Re-Evaluating the “Canadian Cooper”

Alan James Finlayson (Independent Scholar)

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“Cooper, we think, has no equal, unless it may be the author of that striking romance, Wacousta or the Prophecy ... ”

— Francis Parkman, January 1852

Major John Richardson and James Fenimore Cooper were born seven years apart and died within nine months of each other. Both men emerged as writers in the 1820s and were the first internationally successful novelists of their respective nations. Both were historians as well as novelists, with Richardson also being a published poet and lyricist. Both were avid nationalists, sensitive to criticism, became embroiled in controversies, and were recognized as authors of comparable stature.

Richardson, however, has been unfairly portrayed in papers by Edward Watts ( “Cooper, Richardson, and the Frontiers of Nationalism,” 2002) and Hugh C. McDougall ( “The Novels of John Richardson, ‘The Canadian Cooper,’” 2011), which appear on the James Fenimore Cooper Society website. He is depicted as a failure both as a writer and a historian. It is said that his writings were “ignored” and that he was only a “marginal novelist given to exploiting sex and violence to gain a popular audience;” an author who “borrowed” from Cooper and was “inevitably compared” to him only because they both shared a common subject matter — ”the frontier and Native Americans.” Richardson’s admiration for Cooper and his statements of 1851 that he had “absolutely devoured” The Last of the Mohicans and “robbed” Cooper in the creation of his novel Wacousta are emphasized. Even the character of Wacousta is said to be “a deliberate combination of Hawkeye and Magua” (italics mine). Richardson, who only “stumbles” on the theme of his two major works, is depicted as a slavish follower of Cooper who even names his dogs “Hector.” Wacousta’s sequel, The Canadian Brothers, is mocked — compared to an Agatha Christie novel in which everyone is killed — and Richardson’s later writings relegated to “two volumes of memoirs;” “a successful history of the War of 1812;” “one facetious novel which is now lost;” and “several short frontier novels.” 1

Actually, however, contemporary reviewers did not view Richardson as a minor writer or a “copy” of Cooper, and his works were extremely popular. A reviewer in the Court Magazine in 1832 wrote that Richardson’s recently published Wacousta was “quite equal to the highly gifted Cooper,” while a review in the United Service Journal said it “illustrated more than any work of fiction we have lately perused the proud and inflexible character of the North American Indians” (italics mine). 2 In 1839, a promotional chapter of The Canadian Brothers appeared in the Literary Garland and was described by a reviewer as “bien superieure a celle de Fenimore Cooper,” and in 1851, New York editor Samuel Nichols wrote that Richardson had “received the eminent distinction from some of the best critics on both sides of the Atlantic, of being considered The Best Living Writer of Graphic Indian Tales surpassing James Fenimore Cooper” (italics mine). 3 As noted above, the American historian Francis Parkman — a devoted Cooper reader who wrote that he would not “willingly part” with a single one of The Leatherstocking Tales — acknowledged Richardson to be Cooper’s “equal.” 4 No such comparisons to Cooper appear in either of the two articles. Watts alludes to Richardson possessing “Cooperian credentials” but does not explain the reference, and MacDougall seems to discuss Richardson only because Richardson was a contemporary of Cooper’s — the 2011 conference theme — and claims that Richardson’s “fame” exists only because of his chronological position as Canada’s first novelist, a status “granted sometimes rather reluctantly.” 5 This image of Richardson is unfair. The authors’ motives need to recognized and several statements clarified so that readers are provided with a more comprehensive overview and balanced view of Richardson’s writings and career.

Watts clearly states that his goal is to promote Cooper — “the Leatherstocking series in particular” — and his own research: “The book I hope to write will chronicle and study [Cooper’s] influence.” Richardson is not even mentioned until halfway through the presentation, and only as an example of Cooper’s “influence ... around the world.” Richardson is said to merely modify Cooper’s characters, “borrowing” from The Prairie and The Last of the Mohicans with The Canadian Brothers being the best example of the “full extent of Cooper’s influence on Richardson.” His Tecumseh “may as well be Chingachgook”; his Matilda Montgomery “like Cora”; and his Jeremiah Desborough “Ishmael Bush in disguise.” Richardson is said to even use “Cooperian model[s]” to construct his work and is not only seen as a failed novelist, but a failed journalist and historian as well. Despite noting that Richardson “often integrated real historical individuals into his fictions,” Watts ignores the fact that Richardson knew Tecumseh personally, greatly admired him, and had already written about him three years before Cooper’s Chingachgook was even created. 6 Seeing himself in the role of “historian,” Richardson had asserted in 1828 that “Tecumseh, such as he is described, once existed; nor is there the slightest exaggeration in any of the high qualities and strong passions ascribed to him,” and he stressed that his Canadian Brothers was “not to be confounded with mere works of fiction” (italics mine). 7 He had no need to invent a “fictional” Tecumseh or copy Cooper. Jeremiah Desborough and his family are also based on contemporaries, caricatures of American “late loyalists” who settled in Upper Canada and who Richardson termed a “worthless set” — ”adventurers from the United States, chiefly men of desperate fortunes, and even more desperate characters.” 8 His writings reflect many of the negative American stereotypes, concerns and biases he had acquired as a youth and which were still in existence when he returned to Canada. Richardson’s non-fictional writings as well as his novels works contain many such references to Americans. His Tecumseh and A Canadian Campaign of the 1820s, for example, describe Americans as “ruthless despoilers” and “aggressors,” “whose perfidy had long been proverbial with the Indian race” and his “Operations ... ” (1842) and Eight Years in Canada (1847) label Americans again as “aggressors,” and “seducers.” The United States is referred to as “the artful deluder” and “detested” by the Indians. His 1851 novel Westbrook vilified another well-known “late loyalist” — 1812 veteran Andrew Westbrook — making him so “fiendish” in his novel that he even has the Americans reject him as one of their own. 9 As Dennis Duffy has written, Richardson’s writings should “be viewed within a broad framework of Loyalist outlooks.” He was “turning into novels the stuff of his own experience,” “casting his characters as embodiments of social and cultural issues” and telling “the history of a place and time he knows from the inside.” 10

Watts’ statements about the writing of Richardson’s 1842 history are also misleading. He claims that Richardson was “brought“ back to Canada “to edit a Loyalist newspaper and to write, with the help of a government grant, a history of the War of 1812 “ (italics mine). Yet apart from The Times of London having hired him as a correspondent to report on Lord Durham’s mission and paying for his passage to British North America, no sources mention any economic support being provided. Richardson appears to have been financially on his own and continually in debt, consistently seeking political appointments in an attempt to survive economically. He had sought help from the British Government before leaving England but was unsuccessful, and although he “intended” to set up a newspaper press, Beasley writes that there are only “faint clues” that he ever acted as an editor. In 1840, he sold his Lieutenancy to buy a press of his own. 11 No evidence of economic support is suggested. Nor was his 1842 history a pre-arranged “Government” assignment. The suggestion that he write a Canadian account of the war was made after he arrived in British North America, by the editor of the Montreal Herald. Richardson himself informed readers of his New Era that “[S]everal of our contemporaries having intimated a desire that an accurate account of the events of the War of 1812 in this country, should be given by those who participated in it ... we shall publish a ‘Narrative of the Operations of the Right Division of the Army of Upper Canada.’” 12 A passionate Canadian nationalist, he was responding to what he and others saw as “the corrupt channel of American publications” about the war which he felt “pervert facts” and “weaken the energies the national character.” The fear of American influence on “Canadian” culture was not new, nor would it disappear. In 1815, a letter had appeared in the Kingston Gazette complaining of the use in schools of “books imported from the United States” and calling for the need “to make some regulations respecting, both imported school books, and imported teachers.” In the 1830s there was still concern over American instructors “instilling into the young and tender mind sentiments hostile to the parent state”; the use of “false accounts of the late war”; “reading books describing the American population as the most free and enlightened under heaven ... and American spelling Books, Dictionaries and Grammars, teaching them an anti-British dialect and idiom.” Lt.-Gov. Sir George Arthur, with whom Richardson met, remarked in 1838 on “the madness of allowing Americans to be instructors of the Youth of the Country.” It was only after his account had been published that Richardson himself petitioned the Canadian Legislature to grant him funding. The money that was provided was “to carry on his historical series,” not to begin it. Fiercely independent, he would be greatly offended by the suggestion that he could be used or would pander to the will of others, exclaiming to Durham in 1838 that he would never “condescend to become a hireling scribe” and in his 1846 correspondence that he was no “toady.” 13 Despite expressing an interest in “the role of literature in the shaping of national self-perception,” and terming Richardson a “nationalist,” Watts makes no reference to Richardson’s attempts to “infuse a spirit of National Literature into his native land” or help in the formation of a “national character” and gives no suggestion of Richardson possessing any patriotic motives for returning to Canada despite his frequent references to himself as “a Canadian” and his expressions of concern for his “own native land.” 14 Richardson planned to publish a Canadian edition of Wacousta and complete its sequel — a project he termed “in a great degree a national one.” He referred to these volumes as “NATIONAL AND HISTORIC WORKS” and, as a set with Tecumseh, as his “CANADIAN WORKS” (both in capital letters). He hoped the novel would live long after him and looked forward to the day when “these fine provinces shall ... take their stand among the nations of the earth” and to a time when Canadians became “a reading people” like the Americans. 15

Watts’ focus is on Richardson’s supposed use of “Cooper’s model of nationalism” and his supposed misuse of history by “redefin[ing]” the War of 1812, making it “a crucible for reconstructing a more conservative Canadian identity.” But Richardson was again only reflecting a view shared by many colonists. The Literary Garland applauded how the novel championed John Strachan’s “Loyalty myth” and “vindicated the colonial character” from “the aspersions hitherto too frequently cast upon it, as being secondary in sterling worth to that of the parent country.” That same year (1840) John Beverly Robinson wrote that the war had “produced in the British colonists a national character and feeling” — a view long supported by eminent Canadian historians. 16 There was no “redefining” of the War’s “meaning,” nor was his novel the failure Watts implies. True, it did not sell well, but the reasons for its lack of success should be clarified. It was the lack of a Canadian reading market that led to the lack of sales, not the implied poor writing. Both England’s Colonial Magazine and New York’s Albion praised its importance and accurate portrayal of “the state of affairs” in 1812-15, and the Montreal Herald called it “an honour to Canadian literature” (italics mine). The Quebec Mercury wanted “every library in these provinces” to have a copy. The novel — designed to treat “the manners, habits, political and moral character” of the Canadians — shows an emerging Canadian nationalism; literary scholar R.P. Baker has referred to it as “one of the most significant books of its time” and Richardson’s “most significant.” 17

MacDougall’s article provides a greater focus on Richardson as an individual, but it, too, disappoints because although stating that Richardson “never in his lifetime received the recognition he deserved in the nation he loved’; that his 1842 History was “successful”; and including an account mentioning his having friends who visited him and paid for his funeral, for the most part it, too, depicts Richardson negatively. Richardson is assumed to have stolen the name Uncas from Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) despite Richardson’s 1828 statement that “the Poem was composed five years ago.” The fact that this claim is accepted by Richardson scholars, or that Richardson possessed Native blood and would likely be interested in Native history while growing up in Amherstburg where “hundreds of the native peoples routinely gathered” — some of whom may have told him of the historical Uncas (c.1588-c.1683) — is rejected. 18 No mention is made of John Norton (Teyoninhokarawen) being the inspiration for “John Morton/Wacousta” rather than “Hawkeye and Magua” despite references to him by Beasley, Duffy and Richardson himself — all sources listed in MacDougall’s endnotes. Like Richardson’s character “Morton/Wacousta,” John Norton was born in Scotland and was a cultured European who, upon coming to Upper Canada, “turned native.” He was “second in command” to Joseph Brant — like Wacousta to Pontiac, both of whom were intended to be “successors” — worked for Richardson’s grandfather as a trader in an area known as “Wagousta,” and was with Richardson at Detroit in 1812. Richardson sought his help in 1816 when both were in London, and he specifically mentions Norton in his 1842 History, and in correspondence included in his Eight Years in Canada (1847). Are all of these links between Norton and Richardson coincidental? Beasley, the leading expert on Richardson, identified Norton as the “model” for the character Wacousta as early as 1970 and consistently referred to Norton in his studies of Richardson. Most Richardson scholars have accepted this view, the McClelland and Stewart New Canadian Library 1991 edition of Wacousta going so far as to use Norton’s portrait on its cover. According to the MacDougall’s 2011 article, however, Richardson is made to appear to be simply copying Cooper. 19

Richardson’s personality also comes under attack. Just as Watts assigns Richardson no patriotic motives, MacDougall includes Pacey’s negative opinion that Richardson was “obnoxious ... [e]xcitable, belligerent, haughty, and quick to take offence” — ”a Hotspur who forever sought and found trouble” — but does not include positive contemporary opinions such as that of Richardson’s senior officer in the Quarter-Master-General’s Department who wrote that “Those friends who have known you in the British Service, and in the closer ties of private society, will join with me in pronouncing you incapable of acting derogatory to the highest principles of honour you have always professed and advocated” or Lord Durham’s opinion that he was “a man of honour and integrity.” 21 Casselman in his 1902 study concluded that “[i]n a careful study of his career, no mean, no dishonourable act will be found. Faithful to his friends, true to his convictions, loyal to his country, he unselfishly served friends and country better than he served himself” which would seem to support fellow author George Thompson who described him as “gallant,” “a gentleman,” “a fine person” who possessed “a generous heart and the most winning manners,” “a much-valued friend” whose death “caused the most profound grief in the breasts of all who knew him.” His friends who “used to love to assemble at his humble lodgings and avail themselves of his splendid conversational powers, or listen to his personal reminiscences,” paid for his “handsome” funeral which “was widely reported in the newspapers” along with “an angry letter denouncing rich publishers who underpaid their writers.” 21 Beasley admits that Richardson’s personality was “flawed,” that he was often “critical,” with a “tendency to judge things as black or white” and “self-dramatize,” had a “quick temper” and “self-conceit,” but his extensive research also brought him to conclude that Richardson was a man of “integrity,” and he suggests that Richardson’s political opponents such as Francis Hincks and G. T. Weatheral “manufactured” much of his negative image. Hincks attacked Richardson in the press as a “most quarrelsome and disagreeable person,” criticized his appointment as Superintendent of Police on the Welland Canal, and worked for his dismissal, but when a Select Parliamentary Committee looked into Richardson’s conduct, it found “no cause of complaint” and determined that he had been done an “injustice.” He was exonerated, just as he had been in a similar situation years before. 22 Richardson did take part in duels, but duels were a common means of settling disputes between “gentlemen” in that era. According to historian Lawrence James, “[p]ersonal honour was the peculiar virtue which separated gentlemen from other men and exalted their standing in the eyes of the world ... Duelling was attempted murder, but gentlemen set their code of honour above the law.” Over 100 duels occurred in the United States Navy Officer Corps alone between 1799 and 1849; the Duke of Wellington took part in a duel in 1829; and British Prime Minister Lord Castlereagh and future Prime Minister George Canning fought one on September 21, 1809. Riddell mentions six Upper Canadians’ duels during the period, not counting John Norton’s famous duel of 1823. Cooper himself owned duelling pistols and has also been described as “arrogant and thin-skinned” and unable “to let any perceived slight against his honor, no matter how insignificant, go unpunished.” Two of Richardson’s duels were fought in defence of a lady’s honour, while on two other occasions he went to a woman’s defense through his writing and in 1830 risked his life to save the life of a young bride of two weeks. 23 Why is Richardson’s “volatile” nature noteworthy, but not his gallantry, valour or sense of honour?

This image of Richardson as an author whose works were “ignored” and who was “a failure both personally and financially” needs to be clarified. Watts suggests that “white settlers in places like Canada (not “in” Canada!) read Cooper voraciously” (my italics), implying that there was a reading public but who chose not to read Richardson. No evidence, however, is provided. Richardson was trying to make a living as a writer in an undeveloped “frontier” of under 2,000,000 people, many who were illiterate pioneers and few having the income or time to spend on “luxury items” such as reading materials. Another factor which inhibited his financial success was the fact that American copyright laws allowed publishers to sell non-American works without subsidizing the foreign author, with the result that Richardson did not receive income from works such as his Ecarte and Wacousta regardless of their popularity. He was, according to Thompson, “the victim of rapacious publishers.” Most authors were “failures” financially. New York editor Samuel Nichols commented in the year of Richardson’s death that “the way of literary men of the city is hard indeed!” and Beasley states that “[t]wo thirds of the literary men, like Richardson, were not listed in the city directory, in fact had no fixed living quarters.” Historian Alan Taylor states that Cooper was “the only American author before 1850 [able] to support his family primarily from his royalties,” and these came mainly from his early (1821-27) novels (italics mine). Watts himself admits that “[h]ad Cooper been forced to rely on the income from his later novels, he might have met a similar fate.” 24

Richardson did not make much money from his works, but he was not “ignored.” He recognized the fact that Canadians were “too much pounds, shillings and pence men to care much about polite literature” — “they would far more rejoice in a grand distiller of whiskey than a writer of books” but took on what he called the “weighty responsibility” of trying to instil an interest in a Canadian literature among these “non-reading Canadians” in the “matter-of-fact country” in which he lived. He did become bitter often complaining that Canada was “indisposed to the encouragement of literature,” did not “honour” its authors and at times felt as though he was “buried alive.” Late in his life (1851) he reflected that he “might as well have [published] in Kamtschatka.” 25 But he knew that literate Canadians were aware of his accomplishments. The Literary Garland had written that it was proud to include him as “one who owns his birth rite among us,” and “who is not, even in the literary world of England, ‘unknown to fame ‘ “ and in March of 1846 a dinner was held in his honour — a “small testimony of the esteem entertained by [his] grateful countrymen,” — the host saying he would personally “ever feel proud, as an adopted Canadian, to hear fame distinguish the character of a gentleman who, by the splendour of his genius has shed an additional luster on his native country.” 26

His works were popular and praised. Ecarte (1829) sold well in England and was published in New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. It was republished in the United States in 1851 with noted critic Rufus Griswold calling it “worthy of the best masters of romantic fiction” and “a very brilliant novel.” 27 Wacousta (1832) was “read by the whole court” of King William IV, and widely praised for its “powerful delineation of Indian character” which “has never been excelled; ... and only equaled by Murray in his ‘Prairie Bird,’ and Cooper in his ‘Leather-Stocking Tales’” (italics mine). Within months of its publication, Adam Waldie of Philadelphia had obtained a copy and by April was publishing it as a serial stating that it “had been received with great fav the reading public in England” and terming it “a very superior production.” It appeared in a two-volume edition in May, was featured in Canadian and American newspapers, and performed that December as a stage play. By the time of Richardson’s death in 1852, the novel had gone through four British editions, two American editions, and had been performed repeatedly on stage. 28 Praise for The Canadian Brothers (1840) has been noted above. As for his “several short frontier novels,” Hardscrabble (1850) met with “unprecedented popularity,” compelling Philadelphia editor Caroline Kirkland to write that “for thrilling interest [it] can hardly be surpassed” and compelling her to reprint “for a third time ... the early numbers of the present volume” and include the whole volume in a later issue of her Union Magazine. Its sequel Wau-nan-gee (1851) was proclaimed by the Literary Journal as “perhaps the most interesting story of the kind which has ever issued from the American Press” (italics mine) and was also performed on stage. The Review termed Richardson “a great artist” and the Western Journal thought that in Wau-nan-gee he “has sustained, and even exceeded his previous high reputation“ (italics mine). The New York Sunday Mercury carried it on their front page for fourteen issues and its editor also had to provide reprints because of demand and then do so a second time that fall when they also serialized Westbrook the Outlaw. They also published three of his short stories. In 1850-51, Dewitt and Davenport published The Monk Knight of St. John as well as new editions of Ecarte, Wacousta, The Canadian Brothers (as Matilda Montgomerie — which went through six more printings by 1888) — and Hardscrabble. In 1853, they published Westbrook as a novel and in 1856 Wau-nan-gee, as well as again publishing Ecarte, Matilda Montgomerie, and Hardscrabble. In 1857, Wacousta was again re-published and Hardscrabble appeared in German as did Wacousta in 1858. Meanwhile, Grahams Magazine (1850) and Copway’s American Indian (1851) were publishing Richardson’s “The Sunflower,” “The North American Indians,” and “A Trip to Walpole Island.” That same year, 1851, Richardson gave a lecture, “Embracing Particulars as Connected with the Death of Tecumseh,” to a crowd which had people standing in the aisles, and he held them “almost breathless throughout.” 29 It would appear that his works were not being “ignored” and that he was more than a “marginal novelist.”

Richardson’s novels are distinct from Cooper’s. Watts finds Richardson to be more conservative than Cooper, and MacDougall writes that Richardson’s works are psychologically different from Cooper’s, lacking his “joy in the wilderness,” and often possessing an “un-Cooper-like sexuality.” Duffy writes of their “profound differences in outlook” and stresses how Wacousta is “a very different reading experience” from Cooper. Cooper and Richardson held very different views about “history” and “fiction.” Cooper wrote in 1823 that “rigid adhesion to truth ... destroys the charm of fiction” and stated that “it is the privilege of all writers of fiction ... to present the beau-ideal of their characters to the reader.” He wrote that he had “no intention to describe with particular accuracy any real characters” while Richardson described himself in 1828 as “Poet, the first of his native soil ... but also ... Historian” and later stated his belief that “the romance of real life is often more stirring than that of fiction.” He not only emphasized the accuracy of his portrayal in Tecumseh, but reminded readers that Ecarte was based on his own experiences and that the characters were “such as are to be met every day” not fanciful creations. He again refers to himself as a historian. 31 The happenings of 1763 at Detroit featured in Wacousta were researched, as were those at Chicago in 1812 featured in Hardscrabble and Wau-Nan-gee. In his Chicago account he stressed that “the whole of the text approaches so nearly to historical fact” and that there was “but one strictly fictions character.” He sought accuracy — ”to circulate through the most attractive and popular medium [the novel] the merits of those whose deeds and sufferings have inspired him.” 31 Despite his admiration for Cooper and his works, he was not satisfied with Cooper’s portrayal of the Indian people. In 1842 he re-iterated his 1826 statement that he had not yet seen “a detail sufficiently accurate to convey a just idea of the character of these people” and in 1847 referred to Cooper as “the charming Indian novelist” (my italics). 32 He was not alone in this criticism. General Lewis Cass (1828) believed that Cooper’s Uncas, and his Pawnee Hardheart had “no living prototype in our forests ... ” and Parkman noted that Cooper’s Uncas did “not at all resemble a genuine Indian” and that his “Indian characters ... are for the most part either superficially or falsely drawn.” Cooper admitted that he was “never among the Indians,” unlike Richardson whose mother was of Indian ancestry, who knew Indians well and had fought beside them. Richardson believed the Indian possessed an “air of independence and dignified pride peculiar to their race” and like Cooper, was sensitive to “the fast approaching extinction, as a race, of [these] ... gentlemen of nature.” 33 His Indian characters are more accurate representations than Cooper’s “symbolic” natives and more complete as individuals, being allowed to possess sensibilities similar to their white counterparts with even the suggestion of interracial love. Ballstadt states that Richardson’s Indians “are never one-dimensional, but are participants in a precarious struggle with other ambiguous characters” and that his many white/European-Indian relationships are “too prominent to be ignored.” The Sunflower, A True Tale of the North-West (1850) tells of a love affair between an Indian maiden and the warrior Wawandah; Ampata: A Tale of Lake George (1852) tells the story of an Indian maiden’s love for a white officer; and Captain Leslie; or, The Generous Foe: A Tale of the Revolutionary War“ (1851) stresses the Indian’s love for their land while in Wau-nan-gee, Maria Heywood departs with her “dear friend” and protector, the “noble,” “generous,” “devoted,” “pure,” and “self-sacrificing” warrior Wau-nan-gee. These “positive” stories do not feature Indians who are “ruthless, devious, violent, and fond of their scalping knives.” Nor are they guilty of “exploiting sex and violence” — implied as standard features of Richardson’s writing. They are not discussed despite three of the stories being found in a volume listed in MacDougall’s endnotes. 34

Richardson’s reputation has suffered to a large degree because he has been too often judged on what he himself referred to as “imperfect” editions — “abridged United States editions of Wacousta and The Canadian Brothers.” Waldie, for example, cut almost 20,000 words from the original Wacousta, removing “at least seventy” features. “Canadian” features become “American;” “anti-American” comments such as Americans being “aggressors” were removed, and even the characters of de Haldimar and Wacousta altered. “Wacousta” himself is transformed from a wronged individual to a villain. Cronk describes Waldie’s editing as “pernicious” and writes that it makes Wacousta“appear to be an American novel, and a pale imitation of Cooper s American historical fiction .”(italics mine). Since Waldie’s version became the basis for all later editions, “critics have been commenting on the Americanized version” and “general readers are grossly misled.” Similarly his The Canadian Brothers, with its glorification of British and Canadian troops in the War of 1812 ending with an enthusiastic description of the Canadian victory at Queenston Heights became Matilda Montgomerie — a “private melodrama of the revenge of a spurned mistress.” Upon seeing this Dewitt edition, Richardson dropped them as his publishers. The damage, however had been done. Richardson’s works were “Americanized” and until recently readers were unable to read “the first Canadian novel,” written “with a British audience in mind ... an audience he wished to persuade to view Canada’s heroic past with a more kindly and interested eye. ... ” 35 One has to wonder how Cooper’s reputation would have stood up if his best works had been so drastically altered before being judged.

In 1977, Beasley complained that the impression had been given that Richardson was “an unsavoury, dishonest character whose writings rose no higher than that of a scribbler of potboilers.” Yet despite the abundance of “positive” information about him available since that time, this negative view is perpetuated in the Cooper Society website articles. While it is true that Richardson failed financially and was personally “hypersenitive,” a “loose cannon” and possessed “a sense of self-importance,” the fact that he was seen by his contemporaries as “equal” to Cooper, a patriot, and a man of integrity and honour, should be acknowledged. 36 Richardson and Cooper were similar in many ways. Cooper is justly praised not only for the quality of his writing, but for his sensitivity to the Indians ‘ point of view, his skill as a historian, and his cultural leadership in beginning “the American cultural Revolution.” 37 Richardson deserves to be recognized by Cooper enthusiasts in a similar light. As Michael Hurley has written, “much can be learned from how we choose to tell — and retell — our stories” and just as Cooper interpreted the transformation of the American nation in a particular way, Richardson’s writings are “an early attempt to give expression to the spirit of nationality” in British North America and reflect the transformation, perceptions and values of the Upper Canadian community. 38 The issue is not whether Richardson’s works are “equal” in quality to Cooper’s, but that Richardson be acknowledged as more than a slavish follower of Cooper — as a writer whose “fine powers of imagination” were so admired by Parkman and other contemporaries. 39


1 See Edward Watts, “Cooper, Richardson, and the Frontiers of Nationalism” (2002),; and Hugh C. McDougall ( “The Novels of John Richardson, ‘The Canadian Cooper’” (2011), (both accessed 10 March 2020), passim. Richardson scholars such as Duffy and Monkman minimize his “debt” to Cooper. Cooper provided the example that a novel based on a historic event in North America could be successful. Richardson therefore turned to his memories of listening to his grandmother remembrances about Pontiac’s siege of Detroit in 1763 which had inspired him to one day “grow up to manhood that I might write a book about it.” See Dennis Duffy “Beyond the Last Mohican: John Richardson’s Transformation of Cooper in WacoustaAmerican Review of Canadian Studies (Autumn 1992): 373, 381; Leslie Monkman, “Richardson’s Indians,” Canadian Literature 81 (1979): 87.

2 See Douglas Cronk, “The Editorial Destruction of Canadian Literature: A Textual Study of Major John Richardson’s Wacousta; or, The Prophecy“ (M.A. Thesis, Simon Fraser, 1977), 62; Carl Ballstadt (ed), Major John Richardson: A Selection of Reviews and Criticism (Montreal: L. M. Lande, 1972), 40. The phrase “lately perused” is vague, but if one assumes this reviewer was familiar with Cooper’s relatively recent and popular Leatherstocking Tales of 1826 and 1827, it implies that he favours Richardson. A more recent evaluation has stated: “Judged against Walter Scott’s historical romances or James Fenimore Cooper’s frontier romances, Wacousta is wondrously complex and enigmatic. Judged from a present perspective, within the tradition it so roundly represents, it is of major importance.” See John Moss in his Readers Guide to the Canadian Novel (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981).

3 Quoted in David Beasley, The Canadian Don Quixote (2 nd ed.) (Simcoe: Davus Publishing, 2004), 143, 266.

4 Francis Parkman, “The Works of James Fenimore Cooper,” The North American Review 74 (Jan. 1852): 151,156. For references to Parkman’s fondness for Cooper, see Mason Wade, Francis Parkman: Heroic Historian (Hamden: Archon Books, 1942 ), 326, passim.

5 Watts, 5; MacDougall, 2. It is interesting that MacDougall in February 2011 wrote that Wacousta was “compared favourably to the Last of the Mohicans,“ that it was “the best work of Canadian fiction published in the nineteenth century,” and referred to it as a “literary treasure” yet does not include any of that information in his July presentation or online article. See David Beasley, “Major John Richardson Newsletter,” Feb.2, 2011, (accessed March 13, 2020).

6 Watts, 3-6. Richardson’s use of contemporary “models” is widely accepted. In his works we encounter the real Simon Girty, Andrew Westbrook, Tecumseh, Brock, Procter, Barclay, Walk-in-the-Water, Roundhead, and Split-Log as well as characterizations of John Norton ( “Wacousta”), Rebekah Heald ( “Mrs.Headley”), Dan Springer ( “Henry Stringer”), and members of his own family such as his grandfather John Askin ( “Mr. Erskine”), his wife Maria ( “Maria Drayson”) as well as himself and his younger brother Robert ( “Gerald” and “Henry Grantham”). Tecumseh is featured in six of his works as well as in his New Era newspaper. As his first biographer, A.C. Casselman wrote, he “has drawn with a firm and skilled hand not only the children of his imagination, but the people of his own day,” and in The Canadian Brothers, “gives us a description of the principal Indian chiefs who were allies of the British in the War of 1812, to be found nowhere else.” Yet Cooper also used “models.” In the case of “Leather Stocking,” as early as 1823, the year of his appearance in The Pioneers, a reviewer wrote that the character was “modelled from the effigies of old Daniel Boone” who was famous. A similar comment was made in 1825, and episodes from Boone’s career provide a model for the rescue of Cora and Alice in The Last of the Mohicans of 1826. See Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), 59, Endnotes #1 and 7 (p. 268). For Richardson, see A.C. Casselman (ed.), Richardson’s War of 1812 (Toronto: Historical Publishing Co., 1902), “Introduction,” xliv; Donald Stephens (ed.), The Canadian Brothers (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1992), “Editor’s Introduction,” xxxii-iii; and Alan James Finlayson, “Major John Richardson: A Study of an Artist, his Historical Models and his Milieu,” M.A, Thesis, Carleton University, 1977.

7 See Major John Richardson, “Preface” to Tecumseh, May 18, 1828, Douglas Daymond and Leslie Monkman (eds), Tecumseh, Appendix B;, accessed March 21, 2020; and Major John Richardson, “Preface” to The Canadian Brothers (1840), in Stephens (ed), x.

8 Stephens, 95, 284. Richardson makes “editorial comments” such as these both in his novel and elsewhere. He accused the United States of having a “cloven foot,” and American settlers of breaking the loyalty oath they took when they arrived. He wrote that the War was a positive event in that it “offered a means of ... purging [Canada’s] unrepublican soil” of such Americans and believed that the Government should not “tolerate the introduction of citizens of the United States into her flourishing provinces.” See Stephens, xl, 96-97. It is important to note that although Richardson attacks the policies of the American Government and dishonourable conduct of the “Late Loyalists” who break their oath, he also praises many Americans. In The Canadian Brothers, he describes American troops as “brave” with “stout hearts” and states that there is no doubt that the troops at Detroit “would have done their duty.” Americans possess “much courage and devotedness,” a “natural enterprise” in their character and are described as “adventurous” and possessing “a perseverance and industry peculiar to themselves.” Clearly he admires “Colonel Forrester,” and in other writings positively portrays Mrs. Heald (“Mrs. Headley”) and General Harrison. See Stephens (ed.), 43, 59, 212, 289-91, 312; his “Operations of the Right Division of the Canadian Army” (1842) in Casselman (ed.), 161, 213; and his Wau-Nan-Gee; Or, The Massacre at Chicago (1850; New York: Yurita Press, 2015), 132.

9 See Stephens, “Editor’s Introduction,” xxvii; Casselman, 1,46; Major John Richardson, Eight Years in Canada (Montreal: H.H. Cunningham, 1847),78; and David Beasley (ed), Westbrook, The Outlaw; or The Avenging Wolf (1851; Simcoe: Davus Publishing, 2004), 1, 82; and Beasley (ed), Major John Richardson’s A Canadian Campaign (Simcoe: Davus, 2011), 13.

10 Dennis Duffy, Gardens, Covenants, Exiles: Loyalism in the Literature of Upper Canada/ Ontario (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 53; A World Under Sentence: John Richardson and the Interior (Toronto: ECW Press, 1996), 115; and “Beyond the Last Mohican ... ,” 369. Evidence of “anti-American” stereotypes appear throughout Upper Canadian writings. William Dummer Powell said Americans formed “a base and disloyal Population, the dregs and outcast of other Colonies.” Thomas Talbot in 1802 wrote that they “have fled from the United States for crimes, or to escape their Creditors,” and Brock in 1812 described American settlers as “the most abandoned characters” who were coming to “seek impunity in this province from crimes of high enormity committed in the States.” Later immigrants such as Susanna Moodie, Catharine Parr Trail, and Samuel Strickland accepted this view, with Strickland writing that “it is a well-known fact, that many of the early frontier settlers were persons who had evaded payment of their just debts or perhaps legal penalties for worse offences by crossing the lines, and forming settlements in Canada” (italics mine). Howison wrote in 1821 that although he had arrived in Upper Canada “with prepossessions somewhat unfavourable” to the Americans, he “did not imbibe all the prejudices of the Canadians” (italics mine). Elaine Gold in her “Teachers, and Early Canadian English 1791-1841” writes of “prevailing anti-Americanism” and gives multiple examples. See Proceedings of the 2003 Canadian Linguistic Association Annual Conference, ed. Burelle, Sophie and Somesfalean (Stanca, Université du Québec à Montréal 85, 94) See Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812 (New York: Vintage Books, 2011), 57; Ernest A. Cruikshank, “A Study of Disaffection in Upper Canada in 1812-15” in Morris Zaslow (ed.) The Defended Border (Toronto: Macmillan, 1964), 207; Samuel Strickland, Twenty-Seven Years in Canada West (London: Bentley, 1853), Vol.1, 113; S. F. Wise and Craig Robert Brown, Canada Views the United States (Toronto: Macmillan, 1967), passim; John Howison, Sketches of Upper Canada, (London: Whittaker, 1821), 275-6.

11 Watts, 3; David Beasley, Quixote (1977), 99, 100, 102, 111 fn13, 125-132.

12 W.R. Riddell, John Richardson (Toronto: Ryerson, 1923), 211.

13 See Casselman, 1; Gold, 94; the “Letter of ‘Palemon’” in Kingston Gazette 19 Sept.1815 in A. Bowler (ed.) The War of 1812 (Toronto: Holt Rinehart and Winston 1973), 80-82; Beasley (1977) 110, 131,134,157 and his 2004 “Introduction,” v; and Desmond Pacey, “A Colonial Romantic: Major John Richardson, Soldier and Novelist,” Canadian Literature (Winter 1960), 48. In Eight Years in Canada he writes that “Canadian schools ... are stocked with trash ... from the pens of the most incapable of American authors” and sees the need for proper texts as “a matter so momentous, so essential to the correct formation of national character,” 206.

14 See Richardson to Glenelg, 12 March 1837; his Letter to Morning Post 28 December 1837 in Beasley (1977), 100, 102; and his “Prospectus” to Tecumseh, March 1, 1828, Daymond and Monkman (eds).

15 See Stephens “Introduction” lvii-iii and Richardson’s Eight Years, 36.

16 See John Beverly Robinson, Canada and the Canada Bill (1840) (New York: Johnson Reprint Company, 1967), 15. Historian C. P. Stacey concluded in 1958 that the war “provided the stuff of a nascent Canadian nationalism” and Maurice Careless in 1964 that it “stamp[ed] the Ontario community for generations to come” and created “a newly assertive common consciousness — a kind of provincial nationalism.” See Stacey’s “The War of 1812 in Canadian History” and Careless’s “Introduction” in Zaslow, 336, 1, 6.

17 See Stephens, ”Editor’s Introduction,” liv, lv-lvi, li-iii, lix, and Richardson’s own words 33-41 and his Eight Years, 109; Zaslow 334 and R. P. Baker, “John Richardson and the Historical Romance” in A History of English Canadian Literature to the Confederation (London: Oxford University Press, 1920), 133. This is another example of Richardson accurately reflecting current beliefs, not “redefining” history. For a more detailed examination of Richardson’s role, see Alan James Finlayson, “Major John Richardson: Canadian Patriot and Literary Nationalist,” Ontario History CXI (Spring 2019): 80-95.

18 MacDougall, 2, 5, 8, Endnote 35. Historian Kenneth Windsor describes Richardson’s history as more than “successful,” seeing it as “[m]uch the best written of the early histories of the War of 1812.” See Windsor’s “Historical Writing in Canada (to 1920) in Carl F. Klinck (ed), Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), 214; Robert Malcomson, A Very Brilliant Affair (Toronto: Robin Brass 2003), 50. Beasley accepts Richardson’s claim, as do Daymond and Monkman who write, “The use of the present tense in this stanza suggests that Richardson’s assertion that he wrote Tecumseh in 1823 is correct. ... ” See Beasley, Quixote (2004), 67, and his “Introduction,” to Ecarte (Simcoe: Davus, 2004), i; Douglas Daymond and Leslie Monkman (eds.) “Introduction” to Tecumseh (Canto IV).

19 Norton “succeeded” Brant as leader in 1807, and Pontiac planned to have Wacousta succeed him. See Douglas Cronk (ed), Wacousta (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1990), 199. For Beasley, see his “The Tempestuous Major,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 74 (1970): 3; his The Canadian Don Quixote (1977) 11, 36-7, 60; his “Rereading Richardson’s Wacousta,” American Review of Canadian Studies XVIII, (1988): 383-385; and his Quixote (2004), “Introduction,” viii, 81, 83; Duffy, A World, 60. For Richardson’s references, see Casselman 112, 117 and Barclay to Richardson, Appendix 12 in Richardson, Eight Years, 231-2; 24. For more information on Norton’s career, see Alan James Finlayson, “Emerging from the Shadows: Recognizing John Norton,” Ontario History 110.2 (Autumn 2018): 135-51.

20 MacDougall, 1. It should be noted that the quote from Pacey was over 50 years old and written before there was a detailed biography of Richardson — a fact Pacey himself notes in his article. Beasley (1977), 87; Casselman, “Introduction,”xxviii.

21 Casselman “Introduction” xliii; George Thompson (1854) quoted in Beasley, “Newsletter,” May 14, 2011.

22 See Beasley, Quixote (1977), 107-08 fn.55 and (2004), ”Introduction” viii,184, 220, 284; Richardson, Eight Years, 193-4; Michael Cross, A Biography of Robert Baldwin (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2012) 81, 100, 125, 162, 163, 183-4, 211.

23 Lawrence James, The Iron Duke: A Military Biography of Wellington (London: Thistle Publishing, 1992; Kindle edition, 2016) Loc. 213; Wayne Franklin, James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years (New Haven: Yale University Press 2007), 126, 128; Nick Louras, James Fenimore Cooper: A Life (Washington: Chronos, 2016), 228; Beasley, Quixote (2004), 41, 59-60, 78.

24 Watts, 3,6; MacDougall, 8; Beasley, Quixote (2004), 280, 326n72; Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 412. After The Red Rover (1827), Cooper did not produce a novel that was “received with much enthusiasm” until 1840 when The Pathfinder appeared. See Louras, 149.

25 Cronk, “Introduction,” xl; Richardson, Eight Years, 92-95, 104, 107, 172; and his 1851 “Introduction” to Wacousta in Moss, 439. Beasley, Quixote (2004), 160-161; Casselman, xxxiii-iv.

26 See Stephens, “Introduction,” li; Richardson, Eight Years, 93.

27 Beasley, Quixote (2004), 272; and his “Introduction,” to Ecarte, vi.

28 Taylor to Richardson in Stephens (ed) 3-4; “Early Canadiana Online”; and Ballstadt, 36-9; Cronk, “Introduction,” xxvii-viii, Endnote 47, liv. It was performed in New York City in 1833, 1834, 1836, 1849, 1851, 1855, 1857, and 1865; in Detroit in 1837; in Boston in 1851; and in Chicago in February 1855. Eight Years 92-3; Beasley, Quixote (2004), 160 and his “Newsletter” of Dec.19, 2012 at

29 See Beasley, Quixote (2004), 248, 261, 266-67, 272, 286-93; Ballstadt, 52. In 1850 Dewitt referred to Richardson as “the celebrated author of Wacousta and Ecarte“ and praised The Monk Knight for its “gorgeous scenery” and its “rich” details. Although later “discredited” by some, it was also called “a novel of surpassing merit” and was “much sought for” and republished by Dewitt in 1866. See Beasley, “Newsletter,” Apr. 21, 2011.

30 Watts, 6; MacDougall, 3. Cooper saw himself as a creative artist and stressed the difference between historians and novelists asserting that “the privileges of the Historian and the writer of Romances are very different, and it behooves them equally to respect each other’s rights.” See James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers (1823), “Author’s Introduction” (New York: Airmont Publishing, 1964), 9, 11, 12, and Louras 118. For Richardson, see his “Prospectus” for Tecumseh (1828) Daymond and Monkman (eds.); his Ecarte 80-81, 291, passim; and his Eight Years, 92, 205. Richardson scholars do not see his works as merely imitating Cooper’s but stress their “autobiographical” nature and his “realism.” Beasley terms Ecarte “the first truly realistic novel” and Baker compares his realism to Dickens. Sinclair compares him to Defoe. Cronk describes Wacousta as “one of the first realistic historical novels” rather “just another romance.” See Michael Hurley, The Borders of Nightmare (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 21-23; Duffy, Gardens 46, 53; A World passim; and “Beyond” passim; Gayle McGregor, The Wacousta Syndrome (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985) 3-5, 7, 10, 15; Cronk, “The Americanization of Wacousta,” in Recovering Canada’s First Novelist, Catherine Ross (ed.) (Erin: Porcupine Press, 1984), 36; Beasley, Quixote (2004), 284; and Ecarte, “Introduction,” v; Baker, 128; Carl F. Klinck, “Introduction” to Wacousta (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), xiii; and Carl Ballstadt, “Introduction,” 3, 8; David Sinclair,”John Richardson’s Frascati’s...” Journal of Canadian Fiction 2.3 (1973): 34.

31 For Wacousta, he consulted his grandparents who were participants in the events and available accounts. See C.F. Klinck (ed), Wacousta, “Introduction,” ix-x. In his 1851 “Introduction” to Wacousta, Richardson mentions his grandparents’ involvement, a “Mr Henry” — Alexander Henry, whose 1809 account was available, and the belief that “an Indian woman” had warned the Governor of the planned attack. This information was not well known and appeared in Parkman’s account of 1851. Richardson, however, incorporates it in his 1828 “Notes” to Tecumseh and his 1832 novel, having “Oucanasta” warn De Haldimar’s son of the attack. He wrote that the Indians “had conceived and matured a plan for the reduction of the two important posts of Detroit  and Michilimakinac” and that: “The governor had been apprised of the scheme by an Indian woman, who, grateful for certain little kindnesses shewn her by his household, formed the laudable resolution to save the unsuspecting garrison, even at the risk of incurring those torments she well knew must follow detection,” noting as well that “It is gratifying to humanity to know, that suspicion even did not attach to her; and in her old age she was wont to speak on the subject to many of the English families, in terms of the highest exultation and self-satisfaction.”119-120. He also quotes Roger’s 1765 account. See Cronk, Wacousta, 234-37 and his “Explanatory Notes” 548-552. For Hardscrabble and Wau-Nan-Gee he conducted research in 1848 using Kinzie documents. See his “Prefatory Inscription” to Wau-Nan-Gee of March 30, 1850 (quoted in Beasley 2004), 280, 243-4. For Parkman’s research, see Howard H. Peckham, “The Sources and Revisions of Parkman’s Pontiac,” Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America XXXVII (1943), 293-307 and Pontiac and the Indian Uprising (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947) passim.

32 Richardson in Casselman 5; and Eight Years, 131.

33 See J.T. Frederick, “Cooper’s Eloquent Indians,” PMLA 71.5 (Dec. 1956): 1004; Allan Nevins(ed.), The Leatherstocking Saga  (New York: Pantheon, 1954), 25; Nick Louras, 118; Parkman, 150, 155; Richardson, “A Trip to Walpole Island and Port Sarnia in the Year 1848” in David Beasley (ed.), Major John Richardson: Short Stories (Penticton: Theytus Books, 1985), 120, 122.

34 See Ballstadt, 3, 8; Beasley, Short Stories, passim; Wau-Nan-Gee, passim.

35 An original version of The Canadian Brothers only became available in 1976 and the original Wacousta in 1987! MacDougall notes this dependency on American versions: 3, and Endnotes 26 & 27. See Cronk, “Americanization,” 33-35. Cronk estimated that Waldie ‘s version of Wacousta reached 18,000 readers. Richardson complained about copyright laws believing that “an author should be paid for the fruit of his brain.” See his Eight Years, 108.

36 Beasley (1977), 1977; Sandy Antal “Newsletter,”14 January 2013.

37 Franklin, xxviii, 4, 472, 481, 278.

38 Michael Hurley, “The Ward of 1812: Major John Richardson — Child Soldier, War Historian, and the Father of Canadian Literature,” International Journal of Canadian Studies 53.9 (2016): 19,; Baker, 135.

39 Parkman, 156.