Vital Signs

Cultural Cleansing, Phase One

In 1833 James Fenimore Cooper returned from a European tour to Coopers town—founded by his father, one of the first pioneers into the dangerous frontier of New York beyond the Hudson Valley.  Cooper property included a pretty peninsula on Lake Otsego that the family had allowed the community to use for fishing, picnics, and boating.  On arrival Cooper saw that the locals had appropriated the property to do with as they pleased.  When he objected he found himself denounced by Whig newspapers throughout the region as a cruel, grasping aristocrat, an enemy of the people.

Along with his fellow Yorker Washington Irving, Cooper had already made a name for American letters.  His novels created the archetypal Western hero, the Deerslayer, and celebrated the patriotism and heroism of the War of Independence.  For a decade after 1833 he abandoned adventure tales and became a novelist of manners.  His theme was the overwhelming of the old New York culture by Yankees, the overflow of population from crowded and infertile New England.  Not only was Cooper’s region developed from wilderness to settled land during his lifetime, but it underwent a demographic change that altered his state’s society and culture.  The old Anglo-Dutch society of the New York colony was unique but resembled the South more than New England.  In the same period Cooper produced The American Democrat...

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