He was born James Cooper on September 15, 1789 in Burlington, New Jersey. His mother’s maiden name was Fenimore. He didn’t become James Fenimore Cooper until 1826, when he was 37 years old. He was the twelfth of thirteen children and grew up on Lake Otsego in upstate New York, in a town his father founded, named Cooperstown. James was quite the adventurer, even from an early age. He attended Yale College for two years, but he was expelled for trying to blow up another student’s door. Although James tried to run away to the sea, his father got him a commission in the US Navy instead. He married Susan De Lancey in 1811.
The story goes that Cooper and his wife regularly received the newest novels from England and, upon reading one out loud, Cooper said, “I could write you a better book than that myself!” Although he’d always complained about writing so much as a letter, he sat down and penned his first book, Precaution, a novel in a similar vein to those by Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott. His novels, many of them set in the burgeoning American frontier with influences of the American Revolution, were well-liked in the United States, but they were adored in Europe. There, he was considered to be America’s national novelist. Prolific in his day, he is best remembered now for his five Leatherstocking novels (The Pioneers, 1823, The Last of the Mohicans, 1826, The Prairie, 1827, The Pathfinder, 1840, and The Deerslayer, 1841). James Fenimore Cooper died in 1851.