The Last of the Shechemites and The Last of the Mohicans: Race-Killing in Canaan and New Canaan
Presented at the 16ᵗʰ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 2007.
Copyright © 2009, James Fenimore Cooper Society and the College at Oneonta.
Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 2007 Cooper Seminar (No. 16), The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Oneonta, New York. Hugh C. MacDougall and Steven Harthorn, editors. (pp. 7-14).
[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]
The epigraph on the title page of The Last of the Mohicans is from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice:
“Mislike me not, for my complexion,
The shadowed livery of the burnished sun.“ ¹
This appeal by the dark-skinned African Prince of Morocco to the fair-skinned European beauty, Portia, for color-blindness in romance and marriage — thus uniting people of different races and different continents — points to the central question of the novel. Will Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans be able to join together and live in peace and harmony, without regard for their differences in color; and, if not, what is the racial future of the New World? In recent years in American literary scholarship, The Last of the Mohicans has come to exemplify a historically significant novel, written by an upper-class white male, trapped in his culture’s assumptions about race and sex and imperial destiny. While I agree that concerns about race, sex, and empire are at the heart of his story, I wish to reexamine what they meant to James Fenimore Cooper and his work. My paper will explore the interconnected topics of racial mixing and American destiny, closely examining a reference in the text to the Old Testament story of the encounter of Israelites and Shechemites in Canaan, which, I believe, dramatically illuminates what Cooper sought to say.
Contemporary writing about The Last of the Mohicans, following a trail blazed by D. H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature in 1923, often begins by noting the different coloring and ancestry of the half-sisters, Cora Munro who is dark and Alice Munro who is fair. ² Lawrence believes that Alice, the blonde, is morally and racially pure; by contrast, Cora’s impurity is racial and sensual: “Cora is the scarlet flower of womanhood,” he says, the “fierce, passionate offspring of some mysterious union between the British officer and a Creole woman in the West Indies. Cora loves Uncas, Uncas loves Cora. But Magua also desires Cora, violently desires her. A lurid little circle of sensual fire. So Fenimore kills them all off, Cora, Uncas, and Magua.” Cooper “kills ‘em off,” Lawrence believes, because he “decided that there can be no blood-mixing of the two races, white and red.” This leaves it up to Alice to “breed plenty of white children to Major Heyward” in order “to carry on the race.” ³ The outcome of the novel, in the tradition established by Lawrence, points to Cooper’s complicity in the establishment of an all-white European-American empire founded on the suppression of all people of color; in its extreme form, by killing them off. Following Lawrence, contemporary scholars often hold Cooper personally responsible for killing “them all off, Cora, Uncas, and Magua,“ most especially Cora and Uncas, because he would not sanction a racially mixed marriage. In a 1987 article, I agreed with Lawrence about Cooper’s aversion to “miscegenation.“ ⁴ In revisiting Cooper’s novel, I found a richer and more nuanced examination of issues relating to racial mixing in the New World, and now think differently. I particularly regret using the term miscegenation, which entered American English during the Civil War, weighted with negative connotations. Applied to Cooper, it is anachronistic and misleading. The discourse in The Last of the Mohicans — in the language of the day — is about mixing, mingling, or crossing blood of different races. ⁵ While several characters speak their minds quite freely, their opinions are not necessarily Cooper’s, and the author’s own voice is never clearly heard. Nonetheless, it is received wisdom today that Cooper could not allow Cora and Uncas to marry, giving their mixed-race children a role in America’s future, so in the end the author killed them off. He is faulted for this conclusion: instead of killing Cora and Uncas, he should have married them, thus providing a literary model of hope for a multiracial society. Nina Baym astutely observes that Cora’s “already mixed blood, mixed again with an Indian’s, would produce triracial children—the incarnate ‘e pluribus unum’ of the American national seal.” However, she chides Cooper for his constricted male imagination and criticizes his narrow-minded values, because unlike women writers such as Maria Child in Hobomok (1824) and Catharine Maria Sedgwick in Hope Leslie (1827), who imagine a union of white women and Indian men, his story “eliminates” Cora and Uncas, “and thus decrees that the future nation will be peopled by whites only.” Similarly, Debra J. Rosenthal says that racial “mixture” is “undesirable” in “Cooper’s vision” of the social order, so Cora and Uncas must “die to preserve a legacy of unmixed whiteness for those who will dominate the United States.” Patrick Brantlinger, who states that “Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels” are “racist,” also believes that Cora and Uncas must die to support the author’s “fantasy of racial purity.” Today there is a range of opinion, from viewing Cooper as imaginatively limited to outright racist, but a whole generation of scholars blame Cooper in one way or another for not endorsing what Cora and Uncas’ marriage would have represented, and for killing them off ⁶
Cora, who stands out among Cooper’s most admirable heroines, is the elder daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Munro from his marriage to a woman of mixed British and African background. We first learn of Cora’s mixed ancestry near the middle of the novel, during the siege of Fort William Henry, when Duncan Heyward asks Munro for the hand in marriage of his other daughter, Alice. Heyward does not know their family history, so Munro then tells him the story of his marriage in the West Indies to a woman “descended” from an “unfortunate class” that was “enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people!” He says to Duncan, “you are yourself born at the south, where these unfortunate beings are considered of a race inferior to your own!” When Munro accuses him of holding the prevailing view of black inferiority, Duncan protests: “‘Heaven protect me from a prejudice so unworthy of my reason!’” At “the same time”—Cooper interjects—Duncan was “conscious of such a feeling, and that as deeply rooted as if it had been engrafted in his nature.” Munro continues, telling of the death of his first wife, his return to Scotland, and second marriage. Duncan then excitedly finishes the story himself, exclaiming: and she “became the mother of Alice!” (159). Cooper observes that Duncan’s “eagerness” well “might have proved dangerous, at a moment when the thoughts of Munro were less occupied than at present” (160). Duncan’s racism is “deeply rooted,” according to Cooper; however Munro is preoccupied with the siege of the fort, and thus inattentive to the transparent disingenuousness of Duncan’s denial.
⁷ It is noteworthy that other admirable Cooper heroines — such as Cecilia Howard in The Pilot (1823) and Alida de Barbérie in The Water-Witch (1830) — also have rich blood and raven hair and they have no black blood at all. ⁸ A similar claim that is sometimes made purporting to show Cooper’s racial bias is that Duncan Heyward chooses Alice over Cora because of Cora’s mixed blood. This claim is not supported by the evidence, because it is only after Duncan asks Lieutenant Colonel Munro for permission to marry Alice that he is shocked to learn of her half sister’s mixed-race ancestry. Additionally, we might suppose, if Magua had known of Cora’s African heritage, he would have regarded her quite differently; for he believes that blacks are a degraded race, born to be slaves. “The Spirit that made men, coloured them differently,” he states. “Some are blacker than the sluggish bear. These he said should be slaves; and he ordered them to work for ever” (300). Magua’s desire to take Cora for a wife, rather than her all-white half-sister, Alice, is not likely to be based on bloodlines that he does not know of or respect. An alternative explanation might consider Cora’s obviously superior qualities. The “firm, commanding, and yet lovely form of Cora” is repeatedly contrasted with “the shrinking figure of Alice” (300). Unlike Cora, when Alice faces danger she exhibits “infantile dependency” and swoons away, at various times becoming “lifeless,” “senseless,” or “unconscious” (108, 177, 178, 316). She would be a poor choice for an Indian’s wife. As the inferior sister, Alice also would be a poor choice for Magua’s vengeance. Years before, Magua had been whipped and deeply humiliated when drunk under Lieutenant Colonel Munro’s command. Munro’s “imprudent severity” (103) is the catalyst for the catastrophe that follows. Magua’s designs on Cora are motivated by his desire to extract vengeance against her father. But Magua is also clearly attracted to her and driven by lust as well as vengeance, at one point gazing on Cora “with an expression in which ferocity and admiration were strangely mingled”; and at another point, with “an expression that no chaste female might endure” (315, 105).
There are two tales of captivity in The Last of the Mohicans involving the Munro sisters. ⁹ In each, Cora’s virtue is threatened by Magua. The first occurs early in the story at Glens Falls, but the captives are soon rescued by Hawk-eye, Chingachgook, and Uncas. The second occurs midway through the novel, after the Battle of Fort William Henry, and drives the rest of the narrative. Magua temporarily leaves Cora in a camp of neutral Delaware Indians. In seeking “to regain possession of Cora” (288), Magua argues that she is his rightful prisoner. The determination is up to Tamenund, “the wise and just Delaware” leader (293). Cora pleads for her freedom. In considering this case, Tamenund condemns the “pales-faces” for their arrogant sense of superiority, and racist attitude toward intermarriage and mixing blood. “I know that the pale-faces are a proud and hungry race,” says Tamenund, for “they claim, not only to have the earth, but that the meanest of their colour is better than the Sachems of the red man. The dogs and crows of their tribes,” he concludes, “would bark and caw, before they would take a woman to their wigwams, whose blood was not of the colour of snow” (305). Like Tamenund, the other Indian warriors in the The Last of the Mohicans believe that Cora’s “blood” is “the colour of snow”—in other words, that she is pure white. Moreover, they endorse interracial marriage between Indians and whites, and accept Magua’s claim to Cora. Even the newly identified Delaware chief, Uncas, who is deeply in love with Cora, “made no reply” when asked by Tamenund if Magua and Cora should be allowed to “journey on an open path,” for he knew that Magua and his prisoner were “protected by the inviolable laws of Indian hospitality” (312, 317). “A great warrior takes thee to wife,” Tamenund tells Cora. “Go—thy race will not end” (313), he says, commanding her to leave with Magua, while at the same time approving of her future mixed race progeny.
As soon as Magua’s “Indian hospitality” protection expires, Uncas takes charge of the rescue operation. Hawk-eye is given command of a squad of twenty Delaware warriors, who are joined by the British officer, Duncan Heyward, and the psalmodist, David Gamut. His “eyes” glowing with “unusual fire,” David offers Hawk-eye a biblical analogy for his understanding of the nature and profundity of their mission: “your men have reminded me of the children of Jacob going out to battle against the Shechemites, for wickedly aspiring to wedlock with a woman of a race that was favoured of the Lord” (327). Unmindful that most of Hawk-eye’s soldiers are also natives, David believes that their mission—like the mission of Jacob’s sons in chapter 34 of Genesis—is to hunt down and destroy the natives for seeking to violate a commandment against intermarriage and mixing their blood with a “race” that is “favoured” by “the Lord.” Literary scholars often accuse Cooper of endorsing some such view. But this was not the case. David is a caricature of an ill-informed, sanctimonious, New England religious zealot, a type Cooper frequently satirized in his novels. ¹⁰ In addition to David’s inattention to the racial identity of the rescuers, he does not know Cora’s family history. In the foolish psalmodist’s inapt biblical analogy, the mixed race heroine is to be rescued from her own fate. Most important for the story Cooper sought to tell, David’s analogy both draws attention to the biblical tale, at the same time reducing it to a simple diatribe against mixing blood with God’s chosen people.
Cooper and his more thoughtful readers knew better. They knew their Bible, especially the Old Testament. Like “the air people breathed,” the “Old Testament” was “omnipresent” in the “culture” of the young republic, Perry Miller once observed, ¹¹ underscoring its pervasiveness and importance for our understanding of their thought, and it strongly influenced Cooper’s early fiction. The first three Leatherstocking Tales — The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), and The Prairie (1827) — all borrowed heavily from the Old Testament for imagery and analogy. ¹²
Experiencing no conflict between his deep commitment to both republican values and Christian religion, Cooper joined the Otsego Bible Society in 1813, in 1815 he joined the Bible society in Westchester County, and he also participated in the New York City convention that founded the American Bible Society in 1816. ¹³ However, as a New Yorker, he took issue with the regional conceit he had witnessed in his student days at Yale (1803-1805) that venerated New England’s founding fathers as neo-Israelites who began the process of transforming the wilderness into a neo-Promised Land, a New World Canaan. For Cooper, who had little patience with any form of American exceptionalism, Genesis 34 provided a New World analogy that undercut the moral foundation of this conceit. More specific to the context of the tale, the foolish psalmodist’s warped construction of this Bible story also served as a parody of a version that was popular around the time of the French and Indian War, which gave biblical sanction to Indian-hating and race-murder. In his 1820 Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians, the Reverend John Heckewelder, a crucial source of Cooper’s knowledge of these Indians’ culture and their eighteenth-century world, reported repeatedly hearing “fanatics” in Pennsylvania articulate “the doctrine” that Indians, like the ancient “Canaanites,” were “an accursed race” that “by God’s command” must “be destroyed.” ¹⁴ David Gamut combines these errant readings, for he believes that European-Americans are God’s chosen people and have been given a mandate to kill offending natives. Although David’s interpretation shows him to be ill-read in the Bible and ethnocentric in his aversion to racial mixing, nonetheless, Genesis 34 does bear upon issues that are central to the meaning of The Last of the Mohicans.
Genesis 34 begins after the Israelites had settled in Canaan in the territory of the Shechemites. There, in the language of Cooper’s King James Bible, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is “defiled“ (Gen. 34.2) by Hamor’s son, Shechem, who falls in love with her and seeks her hand in marriage. Jacob and Hamor recognize that intermarriage promises mutual benefit and peaceful cohabitation of the land. Hamor agrees to the demand of Jacob’s sons that all Shechemite men must be circumcised first. This is a ploy to revenge the defilement of their sister, enabling two of Dinah’s brothers, Levi and Simeon, to kill the Shechemite men while they are weak from their circumcision. The other brothers pillage the city of Shechem. Jacob is horrified by their duplicity, for he thought that he had been party to an honorable arrangement in which Israelite and Shechemite would intermarry and live together in peace.
The story of the Israelites and Shechemites in Genesis speaks to the story that Cooper sought to tell in The Last of the Mohicans; and both, by analogy, speak to the larger historical drama of the European encounter with the natives of the New World. Israelites correspond to European-Americans, Shechemites/Canaanites to Mohicans/Indians, and Canaan to the New World. In the novel, each distinctive group, whether a tribe (i.e., Shechemites and Mohicans) or people of common stock (i.e., Indians and European-Americans), in the parlance of the day, is referred to as a “race.” ¹⁵ From this perspective, The Last of the Mohicans and Genesis 34 tell similar stories about race and sex in a contested landscape. The wording in the King James Bible — “he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her“ (Gen. 34.2) — leaves some ambiguity about what actually happened when Shechem first chanced upon Dinah. ¹⁶ Did Shechem rape Dinah, or did he make love to her? The Last of the Mohicans treats both possibilities: the specter of rape hovers over the story of Cora and Magua, while the cultural ideal of romantic love is suggested in the story of Cora and Uncas. Horrified by the likelihood of rape, Duncan warns Cora before her first captivity of “evils worse than death” (80) for women who fall into the hands of savage Indians. When Cora and Alice are captured a second time, Hawk-eye tries to allay Duncan’s transparent concern for their virtue, pointing out that Magua might “tomahawk” them and take “their scalps,” but not “even a Mingo would ill treat a woman” (215). Such reassurance would hardly lessen Duncan’s—or Cooper’s readers’—fear of the danger of sexual violence, for although Indians in the East seldom raped their captives, the threat of rape was embedded in captivity mythology and widely believed. ¹⁷ Later, after Tamenund rules that Cora is Magua’s prisoner, the prospect of Cora’s forced marriage might be seen as tantamount to rape. ¹⁸ On the other hand, Uncas is deeply in love with Cora and his behavior toward her is beyond reproach. Although the inner recesses of her heart remain hidden from the reader, their relationship holds out some hope that romantic love can bridge the racial chasm and bring Americans of different colors together as one people. The natives in the Bible story and the natives in The Last of the Mohicans are untroubled by intermarriage and crossing blood; however, such mixture is unacceptable to ancient Israelite and American neo-Israelite men alike. The one American Israelite exception is Cora’s father, Lieutenant Colonel Munro; the one ancient Israelite exception is Dinah’s father, Jacob. Hamor had said to Jacob, “make ye marriages with us, give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you” (Gen. 34.9), and Jacob had agreed. Their agreement was brutally terminated by Jacob’s sons, who would not tolerate interracial marriage and mixing blood with natives.
The biblical account does not divulge how Dinah feels about marrying Shechem. In all Cooper novels, however, a good marriage requires romantic love and freely given consent. Not surprisingly, in the first captivity episode, Magua’s marriage “proposal,” to Cora, is “revolting,” and she feels a “powerful disgust” (104). “Monster!” she calls him, reacting with “a deep consciousness of the degradation of the proposal” (105, 109). In the final captivity episode, Cora is “horror-struck” at the thought of bearing Magua’s children, exclaiming that she would rather die “than meet with such a degradation” (313). Magua gives her the choice of marriage or death: “‘Woman,’ he said, ‘choose; the wigwam or the knife of le Subtil!’” She remains silent, even when again commanded by Magua to “choose.” Torn between lust and vengeance, Magua seems conflicted. But in the confusion following the appearance of Uncas, Cora is killed by one of Magua’s “assistants” (337).
Earlier, trying to dissuade her captor, Cora asked: “what pleasure would Magua find in sharing his cabin with a wife he did not love; one who would be of a nation and colour different from his own?” (104) However, as the child of a mixed-race marriage and painfully aware of the injustice of color prejudice, Cora is not a racist and regards Uncas quite differently. In the firelight inside the cave at Glens Falls, Uncas’ dignified bearing and statuesque proportions move Cora to exclaim: “who, that looks at this creature of nature, remembers the shades of his skin!” (53) Later, although pleased and flattered, Cora modestly lowers “her eyes under” the admiring “gaze of the Mohican,” with, “perhaps,” an “intuitive consciousness of her power” over him (79). Uncas’s attraction to and deep feelings for Cora are obvious throughout the tale. He ultimately dies for love of her. Beyond certain facts—her indifference to skin color, her admiration of Uncas, and her modest pleasure in his admiration of her—we have little concrete information on which to judge how responsive Cora might have been to Uncas as a suitor; in other words, whether or not she might have considered marriage to the young Indian chief.
Nonetheless, Cooper makes sure that we consider the possibility. The Delaware women participating in the funeral take it for granted that Uncas and Cora loved each other on Earth and will be united forevermore as man and wife in “the ‘blessed hunting grounds of the Lenape’” (343). “They admonished” Uncas “to be kind to her, and to have consideration for her ignorance” of Indian ways. “That she was equal to the dangers and daring of a life in the woods, her conduct had proved,” they said. “They dwelt upon her matchless beauty” and “promised that her path should be pleasant, and her burthen light,” for she had been “transplanted” to “a place” where she “might be for ever happy.” In continuing, the Indian maidens celebrate Cora’s quintessential whiteness, and compare “her to flakes of snow; as pure, as white, as brilliant” (342, 343). We are told that the Delaware warriors “listened like charmed men” to the eulogies and music, and that “it was very apparent” that “their sympathy” for Uncas and Cora was “deep and true” (343, 344).
Hawk-eye, the only white present who understood their language, reacts differently. When the Delaware women “spoke of the future prospects of Cora and Uncas, he shook his head, like one who knew the error of their simple creed”; and when they proceed with burial provisions, he stops them, saying, “the spirit of the paleface has no need of food or raiment—their gifts being according to the heaven of their colour” (344, 346). Hawk-eye is a mass of contradictions. At times he appears to be a racist, such as when he wished Chingachgook had killed and scalped “an accursed Mingo” instead of the French sentry, that “gay, young boy, from the old countries!” (138) Yet he is more like an Indian than any white man in Cooper’s fiction, and his most profound human relationships are with Indians. “I loved both you and your father,” Hawk-eye earlier had said to “Uncas, though our skins are not altogether of a colour, and our gifts are somewhat different” (315). His notion of “gifts” at times approaches cultural relativism. However, he is proud that he is “a man without a cross” (192)—in 1820s usage, this referred to unmixed or pure blood ¹⁹ — and he is adamantly opposed to interracial love between men and women. When it is Munro’s time to speak, he asks Hawk-eye to translate his words for the Delaware women. “Tell them,” he says, “that the Being we all worship, under different names, will be mindful of their charity; and that the time shall not be distant, when we may assemble around his throne, without distinction of sex, or rank, or colour!” But Hawk-eye “shook his head” and replied: “To tell them this” would be to say “that the snows come not in the winter, or that the sun shines fiercest when the trees are stripped of their leaves!” Instead he turned to the Delaware women and told them what “he deemed most suited to” their “capacities” (347). Unlike Munro, Hawk-eye’s “own sympathies” support “no ideal bond of union” (348) that might bring the different races together as one people. In The Deerslayer, he is captured after he killed the Huron warrior, Le Loup Cervier. The Huron chief, Rivenoak, offers to spare his life if will marry and care for the warrior’s widow, Sumach. In character, Deerslayer responds: “No—no—Huron; my gifts are white so far as wives are consarned” (472). He will not marry an Indian woman to save his own life. He would rather be dead than red. The Huron, Delaware, and Mohican Indians are not as prejudiced as this white backwoodsman.
“Years passed away,” we are told, “before the traditionary tale of the white maiden, and of the young warrior of the Mohicans, ceased to beguile the long nights” of the Delaware Indians (348). Munro, who had loved two racially mixed women—a wife and a daughter—and the lone white man in the novel who endorsed the Indians’ vision of uniting Cora and Uncas in the hereafter, soon dies of grief. Duncan, “a young gentleman” from the “south”—in all likelihood, a Virginian—who shares the racial views of his compatriots and whose “vast riches” (38) indicate that he is also a slaveholder, will wed Alice ²⁰ Their marriage points to the future of the New World. Speaking at his son’s funeral, Chingachgook mournfully acknowledges what has come to pass: “As for me, the son and the father of Uncas, I am a ‘blazed pine, in a clearing of the pale-faces.’ My race has gone from the shores of the salt lake, and the hills of the Delawares” (349).
Susan Fenimore Cooper felt that the “title” her father gave his story, “‘The Last of the Mohicans,’” should be granted “poetical latitude,” since “he knew perfectly well that the entire tribe was not extinct.” ²¹ Following her recommendation, when the novel’s title is accorded a measure of “poetical latitude,“ The Last of the Mohicans speaks not to the actual extinction of a particular tribe, but instead is a metaphor for the general fate of America’s Indians. The novel closes with Tamenund’s lament:
The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the red-men has not yet come again. My day has been too long. In the morning I saw the sons of Un’mis [the turtle] happy and strong; and yet, before the night has come, have I lived to see the last warrior of the wise race of the Mohicans! (350)
Tamenund situates the “last warrior“ of Mohican lineage at the end of a cycle of American Indian history, linking the fate of Uncas and the fate of his tribe to the fate of all Indian people. For now, he dolefully concedes, the “pale-faces are masters of the earth.“
Genesis 34 and The Last of the Mohicans offer parables of the lost opportunity for peaceful coexistence between Israelites or American neo-Israelites and natives; and both end up as narratives of violence, conquest, and racial extermination. Intermarriage is the foundation of a vision of interracial harmony in Genesis 34 and The Last of the Mohicans. In each, this vision is shattered in a bloody conclusion. ²² In the most meaningful sense, Cooper did not write the tragic conclusion of The Last of the Mohicans, America had already written it; and he should no more be blamed for what the deaths of Cora and Uncas symbolized than he should be charged with the disgraceful history of American race relations and the destruction of the Native American world. The historical novelist could not change what happened; his task was to understand it. When Cooper conceived The Last of the Mohicans in 1824, Indian removal and slavery in the West were topics of ongoing public debate; moreover, starting with George Washington in 1789, except for one four-year term, Virginians had continuously served as President of the United States, and they had all been slaveholders. Duncan Heyward, a member of the Virginia slaveholding elite, and Hawk-eye, a trailblazer opening up the West for settlement, may represent the racial views about intermarriage between whites and blacks or Indians that will prevail, determining who is included and who is excluded, and shape the future of the land. However, in The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper also forces us to honor and respect the alternative, unifying vision held by the Delaware Indians, Uncas, Cora and her father, Lieutenant Colonel Munro.
1. James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans; A Narrative of 1757, historical introduction by James Franklin Beard, text established, with explanatory notes by James A Sappenfield and E. N. Feltskog, ]1826], Albany: SUNY Press, 1983), xx-xxiii. Subsequent quotes from The Last of the Mohicans are noted in parentheses in the text.
2. Lawrence’s 1923 interpretation of gender and race in the Leatherstocking Tales was popularized by Leslie A. Fiedler in Love and Death in the American Novel, rev. ed. , Stein and Day, 1966), 200-09. My discussion of women and race in The Last of the Mohicans has benefited from a number of very thoughtful studies, most especially: Nina Baym, “The Women of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales,” American Quarterly, 23 (Dec. 1971), 696-709; Baym, “How Men and Women Wrote Indian Stories,” in New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans, ed. H. Daniel Peck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 67-86; Steven Blakemore, “’Without a Cross’: The Cultural Significance of the Sublime and Beautiful in Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, 52 (June 1997), 27-57; George Dekker, James Fenimore Cooper: The Novelist (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), 67-74; David T. Haberly, “Women and Indians: The Last of the Mohicans and the Captivity Tradition,” American Quarterly, 28 (Autumn 1976), 431-43; Mitzi McFarland, “’Without a Cross’: The Carnivalization of Sex, Race, and Culture in Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans,” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, 48 (Fourth Quarterly 2002), 247-73; John McWilliams, The Last of the Mohicans: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995), 66-80; Robert Milder, “The Last of the Mohicans and the New World Fall,” American Literature, 52 (Nov. 1980), 407-29; Geoffrey Rans, Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Novels, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 102-30; Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 94-121.
3. D. H. Lawrence, “Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels,” in Studies in Classic American Literature, ed. Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, John Worthen (1923; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 62.
4. Allan M. Axelrad, “Wish Fulfillment in the Wilderness: D. H. Lawrence and the Leatherstocking Tales,” American Quarterly, 39 (Winter 1987), 567.
5. On Cooper’s terminology for racial mixing, see James D. Wallace, “Race and Captivity in Cooper’s The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish,” American Literary History, 7 (Summer 1995), 191-92.
6. Baym, “How Men and Women Wrote Indian Stories,” 75, 73; Debra J. Rosenthal, Race Mixture in Nineteenth-Century U.S. & Spanish American Fictions: Gender, Culture, & Nation Building (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 30; Patrick Brantlinger, Dark Vanishing: Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races, 1800-1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 61. For other recent literary studies which blame Cooper for killing Cora and Uncas because of his opposition to racial mixing, see Martin Barker and Roger Sabin, The Lasting of the Mohicans: History of an American Myth (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995), 21, 22, 29, 30; Patrick Brantlinger. “Forgetting Genocide: Or, The Last of The Last of the Mohicans,” Cultural Studies, 12 (Jan. 1998), 15-30; Harry Brown, “’The Horrid Alternative’: Miscegenation and Madness in the Frontier Romance,” Journal of American Culture, 24 (Fall-Winter 2001), 137, 139, 142, 143; McWilliams, The Last of the Mohicans: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility, 74; Terence Martin, “From Atrocity to Requiem: History in The Last of the Mohicans,” in New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans, ed. H. Daniel Peck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 63; Dana D. Nelson, “Cooper’s Leatherstocking Conversations: Identity, Friendship, and Democracy in the New Nation,” in A Historical Guide to James Fenimore Cooper, ed. Leland S. Person (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 130-31; Stephanie Wardrop, “Last of the Red Hot Mohicans: Miscegenation in the Popular American Romance,” Melus, 22 (Summer 1997), 61-64. Recent studies of miscegenation also place Cooper’s racism and deep opposition to racial mixing at the center of the meaning of the novel. See Harry Brown, Injun Joe’s Ghost: The Indian Mixed-Blood in American Writing (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), 45-50; Elise Lemire, “Miscegenation”: Making Race in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 35-52.
7. Scholars that suggest that the richness of Cora’s blood denotes her mixed race background and explains her attractiveness to Indians include: Blakemore, “’Without a Cross’: The cultural significance of the sublime and Beautiful in Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans,” 49; Janet Dean, “Stopping Traffic: Spectacles of Romance and Race in The Last of the Mohicans,” in Doubled Plots: Romance and History, ed. Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003), 57; Rosenthal, Race Mixing, 26, 28; Shirley Samuels, “Generation through Violence: Cooper and the Making of Americans,” in New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans, ed. H. Daniel Peck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 104-07. Other scholars state that Indians are attracted to her because she is of mixed race, without explaining how they know this: see Susanne Opfermann, “Lydia Maria Child, James Fenimore Cooper, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick: A Dialogue on Race, Culture, and Gender,” in Soft Canons: American Women Writers and Masculine Tradition, ed. Karen L. Kilcup (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999) 34; Forrest G. Robinson, “Uncertain Borders: Race, Sex, and Civilization in The Last of the Mohicans,” Arizona Quarterly, 47 (Spring 1991), 21-22; Karen Woods Weierman, One Nation, One Blood: Interracial Marriage in American Fiction, Scandal, and Law, 1820-1870 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 81.
8. See James Fenimore Cooper, The Pilot; A Tale of the Sea, ed., with an historical introduction and explanatory notes by Kay Seymour House (1823; Albany: SUNY Press, 1986), 106, 121; James Fenimore Cooper, The Water-Witch (1830; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), 26, 71.
9. On the captivity narrative and Cooper’s novel, see Haberly, “Women and Indians: The Last of the Mohicans and the Captivity Tradition,” 431-43.
10. On Cooper’s attitude toward New England religion, see Kay House, Cooper’s Americans (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1965), 117-45; John J. McAleer, “Biblical Analogy in the Leatherstocking Tales,” Nineteenth Century Fiction, 17 (Dec. 1962), 217-35.
11. Quoted in Nathan O. Hatch and Mark A. Noll, Introduction to The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History, ed. Nathan O. Hatch and Mark A. Noll (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 5-6. For a discussion of biblical literacy and the weight placed on the Old Testament at the time Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans, see Mark A. Noll, “The Image of the United States as a Biblical Nation, 1776-1865,” in The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History, ed. Nathan O. Hatch and Mark A. Noll (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 39-58
12. Daryl E. Jones, “Temple in the Promised Land: Old Testament Parallel in Cooper’s The Pioneers,” American Literature, 57 (March 1985), 68-78; McAleer, “Biblical Analogy in the Leatherstocking Tales,” 223-24, 228-34. By the late 1840s Cooper’s focus had shifted to the New Testament. See James Fenimore Cooper, The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper, ed. James Franklin Beard. 6 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960-68), V, 251-64. In novels such as The Crater (1847), The Oak Openings (1848), and The Sea Lions (1849), Cooper’s emphasis was on faith and conversion. By this time Protestant America also had shifted focus from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
13. See James Franklin Beard, editorial commentary, James Fenimore Cooper, Letters and Journals, I, 23; Cooper to William Buell Sprague, 15 Nov. 1831, Cooper, Letters and Journals, II, 155; Wayne Franklin, James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 196-97, 241.
14. John Heckewelder, Narrative of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Delaware and Mohegan Indians, From its Commencement, in the Year 1740, to the Close of the year 1808 (1820; New York: Arno Press, 1971), 42, 68, 86. In his 1826 introduction to Last of the Mohicans, Cooper acknowledged his debt to Heckewelder (3).
15. See Cooper, Last of the Mohicans, 327, 305, 350, 309. The Oxford English Dictionary provides a definition of race that is similar to the usage in Cooper’s novel: “A tribe, nation, or people regarded as of common stock”; The Oxford English Dictionary, 2ⁿᵈ Ed., Vol. XIII (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 69. For further discussion of race in Cooper, see Scott Michaelsen, The Limits of Multiculturalism: Interrogating the Origins of American Anthropology (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 69-83; Michal Peprnik, “Moravian Origins of J. F. Cooper’s Indians,” James Fenimore Cooper Society Miscellaneous Papers, 22 (Feb. 2006), 7-8.
16. Unlike the King James Bible, in The Anchor Bible: Genesis, introduction and notes by E. A. Speiser (Garden City: Doubleday, 3ʳᵈ Ed., 1983), there is no ambiguity, for when Shechem first saw Dinah, he “seized her, and slept with her by force” (Gen. 34.2). This chapter is titled “The Rape of Dinah.” The rape interpretation is more common today; however, there are alternative interpretations. For example, see Julian Pitt-Rivers, The Fate of Shechem or The Politics of Sex: Essays in the Anthropology of the Mediterranean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 146-47; Susanne Scholz, “Was it Really Rape in Genesis 34? Biblical Scholarship as a Reflection of Cultural Assumptions,” in Escaping Eden: New Feminist Perspectives on the Bible, ed. Harold C. Washington, Susan Lochrie Graham, and Pamela Thimmes (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 182-98.
17. James Axtell, The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 181-82; Haberly, “Women and Indians: The Last of the Mohicans and the Captivity Tradition,” 435; Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1973), 125.
18. See Haberly, “Women and Indians: The Last of the Mohicans and the Captivity Tradition,” 435-38.
19. Lemire, “Miscegenation”: Making Race in America, 39-40.
20. While Cooper does not identify the southern colony, his character, Major Duncan Heyward, was modeled on Lieutenant Colonel John Young of the Royal American Regiment, who most likely also was a Virginian. The fictive character, Heyward, and the historical figure, Young, performed similar missions at the Battle of Fort William Henry. See David P. French, “James Fenimore Cooper and Fort William Henry,” American Literature, 32 (March 1960), 33-35.
21. Susan Fenimore Cooper, introduction, The Last of the Mohicans or A Narrative of 1757 , Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1882), xviii, xx, xxi.
22. Cooper’s novel and the Bible story center on a relationships between Israelite/neo-Israelite women and native men. The reverse was not a solution, either. In the Bible story native women are carried off by the Israelites as part of their booty. Even though his mythic white frontiersman, Leather-Stocking, will not cross blood with native women, Cooper knew that many others did. Such relationships might flourish within Native American communities or produce half breeds and fringe families, but they offered little hope for interracial community building in the larger society. In Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 183, Daniel K. Richter points out that “the vast majority” of the children of white fathers and Indian mothers “grew up to live Indian lives in Indian communities. The few who tried to build identities that genuinely blended cultures found themselves deeply distrusted by all sides.” Cooper returned to the theme of intermarriage and racial mixing several years later in The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish (1829). This novel is set in seventeenth-century Connecticut, and once again shows Indians to be far more tolerant of intermarriage and racial mixing than whites. As in The Last of the Mohicans, the white woman, Ruth, and the Indian chief, Conanchet, are noble characters who die at the end of the tale, dashing any hope for interracial community building. Their death was especially tragic because they were in deeply in love, happily married, and blessed with a young child. See Wallace, “Race and Captivity,” 189-209. Whether red or white (Leather-Stocking excepted), Cooper took a dim view of people who lived on the fringe of their society, most especially “Half-breeds.” “This race,” he wrote (in an 1832 footnote to The Prairie) — speaking of “men born of Indian women by white fathers” — has “much of the depravity of civilization without the virtues of the savage.” See Cooper, The Prairie, 29. In his most optimistic work, Notions of the Americans (1828) — written to disabuse Europeans of their negative notions of the United States — he speculated that should an Indian “Territory be formed” in the West, it might be possible “to mingle white and red blood.” In this scenario, “amalgamation of the two races” would occur in Indian territory, but not in any of the states. See James Fenimore Cooper, Notions of the Americans: Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor, text established with an historical introduction and textual notes by Gary Williams . Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), 490.