluding to his work, it may be well to remark that Mr. Cooper had not read “Edgar Huntley” since his own boyhood, when his writing an Indian romance himself would have seemed an event wildly improbable. Of the books of Brockden Brown, “Weiland” bad made the deepest impression on his mind. “The Mohicans” would assuredly have been precisely the book it now is had “Edgar Huntley” never been written. “The Atala” of M. de Chateaubriand ha never read; it were precisely the kind of book in which he would never have felt the least interest, quite too far removed from the realities of life for him to read more than a page or two. To the particular merits of that kind of book he was perhaps scarcely capable of doing justice; he would have lacked the patience to look for them amid pages so little in harmony with his own nature. In reading “The Mohicans’ for revision, a few years before his death, he observed, with a smile, that the book must needs have some interest for the reader, since it could amuse even the writer, who had in a great measure forgotten the details of his own work. He saw the defects of the book, however, more plainly perhaps than his readers. There were some faults of plot, and other errors of detail which did not satisfy him. One defect of the book must strike those who knew him as singularly inconsistent with his own character. Munro, as a father placed in most painful circumstances, becomes a mere cipher, not only in the earlier scenes, but later, when we are following with the deepest anxiety the movements of Natty, and Uncas, and Heyward, intent on the rescue of the sisters; while the scout, and the lover, and the young warrior, command our eager attention at every step, we actually forget the presence of the parent who accompanies the party. Never surely was there a father whose love for his children was of a deeper, purer, stronger nature than his own; never was there one whose daily life and manner were more demonstrative of the feeling; the weakness of Munro’s character on this particular point, as drawn in “The Mohicans,” becomes therefore the more remarkable. On the other hand, may we not assert that Magua, the subtle, treacherous, revengeful warrior, is one of the most skilfully drawn of his Indian sketches — a creature as thoroughly savage as any that ever roamed over the same ground, in real existence.
The name of Horican given to the lake was in one sense an application of his own; it was quite as legitimate, however, as that given to the Cayuga and the Oneida and the Seneca, farther toward the setting sun. We give the author’s remarks on this subject:
“There is one point on which we wish to say a word. Hawk-eye calls the Lac du St. Sacrement, the ‘Horican.’ As we believe this to be an appropriation of the name that has its origin with ourselves, the time has arrived, perhaps, when the fact should be frankly admitted. While writing this book, it occurred to us that the French name of this lake was too complicated, the American too commonplace, and the Indian too unpronounceable, for either to be used familiarly in a work of fiction. Looking over an ancient map, it was ascertained that a tribe of Indians, called ‘les Horicans’ by the French, existed in the neighborhood of this beautiful sheet of water. As every word uttered by Natty was not to be understood as rigid truth, we took the liberty of putting ‘the Horican’ into his mouth, as the substitute for ‘Lake George.’ The name has appeared to find favor, and, all things considered, it may possibly be quite as well to let it stand, instead of going back to the House of Hanover for the appellation of our finest sheet of water.” [James Fenimore Cooper, 1850 Introduction to The Last of the Mohicans (Albany: State University Press of New York, 1983), Introduction, p. 8.]
“The Mohicans” is one of those books to which no single extract can do full justice, since it is the rapid succession of original incident, the spirit and poetical movement of the whole work which make its great merit. The canoe chase on the Horican with the Longue Carabine in the foreground, is given as a picture from its pages.
Extract: “Canoe Chase on the Horican” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983), Chapter 20, pp. 201-211.]
[xi] IN the summer of 1825, [sic] a travelling party of some half dozen gentlemen left New York with the intention of making an excursion to Saratoga and Lake George. Of this party the author of “The Spy” was one. Several young Englishmen of note were among his companions, all of whom, at a later day, became prominent in public life, important members of the British Government. Among them was Mr. Stanley, better known forty years later as Lord Derby, Prime Minister of England, and the translator of Homer. The excursion proved a very pleasant one. Parts of the ground were new to the author, whose eye for natural beauty was sensitive as that of a poet, while at the same time in everything practical, in all true progress, his interest was quite as thorough and comprehensive as that of the most plodding utilitarian. The conversation of a party of highly educated young men, with European views of things, naturally gave much additional interest to the journey. Mr. Cooper was struck with a remark on the size of the forest trees of America, those on the Atlantic coast at least being smaller than was anticipated, scarcely Equal in size, it was asserted, to those of the older parks, and church-yards, and village greens of England. One is scarcely prepared, indeed, for this result of civilization. We should naturally have supposed that the pride of the forests would reveal itself in grander forms in the wilderness, — that the [xii] fostering care of man could do little for the woods. Such was then the usual American idea of this subject; but we are beginning, it is hoped, to learn another lesson; to discover that the forests and groves are one of the higher forms of husbandry, — that to foster the woods and protect every tree of peculiar grandeur and beauty is the act of a manly civilization. As yet, in America, we have done little indeed to improve, but much to waste, to mar, this great gift of Providence.
A conversation occurring at the time, in connection with a very different subject, may be alluded to; it relates to a point connected with that singular fragment of feudal ages, the framework of English society, — to a point of legal precedence in rank among the English peers — as to which of the House of Peers could claim to he premier Baron of England. Mr. Wortley, at a later day Lord Wharncliffe, asserted that it was the Duke of Norfolk as Baron Fitzalan. Mr. Cooper, who had been recently amusing himself with reading English Biography and Heraldry, declared that Lord de Ros was the oldest Baron of England. A wager was made on the subject, which was won by Mr. Cooper, his English friend giving him a seal with a baron’s coronet and the Scotch motto, “He that will to Cupar, maun to Cupar.”
The party moved slowly up the Hudson, halting in the Highlands, at West Point. Thence to Catskill, which the author of “The Pioneers” had already seen with delight, as Natty could testify. Farther up the river, the poor deluded Shakers were visited, and beheld with compassion in their beautiful valley and neat village at Lebanon. Good dinners were eaten at hospitable tables in Albany. The Cohoes, formerly a very favorite spot with the author, one with which he had been familiar from boyhood, was visited, and still admired, in spite of the busy [xiii] mills already at that day springing up on the banks. In 1825 [sic]the falls were much more striking than they are to-day. Another English acquaintance, visiting them with Mr. Cooper a year or two earlier, struck with amazement at the beauty of the cascade, exclaimed: “If you had told me this was Niagara, I should have believed you!”
The gentlemen mingled awhile with the gay throng at Saratoga and Ballston. Thence they passed to Lake George. There the ground was quite new to the American as well as to the English members of the party. With this lake, still so freshly wild, the author was greatly charmed. After lingering awhile on its banks with great delight, visiting also Ticonderoga and. Lake Champlain, the party retraced their steps, pausing for half a day at Glenn’s Falls. The hand of man had already been busy here, turning the power of the stream to account for industrial purposes, but there was far more of natural beauty surrounding the spot than can be found there to-day, and the singular character of the dark and silent caverns in the heart of the troubled stream was then very impressive. The travellers were struck with those stern, sombre rocks, and the flood falling in fantastic wreaths of white foam about them. While in the caverns, one of the gentlemen of the party observed to Mr. Cooper that here was the very scene for a romance. Some pleasantry passed between them on the subject, and the writer promised his companion that a book should actually be written, in which these caves should have a place; the, idea of a romance essentially Indian in character then first suggesting itself to his mind. The gentleman to whom the promise was given was Mr. Stanley, recently deceased as the Earl of Derby. Before leaving the Falls, the ground was examined closely, with a view to accurate description at a later hour. The existing [xiv] natural features of the spot were combined in imagination with those which had been partially defaced by men; the ancient forests were restored, the first rude and unfinished steps of early civilization disappeared, and the waters fell once more, as they had fallen for thousands of forgotten years, in full natural torrents, unchecked by any barrier raised by human hands.
The book was immediately commenced. It was very rapidly written, and some three or four months from the time its first pages were composed, the last chapter was finished. Planned beneath the summer leaves, those leaves had scarcely fallen when the story was told, and Natty and Chingachgook were left in the wilderness, beside the rude grave of Uncas. It was with some hesitation that the writer attempted what has always been considered as a dangerous experiment, — the introduction for a second time of a prominent and successful character, already familiar to the reader in an earlier book. It wan very seldom, however, that he now consulted with any friend but one regarding the work in hand; the affectionate counselor at his side, well aware that the consciousness of power might, in itself, render practicable a task in which so much interest was shown, advised his carrying out the plan. The step was taken. Natty and Chingachgook were once more brought before the reader, but at a period supposed to be earlier in their own career than the date of “The Pioneers,” and beneath the shadow of the unbroken forest.
Mr. Cooper was then passing the summer with his family in a little cottage belonging to his friend, Colonel Gibbs, of Sunswick, immediately on the Long Island shore of the Sound, opposite Blackwell’s Island — not far from Hallett’s Cove. The flourishing village of Astoria now occupies the same ground. In the summer of 1825 this was [xv] a perfectly quiet, rural region, nothing but open farms for miles around, with the exception of the little hamlet at Hallett’s Cove, and the flourishing village of Flushing, at a distance of three miles. Here the family attended church. The cottage stood on the brow of a wooded bank, perhaps thirty feet above the river. To live within sight and sound of the water was always a delight to the author of “The Pilot,” and many were the hours he passed sitting on the narrow belt of grass before the cottage door, watching the varied fleet of sloop, schooner, brig, ship, and steamer, passing to and fro. The perils of Hell Gate lay just above, adding to the interest with which the movements of the different craft were watched. He often amused himself, in the summer evenings, with giving his children a lesson in the lore of a sailor, teaching them the names of the different craft, as they passed to and fro with the tide, according to their forms and rigging; mainsail, jib, and skysail were names with which the little ones soon became familiar, and, before the summer was over, they could even talk learnedly about periaguas and chebacco boats. Within a short distance to the southward, affording a pleasant drive, was a fine bay with a beautiful, shelving beach, where he frequently drove his family to bathe; quiet and safe, and rich in beautiful shells, this by was bounded on the eastward by a high point, covered with a breezy grove; here the views were charming, and the solitude perfect. The same spot is now crowded with busy life, the well-known college of Dr. Muhlenberg having been built on the point.
Not content with driving on the banks, and watching the sails from the shores, the author launched a pleasure boat of his own. It was a little sloop of some twenty tons, to which he gave the name of Van Tromp. A small wharf belonging to the farm lay within a stone’s [xvi] throw from the cottage, and here the Van Trompfound a convenient port when not on duty. She was afloat daily, however. Scorning the steamboat, which stopped regularly at Hallett’s Cove, the author went to town almost every afternoon, or whenever the tide served, in his little yacht the Van Tromp, often both captain and crew himself. Very frequently some friend would return to spend a day with him. Little pleasure trips through the Sound were also frequent, and enjoyed with great zest. He delighted in being afloat.
Meanwhile he was writing the “Mohicans.” Although this hook was very rapidly written, yet during its progress — soon after commencing it indeed — the writer was seized with a serious illness. Naturally of a very sound and vigorous constitution, he had scarcely known, until lately, what a day’s physical ailing was. But a year or two earlier, while returning from a visit to the family of Governor Jay, at Bedford, the carriage he was driving broke down at one of the villages on the Sound, and, always glad of an excuse for being afloat, he took passage for New York, with his party, in a sloop. The wind began to fail; he was anxious to reach home, and, in order to make the utmost of the tide, he took the helm, steering the little craft himself through Hell Gate. The day was extremely sultry, and exposure to the intense heat brought on a sudden and severe attack of fever, which in its first stages partook of the character of a stroke of the sun. And now, in the autumn of 1825, exposure again brought on the same disease. During the height of the attack, his mind was filled with images connected with the book recently begun. One afternoon, suddenly rousing himself, he called for pen and paper; but too ill to use them himself, he requested Mrs. Cooper, watching anxiously at his side, to write from his dictation. Most [xvii] reluctantly, and in fear of delirium, she complied with the request, and solely with a view of relieving his mind from temporary excitement. A page of notes was rapidly dictated and written out; to his alarmed nurse they appeared the wild, incoherent fancies of fever, with which the names of Natty, Chingachgook, and Cora, already familiar to her, were blended. But in truth there was no delirium; a clear and vivid picture of the struggle between Magua and Chingachgook filled his mind at the moment, and only a few days later the chapter — the twelfth of the book — was actually written from that rude sketch. And this proved to be one of the very few instances in which preliminary notes, relating to a work in hand, were thrown on paper. At the same period, while still confined to his bed, he was visited by his old college tutor and friend, Professor Silliman, who left the house with very serious fears as to the result of the attack. By the mercy of Providence, however, he soon recovered from all immediate danger; though for several years he suffered from the consequences of the disease, by a form of nervous dyspepsia previously unknown to him.
When Mr. Cooper determined to write an Indian romance, and to bring Natty again before the reader, it became a natural consequence that he should choose the Mohican Chingachgook, the comrade of Natty, as a principal character. Very little was accurately known at that day — nearly half a century since — with regard to the Indians and their tribal distinctions. Vague notions prevailed in connection with such subjects, even among educated people. Ethnology was a science still in its infancy in America. The country was in its early youth. There were too many practical questions of engrossing interest, of vital importance, pressing constantly on the attention of the people, for Americans to look backward at what [xviii] may he called the dark ages of their history. During the colonial period, the Indians filled a very prominent position in the foreground, whether as friends or foes; they were feared by the entire white population; they were courted and flattered by governors, and generals, and legislative assemblies — aye, even the Crowns of England and France condescended to bow before them with a sort of mock homage. High prices were paid for their services — and for their scalps. During a century and a half they always held a bold position, either as the bulwark or the scourge of the different colonies. After the Revolution, the change was signal. They immediately dropped into the background. They were forgotten. The majority of the people scarcely remembered their existence. Even the best educated men of the generation, born immediately after the Revolution, knew very little about them. Vague notions prevailed regarding even such tribes as the Five Nations, and the Lenni Lenape. It was only here and there that some student, like Mr. Gallatin, or Mr. Duponceau, looked more closely into their languages and traditions. Very little was written about them. Still less was printed and read on subjects connected with them. Such was the general state of things when the author of “The Pilot” determined to write a romance essentially Indian in character and incidents. The volumes of Colden, Heckewelder, Penn, and Smith lay within reach. He had also been very much interested in the narratives of Long, Lewis and Clarke, and Mackenzie. Occasional personal intercourse with parties of the tribes still roving in diminished numbers over the western part of the State of New York had given the reality of life to his views of the race. Small bands of the Oneidas and other clans of the Iroquois still visited the shores of Lake Otsego, in his early youth, to fish, to sell the small wares made [xix] by the women, or even occasionally to hunt the last deer lingering in those forests. Mohicans and Delawares came to the village from time to time, frequently lingering for months in the adjoining woods. Certain individuals of these different clans were regular in their visits, and their faces familiar to his boyhood. At a later day, when serving as a midshipman on Lake Ontario, he met the red men in large numbers, and in a more wild condition. He appears to have always beheld these rude people with a peculiar interest, partially of curiosity, and also of compassion. The writer of these notes remembers more than one old volume relating to the red man, lying on his table for months, during her nursery years — volumes which greatly excited her own childish curiosity, and in which she was occasionally allowed to spell out a page or two. During those same years, — now looking so dim and far away, — she also remembers the lively interest with which her father would relate, to the gentlemen visiting at his house, little incidents come to his own personal knowledge in connection with the red men. There were always so much spirit and animation in his countenance and manner, such an appropriate and graceful gesture, and such an easy flow of language when conversing on a subject in which he was interested, that he never failed to command the attention of his listeners. Even the little ones about him were probably far more interested in his anecdotes than he was himself aware of. And it was in this tone of interest that at that period of his life he generally spoke of the red man.
It was quite natural for a New Yorker to choose a Mohican for his Indian hero. When Hudson discovered the river now bearing his name, the Mohicans were among the first tribes he met. They are said to have held possession of both banks of that noble stream, at different [xx] points, as far north as the mouth of the Mohawk. Their greatest force lay on its eastern shore. So numerous indeed were the Mohicans on the banks of the great stream, in that century, that the river tribes generally received from the Dutch and English the name of Mohicander, or Mohikanneuw. These Mohicans of the Hudson, the Mohicander or river tribes, the Mohegans of New England, as well as the Pequots and Narragansets, were all kindred clans with similar dialects, and all belonged to the Algonquin race. They were a numerous and important people, though broken up into many clans, more or less widely separated. In 1684 the French numbered their warriors at twelve hundred, as allies or tributaries of the Iroquois, to whom they gave the respectful title of “Uncles,” while these looked upon their Algonquin tributaries as “Nephews,” a generation below them in wisdom and influence.
Already, as early as 1617, the Mohicans were in a measure subordinate to the Iroquois, or Five Nations. At that date a solemn treaty is said to have been made at Tawwasentha, “the place of the many dead,” now Norman’s Kill, near Albany, between the Hollanders and the Fire Nations, and several tributary tribes in partial subjection to the last. These tributaries were treated as “women,” non-combatants, no longer warriors. The wampum belt of alliance was upheld on one side by the Iroquois, on the other by the Hollanders, while the inferior tribes were placed between the principal negotiating parties, and received the belt on their shoulders. The Mohicans were one of these inferior tribes, so says tradition, supported by old historical authorities of the whites. Only a few years later, in 1628, the Mohicans living near Fort Orange rose against the Mohawks; they were defeated and driven to the eastward, where they built [xxi] themselves a village on the banks of the Connecticut. Here, with the rest of their tribe, they were in time attacked by the Pequots. Long and bitter was the strife; but the English Colonists took sides with the Mohicans and their chief, Uncas, and as is well known the Pequots were cruelly exterminated by the New Englanders. Then, some ten years later, followed the bitter war between Uncas, with his Mohicans, and the Narragansets. The chief force of the Mohican race was at this period in New England, although kindred clans bearing the same name were still to be found on the banks of the Hudson, and at a later day still farther west. These Mohicans were during two centuries the friends and allies of the New England colonies; and yet nothing in fiction could be imagined more truly melancholy than the actual recorded history of these Connecticut Mohicans in their struggles against the fire-arms, the cunning, the grasping cupidity, the cruelty, and the poison fire-water of their white neighbors, crushing out their very life and spirit. One Uncas after another succeeded to the title and empty dignity of Sachem, or Sagamore — a title becoming more of a mockery with every year.
The burial-place of the family of Uncas still exists not far from Norwich in Connecticut. The tomb of the Great Uncas is marked by a granite monument erected by the whites. The epitaph, written by some English admirer and poet, is certainly peculiar: —
“For Beauty, witt, for sterling Sense For temper mild, for Eliquence For Couradg bold, For things Wauregeon He was the Glory of Mohedgon Whose Death hath Caused great lamentation Both in ye English & ye Indian Nation.”
[xxii] Another stone hears the following inscription, to a young man, a contemporary of the Uncas of fiction: —
“Here lies Sam Uncas the second and beloved Son of his father John Uncas, who was the grand-son of Uncas, Grand sachem of Mohegan. The darling of his mother being daughter of said Uncas Grand sachem. He died July 31ˢᵗ 1741 in the 28ᵗʰ of his age.”
It was about the same period, or rather earlier, in 1743, that a young Mohegan, for so was the name spelled in Connecticut, appeared one winter’s day at the door of the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, a prominent Congregational minister at Lebanon, coming on an unusual errand. He had been a pagan, born at Mohegan, and was now about twenty. During the previous year he had become a Christian, and now came a suppliant for religious training, hoping in time to become a preacher to his own people. His name was Occum. His request was granted, and at the end of four years he had made very good progress, not only in English, but also in Greek and Latin, and was learning Hebrew, when his health failed and his sight became affected. During ten or eleven years he wandered about, preaching to the red people, supporting himself by fishing, hunting, making wooden spoons, pails, etc., etc. His home was in a wigwam made of mats. A number of Indians were converted by his preaching at this time. His studies were kept up with much perseverance under the difficulty of weakened eyesight. In August, 1759, he was regularly ordained by a Presbytery on Long Island. The example of Occum led to the opening of an Indian school by Mr. Wheelock. He began with two Delaware boys in 1754. Ten years later he had twenty students, among them an Uncas. The majority of the pupils were Delawares. But there were Mohawks also, including the celebrated Brant, sent there by Sir William Johnson. The war with France, still raging, [xxiii] prevented this school from receiving the support it deserved. In 1766 a fresh movement was made in its behalf. Occum was sent to England, with a Presbyterian clergyman for his companion, and for the express purpose of obtaining funds for the “Moor Charity School,” as the foundation was then called. The Rev. Samson Occum, the Mohegan preacher, was at that time forty-four years old; he was thoroughly Indian in appearance, easy and unassuming in his manners. His sermons are said to have been forcible and solemn, and when delivered in his native language they were much more eloquent, and delivered with more grace of manner and gesture, than when he spoke English. He preached with great applause to crowded congregations in England. In less than eighteen months he is said to have preached between three and four hundred sermons in English. In society he was received with great attention. King George III., assuredly a good Christian prince, whatever may have been his political errors, gave the school £200. Lord Dartmouth, a very devout man, befriended Occum greatly. Seven thousand pounds were raised in England, and two or three thousand in Scotland. The plan for the school was enlarged; it was removed to New Hampshire and became Dartmouth College, where there have been many American students, but only two or three Indians, it is said. Occum, the Mohegan preacher, removed eventually to the Oneida country in New York, with a mixed band of his own and other tribes, to whom he gave the name of Brothertons. After a checkered career, he died, the minister of these Brothertons, in 1792. He is said to have occasionally fallen into intemperance, and this impaired his influence and wounded his own conscience, but to have always rallied after these falls in sincere penitence, and to have died a humble, believing Christian.
[xxiv] The celebrated Hendrick, although a Mohawk sachem, was, according to the rules of descent prevailing among the Indians, actually a Mohican. Descent is always counted through the mother among the red men; and it was from a Mohawk mother that Hendrick inherited his position among the Five Nations. His father was a Mohican, and Hendrick himself declared that he was born, and lived in his early childhood, among the Mohicans.
The author of the Indian romances can scarcely be accused of exaggeration with regard to the mental and moral qualities of his heroes, Chingachgook and Uncas, when we remember that such men as Occum and Hendrick came of the same tribe, and lived at the same period. Whatever higher or more delicate coloring he may have thrown into his ideal pictures must naturally be attributed to the fact that it was a poetical romance which he wished to offer his readers, and not a series of mere dry ethnological skeletons.
And when he gave to this narrative the title of “The Last of the Mohicans,” the same poetical latitude must be allowed to the words. He knew perfectly well that the entire tribe was not extinct. Wandering Mohicans had often crossed his own path in his boyhood. But it was strictly true that towards the close of the last century the higher type of warrior and sachem had died out among the Mohicans. When Hendrick, or Soi-enga-rah-ta, fell at the battle of Lake George in 1756, the last warrior of general renown, who came of a Mohican parentage, passed away. No Mohican warrior of note has appeared since that day. It is true that when Hendrick died, his son, striking his own breast with energy, exclaimed, “My father is not dead, his soul lives here!” but the subsequent career of that young brave was not remarkable.
At the period of the “Old French War,” different [xxv] tribes had become very much mixed. Small bands of the Delawares and Mohicans were frequently found together in close alliance, especially on the eastern borders of New York. They called each other “cousin,” a degree of relationship considered as closely fraternal by the red men. These facts led to the impression that they were but different clans of the same tribe. So general was this opinion, that several of the writers of the last century confirmed it by their printed assertion. It was declared that like the league of the Six Nations, so the Delawares, the Mohicans, and the Munsees were but one confederacy. But this was not strictly true. The Iroquois tribes were united by much closer bonds then their neighbors and tributaries of the Algonquin race. Theirs was a regularly constituted framework of government, with certain laws unwritten but generally acknowledged, and closely connected with it was an intricate network of usage founded on the ties of blood, penetrating into every lodge, and inclosing within its folds the most remote wanderer of their race. No other confederacy in Northern America had anything approaching to the same strength. In spirit it was like our own government, a close union and not a mere alliance. The Lenni Lenape and the Mohicans were often allies, were often much mixed up together, they spoke kindred dialects, and both belonged to the Algonquin family. But they were nevertheless distinct tribes, often acting with entire independence of each other. On this point Mr. Cooper has no doubt followed too closely the impression prevailing in the beginning of this century. He was probably misled by some one of the writers who asserted that these tribes formed but one integral people.
The siege of Fort William Henry is the central point about which revolve all the incidents of “The Last of the [xxvi] Mohicans.” And yet it was not the intention of the author to write a historical romance. He purposely avoided taking that course, as he wished to throw the chief interest of the narrative over the forest scenes, and some few individuals among the pale-faces and the red men. The gallant defense of the fort by Colonel Munro is well known to be strictly historical. He was left at this frontier outpost of the Colony, to receive alone the full brunt of the invading army, and bravely did he meet the shock. His resolute gallantry deserves the greater credit from being in strong contrast with the conduct of other English commanders in America at that particular period. The defeat of General Braddock was a fact so utterly unforeseen, so entirely incomprehensible to the military mind of England, that for some years it appears to have had a paralyzing effect on their general officers. Lord Loudon, General Abercrombie, and General Webb were thrown into a state of salutary caution wherever combined forces of French and Indians were opposed to them. The American officers were not so much disturbed by the recollection of the defeat at Fort Duquesne; they knew better how to account for it; they understood Indian warfare thoroughly from actual experience, and from the traditions of several generations. Such men as Colonel Washington and his American comrades were as ready to meet their allied foes in 1757 as they had been two years earlier. But General Webb, commanding in the Colony of New York at that moment, appears to have had his military powers completely paralyzed by the approach of this combined invasion of the French and the Canadian Indians. He lay intrenched on the Hudson within twelve miles of Fort William Henry with a force of four thousand men under his command, and an additional force of militia within call. But he left Colonel Munro to his fate, [xxvii] under the excuse of requiring large reinforcements before attempting a movement.
Colonel Munro’s garrison, in the fort, consisted of less than five hundred men, while seventeen hundred more occupied an intrenched camp on an adjoining eminence. The invading force under M. de Montcalm amounted in reality to 8,021 men; it was believed, however, to be much larger. On the morning of the 2d of August, the English in the fort, with faces turned anxiously to the northward, suddenly beheld a fleet of Indian canoes dash into sight, from behind the cover of a point, until they formed a chain completely across the lake. Fearful yells filled the morning air. In the course of a few hours M. de Montcalm landed about a mile and a half above the fort. The passes leading to the Hudson were seized. A large encampment of the French and Indians lay to the northward, while the main body took a position on the wooded shore immediately to the west of the fort. The siege lasted a week. It was not until the 9ᵗʰ of August, after the bursting of half his guns, and when his ammunition was all but exhausted, that Colonel Munro hung out a flag of truce. Passages from the narrative of an eye-witness of the siege, and of the massacre which followed, may have interest for the reader. They are drawn from a letter of Father Roubaud, one of the French missionaries to the Indians, who accompanied the expedition of M. de Montcalm. We follow the translation of Bishop Kip. Wherever the name of Fort Lydius occurs in these passages, the reader must refer it to Fort Edward. And in the same way by “Fort George” must be understood Fort William Henry.
“The bay in which we were moored resounded on all sides with the noise of war. Everything there was in motion and action. Our artillery, which consisted of [xxviii] thirty-two pieces of cannon, placed on platforms which were secured to boats fastened together led the way. In passing the point of land which had concealed us from the view of the enemy, they took care to salute the fort by a general discharge. This at the time was nothing but mere ceremony, but it announced more serious matters. The rest of the little fleet followed slowly. Already a body of the Indians had formed their camp in the rear of Fort George on the road to Fort Lydius, to cut off the communication between the two English forts. The corps of the Chevalier de Leri occupied the defiles of the mountains. Our landing was made without opposition, a good half league below the fort. The enemy seemed not to have in the least expected a siege. The environs of their forts were occupied by a multitude of tents still standing at the time of our arrival, and we saw there a quantity of barracks which were well adapted to aid the besiegers. It became necessary for them to take down the tents, to burn the barracks. These movements they carried on under constant discharges from the Indians, whose fire would have been much more fatal, had not another object drawn off their attention. Horses and herds of cattle, which the besieged had not had time to place under cover, were wandering shout on the low grounds surrounding the fort. For a time the chase of these animals furnished the Indians with occupation. A hundred and fifty of the cattle killed, or taken, and fifty horses, were the first fruits of this petty warfare.
“The fort was a square, flanked by four bastions; the curtains were strengthened with stakes; the trenches were sunk to the depth of from eighteen to twenty feet; the scarp and counterscarp were shelving and covered with shifting sand; the walls were built of large pine trees [xxix] which had been felled and sustained by stakes extremely massive; and from whence extended a platform of earth from fifteen to eighteen feet wide, which they had taken care to cover entirely with gravel. From four to five hundred men defended it by the aid of nineteen cannon, of which two were thirty-six pounders, the rest of less calibre, and also four or five mortars. The place was not protected by any other exterior work, except a fortified intrenchment surrounded by palisades, strengthened by heaps of stones. The garrison within consisted of seventeen hundred men and continually recruited that of the fort.
“Such was the fort. Our force of six thousand French and seventeen hundred Indians was by no means equal to investing it entirely, owing to the great extent of ground to be covered. The enemy had always the benefit of a back-door to slip into the wood; but the Indians were there before them. The regular troops from France, to whom properly belonged the labors of the siege, occupied the border of the wood, westward, adjoining the ground where the trenches were to be opened. The camp of reserve followed, with sufficient forces to protect the working parties.
“These arrangements being made, M. de Montcalm caused propositions to be made to the enemy. But a haughty answer was returned, followed by the roar of a general discharge of the enemy’s artillery. ... The first time our battery played, such were the cries of joy from the Indians that all the mountains resounded with the echoes. The second battery was established two days afterwards. This was a new fête which the Indians celebrated in a warlike manner. They were always about our artillery-men, whose dexterity they greatly admired. But their admiration was not idle; they were willing to [xxx] do anything to make themselves useful, and determined even to become gunners. One of them distinguished himself particularly. After having himself pointed the cannon, he hit the very angle of the fort which had been assigned to him. Their chief cause of astonishment was the covered ways, which, like subterranean roads, are so useful a protection to the assailants. They examined with the most eager curiosity this work of the French grenadiers, and some began to exercise their own hands in the practice — they were seen with pickaxes marking out a trench towards that part of the embankment which they were expected to attack. They pushed the works so far forward, that they were soon within gunshot.
“Meanwhile, our scouts encountered in the woods three couriers sent from Fort Edward; they killed the first, captured the second, and the third saved himself by flight. On the body of the dead man, in his vest, they found a letter so well concealed in a hollow musket-hall, that it had escaped the researches of all but one soldier, who happened to be familiar with these tricks of war. This letter was from the commander of Fort Edward to Colonel Munro. It contained the deposition of a Canadian deserter who declared our army to amount to eleven thousand men with two thousand Indians, and a formidable artillery. General Webb informed his colleague that the interests of the King his master did not permit him to weaken his own post, and that he must therefore capitulate upon terms as favorable as possible. M. de Montcalm did not think he could make a better use of this letter than to forward it to its address, by the same courier who had fallen alive into our hands. We received in return from Colonel Munro his thanks, with an expression of the modest hope that the same acts of civility might for a long time take place between them. This was on [xxxi] the 7ᵗʰ. Our batteries opened again at nine o’clock, continuing to fire every two minutes to the great delight of the Indians, who uttered shouts of joy on seeing the shot and shells fall into the fort.
“At length on the Vigil of St. Lawrence, August 9, the seventh day of the siege, the trench having been pushed as far as the gardens of the fort, we prepared to establish our fourth and last battery. It was intended to make a general assault in three or four days. But at 7 A. M. the enemy hung out a flag of truce, and demanded capitulation.” [see below for source information]
The articles of capitulation were signed in the trenches, and the French took possession of the fort at noon. The English retired to the intrenched camp. The articles of capitulation were as follows: The garrison were to march out with the honors of war, with one cannon only, and with only the personal effects of the officers and soldiers. A11 the stores and ammunition to be surrendered. The garrison not to serve for eighteen months against France or her allies. All the French prisoners taken by the English since the beginning of the war to he exchanged for an equal number of English. The sick and wounded to be cared for my M. de Montcalm. Rations to be issued for two days only. M. de Montcalm would have preferred making the garrison prisoners of war. But Canada was at that very moment in a state of famine. At Quebec each person was reduced to four ounces of bread a day. The soldiers received a pound and a half, with a little salt meat. The French found at William Henry provisions sufficient to supply an army of six thousand men for six weeks — an immense relief to them. We continue our extracts from the narrative of Father Roubaud, who was an eye-witness of the events which followed the surrender.
“The Marquis de Montcalm, before he would listen to [xxxii] any terms, assembled all the Indian chiefs and communicated to them the terms of capitulation. All these articles were received with acclamation, and the treaty was signed by the commanding officers. The French Army, in battle array, advanced to take possession of the fort in the name of His Most Christian Majesty, while the English troops drawn up in beautiful order marched out to go and shut themselves up till the next day in their intrenchments. Their march was not marked by any contravention of the laws of nations.” [see below for source information]
M. de Montcalm had given positive orders that all the wine, brandy, and other intoxicating liquors in the fort should be spilt before the troops marched out — a step to which the English consented. Some of the Indiana, however, penetrated into the intrenched camp, where the English were now collected, preparing for their march, and made themselves very troublesome. M. de Montcalm hastened to the camp; “prayers, threats, entreaties, consultations with the chiefs, interposition of the officers and interpreters — he made use of every means to restrain them. About nine o’clock he appeared to have accomplished that object.” Colonel Munro had wished to march that evening, but the French officers, hearing that a party of the Indians were lying in ambush on the road to Fort Edward, advised the English to wait until morning. Meanwhile some persons in the camp, to satisfy the Indians, granted their request for ardent spirits — the brandy at this camp not having been apparently destroyed, as it was at the fort. M. de Montcalm had carried on the whole campaign without giving a drop of either wine or brandy to the Indians, which was considered unprecedented. But he had great influence over them, and had been very kind to their sick and wounded. Those Indians who received the ardent spirits on that ill-fated [xxxiii] night of the 9ᵗʰ of August, immediately began to dance their war dances, singing and whooping in frenzied excitement. The Abenakis from the Eastward were especially infuriated, recalling what they considered the cruelty and perfidy of the English in Acadie. They laid great stress on these past events, and thirsted for retaliation. An Indian never forgets an injury. It had been agreed that the English should march at break of day with an escort of four hundred French troops, with all the officers and interpreters attached to the Indian forces, and two chiefs of each tribe. But the English began to hasten their preparations before the escort arrived. The Abenakis ran to insult them. Scarcely had they uttered their whoop than the English fell into confusion, throwing down arms, baggage, and flying helter-skelter. The great number of women in the garrison added greatly to the confusion. The Indians, emboldened by the panic they had produced, began to plunder. We return to the narrative of Father Roubaud.
“A corps of French troops, consisting of four hundred men, appointed to protect the retreat, arrived and arranged themselves in haste. The English began to file out. Woe to those who closed the march, or to the stragglers separated from the main body! They were as good as dead, and their lifeless bodies soon strewed the ground about the intrenchments. This butchery, at first the work of some few savages, became the signal which transformed them into so many ferocious beasts. They discharged right and left heavy blows with their hatchets on those within their reach. The massacre was not, however, of long duration, nor was it by any means as considerable as so much fury would have seemed to give reason to fear. It did not exceed forty or fifty men. With fearful cries the Indians now busied themselves in making prisoners.
[xxxiv] “I arrived while these things were going on, and I do not think it possible for any one to remain insensible in such sad circumstances. The son snatched from a father’s arms, the daughter born from the bosom of her mother, the husband separated from his wife, the officers stripped to the shirts, a crowd of wretched beings running about at random, some towards the woods, other [sic] to the tents of the French, these towards the fort, others towards any spot which seemed to promise safety — such were the pitiable objects which presented themselves to my eyes. The French were not indolent spectators, or insensible to this catastrophe. The Chevalier de Leri ran in all directions where the tumult seemed most violent. A thousand times he faced death. The French and Canadian officers followed his example. But the great body of our troops was by their distance prevented from rendering him ally assistance. And of what avail were four hundred men against fifteen hundred infuriated savages, who could scarcely distinguish us from the enemy? One of our sergeants who opposed their violence was struck down by a blow from a spear. One of our French officers, as the reward of the same zeal, received a severe wound which brought him to the verge of the grave. M. de Montcalm, on account of the distance of his tent, did not learn until a late hour what was going on; at the first news he hastened to the spot. He multiplied himself; he seemed endowed with ubiquity; he was everywhere; prayers, menaces, promises were used; he tried everything, and at last resorted to force. The tumult was nevertheless constantly on the increase, when some one cried out to the English, who formed a considerable body, to increase their speed. The Indians, in a measure satisfied with their prizes, began to retire, and the few who remained were easily dispersed. Three or four hundred English [xxxv] arrived at Fort Edward. Many others were scattered in the woods. Many found safety in the tents of the French or in the fort.
“I went to the fort after the disorders were in some degree over. A crowd of weeping females came to surround me. They threw themselves at my knees, they kissed the hem of my robe, uttering lamentable cries which pierced my heart. They asked for their sons, their daughters, their husbands. Could I restore these to them? A French officer informed me that a Huron had in his possession an infant of six months, whose death was certain if I did not hasten to its rescue. I ran in haste to the cabin of the savage, in whose arms I saw the innocent victim; the child was tenderly kissing the hands of his enemy, and playing with some strings of wampum which he wore. The Huron guessed my object at once: ‘Hold,’ said he to me very civilly, ‘do you see this child? I have not by any means stolen it. I found it left behind in haste. You want it, but yon shall not have it.’ I urged the uselessness of this prisoner, its certain death for the want of nourishment. He produced some fat with which he meant to feed it; adding that in case of its death, he should find some corner in which to bury it, and that then I could give it my blessing. I offered him a large sum in silver if he mould surrender his little captive, but he persisted in his refusal. He finally consented to give it up for another English captive. I thought the sentence of death was pronounced when I saw the Huron holding a consultation with his companions. But the result was that the child should be given to me in exchange for the scalp of an enemy. This proposition did not at all embarrass me: ‘It shall be forthcoming shortly,’ I said, rising, ‘if you are a man of honor.’
[xxxvi] “I hastened to the camp of my Abenakis, and asked the first one I met if he wished to do me a favor; would he give me a scalp? He untied his pouch, and gave me my choice. Provided with this barbarous trophy, I carried it off in triumph, followed by a crowd of Canadians and French, curious to know the end of the adventure. Joy seemed to furnish me with wings, and in a moment I had rejoined my Huron. ‘See,’ said I, ‘see your payment!’ ‘You are right,’ he replied; ‘it is indeed an English scalp, for it is red.’ This is in truth the color that ordinarily distinguishes the English colonists in these countries. ‘Well! there is the child, carry it away, it belongs to you.’ I did not give him time to retract, but immediately took the unfortunate little being in my hands. As it was almost naked, I wrapped it in my robe, but it was not accustomed to be carried by hands as little used to this business as mine, and the poor infant uttered cries which taught me my own awkwardness as well as its sufferings. I consoled myself, however, with the hope of presently calming it, by placing it in more tender hands.
“I arrived at the fort, and at the sound of its feeble cries. all the women ran towards me. Each one flattered herself with the hope of recovering the object of her maternal tenderness. They eagerly examined it, but neither the eyes nor the heart of any one recognized it as her child. They therefore retired again to one side to give anew free course to their lamentations and complaints. I found myself placed in no little embarrassment by this retreat. Being four or five leagues distant from every French habitation, how could I procure nourishment for an infant of so tender an age? I was absorbed in these reflections, when I saw an English officer pass who happened to be well acquainted with the French language. I addressed him, therefore, in a firm tone ‘Sir, I have [xxxvii] just ransomed this young infant from slavery, but it will not escape death, unless you direct some one of these women to take the place of its mother, and nurse it until I shall be able to provide for it otherwise.’ The French officers who were present supported my request. With that he spoke to the English women. One of them offered to render it this service, if I would be willing to answer for her life and that of her husband, to charge myself with their support, and to see that they were conveyed to Boston from Montreal. I immediately accepted the proposition, and requested M. de Bourg la Marque to detach three grenadiers to escort my English to the Canadian camp, where I flattered myself that I should find means to fulfill my new engagements. This worthy officer responded with kindness to my request.
“I was about quitting the fort, when the father of the infant was found, wounded by the bursting of a shell, and utterly unable to help himself. He could not, therefore, but acquiesce with pleasure in the arrangements I had made for the security of his child, and I departed, accompanied by my English, under the safeguard of three grenadiers. After a march of two hours, fatiguing though happy, we arrived at the Canadian quarters. I cannot undertake to portray to you faithfully the new occurrence which here crowned my enterprises, for it is one of those events which a person flatters himself in vain with the hope of presenting true to nature. We had scarcely reached the entrance to the camp, when a shrill and animated cry suddenly struck my ears. Was it a cry of grief? Was it a cry of joy ? It was all this, and much more, for it was that of the mother, who, from the distance, had recognized her child, so keen are the eyes of maternal love. She ran with a precipitation which showed that this was indeed her child. She snatched it from the arms of the English[xxxviii]woman, with an eagerness which seemed as if she feared that some one might a second time deprive her of it. It is easy to imagine to what transports of joy she abandoned herself, particularly when she was assured of the life and freedom of her husband, to whom she thought she had bid a final adieu. Nothing was wanting to complete their happiness but their reunion, and this I thought should be the perfection of my work.
“I directed my steps back to the fort. My strength was scarcely sufficient to carry me thither, for it was more than an hour after noon, and I had as yet taken no nourishment. I was near falling through faintness, when I reached the fort, but the politeness and charity of some French officers relieved me. I went in search of the Englishman in question, but my inquiries were without effect for some hours. The pain of his wounds had obliged him to withdraw to the most solitary place in the fort, and there at last I found him. I had made arrangements to have him carried away, when his wife and child made their appearance. Orders had been given to collect all the English who were dispersed in the different quarters, to the number of nearly five hundred, and to conduct them to the fort, that we might provide more surely for their support until it should be possible to send them to Albany, as was happily done some days after. The demonstrations of joy were renewed at their meeting, with much more earnestness than before. I should not here pass over in silence the reward of her charity which the other Englishwoman received, who had been obliged to act as mother to the infant in the absence of the true mother. Providence, through the intervention of Mr. Piequet, brought about the recovery of her own child, which had been unjustly taken from her.”
[Father Roubaud: Father Pierre-Joseph Antoine Roubard’s account, apparently written two months after the event, was first published in Lettres edifiantes et curieuse écrites des missions étrangers (Paris, 1781); Susan Fenimore Cooper presumably found it in William Ingraham Kip, The Early Jesuit Missions in North America (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1846). Though Father Roubaud, then a Jesuit missionary among the Abenaki Indians, later worked for the British (and became a forger), his account is considered generally accurate as well as personal. See the most recent scholarly study of the events at Fort William Henry: Ian K. Steele, Betrayals: Fort William Henry and the “Massacre” (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 161.]
The precise number killed by the Indians in this sav[xxxix]age tumult mill probably never be accurately known. The French would very naturally diminish their reports of the number of victims as far as practicable. The English would of course exaggerate in their statements. Father Roubaud declares that forty or fifty were killed. The French officers generally refrained from naming any particular number, which looks badly. Though M. de Vaudreuil, in one of his reports “of this little incident,” to the government at Versailles, boldly asserts that only six or seven English soldiers were killed. On the other hand, the English, especially at first, when so much was written on the subject, appear to have considered all who did not reach Fort Edward within a day or two as murdered men. But the Indians carried two hundred prisoners to Canada, where they were ransomed by the French, and after a time sent home to the Colonies. The writer of these lines has seen, quite recently, what purports to be an historical account of this painful event, in which the number of victims is stated to have been five hundred. Probably Father Roubaud’s statement of forty or fifty was not far from the truth.
The great error of M. de Montcalm evidently consisted in not taking precautionary measures on a more important scale. He was aware of the danger, but supposed that he had averted it by his exertions on the previous evening, when the savages had been partially pacified by them. But, as he himself observes, “two thousand Indians, of thirty-three different nations,” were not easy to control. His clear perception of that truth should have led him to remain near at hand, during the march of the English from the camp, and to cover that march with a much larger force than the four hundred men detailed for the purpose.
The whole army of the French on this expedition numbered 8,021 men, of whom 5,500 were effective. The [xl] Indians are reported at 1,806 warriors, of thirty-three different tribes, a portion of them from the upper lakes. The French lost only thirteen killed and forty wounded.
The entire English force is stated to have numbered 2,372, of whom there were killed during the siege forty-one, and wounded seventy-one.
At the end of a week after the capitulation, Fort William Henry had been entirely destroyed, and the whole army, French and Indians, had left the lake, and were moving northward, by Lake Champlain, to Canada. Happily for the Colony of New York, scarcity of provisions prevented M. de Montcalm from attacking Fort Edward, and aiming a blow at Albany.
No little attention has been attracted to the name of Horican, given in “The Last of the Mohicans” to Lake George. This beautiful sheet of water has borne different names in the last three centuries. When Champlain first invaded the Iroquois Territory, at the head of a band of Hurons, in 1609, he discovered the noble lake which now bears his name, and, after defeating a party of Mohawks, he seems to have visited the falls of Ticonderoga, falls to which the French afterwards gave the name of Carillon, or the Chiming Waters, from the musical, ringing sound of the cascade. Long and fiercely was the same ground contested in later years between the Crowns of France and England. There is every reason to suppose Champlain was thus the first European to hear from his Huron allies, or from his Iroquois prisoners, the name given by the Mohawks to the smaller, but more beautiful lake beyond the portage at Ticonderoga.
The Iroquois, with a fitness and accuracy of observation so often shown in Indian names, called the larger sheet of water the Lake-Gate-of-the-country, or, in their own speech, Caniadeguarante. To the smaller lake beyond, they gave [xli] the name of Andiatarocte, or Here-the-Lake-Valley-closes, a name descriptive and correct. Thus it continued to be named by the Mohawks so long as they inhabited the adjoining country.
In the year 1646, that saintly man, Father Jogues, probably the first Christian to preach the Gospel in the Iroquois country, returning from Quebec in the double character of envoy from the Canadian government, and missionary to the Mohawks, passed through Lake Champlain, and reaching the shores of the beautiful sheet of water called, by the tribe to whom he was sent, Andiatarocte, he gave is a French name, le lac du St. Sacrement. The day on which he reached its shores was the eve of a great festival of the Church of Rome, connected with her doctrine of transubstantiation, — Corpus Christi, the Fête Dieuof the French, or the festival of the St. Sacrement, as it was also called. For this reason the good Father gave to those limpid waters the name of the Lake of the St. Sacrement. It is an error to suppose that the Sacrament of Baptism was alluded to. It was to the Festival of Corpus Christi that this religious name was solely due. The lake continued to bear this name in all French records, and in most of those in the English language also, for more than a century. It is indeed quite remarkable, that neither the Dutch nor the English of early colonial times should have given a name of their own to a lake holding so prominent a position at that day in their political and military system. They probably thought little of its natural beauties, but its importance, as connected with the Lake-Gate-of-the-country, was very thoroughly understood, both at Montreal and at Manhattan.
More than a century after Father Jogues had passed among its beautiful islands, in his bark canoe, an English army lay encamped on the southern shore of the Lake of [xlii] the St. Sacrement. It was a force under the flag of England at least, but composed, in fact, entirely of colonial militia and Iroquois allies, and numbered thirty-four hundred men, under the command of Major-General William Johnson, the Indian superintendent. Their ultimate object was the reduction of Crown Point, or Fort Frederick, or Lake Champlain. General Johnson, in a letter of September 3, 1755, writes as follow: —
“I am building a fort at this lake, which the French call St. Sacrement, but I have given it the name of Lake George, not only in honor to his majesty, but to ascertain [to assert?] his undoubted dominion here. I found it a mere wilderness; not one foot cleared. I have made a good wagon-road to it from Albany — distance about seventy miles; never was house or fort erected here before; we have cleared land enough to encamp five thousand men.”
Thus it was that Andiatarocte, or the Lake of the Holy Sacrament, received the thoroughly prosaic name of George II. Only twenty years later, the sceptre of the house of Hanover no longer ruled over its waters. The “undoubted dominion,” which General Johnson aimed at rendering more certain by this royal name, had passed away forever.
So far we have undoubted history for our guide. But half a century since, the same beautiful waters received, in American literature, the name of Horican. This name was by no means an imaginary one; and there is much more foundation for its use than is generally supposed. Only four years after the discovery of the Hudson River — in 1617, when the first rude huts were built by the Dutch on the Island of Manhattan, the skipper Adrian Blok lost his craft, the Tiger, by fire. The resolute man set to work to build himself a yacht during the winter of 1613-14, the Indians kindly supplying them “with food, and all [xliii] sorts of necessaries.” When his little vessel of sixteen tons’ burden was finished — the first act of shipbuilding on ground whence so many fleets have since sailed — Blok embarked on an exploring cruise among the bays and rivers eastward. He entered the mouth of the Connecticut River. In latitude 41° 48’, above Hartford, he found a fortified village of a tribe called Nawaas; from them he heard of “another nation of savages who are called Horikans,” living farther northward, “within the land.” And again, De Laet, writing his “Description of the New Netherlands,” in 1633, speaking of the Connecticut River, says the Nawaas live in latitude 41° 48’; “within the land dwells another nation, called the Horikans; they descend the river in canoes made of bark.”
Some twenty years later, in 1656, Vanderdonck published a map of the New Netherlands, in which the Horikans are distinctly marked, as a tribe, placed between the northern Connecticut and the Hudson.
In 1613, Hennepin, the companion of La Salle, travelled extensively in Canada and what are now the western parts of New York. He wrote his travels, and published a map in connection with them. On this map, at a point very near the position of Lake George, the word Horican is clearly printed.
Here we have, then, from early authorities, both Dutch and French, the name of Horikan, applied to a tribe occupying ground very near the Lake Andiatarocte. It would be only consistent, therefore, with a very common practice in American geography, to name that lake from a tribe whose bark canoes must often have floated upon its waters. Many a lake and many a river in the country are now bearing Indian names on much less authority. It was from one of these old maps — which one we cannot say — that the author of “The Last of the Mohicans,” struck [xliv] with the name as more poetical and more appropriate than that of King George, placed it on the lips of Hawkeye. It is very possible that these Horikans may have been one of those tribes called by different names at different periods of their career, which happened very frequently among the Indians; or they may have been only a sub-division of a tribe; but their existence at the discovery of the country, on hunting grounds which must naturally have brought them to chase the elk and the bear on the mountains overlooking the Lake Andiatarocte of the Mohawks, we have no more reason to doubt then we have to doubt the assertion that Blok sailed up the Connecticut to latitude 41°.
“The Last of the Mohicans” was published early in January, 1826. It was brilliantly successful, both in America and in Europe, where the entire novelty of a romance of the wilderness, filled with striking characters and stirring incidents, awakened an especial interest.