Places: The Last of the Mohicans

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1826

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: 1757

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Fort William Henry

*Fort Last of the Mohicans, TheWilliam Henry. Defensive fortification built by the British in the fall of 1756, in the midst of the French and Indian Wars. The fort was a strategic part of the British attempt to penetrate French territory. The fort was at the southern end of Lake George just west of the Hudson River and was on the important Hudson River-Lake Champlain waterway. The fort survived the first French and Native American attack against it in March, 1757. James Fenimore Cooper uses the war to create a realistic setting for his narrative. The setting for this adventure is during the summer months following, and it is focused on one battle of a long war. Throughout the book the author contrasts the wilderness atmosphere with the more civilized areas along the Atlantic coast. Cooper himself was raised in a village on the edge of the wilderness near Cooperstown, New York.

Fort William Henry no longer exists, but the area today is strikingly similar to its appearance in the time of Cooper’s story. A small village stands where the fort had stood. There is a watering place near the spring from which the fictional Hawkeye drank, and present-day roads follow the paths blazed by Hawkeye and his friends. The wilderness described by Cooper is still mostly wilderness today, but only a few Native Americans still reside in the area.

*Fort Oswego

*Fort Oswego. British fortification at the western end of Lake Ontario that was originally a trading post built by the British and Dutch in 1722. Fortified by the British in 1727, it was one of five small forts in the area. By 1757 it was used to supplement Fort William Henry, and was used by Cooper to enhance the story.

*Lake George

*Lake George. Called Horican by the Native Americans as reported by Cooper, the word is roughly translated “The Tail of the Lake” in reference to its connection to Lake Champlain. The British named it for King George II. It was part of an internal highway connecting the Hudson River to the St. Lawrence River, and was near a warpath used by Native Americans. A narrow lake, one to three miles wide and thirty-two miles long, Lake George was claimed by the French when Samuel de Champlain explored the area in 1609. When the British built Fort William Henry on the southern edge, the area became a strategic part of the French-British conflicts and the center of the fictional activities of Hawkeye.

*Lake Champlain

*Lake Champlain. Much larger than Lake George, Lake Champlain is up to 14 miles wide and 107 miles long. In 1755 the French built Fort Ticonderoga between the two lakes to help secure the area. In 1759, after the events of this adventure, the fort was captured by the British. Lake Champlain and the fort were always on the periphery of Cooper’s story.

BibliographyCooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983. A beautiful edition that includes the definitive text, a historical introduction, sixteen illustrations, commentary from the early nineteenth century, and explanatory notes and textual commentary. Exhaustive.McWilliams, John. “The Last of the Mohicans”: Civil Savagery and Savage Civility. New York: Twayne, 1995. An excellent starting place. Provides literary and historical contexts, as well as a reading of the novel that focuses on style and genre, race and gender, and the use of history. Four illustrations, a chronology of Cooper’s life and works, and a bibliography.Martin, Terence. “From the Ruins of History: The Last of the Mohicans.” In James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Wayne Fields. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979. An exploration of the strategies Cooper employs to make actual historical events serve the thematic concerns of his novel.Peck, H. Daniel, ed. New Essays on “The Last of the Mohicans.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. An introductory critical guide with six social, historical, feminist, and psychological reassessments, all written at the end of the twentieth century. The introduction provides information on the novel’s composition and critical reception. Bibliography.Rans, Geoffrey. Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Novels: A Secular Reading. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. In the introduction, Rans discusses why interest in Cooper has lasted so long. The chapter on The Last of the Mohicans, “The Death of a Nation, the Denial of a Genre,” focuses on the fact that the Indians’ superiority does not protect them from annihilation.
Categories: Places