The Pioneers: or, The Sources of the Susquehanna

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In this classic novel, James Fenimore Cooper portrays life in a new settlement on New York's Lake Otsego in the closing years of the eighteenth century. He describes the year's cycle: the turkey shoot at Christmas, the tapping of maple trees, fishing for bass in the evening, the marshalling of the militia. But Cooper is also concerned with exploring the development of the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of the American experience. He writes of the conflicts within the settlement itself, focusing ...
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The Pioneers

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In this classic novel, James Fenimore Cooper portrays life in a new settlement on New York's Lake Otsego in the closing years of the eighteenth century. He describes the year's cycle: the turkey shoot at Christmas, the tapping of maple trees, fishing for bass in the evening, the marshalling of the militia. But Cooper is also concerned with exploring the development of the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of the American experience. He writes of the conflicts within the settlement itself, focusing primarily on the contrast between the natural codes of the hunter and woodsman Natty Bumppo and his Indian friend John Mohegan and the more rigid structure of law needed by a more complex society. Quite possibly America's first best-seller (more than three thousand copies were sold within hours of publication), The Pioneers today evokes a vibrant and authentic picture of the American pioneering experience.

The release of the popular film The Last of the Mohicans has increased interest in Cooper's works. The first in his renowned Leatherstocking Tales, The Pioneers portrays frontier life in a New York settlement in the late 1700s, and is considered the first true bestseller, selling over 3,000 copies within hours of its publication in 1823. Reissue.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Another fine book in this excellent series. These books are attractive, durable, reasonably priced, and impeccably edited."--Richard A. Hook, Denison University

"A well-produced edition."--Jeff Cupp, Troy State University

"A very handsome edition."--E. N. Feltskog, University of Wisconsin

"It's great to have available these well-designed and edited editions of past literature in a comparatively inexpensive paperback."--Arlie E. Herron, University of Tenn.-Chattanooga

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192836670
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Series: Oxford World's Classics Series
  • Pages: 496
  • Lexile: 1260L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.75 (w) x 5.10 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) grew up at Otsego Hall, his father’s manorial estate near Lake Otsego in upstate New York. Educated at Yale, he spent five years at sea, as a foremast hand and then as a midshipman in the navy. At thirty he was suddenly plunged into a literary career when his wife challenged his claim that he could write a better book that the English novel he was reading to her. The result was Precaution (1820), a novel of manners. His second book, The Spy (1821), was an immediate success, and with The Pioneers (1823) he began his series of Leatherstocking Tales. By 1826 when The Last of the Mohicans appeared, his standing as a major novelist was clearly established. From 1826 to 1833 Cooper and his family lived and traveled in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany. Two of his most successful works, The Prairie and The Red Rover, were published in 1827. He returned to Otsego Hall in 1834, and after a series of relatively unsuccessful books of essays, travel sketches, and history, he returned to fiction – and to Leatherstocking – with The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841). In his last decade he faced declining popularity brought on in part by his waspish attacks on critics and political opponents. Just before his death in 1851 an edition of his works led to a reappraisal of his fiction and somewhat restored his reputation as the first of American writers.


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)

Table of Contents

A Note on the Text vi
Introduction vii
Suggestions for Further Reading xxiii
Preface to the First Edition (1823) 3
Introduction to the 1832 Edition 6
Introduction to the Putnam Edition (1851) 11
The Pioneers 15
Notes 457
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2014

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