Freethought of the Day

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There are 1 entries for this date: James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper

On this date in 1789, James Cooper (later known as James Fenimore Cooper) was born in Burlington, N.J. He lived during much of his boyhood and for the last 15 years of life in Cooperstown, N.Y., which was founded by his father on property that he owned. He briefly attended Yale College and in 1808 joined the U.S. Navy.

Cooper is best known for writing The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (1826), an extremely popular novel focusing on the involvement of the Mohicans, a Native American tribe, in the French and Indian War. The novel was made into films in 1920, 1932, 1936, 1963 and 1992, as well as TV series in 1977, 1975 and 1987. It was also adapted into a BBC radio series in 1995 and an opera in 1976.

The Last of the Mohicans was the second book in Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales series, which included four other novels. Cooper wrote over 50 more books in various genres, including The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea (1824), the nonfiction The Chronicles of Cooperstown (1838) and American war novel The Spy (1821). 

In a 2013 paper titled "James Fenimore Cooper and God" that she presented to the Conference of the American Literature Association, Barbara Alice Mann of the University of Toledo wrote: "It is pretty well known that James Fenimore Cooper refused to join any church until his death was clearly imminent, and even then, he did so more in concession to the feelings of his wife and daughters than from any personal need."

According to Mann, his general disdain of organized religion was coupled with "open contempt" for the Puritan sects of Christianity: "In the Deist sort way, Cooper just assumed that a Prime Mover of some sort existed, so that it was not the existence of God he debated with his contemporaries, but Christian arrogance. 'Establishments,' or established churches, Cooper assured us in his Notions of the Americans, 'have nothing to do with the truth.' "

He married Susan Augusta DeLancey in 1811 and the couple had seven children. He died the day before his 62nd birthday and was buried in the Christ Episcopal Churchyard in Cooperstown, where his father was buried. His wife survived him by only a few months. D. 1851.

"For me, religion is an affair of faith and not of reasoning. A God that I could comprehend would be an equal, and equals do not worship one another."

—Cooper, quoted in "The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper," 6 vols., ed. James Franklin Beard (1960)

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Bill Dunn; Cooper in 1850, from a photo by Matthew Brady

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