Today in Literary History – February 4, 1862 – James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans is published

The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper’s influential novel of the clash between the early American settlers and the indigenous native tribes was first published on February 4, 1862.

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The novel was the second of Cooper’s five-book cycle known collectively as The Leatherstocking Tales. Each of the novels is centred around the character Natty Bumppo, a white frontiersman who was partly raised among the Delaware Indians and is known variously as “Hawkeye,” Deerslayer,” and “Leatherstocking.”

The Last of the Mohicans is set in 1757 in what would later become upper New York state, during what came to be known as The French and Indian Wars, when France and Britain competed for colonial dominance of North America, using strategic alliances with native tribes in their battles.

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It was Cooper’s second book in The Leatherstocking series, after The Pioneers in 1823, and was an immediate success, not just in America but in Britain as well. At the time it was published the “frontier” in eastern America had been mostly colonised and indigenous peoples were thought to have been killed off or scattered.

The reading public were primed for romanticized stories of stalwart frontiersman like Bumppo and the “noble savages” that Cooper described the indigenous people as. The Last of the Mohicans was one of the most popular books of the 19th century and is still taught in high school and university classes in the U.S. today.

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