The Pioneers (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]


The Pioneers is a novel in the romantic tradition--a tale of love, hidden identity, and forest adventure. It is also a vivid description of life in a newly settled village on the American frontier, where people of varied ethnic and racial backgrounds have come together to build a new community. In it, James Fenimore Cooper introduced his most memorable character, the wilderness scout Natty Bumppo, nicknamed the Leatherstocking. Cooper would make him the central character of four more very popular ...

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The Pioneers (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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The Pioneers is a novel in the romantic tradition--a tale of love, hidden identity, and forest adventure. It is also a vivid description of life in a newly settled village on the American frontier, where people of varied ethnic and racial backgrounds have come together to build a new community. In it, James Fenimore Cooper introduced his most memorable character, the wilderness scout Natty Bumppo, nicknamed the Leatherstocking. Cooper would make him the central character of four more very popular "Leatherstocking Tales," and he would become the inspiration for much of the American "Western" tradition down to The Lone Ranger and Tonto.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper is considered by many to be America's first great novelist. His most popular work, The Last of the Mohicans, has remained one of the most widely read novels throughout the world, greatly influencing the way many cultures have viewed both the American Indians and the frontier period of U.S. history.


James Cooper (he added the Fenimore when he was in his 30s) was born September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, to William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper. In 1790 the family moved to the frontier country of upstate New York, where William established a village he called Cooperstown. Although cushioned by wealth and William's status as landlord and judge, the Coopers found pioneering to be rugged, and only 7 of the 13 Cooper children survived their early years. All the hardship notwithstanding, according to family reports, the young James loved the wilderness. Years later, he wrote The Pioneers (1823) about Cooperstown in the 1790s, but many of his other books draw deeply on his childhood experiences of the frontier as well.

Cooper was sent to Yale in 1801 but he was expelled in 1805 for setting off an explosion in another student's room. Afterward, as a midshipman in the fledgling U.S. Navy, he made Atlantic passages and served at an isolated post on Lake Ontario. Cooper resigned his commission in 1811 to marry Susan Augusta De Lancey, the daughter of a wealthy New York State family. During the next decade, however, a series of bad investments and legal entanglements reduced his inheritance to the verge of bankruptcy.

Cooper was already 30 years old when, on a dare from his wife, he became a writer. One evening he threw down, in disgust, a novel he was reading aloud to her, saying he could write a better book himself. Susan, who knew that he disliked writing even letters, expressed her doubts. To prove her wrong he wrote Precaution, which was published anonymously in 1820. Encouraged by favorable reviews, Cooper wrote other books in quick succession, and by the time The Last of the Mohicans, his sixth novel, was published in 1827, he was internationally famous as America's first professionally successful novelist. Eventually he published 32 novels, as well as travel books and histories. Cooper invented the genre of nautical fiction, and in the figure of Nathaniel or "Natty" Bumppo (Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans) -- the central character in the five Leatherstocking Tales Cooper published between 1823 and 1841 -- he gave American fiction its first great hero.

Shortly after publishing The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper moved his family to Europe, but in 1833 he returned to America, moving back into his father's restored Mansion House in Cooperstown. He died there on September 14, 1851.

Author biography courtesy of Barnes & Noble Books.

Good To Know

Cooper was expelled from Yale due to his passion for pranks, which included training a donkey to sit in a professor's chair and setting a fellow student's room on fire.

Between 1822 and 1826 Cooper lived in New York City, and was a major player on its intellectual scene. He founded the Bread and Cheese Club, which had many high-profile members, including notable painters of the Hudson River School and writers like William Cullen Bryant.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      September 15, 1789
    2. Place of Birth:
      Burlington, New Jersey
    1. Date of Death:
      September 14, 1851
    2. Place of Death:
      Cooperstown, New York
    1. Education:
      Yale University (expelled in 1805)


The Pioneers, or The Sources of the Susquehanna; a Descriptive Tale (1823) is both a novel in the romantic tradition--a tale of love, hidden identity, and forest adventure--and a vivid description of life in a newly settled village on the American frontier, where people of varied ethnic and racial backgrounds have come together to build a new community. In it, James Fenimore Cooper introduced his most memorable character, the wilderness scout Natty Bumppo, nicknamed the Leatherstocking. His woodland skills, his love of nature, and his honesty and bravery, as well as his cross-cultural friendship with American Indians, have for almost two centuries made Natty Bumppo a favorite for readers around the world. Cooper would make him the central character of four more very popular "Leatherstocking Tales," and he would become the inspiration for much of the American "Western" tradition down to The Lone Ranger and Tonto. After almost two hundred years The Pioneers remains not just the "pioneer" American novel, not just an enthralling story, but perhaps our best portrait of early American frontier life, told in what one modern writer has called "some of the loveliest, most glamorous pictures in all literature."

James Fenimore Cooper was born in New Jersey in 1789, and brought as an infant to the scenic village of Cooperstown, at the foot of Lake Otsego in what was then the American frontier. The village had been founded a few years earlier by his wealthy father William Cooper, and it would become the model for the "Templeton" of The Pioneers. Cooper's childhood was spent in Cooperstown, until he was sent off to school in Albany and at Yale, and went on to several years as a merchant seaman and then a midshipman in the infant United States Navy. In 1811, Cooper married Susan DeLancey, daughter of a wealthy family from Westchester County outside New York City. They returned to Cooperstown in 1813, where Cooper became for a time a sheep farmer. In 1817, as the estate he had inherited from his father collapsed in the depression that followed the War of 1812, the Coopers and their growing family returned to Westchester County. It was there in 1820 that he published his first novel, Precaution, an imitation of British novels of the period. It was a very modest success, and Cooper was astonished when his second attempt, The Spy (1821), based on the Revolution in Westchester County, proved to be a runaway best seller. In it American readers found their first real opportunity to read an exciting story based on their own history. His third novel, published in 1823, was The Pioneers. Over the next thirty years, until his death in 1851, Cooper would write thirty-two novels as well as a dozen other works including the first major history of the United States Navy. He was the first American novelist able to support his family by his writing. For seven years beginning in 1827, Cooper, his wife, and five children lived in Europe. When they returned to the United States in 1834, they settled in his father's old home in Cooperstown, where Cooper would spend the rest of his life. Famed throughout the nineteenth century both for his novels of the frontier and of the sea, James Fenimore Cooper is today best known for the five Leatherstocking Tales starring the immortal frontier character of Natty Bumppo: The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1840). His novels continue to be read all over the world, and have been translated into dozens of languages. Several have been given a wider audience as popular films.

The Pioneers tells a fictional story set in the picturesque surroundings of Cooper's childhood, on what was then New York's frontier with the wilderness. It tells a basic American story of how pioneers pushing westward (it was the first novel to use the word "pioneers" in this American sense) established the new communities that would grow into the cities, towns, and villages of today, and was immediately recognized for its accuracy. As one unsigned contemporary review of The Pioneers put it:

The creation of flourishing towns and cultivated fields, where but a few years before … forests stood, are events now so familiar to us, that they scarcely excite surprise. But we perceive the effects without an exact knowledge of the means by which they have been produced. The Pioneers affords us much of this information, imparted with a fidelity and vividness that carry the reader into the midst of the scenes, and making him acquainted with every individual who is introduced.... Each one speaks and acts with perfect fitness and congruity, and they are, as we can testify from personal observation, the very kind of persons who may be expected to be found in such situations....

More than some other American frontiers, that of nineteenth-century New York State was unusual in the variety of ethnic groups it brought together. The "Templeton" of The Pioneers thus includes not only settlers from New England and the Middle Colonies, and the Dutch who were New York's original colonists, but newer immigrants from England, Ireland, Germany, and France, as well as African Americans (both slave and free). In Natty Bumppo's Indian friend Chingachgook there is even a reminder of New York's original Native American inhabitants. Moreover, as Cooper noted, people of different social classes and backgrounds mingled more freely on the frontier than in older towns and cities.

Critics generally praised The Pioneers, and 3,500 copies were said to have been sold by noon of the day it went on sale. Nevertheless, some of its original readers had hoped for a repetition of The Spy, which was set outside New York City during the Revolution, between the Continental and British lines, and which included a lot of fighting and killing, a heroic American spy, and even George Washington himself. But while The Pioneers includes considerable excitement in its later chapters, much of the novel is devoted to a portrayal of daily life in an American frontier community.

Like most of Cooper's thirty-two novels, The Pioneers has a standardized "romantic novel" plot of the sort made popular by Sir Walter Scott, and expected by novel readers of his time. The romantic formula is based on a love story between an eligible young man and woman of respectable backgrounds, with whom most readers can identify, who are kept apart by events or misunderstandings, but come together in the last chapter to marry and live happily ever after. On the way, they undergo adventures in what is to the average reader an exotic setting, and encounter unusual sorts of people that average readers might never meet. Moreover, the story is complicated by a mystery involving secrets and at least one character whose true identity is disguised.

For readers of today The Pioneers is memorable less for this romance formula, which it shares with hundreds of long-forgotten novels, than for its vivid portrait of life in a frontier community, and for its discussion of cultural and environmental issues that still confront Americans. Cooper is a pioneer both in criticizing the "wasty ways" of the tree-chopping settlers destroying everything around them, and in the person of Natty Bumppo reminding his readers of nature's ethical and esthetic values that mankind destroys at his peril. And, in describing frontier life, he includes an inevitable conflict between law and ethics, questioning when strict enforcement of the law violate common-sense morality, so that ethical people must break it.

The Pioneers carries the story of "Templeton" from Christmas Eve in 1793 through most of the year that follows. The reader is made an observer of many aspects of frontier life as the seasons gradually change, including Christmas celebrations, maple sugaring, fishing on the Lake, and shooting the vast flocks of passenger pigeons that once darkened the skies of America. Here Cooper is following a traditional theme of "pastoral" writing about rural nature, often harking back to the then very popular poem The Seasons, in the early 1700s by the English poet James Thomson.

But what has made The Pioneers most memorable to readers at home and abroad is its introduction of the character of Natty Bumppo. Though portrayed as an old man, Natty Bumppo is still unequalled in the wilderness skills of shooting and tracking, while at the same time he is sternly honest with himself, generous toward men, and protective and chivalrous toward women. As a loner, living on the outskirts of the community but never a real part of it, Natty appreciates nature and the wilderness as the destructive settlers do not. His closest companion is the Indian Chingachgook, known to the settlers as John Mohegan.

The deep friendship between Natty and Chingachgook, men of different races, pioneers a new element in American literature, one that Cooper would expand upon in the later Leatherstocking novels, and that would powerfully influence American literature from Herman Melville and Mark Twain down to the present. And though The Pioneers gives it less attention, Cooper also shows how a community that is in many ways egalitarian, where rich and poor come together, nevertheless excludes African Americans, both free and enslaved.

Natty Bumppo appears in the opening chapter of The Pioneers, and one suspects that Cooper originally considered him just one of the varied frontier characters who enliven the novel. But his role in the story keeps growing; he becomes so involved in both the twists of the plot and in adventures in the woods as to almost dominate the story. He proved such a success with Cooper's readers that he would become the major figure-with different nicknames and at various stages of his life-in four further novels (The Last of the Mohicans, 1824; The Prairie, 1827; The Pathfinder, 1840; The Deerslayer, 1841). These five novels, beginning with The Pioneers, are known as The Leatherstocking Tales, and are today the most frequently reprinted and read of Cooper's books throughout the world.

Because The Leatherstocking Tales were not written in the order of Natty Bumppo's fictional life many readers wonder about the best order in which to read them. In terms of Natty's life they are: The Deerslayer (a young man on Otsego Lake in the 1740s); The Last of the Mohicans (a British army scout called Hawkeye in upstate New York in 1757); The Pathfinder (still a scout, on Lake Ontario, a few years later); The Pioneers (an old man on the outskirts of Templeton in 1793); and The Prairie (a very old man in 1805, self-exiled to the prairies beyond the Mississippi). However, most critics think the Tales are best read in the order that Cooper wrote them, thus showing how the character of Natty Bumppo gradually develops into the almost mythic American figure that has captivated readers at home and abroad for so long.

Cooper has set The Pioneers at the southern tip of the very real Lake Otsego in central New York, which is indeed the principal source of the Susquehanna River, and his "Templeton" is a slightly modified version of the Cooperstown in which he had grown up. Indeed, his love for Cooperstown and Lake Otsego give his detailed descriptions much of their intensity. The plot however, he insisted, was purely fiction. Nevertheless, readers and critics have sought to identify places and characters in The Pioneers with real life models from Cooperstown.

Cooper freely admitted that some of the places in The Pioneers, including the Lake and its surrounding forested hills, were based on his memories. So were some of the buildings in the story, including "the Academy," the jail and courthouse, and the Bold Dragoon tavern. The interior, but not the awkward exterior, of Judge Temple's home in the center of Templeton resembles in detail that of the real Judge William Cooper's "Otsego Hall."

Similarly, in populating his imagined village, Cooper drew on memories of a few real people: the German "Fritz Hartmann" of the story resembles Hendrick Frey of the Mohawk Valley-a Cooper family friend-and "Monsieur Le Quoi" even bears the name of a French refugee who was for a time a Cooperstown shopkeeper. "Ben Pump," the nautically inclined butler in the Temple family, has a partial model in William Cook, a former British navy steward who ran a Cooperstown tavern. More partial borrowings were made from other real people.

Judge Temple of the novel rules over Templeton, just as Cooper's father Judge William Cooper ruled over Cooperstown. But aside from this, the fictional judge is essentially a creation of Cooper's imagination, and intended like the other characters, to play his part in an imagined story of love, mystery, and adventure. Judge Temple's only daughter, Elizabeth (the real judge had a large family), has a fictional role, but many writers have believed-despite Cooper's denial-that her beauty and strength of character reflect his admiration for his own older sister Hannah. Hannah was beloved by the whole Cooper family, and had acted as a mentor for James, the youngest son. But in 1800, when he was only eleven, she died suddenly after being thrown from her horse.

Natty Bumppo is often said to have been modeled on a squatter and former wilderness scout named David Shipman, living near Cooperstown, whom Cooper once called "the Leatherstocking of the region." Others writers have sought to link him with Daniel Boone. But Natty's importance, both in The Pioneers and in the four other Leatherstocking Tales, is as a unique character in whom Cooper sought to portray a virtuous man untainted by the corruptions of "civilization."

In reading Cooper for pleasure, it is important to remember that, like other writers of his time, he writes at a leisurely pace, in which the opening chapters slowly introduce the setting and characters, before the novel speeds up to a more exciting and event-filled conclusion. In a world before photography, Cooper spends much time in using words to describe scenery and scenes, an art in which he is an acknowledged champion. His ability to make the village, and the lake and forested hills that surround it, come alive to readers was a major inspiration for the so-called Hudson River School of landscape painting that dominated American art for much of the nineteenth century. Moreover, Cooper's language is often almost musical, with carefully orchestrated phrases that are intended to be listened to, and not scanned rapidly with the eye. Read slowly and enjoy the sound and the view.

A second difference from most modern novels is the role of the author in the story. Today we expect a novel to immerse itself in the story, so that the reader forgets the author. But Cooper, following the tradition of his times, remains very much in the story, often letting us watch the characters through his eyes, rather than our own. Moreover, he is descriptive, telling us what the characters say and do, but rarely entering into their minds to tell us what they are thinking, except as it can be interpreted from their actions.

James Fenimore Cooper would go on to write thirty-one more novels, located in time over many centuries, and in space all over the globe. His novels of the sea created a whole new genre of novels about sailors and the ocean, just as his Leatherstocking Tales created one about the wilderness. But in many ways, The Pioneers, written with all the personal intensity of Cooper's nostalgia for his childhood on the American frontier, can give the modern reader both enjoyment as a story and a better understanding of what it means to be an American.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2003


    Reading the Leather Stocking tales in chronological order of the title character (Natty Bummpo) would require this book to be read after Deerslayer, Last of the Mohicans and Pathfinder. This is very unfortunate. I found the first 3 in the series to be enthralling in the scope of action and scene. This was not the case with The Pioneers. In his forward, Cooper states that this book was the most enjoyable of the tales to write. In my opinion, it is the most difficult to read. The action sequences are far between and seperated by dozens of pages of minute detail having very little to do with the plot. I found it almost impossible to focus without falling asleep.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2008

    American rugged individualism makes its case.

    If you haven't already opened a book by James Fenimore Cooper '1789 - 1851', is his second novel THE PIONEERS '1823' a good place to begin? I think it is. *** The leisurely yarn is about a very precise frontier area of New York State from December 1793 to October 1794. The dominant whites who people the region of the eleven Finger Lakes are thinking of themselves as Americans, or at least North Americans, and no longer as transplanted Europeans. The 50 buildings of the 7-year old village of Templeton self-consciously and with total consciousness of righteousness transplant features of British life hundreds of years old: reformed Christianity, lawyers, a court, a rich landed squire, a preacher, a shopkeeper, a woodcutter, an estate manager and on and on. When such towns are created, they strike a blow at the libertarian, almost anarchic natural philosophy of 67 year old, six foot tall Nathaniel 'Natty' Bumppo, a backwoodsman hanging on as long as he can stand encroaching 'civilization' of Templeton just across Lake Otsego. *** The lone remaining representative of the tribal Delawares/Mohicans who had sold this land to the King of England is Indian John aka Chingachgook aka the Big Serpent. It is no surprise that the whites drive out the Redskins. But why do they so repel a Moravian educated but illiterate white Christian such as Natty Bumppo? Civilized daughters cause many an independent hunter and trapper ultimately to settle down in towns. Why and how does Natty, the Leatherstocking, resist their charm? *** Other tales are told of Templeton and its wealthy landowner/developer Judge Marmaduke Temple. He was raised Quaker and seems an honest, loyal man. But did he acquire his vast holdings only by cheating his school chum and monetary backer, the Tory Colonel Edward Effingham, to do so? If so, then he faces the vengeance of the Colonel's recently appeared son -- veiled by the pseudonym Oliver Edwards. This angry young Achilles has moved in with Natty and Indian John, followers of his grandfather, the old Major, in the French and Indian War. Young Edwards/Effingham saves the Judge and his beautiful teenage daughter from a potentially deadly sleighing accident on Christmas eve 1793 and is taken into the Temple household as the Judge's secretary. *** A series of American eccentrics move in and out of the main plot, most well intentioned, but a couple having more than a little scoundrel about them. All are credible and worth our getting to know. *** The white settlers of Templeton destroy the abundant Glimmerglass timberlands with barely a thought. The judge renders 'impartial' but stupid justice to the Leatherstocking over a deer taking incident. Judge Temple spares Natty the lash because of his advanced age but humiliates him by time in the stocks and in jail. Natty burns down his decades old cabin rather than let officers of the law enter it against his will. At story's end, the judge has acquired a hotheaded son-in-law. The old injustices of land claims are resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Indian John has died as a pagan, not a Christian, and Natty Bumppo has had it with civilization. He will die in his late 80s fighting Sioux 500 miles west of the Mississippi in the novel THE PRAIRIE. *** Over and over in the five Leatherstocking tales, Nathaniel Bumppo is presented as a new purely American kind of professional: a danger manager. Whenever perils of the wilderness or Indians threaten his civilized neighbors, Natty's pre-eminence is readily conceded, even by experienced British and American military officers. *** Read THE PIONEERS and get a sense of the often mysterious cultural and historical currents which have made Americans Americans. -OOO-

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2010

    Least exciting of the Leatherstocking Tales

    Though this is the fourth book of the "Leatherstocking Tales" in which Nathaniel Bumppo, alias Deerslayer, Hawkeye, Pathfinder, and Leatherstocking, appears when the five books are arranged in the chronological order of Bumppo's life, it was the first published. I had more trouble slogging through it than any of the first three, and I believe that the reason is simple. The Pioneers was not written about the exploits of Natty Bumppo. Yes, he is a main character in the book, but the plot mainly revolves around Judge Marmaduke Temple, who settled the area of Lake Otsego, NY, with his family and activities as the taming of the wilderness interacts with the needs and wishes of the now seventy-year-old hunter.
    It is believed that Cooper based the character of Temple on his own father (the founder of Cooperstown, NY) and the character of Natty Bumppo on some hunter whom Judge Cooper encountered. Natty became such a hero that people wanted more novels about him, so Cooper obliged with The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Pathfinder. Those books are about Natty and his exploits. They are filled with excitement and adventure. The Pioneers is said to be "the most realistic of the Leatherstocking Tales." That may be true, but to me it is also the most boring so far. Like many other novels of the nineteenth century, it begins very slowly with a lot of descriptive introduction and background. The last third of the book has more action and thus is more interesting, but, unfortunately, one cannot understand the last third without having to wade through the first two-thirds.
    Even the afterword in my copy says, "Taken in this context, the novel does not have the appeal of The Deerslayer, in which Natty is presented in all his youthful vigor; The Last of the Mohicans or The Pathfinder, in which he is still in his full strength; or The Prairie, in which he strikes out once more for the Garden of the West and is at last fully portrayed by his creator as one of the really great characters of fiction. But The Pioneers is also the first novel in which Natty appears, and he is obviously not the principle reason why the novel was written. The reader who picks it up, therefore, as just one of the romantic tales of the wilderness scout is in for a disappointment." That is certainly true. Natty is pictured in The Pioneers as a somewhat crotchety and petulant old man, although he is still honest and loyal to a fault. It also seems to me that there is more bad language, with the "d" word and taking the Lord's name in vain, as well as references to drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco, than in the previous books. However, it is still an interesting story and fans of Natty Bumppo will not want to miss it.

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