Introduction to The Pathfinder (1840)

Susan Fenimore Cooper

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].

Topics Covered:

I: From Pages and Pictures  Anecdotes of Cooper’s naval service in Oswego in 1808-09, with visits to Buffalo and Niagara Falls; return of Natty in The Pathfinder, one of Cooper’s most beautiful.

II: From Household Edition  History of French and English military activities on Lake Ontario and at Oswego [quotations]; travel from Albany to Oswego, as a child, by Mrs. Grant of Laggan [quotation]; James Fenimore Cooper’s journey to Oswego in 1808; William Cooper’s 1810 proposal for an Erie Canal [quotation]; description of river route to Oswego, and boat types used: Oswego in 1808; anecdotes of Cooper’s sojourn there; construction of U.S. Brig Oneidaas described in Cooper’s Naval History.

I. Pages and Pictures, pp. 308-310

Contents: THE PATHFINDER. — Lake Ontario — The Oneida — Lament of Boniface in the forest — Grand military ball — Paddy and the blaze — Sailors and Indians — Natty the Pathfinder — Extract, Natty a Lover.

[308] IN the year 1808, several young officers of the navy, under the command of Lieutenant Woolsey, were ordered from New York to the shores of Lake Ontario, for the purpose of building a small vessel-of-war. Among these officers was Mr. Cooper, then a midshipman in the service. Their road beyond Utica lay for many a mile through the forest, the whole region to the northward of the Mohawk having scarcely yet thrown off the character of a wilderness. The mouth of the Oswego River was their destination; here they remained for some time, until the Oneida, a brig mounting sixteen guns, was built and launched. The whole party enjoyed extremely this marine campaign, with its wild coloring of frontier life, and none more so than the young midshipman from the Otsego Hills. During leisure hours, they roamed through the forest, or explored the shores of the lake. On one occasion they were ordered to Buffalo; they went by land through what is now the heart of a populous country, but was then a wilderness. They passed the site of future cities and towns, to be called into life from the depths of the forest only a very few years later. On one occasion they stopped for the night at a rude frontier inn. Mr. Cooper, who was acting as caterer for the party, inquired into the state of the larder. Mine host shook his [309] head ruefully; he could promise very little; had they come a few weeks earlier, he could have set before them as good a meal as ought to be expected in the woods; but now matters mere in a very bad way indeed. “Give us what you eat yourself; you must have food of some kind in the house!” Mine host looked melancholy; on his honor he assured the young officers he had absolutely nothing to set before them but grouse, venison steak, and brook trout; and maybe his wife could find cranberries for a tart! A month earlier they should have had a dish of fried pork fit for the President, with a pumpkin-pie after it, but in the present state of things, they must not expect such delicacies. “Game’s plenty, but nothin’ else!” added the publican with a sigh. Mine host was pining for pork!

On this expedition Mr. Cooper saw Niagara for the first time. He was struck with the grandeur of the cataract; but he felt its sublime character far more deeply at a later day, when visiting the same ground, after his return from Europe. When the brig was built and safely launched, the young officers gallantly resolved to give a ball. This was, in truth, an enterprise of a desperate character, under the circumstances; building a brig hundreds of miles from a ship-yard was a trifle compared to the attempt to give a ball in the wilderness. True, one fiddle, and half it dozen officers, were something to open the ball with; refreshments and a military ball-room might also be hoped for; but where, pray, were the ladies to come from — The officers declared they would not dance with each other. Ladies must be found. No recruiting officers ever made more vigorous efforts in behalf of the service, than Lieutenant Woolsey and his command on this occasion. At length, by dint of sending boats miles in one direction, and carts miles in another, the feat was accomplished; ladies were invited, and ladies accepted. A difficulty suggested itself, however; as the hour approached, a delicate point had to be decided, and that without the aid of any female counsellor. How, and by what rules, so many miles from a regular drawing-room, were the honors of the evening to be allotted among the different claimants — After a prolonged council of war, Mr. Woolsey took upon himself to decide the question; he issued his orders to the Master of Ceremonies: “All ladies, sir, provided with shoes and stockings, are to be led to the head of the Virginia reel; ladies with shoes, and without stockings, are considered in the second rank; ladies without either shoes or stockings, you will lead, gentlemen, to the foot of the country-dance!” Such was a grand military ball in Oswego county, at that date. It may have been on this occasion that the servant of the mess, a raw youth, fresh from Ireland, made an absurd exhibition of what Mr. Cooper called the bull practical: a tablecloth had taken fire, and was in full blaze; Paddy was [310] at the moment filling a teapot from an ample kettle in his hand. “Pour the water on the table!” called out one of the officers. “Sure the wather is hot, your honor!” exclaimed Paddy, in great dismay, holding the kettle at a very safe distance from the blazing cloth, his face meanwhile exhibiting the most absurd expression of the bull physiognomy that could well be imagined. Mr. Cooper often laughed heartily at the very recollection of the poor fellow’s countenance.

Cruises among the Thousand Isles were very frequent, and in great favor with the young officers; many were the fine fish caught in those waters, and many were the good chowders eaten there. The picturesque beauties of the region, the countless islands — all, then, in a wild condition — were greatly enjoyed, and never forgotten by one of the party at least. More than thirty years later, the young midshipman, now an experienced writer, determined that his next work of the imagination should be connected with that ground. The plan of the proposed book had been for some time in his mind; he had wished to lay the scene of a tale on one of the great lakes, and to bring sailors and Indians into the same picture. To sketch forest scenes, without Natty, seemed scarcely natural for his pen; the old Leather-stocking of “The Pioneers,” Hawk-eye of “The Mohicans,” the aged Trapper of “The Prairie,” was again brought into view — the Pathfinder of the northern forests, and the shores of Lake Ontario. He now appears in the prime of life, and as a lover! A very daring experiment, indeed. But how perfect the success! Few are the books in the English language more beautiful than “The Pathfinder” — few, indeed, which are, at the same time, so purely natural, and so highly poetical in spirit. It is a singularly equal book — the most so, perhaps, of all the works from the same author; nor would it be easy to find the same number of pages from other pens, through which the current of feeling, of interest, of poetical imagination, flows so clearly, so easily, and so uninterruptedly. The glow of life, pervading the book, is that of nature her very self; we seem to hear the ripple of the lake waves — the rustling of the forest leaves; we seem actually to behold the islands, the schooner, and the skiff, with the human beings moving about them; we can fancy that we have really looked into Mabel’s eyes — that we have heard the low, sweet tones of June’s voice. The characters are all purely natural — whether sailor or soldier, savage or hunter, the warrior or the young girl — all are good in their way; nothing is overdrawn or labored, and yet many of the incidents are singularly striking and original. As for Natty — so simple, so tender, so true, so noble — what shall be said of him — We must all needs love him: it is not with words, but with tears, that we wring his hand, and part from him, on the lake shore.

Excerpt: “Natty a Lover” [James Fenimore Cooper, The Pathfinder (1840) (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), Chapter 18, pp. 263-276].

II. ousehold Edition, pp. v-xxxiii

[v] THE fertile country south of Lake Ontario lay overshadowed by a beautiful leafy canopy, during untold ages.

When the wondering palefaces first landed on the shores of that inland sea, they beheld boundless forests stretching before them, forests made up of oak, ash, chestnut, pine, and maple, of the most noble growth. More than two centuries passed away after the discovery of the St. Lawrence, and still that region preserved the same character of a grand, shadowy wilderness. Slowly and reluctantly as it were those great old trees dropped their limbs, bowed their heads, and stretched their giant trunks on the earth. That fluttering, leafy canopy, vast in its proportions, beautiful and delicate in texture, ever-varying in its aspects under the successive changes of storm and sunshine, of spring and autumn — that living canopy was not to be folded, and laid aside in one century. The brawny arms of hundreds of thousands of woodmen were needed to do the work, half a dozen generations or more toiled out a lifetime, one after the other, and lay down in their graves ere the task was done. It was not until the first years of the present century that the soil of that region was thoroughly opened to the light of the sun.

Meanwhile stirring scenes were enacted within the shady limits of those forests There mere grand hunts in which whole tribes were engaged. There were wars in which [vi] extensive confederacies were in arms, wars in which entire clans were exterminated. Council fires were lighted, at which envoys from tribes a thousand miles distant appeared to negotiate peace or war. And, very soon after the planting of the first colonies on the St. Lawrence and the Hudson, the palefaces came along those footpaths, stretching out one hand for the peltries, and offering the fire-water with the other. Stealthily and treacherously the astute diplomacy of Versailles came creeping along those forest-trails. In shrewd foresight the statesmen of France far surpassed those of Holland and England. Far-seeing, far-reaching, mere the plans skillfully woven in the gilded cabinets of Versailles or St. Germain, for the ultimate mastery of the Continent of North America, at least so far south as Mexico. And thoroughly were those plans carried out by subordinate legions — selfish traders, daring adventurers, gallant soldiers, and devout missionaries, whether consciously or unconsciously, tens of thousands of these were working for the extension of French power in North America.

And what has it all availed — One touch of the finger of Providence and the proud fabric so cunningly raised has vanished like the bubble blown by a child. The flag of France is an alien flag to-day throughout North America.

The possession of the southern shore of Lake Ontario was early deemed of great importance by the Canadian government. But here they met a foe who not only faced them bravely, but who at one period even threatened utterly to uproot the French Colonies on the St. Lawrence. The Konoshioni, the United People, or the Iroquois tribes as they were called by their French neighbors, held the whole country to the southward of the lake. They were brave and fierce in war. They were astute in policy. During nearly a century, the French made little impres[vii]sion on them. At length the Jesuit Missionaries penetrated into the heart of the Iroquois country, about the middle of the seventeenth century. And they came by the river, which now bears the name of the Oswego. These good men were early employed by the Canadian authorities in a semi-diplomatic character, and it was the intention to obtain a permanent foothold in the country, through their influence, and to establish colonies on the shores of Lake Onondaga This effort failed. But still for many years the Canadian government kept their eyes fixed upon that southern shore, eagerly watching for an opportunity to seize some one favorable point as a nucleus for future operations. The mouth of the Oswego River was the site they most coveted as the key to the whole Iroquois country. Choueguen, as they named the spot, held a prominent place in their plans and is constantly mentioned in their older records. Scarce a meeting between the sachems of the upper tribes, and the agents of the French, whether at Onondaga or at Montreal, in which Choueguen is not named. But the rude diplomatists at the Council fire of Onondaga were very unwilling to yield this ground to the French. A wild Indian village, insignificant in size, and chiefly occupied by fishing parties was found there by the first French missionary explorers, and continued for nearly a century, the only human habitations at the mouth of the river. Fort Frontenac was built on the northern shore of the lake in 1672, but still the Konoshioni warned off the palefaces from the coveted ground at Choueguen. In 1687 the French built a small fort at Niagara, but it was demolished a year later to satisfy the jealousy of the Indians. Thirty-three years afterwards, in 1720, the French again took possession of the same ground. “We come to you howling,” said the Indian sachems to the Governor of New York, “and this is [viii] the reason we howl, because the Governor of Canada encroaches on our land!” The rebuilding of the fort at Niagara caused the “howling.” Governor Burnet remonstrated with the French authorities, but without effect. He resolved to weaken the importance of this French fort by building a stronger one at the mouth of the Oswego River. It appears that it had been the intention of King William to build a fort at Oswego, some thirty years earlier, and the plate and furniture for a chapel in connection with the fort were sent over from England. But the death of the Ring prevented the plan from being carried out. The work was now to be done, however. The Canadian government were thrown into great agitation on learning Governor Burnet’s intention, Agents and spies passed to and fro, and penetrated into the Iroquois country; one hundred English with sixty canoes were found in the Oswego River in October, 1725 — at which the French agent was highly indignant. The only result of the French negotiation with the Iroquois was the permission obtained from the sachems to build at Niagara a large stone house and two small vessels — barques. In the summer of 1726 there were three hundred English at Oswego. In the spring of 1727, a strong, stone, fortified house was built at the mouth of the river. Permission was asked and obtained from the Iroquois for the erection of this fort. Sixty soldiers with a captain and two lieutenants were sent to protect the workmen. Two hundred traders already on the ground were also embodied as militia. A permanent garrison of twenty men, under an officer, was stationed there when the work was completed.

In the course of the summer M. de Beauharnais, Governor of Canada, sent a formal remonstrance in true diplomatic style to Governor Burnet upon his having built a “Redout” at Choueguen, which he chose to consider a [ix] violation of the treaty of Utrecht. He knew from spies of his own the nature of the works. This redoubt was in fact a very substantial stone building of rough masonry and clay, sixty feet by twenty-four, with walls four feet thick, and with galleries and loop-holes. There were at that time twenty batteaux and eight bark canoes lying in the little harbor. There were tents for the troops, and seventy cabins for Dutch and English traders. All this excited the diplomatic ire of M. de Beauharnais to the highest degree. He had sent a formal summons to surrender, to the commander of the fort at Oswego, a week before writing to Governor Burnet, which to us at the present day appears rather a singular mode of proceeding. The English officer was ordered to withdraw his garrison and demolish his redoubt “within a fortnight,” failing in which the severest measures would be taken to punish his “unjust usurpation.”

To the remonstrance of M. de Beauharnais Governor Burnet sent a very good answer quoting the treaty of Utrecht, which declared the Five Nations to be subject to the dominion of Great Britain. The question was referred to London and Versailles, and, like other matters of dispute between the two Crowns, was held in abeyance to be disposed of at some future day by the sword. Meanwhile fort and garrison were unmolested.

In 1743 the French had three sailing vessels of fifty or sixty tons on Lake Ontario. The first English vessel on the lake was a small schooner, forty feet keel, with fourteen sweeps and twelve swivels. She was launched on the 28ᵗʰ of June, 1755. The following year the English had three flat-bottomed gun-brigs afloat, and were preparing to build others.

The fortifications at Oswego were gradually much strengthened and enlarged, A new fort of logs, twenty [x] or thirty inches thick, was built oh the height above the eastern bank of the river; the wall was fourteen feet high, and protected by a ditch fourteen feet wide. A third fort was also built to the westward of the older one, with a rampart of earth and stones, twenty feet thick, and twelve feet high, with a ditch in front fourteen feet wide, and ten feet deep. Cannons and mortars defended these forts. It was now resolved in the councils of Canada that Choueguen should be attacked. But the defeat of General Dieskau at Lake George in 1755 delayed the expedition. It was only delayed, however. “From the hour of its foundation, Choueguen is the rallying ground of the Indian tribes,” wrote the Governor of Canada, M. de Vaudreuil. “From Choueguen come all the belts and messages that the English scatter among the far nations. It is always at Choueguen that the English hold councils with the Indians. ... In fine Choueguen is the direct cause of all the troubles that have befallen the colony. Choueguen must fall.”

In March, 1756, as a preliminary step, the Governor of Canada sent M. de Léry with three hundred men to attack Fort Bull, where the English kept large supplies of provisions for Oswego. This party creasing the St. Lawrence on skates, and marching one hundred and twenty leagues through the forest on snow-shoes, suddenly appeared before Fort Bull with a summons to surrender. They were answered by a brisk fire of musketry. M. de Léry then forced the gate and took the fort by storm, put many of the garrison to death, and burned or destroyed a very large amount of provisions and ammunition.

As the spring opened, in April, M. de Vaudreuil sent a force of four or five hundred men to hang about Oswego, in order still farther to cut the communication between that fort and its entrepôts The whole Colony of New [xi] York was thrown into agitation by the intelligence of these movements. From that moment mixed parties of Canadians and Indians were constantly hovering about Oswego, and in the forests along the river. In May, M. de Villiers, a Canadian officer with some thousand men, landed at Hungry Bay, — Niaourè, as the French named it — and took up a permanent position there, some fifteen leagues from Oswego. Although France and England had been virtually in a state of warfare on the high seas and in the colonies, during the last two years, yet it was only now that a formal declaration of war took place in Europe. In June and July there were frequent skirmishes on shore, and constant cruisings on the lake.

The French naval force varied. Their two largest vessels were the Marquise de Vaudreuil, carrying eight 8-pounders, 8 sixes, and 8 swivels, and the Huron, with 8 sixes, 4 fours, and 8 swivels. They had also a schooner with 6 fours and 4 swivels, and several smaller craft.

The English vessels at the same period were the Ontario, the Oswego, the London, a brigantine, the Vigilant, a barque, and other smaller craft. A naval incident which occurred in June threatened a battle; two English vessels, the Ontario and the Oswego, with a small schooner, were out on a cruise, when they were met by four French vessels of greater force. The English made sail for Oswego; the enemy gave chase but without other success than taking the small schooner. The French report of this affair is amusing. “Our little fleet on Lake Ontario, in number about five vessels, having met the English fleet amounting to ten, gave them battle. We have taken the English Admiral, put the other to flight, and obliged two to run ashore with all sails set, near Fort Oswego.”

On the 3d of July, Colonel Bradstreet with two hundred batteaux, and three hundred boatmen, was attacked some [xii] miles above Oswego by a Canadian and Indian force, variously stated by the French themselves as numbering from four hundred to nine hundred men, M. de Vaudreuil giving the latter number. The defense was a gallant one, and very creditable to the boatmen. Colonel Bradstreet took possession of a small island where he defended himself against three separate attacks, and subsequently drove the French from a swamp where they had posted themselves, routed and dispersed them. The English lost forty men killed and wounded. The loss of the French was probably larger. Such was the report of Colonel Bradstreet, which would seem to have been essentially correct.

For the amusement of the reader we give the other side of the picture, which taken in all its details makes a very entertaining little bit of history: —

“M. de Villiers, who did not lose any opportunity to annoy the enemy, having learned from his scouts that the Choueguen River was covered with batteaux, designed to await the enemy at a portage, but a party of Indians did not give him time to do so. They fired, when the Canadians were ordered to fire also. The enemy threw themselves with their batteaux on the opposite side of the river. So great was the impetuosity of the Indians that eleven flung themselves in, swimming. They were on the island surrounded by the English. M. de Villiers waded across with fifty men, and some officers, and released the Indiana. We sent word to the English to surrender; they preferred to throw themselves into their batteaux. Our Indians and Frenchmen rushed into the water, and each made many prisoners The loss of the enemy from data in our possession amounts to twenty-six scalps, and thirty prisoners. Deserters report our having put more than four hundred of their men hors de combat. This may allow of a margin.Their detachment consisted of twelve or [xiii] thirteen hundred men returning from victualling Choueguen. Our detachment amounted to four hundred, including Canadians and Indians.”

Another variation follows: “Sieur de Villiers, being on the 2d of July at the head of four hundred Frenchmen and some Indians, fell in with about five hundred batteaux and thirteen hundred English, whom he attacked so vigorously that he left four hundred and fifty of them dead, and took forty prisoners. The remainder threw themselves on the opposite side of the river, and abandoned their batteaux, which were burnt. We have lost six men, and two wounded in this affair.”

A third bulletin to the Ministry at Versailles is in the same strain: “This detachment has had occasion to harass the enemy, who, at the close of June, were attacked on their way by water, though numbering nearly two thousand. They lost four hundred men, and we not more than four or five.”

The veracious report of an Abbé, a private letter, must conclude these variations upon History: “In the beginning of July, while M. de Villiers, a Canadian Captain, was lying in ambush, in the river Choueguen, with a detachment of eight hundred men, our Indians fired too soon. The enemy amounted to fifteen hundred, whom we have defeated; eight hundred were killed, about five hundred batteaux and provisions were taken and burned. We lost ten men.”

Let us now resume a grave face, and return to the actual siege of Oswego, which fortunately for our task has been recorded with much more accuracy than the reports of the prowess of M. de Villiers, in his encounter with Colonel Bradstreet.

Regiments bad been sent forward from Quebec early in the summer. One of the French officers recently arrived [xiv] in America, declares himself charmed with the beauty of the country on the banks of the St. Lawrence. The mosquitoes were not so much to his taste; his regiment had several men in the hospital in consequence of the bites of those insects, and three or four officers were suffering severely from tumors caused in the same way. Montreal delighted him; it was a large town; but appeared to him in great danger of being destroyed by fire, “as all the houses are of wood.”

In July the whole French force was moving nearer to the threatened fort at Choueguen. On the 29ᵗʰ of July M de Montcalm arrived at Frontenac. On the 6ᵗʰ of August he crossed the lake to Niouarè or Sandy Creek. The force under his command was about three thousand men. Among his artillery were guns taken from General Braddock, and a portion of the cannon balls were marked with the broad arrow of England.

On the 10ᵗʰ of August the vanguard advanced to a cove within a mile or two of Oswego. The next day Fort Ontario on the eastern bank was invested by a force of Canadians and Indiana. On the 12ᵗʰ the military works of the enemy were carried on vigorously; batteries were erected; a park of artillery was placed in position; and the trenches were begun. The fire of the English was very brisk. The English cruisers were hovering about the mouth of the river. Suddenly about midnight, the fire from Fort Ontario ceased — the garrison stationed there was ordered, by a signal from Colonel Mercer, to abandon the fort and move across the river to Fort Oswego. The movement was successfully performed, although it became necessary to abandon the guns. The French immediately took possession of this eastern fort, and turned their whole force against Forts Oswego and George on the western bank. A large battery was built for the purpose of attack[xv]ing Fort Oswego in the rear; to complete this work twenty pieces of cannon were transported to this battery during the night by the strong arms of the men, the whole army excepting those in the trenches being engaged in this severe task. At daylight on the 14ᵗʰ, M. de Montcalm ordered the Canadians and Indians to ford the river and harass the enemy from the surrounding woods. Accordingly with M. de Rigaud at their head, they waded across, raising frightful yells, which the Indians called Salaquois; probably the death-whoop, said by those who have heard it in our own day to be the most fearful sound ever uttered by human beings. The fire of the English was briskly kept up until ten o’clock. At this hour they unexpectedly hoisted the white flag, and sent two officers to offer capitulation.

The French were surprised by this early surrender — after a fire so brisk on the part of the besieged. But the death of Colonel Mercer, the brave commander, appears to have been the principal cause of the step — which could not under the circumstances have been long delayed. The great rapidity of the French movements in opening the trenches on ground so difficult to work, and in moving their artillery without horses, with the skillful manoeuvres of M. de Montcalm, seems to have produced the impression in the fort that the besieging army was much larger than their real number. A French account declared that “Choueguen has fallen, or rather surrendered to the yells of the Canadians and Indiana” “It is to be concluded” says M. de Montcalm, “that the English when transported, are no longer brave.”

This was a very important success for Canada. The French appear to have lost about eighty killed and wounded. M. de Vaudreuil, however, in his official dispatches to France, says “three killed, and two by acci [xvi] dent!“ The English lost one hundred and fifty killed; prisoners, sixteen hundred and forty, among whom were eighty military men, and twelve naval officers. There were, also one hundred and twenty women in the fort. Six vessels were captured, one of eighteen guns, one of sixteen, two of ten, one of eight, and two hundred barges or batteaux. The number of guns taken was large; seven pieces of bronze, forty-eight of iron, fourteen mortars, forty-four swivels. The loss of ammunition was very great. A large amount of provisions was found in the fort, including nearly fourteen hundred barrels of flour, and biscuit, nearly the same number of barrels of pork, with peas, etc., etc. There were thirty-two oxen and eleven hogs in the fort, such was the condition of things at this frontier fort. Three military chests of specie were also captured. The prisoners were to be sent to Montreal, and there exchanged.

In connection with the surrender of Oswego, rumors of a massacre of some of the prisoners, by the Indian allies of M. de Montcalm, soon spread through the colonies. These reports were generally believed by the English at the time. They have been recently contradicted. And yet there is good authority for believing that some painful violation of the articles of capitulation actually occurred. One of the reports sent to the French government has the following passage: “The Indians have massacred more than a hundred persons included in the capitulation, without our being able to prevent them.” Another report says: “The enemy have had one hundred and fifty killed, including those who, wishing to escape during the capitulation, were massacred by the Indians.” M. de Montcalm himself observes: “The Indians wished to violate it,” i.e., the capitulation; “I put an end to that affair.” Such passages as these would not have been sent to France in official [xvii] papers, if the rumors had been entirely without foundation. On the other hand there has been found among the papers of Sir William Johnson the deposition of John Vale, an eye-witness, taken in October, 1756, which declares that the threatened massacre was prevented by M. de Montcalm, who ordered his men to fire upon the Indiana about to attack the prisoners. Probably some of the English were killed by the Indians, before M. de Montcalm resorted to severe measures of restraint, but the number could not have been as large as the colonists of that day believed.

The French, to gratify the Iroquois tribes, destroyed all the works at Oswego. The fort on the western bank was filled with condemned pork and set on fire. By the 21ˢᵗ of August the work of destruction was completed, and the army reëmbarked for Montreal. A large cross had been raised, however, by the Abbé Picquet, on the site of the fort, with the inscription “In hoc signo vincunt,” and near it a pole with the arms of the king of France, and the words “Bring lilies with full hands.” As the French fleet sailed away towards Frontenac, they looked back upon these proofs of their prowess. The lilies of France, however, did not take root in that soil; they were a mere passing trophy of war. The standards taken at Oswego were carried in triumph through the streets of Montreal by the Indians and then taken to the doors of the cathedral; the Indians declaring that these flags were not worthy to enter the church as they were not “Christians.” They were, however, hung up at a later day in the churches of Montreal and Quebec.

Oswego was soon rebuilt by the English. In 1759, General Prideaux and Sir William Johnson marched against the French fort at Niagara, which surrendered July 25. On the 7ᵗʰ of August, Sir William Johnson, [xviii] left in command by the death of General Prideaux, returned to Oswego. The place had been more or less frequented by the traders and Indians during the last three years, and the new fort was now planned and the work commenced under the order of General Gage, who arrived about the middle of the month.

It was at this period, between the rebuilding of the fort and the final cession of Canada to England in 1763, that Natty is supposed to have been employed as a scout on the frontier. During those years Major Lundie was in command of the fort. Then it was that Pathfinder, and Jasper, Fresh-water, and Mabel, and the old Sergeant, and Cap, and Arrowhead, made the eventful cruise in the Scud, recorded by the author of the “Pilot.”

The country between the banks of the Mohawk and the shore of Lake Ontario was still a wilderness, as described in the “Pathfinder. It was at this very period that a little girl and her mother, the daughter and wife of an officer in the garrison, made the journey between Albany and Oswego; and half a century later the little girl, then Mrs. Grant of Laggan, wrote and printed her recollections of the expedition. It is difficult for us of the present day to think of that fertile blooming region of Western New Pork as one vast forest. A few extracts from Mrs. Grant’s volume may amuse the reader, as they will lead him over the same track passed by Mabel and her sailor uncle.

“The first day we came to Schenectady, a little town situated in a rich end beautiful spot, and partly supported by the Indian trade. The next day we embarked, and proceeded up the river with six batteaux, and came early in the evening to one of the most charming scenes imaginable, where Fort Hendrick was built, so called in compliment to the principal sachem or king of the Mohawks; The castle of this primitive monarch stood at a little dis[xix]tance on a rising ground surrounded by palisades. He resided at the time in a house which the public workmen, who had lately built this fort, had been ordered to erect for him. We did not fail to wait upon his majesty, who, not choosing to depart too much from the customs of his ancestors, had not permitted divisions of apartments, or modern furniture, to profane his new dwelling. It had the appearance of a good barn, and was divided across by a mat hung in the middle. King Hendrick, who had indeed a very princely figure, and a countenance that would not have dishonored royalty, was sitting on the floor beside a large heap of wheat, surrounded with baskets of dried berries of different kinds; beside him, his son, a very pretty boy, somewhat older than myself, was caressing a foal, which was unceremoniously introduced into the royal residence. A laced hat, a fine saddle and pistols, gifts of his good brother, the great king, were hung round on the cross-beams. He was splendidly arrayed in a coat of pale blue, trimmed with silver; all the rest of his dress was of the fashion of his own nation, and highly embellished with beads and other ornaments. All this suited my taste exceedingly, and was level to my comprehension. I was prepared to admire King Hendrick, by having heard him described as a generous warrior, terrible to his enemies and kind to his friends: the character of all others calculated to make the deepest impressions on ignorant innocence, in a country where even infants learned the horrors of war, from its proximity. Add to all this that the monarch smiled, clapped my head, and ordered me a little basket, very pretty, and filled by the officious kindness of his son, with dried berries. Never did princely gifts, or the smile of royalty, produce more ardent admiration and profound gratitude. I went out of the royal presence overawed and delighted, and am not sure [xx] but I have liked kings all my life the better for this happy specimen to whom I was so early introduced.

“This journey, charming my romantic imagination by its very delays and difficulties, was such a source of interest and novelty to me that above all things I dreaded its conclusion, which I well knew would be succeeded by long tasks and close confinement. Happily for me we soon entered Wood Creek, the most desirable of all places for a traveler who loves to linger, if such another traveler there be. This is a small river which winds irregularly through a deep and narrow valley of the most lavish fertility. The depth and richness of the soil here were evinced by the loftiness and the nature of the trees which were hickory, butternut, chestnut, and sycamores of vast circumference, as well as height. These became so top-heavy, and their roots were so often undermined by this insidious stream, that in every tempestuous night some giants of the grove fell prostrate, and very frequently across the stream, where they lay in all their pomp of foliage like a leafy bridge, unwithered, and forming an obstacle almost invincible to all navigation. The Indian lifted his light canoe, and carried it past the tree, but our deep-loaded batteaux could not be so managed. Here my orthodoxy was shocked, and my anti-military prejudices revived, by the swearing of the soldiers; but then again, my veneration for my father was, if possible, increased by his lectures against swearing; provoked by their transgression. Nothing remained for our heroes but to attack these sylvan giants axe in hand, and make way through their divided bodies. The assault upon fallen greatness was unanimous and unmerciful, but the resistance was tough, and the process tedious; so much so that we were three days proceeding fourteen miles, having at every two hours’ end, at least, a new [xxi] tree to cut through. The delays were a new source of pleasure to me. it was October; the trees we had to cut through were often loaded with nuts; and while I ran lightly along the branches to fill my royal basket with their spoils, which I had great pleasure in distributing, I met with multitudes of fellow plunderers in the squirrels of various colors and sizes, who were here numberless. This made my excursions amusing. We traveled from one fort to another; but in three or four instances, to my great joy, they were so remote from each other that we found it necessary to encamp at night on the bank of the river. This, in a land of profound solitude where wolves, foxes, and bears abounded, and were very much inclined to consider and treat us as intruders, might seem dismal to wiser folks. But I was so gratified by the bustle and agitation produced by our measures of defense, and actuated by the love which all children have for mischief that is not fatal, that I enjoyed our night’s encampment exceedingly. We stopped early, wherever we saw the largest and most combustible kinds of trees. Cedars were great favorites, and the first work was to fell and pile upon each other an incredible number, stretched lengthways; while every one that could was busied in gathering withered branches of pine, to fill up the interstices of the pile, and make the green wood burn faster. Then a train of gunpowder was laid along to give fire to the whole fabric at once, which blazed and crackled magnificently. Then the tents were erected close in a row before this grand conflagration. This was not merely meant to keep us warm, though the nights did begin to grow cold, but to frighten wild beasts and wandering Indians. In case any such, belonging to hostile tribes, should see this prodigious pile, the size of it was meant to give them an idea of a greater force than we possessed.

[xxii] “In one place, when we were surrounded by hills with swamps lying between them, there seemed to be a general congress of wolves, who answered each other from opposite hills in sounds the most terrific. Probably the terror all savage animals have of fire, was exalted into fury by seeing so many enemies whom they durst not attack. The bull-frogs, those harmless but hideous inhabitants of the swamps, seemed determined not to be outdone, and roared a tremendous bass to this bravura accompaniment. This was almost too much for my love of the terrible sublime; some women who were our fellow-travelers shrieked with terror; and finally, the horrors of that night were ever after held in awful remembrance by all who shared them.” [Anne Macvicar Grant {Mrs. Grant of Laggan}, Memoirs of an American Lady [1808] (New-York: George Dearborn, 1836), Chapter 45, pp. 233-237]

More than half a century passed away after the journey recorded by the officer’s daughter, whose narrative was published in 1808. And still the region about Oswego was essentially a wilderness. During that very year, 1808, a young American naval officer, the future author or “The Pathfinder,” made the same journey, in company with a party of messmates who had been ordered to Lake Ontario. Oswego was still very thoroughly a frontier station, beyond the pale of civilization. The young officers had a weary tramp of a week or two over ground which may now be passed in a few hours. There was neither canal, steamboat, nor railroad to shorten the distance between Albany and Oswego, when this party moved from the seaboard to the Lake shore. But the young officers enjoyed extremely the novelty of the change, and the spice of adventure connected with it. They considered it a piece of especial good luck for sailors to find themselves drifting through a forest, and all in the way of duty. Many were the amusing anecdotes told by Mr. Cooper in later years in connection with this [xxiii] service on Lake Ontario; he always looked back to it with pleasure, and continued through life on the most friendly terms with the officers belonging to the expedition. More than one of these gentlemen declared at a later day that he had been the life and soul of their mess; of a gay and buoyant nature, he was overflowing with vivacity, and full of conversation. His physical activity was also remarkable. So vigorous and sound was his constitution, that his comrades declared that he rarely encumbered himself with cloak or overcoat, even with the thermometer below zero.

In those days travelers moving towards the western wilds on Lake Ontario, or the Genesee country, very generally embarked at Schenectady, ascending the Mohawk in what were still called batteaux.

The Erie Canal had already been thought of. Among those who had given the subject no little attention was the father of the young midshipman then slowly ascending the Mohawk. In a letter of Judge Cooper, written apparently about the year 1805, the following passages occur relating to this important question. Speaking of the valley of the Mohawk and the western lakes, he says: —

“The trade of this vast country must be divided between Montreal and New York, and the half of it thus lost to the United States, unless an inland communication can be formed from Lake Erie to the Hudson. This project, worthy of a nation’s. enterprise, has been some time meditated by individuals. Of its practicability there can be no doubt, while the world has as yet produced no work so noble, nor has the universe such another situation to improve. Its obvious utility will hereafter challenge more attention; men of great minds will turn their thoughts, and devote their energies to its accomplishment, and I doubt not that it will be one day achieved.

[xxiv] “The surface of Lake Erie is elevated about two hundred and eighty feet above the Hudson at Albany. A canal, large enough for sloops of fifty tons burden, will not only bring the produce of these great and rich tracts of land in the State of New York to its capital, but will secure all the trade and productions of the vast country which surrounds the lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior. Were this once effected, a sloop might then perform an inland voyage of seventeen hundred miles!

“The trade of Lake Erie already supports twenty-three ships, brigs, snows, and sloops; and Ontario twelve.

“The United States have millions of acres in the Michigan country, of which the produce by this operation would be transportable to a market.

“How, you ask, and by what funds is this great work to be accomplished — Without presuming that my opinion should be the guide in so important a concern, it is enough if I can point out one way in which it may be possible, and I think the mode I am about to propose not only possible, but very practicable. The State of New York must cede the track of this canal to the United States and the United States may then grant a charter to a company, with strong rights and immunities, and the fullest security the general laws will admit of — in short, whatever would encourage the European capitalist to adventure in this magnificent enterprise. Let the United States take shares to the amount of ten millions of dollars, which will serve as an encouragement and security to the foreign capitalist, and be a safeguard against the effects of those fluctuations in councils and public opinions, to which the affairs of men are everywhere liable.

“The banks of this canal would become a carriage-road, and one of the most beautiful in the universe. [xxv] That most attractive and gratifying object, the falls of Niagara, would of itself create a thoroughfare, and the product of the tolls on the turnpikes, and canal gates, would raise a revenue sufficient, in a very short time, to requite the undertakers. No stranger but would make this tour his object, and no traveler of taste would leave it uncelebrated. But, as this speculation lies in the province of fancy, and may be treated as a vision, I leave it.” [William Cooper, A Guide in the Wilderness (Dublin: Gilbert and Hodges, 1810 {facsimile edition: Cooperstown: Paul F. Cooper, 1986}), pp. 32-34]

Different indeed was the aspect and the whole character of the valley of the Mohawk in those days from what it has since become. If the canal was considered visionary, what mould have been thought of the railroads, and of the telegraph, which only thirty years later was planned by a friend of the young midshipman, then slowly moving up the troubled current of the stream. There were two kinds of boat then in general use on the Mohawk, by which the produce of the interior moved down the stream towards the Hudson, and the manufactures of the seaboard were carried to Utica and the small towns farther west. The Schenectady boat was small, flat-bottomed, and rigged with an ungainly sail, though depending chiefly on the muscular power of the boatmen with their oars or poles. The Durham boat, of which there were large numbers, was long, shallow, and nearly flat-bottomed. These batteaux, as they were called, were chiefly worked by means of a pole, ten feet long, shed with iron, and crossed at short intervals with small bars of wood; the men would place themselves at the bow, two on each side, thrust their poles into the channel, and grasping the wooden bars successively, work their way towards the stern, impelling the boat forward by this laborious movement. These Durham boats found their way from the Mohawk to the St. Lawrence, and were [xxvi] much used on the Canadian waters. And it was said that one of these craft went into the Missouri River, making an inland voyage of six weeks, from the rude wharf at Schenectady. The Mohawk boatmen were singularly skillful in those times; they made the trip to Utica, about one hundred miles, against current and rapids, and returned in nine days! Two miles and a half in an hour was the usual speed against the current.

The young midshipman was the guide of the party as they moved slowly up the river. He was thoroughly familiar with the valley of the Mohawk, his own home among the Otsego Highlands lying some five and twenty miles to the southward. The two fine stone houses semi-fortified, built by Sir William Johnson more than half a century earlier, were passed. And in the same reach of the river a singular Indian antiquity was observed, which is no longer visible; it was a picture writing, on a rock in a conspicuous position, representing a canoe with seven warriors in it. The coloring was red, the figures rude as usual, but every line had its meaning to the Indian eye. It was said to have been painted by some Mohawk war party about the middle of the last century. At the mouth of the Schoharie, a little fort and church built in the time of Queen Anne, for the benefit of the Mohawks, were still standing. In those days the boatmen generally stopped at this point, for a supply of water from a peculiarly fine spring. At Fort Plain, the little block house which has given its name to the village was still in good condition. At Little Falls the travelers came to one of the first steps in internal improvement undertaken in our State. There was a succession of five canal locks at the Portage as it was formerly called, for the passage of loaded boats to and fro. They were first used in 1803. General [xxvii] Schuyler had superintended this work, which was a first step towards the Erie Canal. These locks had been originally built of wood, but in 1808 they were rebuilt of stone. The cost of each lock was $10,000. The tolls in 1808 were $4700. In the course of three months some two hundred and fifty boats would pass.

Only six days were required for this voyage between Schenectady and Utica! This was a pleasant little village, where twenty years earlier there was only one house. It could now boast some two hundred and fifty houses, and about fifteen hundred inhabitants. It was not considered so well built, however, as Cooperstown, a sister village in Otsego county.

The batteaux still moved up the Mohawk to Rome, the site of Fort Stanwix; here, at one hundred and sir miles from Schenectady, the first stage of the voyage was completed on the seventh day. Here in the last century was a famous portage, between the head waters of the Mohawk, and those of the Wood Creek. A cluster of forts had arisen one after the other about this portage, but they were already in a ruinous condition. And here again were a cluster of locks and a bit of canal to connect the eastern and the western waters. The travelers and their batteaux were soon floating on that dark and sluggish stream, the Wood Creek, and on the evening of the second day they reached the Oneida Lake, a broad sheet of dark-colored mater, unwholesome to drink, and strangely blended with small dark particles called the Lake blossom, by the boatmen It was very rich in fish, the boatmen asserting that more than a hundred large salmons would sometimes be caught in a day, by a small party with a seine. These hundred fish would sell for $7. It was a day’s voyage, with the oars and poles across the lake, against a head wind. Another [xxviii] day was needed to bring the boats to “Three River Point,” where the Oneida and Seneca unite, to form the Oswego River, which is twenty-five miles long, full of rocks and rapids, and at that period flowed through a country still essentially wild. Vast reaches of unbroken forest lay on either side, east and west. The Oswego Fall, with its rocks and foaming waters, making a descent of twelve feet, was passed on foot; the boats with a light lading were carried down safely by very skillful pilots. Some months later a large cannon, a thirty-two pounder, was carried safely down the fall in a boat, the officers standing on the shore anxiously watching its descent. The twelfth day the boats reached the port of Oswego.

The little village had an odd aspect. The old fortifications on both sides of the river were entirely in ruins. There were ruins also of old Dutch trading-houses, of some strength; these buildings were of stone, built around a long square, upon which all their doors opened within, for security. One of these houses bore the date of 1711, some sixteen years before the building of the first English fort.

The foundation of the American village did not take place until twenty years after the Peace, in 1803. The oldest settler had many adventurous stories to tell the young officers, of the hardships he and his family had undergone in the dark ages, five years earlier. He rode forty miles to mill. He had not one neighbor when he built his solitary dwelling. The nearest market, for common necessaries was one hundred miles distant.

There was, however, quite a brisk trade at the wharves in 1808, some nine or ten vessels belonging to the port passing constantly to and fro. Many of them were laden with Onondaga salt. And, strange to say, others carried tea and Chinese and East Indian goods to Canada. [xxix] Upper Canada depended chiefly upon Oswego for these luxuries. There were several small taverns, and shout a dozen houses, with a few log huts. There were several large warehouses filled with salt, tea, etc., etc. But in winter these were shut up. The whole village went to sleep like the bears, during cold weather!

Wild animals still prowled through the adjoining forest; bears, wolves, and panthers were not wanting. Of deer there was an abundant supply. And one or two fresh beaver-dams mere only a short distance from the banks of the river. The officers supplied their mess bountifully with venison and bear’s meat, to say nothing of grouse and water-fowl; and few days passed without a fishing-party. The fish in the Ontario were excellent, and stories were told of the capture of sturgeon weighing nearly a hundred pounds, of the celebrated muscallonge of half that weight, and of salmon very nearly as large, to say nothing of the white-fish, the Oswego bass, and rock bass While throwing himself with all his usual spirit into these hunting and fishing expeditions, the young midshipman was never much of an angler. He generally required something more of movement and excitement in his outdoor recreations. Be was particularly fond of cruising and exploring expeditions along the lake shore. But whether afloat or ashore the mess led a merry life; they were all young, on excellent terms with each other, and their duties at the moment were light.

In later years Mr. Cooper often mentioned with pleasure little incidents connected with this period of half garrison, half sailor life. On one occasion while on a journey through the wilderness to Buffalo they stopped for the night at a rude frontier inn — perchance on ground which has now become the heart of a large city. Mr. Cooper acting as caterer for the party, inquired [xxx] into the state of the larder. Mine host shook his head ruefully; he could promise very little; had they come few weeks earlier he could have done better, but there was nothing to speak of in the house that day. “Give us what you eat yourself; you must have food of some kind!” Mine host looked melancholy — on his honor, he assured the officers, he had absolutely nothing to set before them, but grouse, venison steaks, and brook-trout; and maybe his wife could find cranberries for a tart! A month earlier they could have had fried pork fit for the President, with a pumpkin pie after it; but they must not expect any delicacies now. “Game’s plenty, but nothing else!” added the publican with a sigh. Mine host was pining for salt pork! There was at that time an amusing character in the new village, who afforded no little entertainment to the young officers; this was a half-fledged medical genius, from New England, with long lank figure, strongly marked face, full of small professional vanities and pretensions, and with an intensely nasal twang in his pedantic speech; but withal a good fellow in the main. The Doctor’s visits to the mess were always a very especial entertainment. When writing “The Pioneers” at a later day, Mr. Cooper ventured to introduce this old Oswego acquaintance to the reader, under the name of Dr. Elnathan Todd. It was said that he had meanwhile removed further west, changed his profession, grown rich, and would probably not have known himself, if he ever read the book. The servant of the mess was a very raw Irish lad, but recently landed; he was a thorough Paddy of the most amusing sort, full of blarney and blunder, an unceasing source of amusement to the young men. On one occasion the table-cloth took fire; Paddy was at the moment filling a tea-pot on the table, from an ample kettle in his hand. “Pour the [xxxi] water on the cloth, Pat!” called out one of the officers. “Shure the wather is hot, your honor!” exclaimed Pat in great dismay, holding the kettle at a very safe distance from the blazing cloth, his face meanwhile exhibiting the most ludicrous expression of the bull physiognomythat could well be imagined. Mr. Cooper often laughed heartily at the mere recollection of the poor fellow’s bewildered countenance.

The bright idea of giving a ball occurred to the young gentlemen. A fiddle and a ball-room were procured without much difficulty. With flags and evergreens the bare walls could be made to look festal. The lights were a difficulty. Pine knots were proposed by a wag. This idea was indignantly rejected. By skillful strategy, a large number of dip tallow candles were secured, sufficient for quite a brilliant illumination; all sorts of original ideas were resorted to, some military, some culinary, to provide candlesticks and impromptu chandeliers Thus far the plan looked promising — but where were the ladies to grace the revels — Alas, ladies in northern New York were then very few, and very far between! After counting over every woman in the new village who could be supposed capable of dancing, there still remained not a few of the dancing men likely to be partnerless. But a dance they were resolved to have, and moreover by sending out two or three ox-teams, accustomed to wading small rivers and making their way through swamps, hopes were held out of securing a dozen more damsels from a distance; boats skillfully commanded were also sent along the coast and up the river, to capture a few more. The eventful evening came. A delicate point had to be decided. How, and by what rules, so many miles from a regular drawing-room, were the honors of the evening to be allotted — Mr. Wolsey [sic] proved himself equal to [xxxii] the occasion. He issued his orders to the Master of Ceremonies: “All ladies, sir, provided with shoes and stockings, yon are to lead to the head of the Virginia reel; ladies with shoes but without stockings are to be considered in the second rank; ladies without either shoes or stockings, you will lead, gentlemen, to the foot of the country-dance!”

The especial duty for which this naval party had been sent to Oswego is thus alluded to in the “History of the Navy:” “In the course of the summer of 1808, it was thought prudent to make a commencement towards the employment of a force on the lakes; England already possessing ships on Ontario and Erie. There being no especial law for such an object, advantage was taken of the discretionary powers granted to the President, under the act for building gun-boats. A few officers were placed under the orders of Lieutenant M.T. Wolsey [sic], and that gentleman was empowered to make contracts for the construction of three vessels, one of which was to be built on Lake Ontario and the other two on Lake Champlain. The two vessels constructed on Lake Champlain were ordinary gun-boats, but that built on Lake Ontario was a regular brig of war. The latter was of about two hundred and forty tons measurement, was pierced for sixteen guns, and when delivered by the contractors in the spring of I809 to the sea officers ordered to receive her, she mounted sixteen twenty-four pound carronades. In consequence of an arrangement that was made about this time, with England, but which was not ratified in Europe, this vessel, which was called the Oneida, was not equipped and sent upon the lake till the following year.” [James Fenimore Cooper, History of the Navy of the United States of America (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1839), Vol. II, Chapter 8, pp. 117-118]

The Oneida was driven ashore by the ice, about a year after she was launched. The Canadian government, to [xxxiii] preserve their superiority on the lake, soon after the launch of the Oneida built a brig of nearly double her force, carrying thirty guns.

An amusing anecdote was told in connection with English ship-budding on the lake, about that period, but whether relating to the rival of the Oneida, or some later vessel, we cannot say. The frame and blocks were actually sent over at great expense from England, by the Admiralty, as if there were no timber on the lake shore. And by an absurdity still more glaring each British vessel on the lake was carefully provided with a full supply of English water-casks, and moreover, with apparatus for distilling salt-water!! There is good Canadian authority for this statement.

More than thirty years after this cruise on Lake Ontario the author of “The Pilot,” while sitting in his library at Otsego Hall, planned a new work in which Indians and sailors mere to be thrown together on the waters of the “Inland Sea,” and in which Natty was again to appear before the reader in the difficult character of a lover.

In the course of the year 1840 “The Pathfinder” was written and published. “Mercedes of Castile,” a romance of the days of Columbus was also written in 1840.