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James Fenimore Cooper was born in 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey. His family soon established itself near Lake Otsego New York, in what is now called Cooperstown--his father was a landowner but the Cooperstown of the time was something akin to a frontier settlement. James attended Yale, but was expelled. He worked on sailing ships, merchant vessels and then in the U.S. Navy.
After seeing some of the world, he returned home in 1811 to marry Susan De Lancey, a woman from New York's social elite. The De Lancey's were Loyalists during the Revolution, and lost a lot of property with the British defeat. As a young married man, Cooper strove to overcome the meager resources of his own family, as well. He took up writing, apparently, on a challenge from his wife. By the mid-1820s he was an established literary voice.
The family lived in Westchester, New York City, and Cooperstown. James traveled through Europe from 1826 to 1833. He wrote about the sea, but also the land, and his five novels dealing with Natty Bumppo highlight the individual in the American landscape. He considered his tales about Natty, the Leather-Stocking Tales (named after the leather leg wear that Natty wore) to be his best, though he wrote many other books. All the Leathertocking Tales were written from 1823 - 1841, with The Deerslayer being the last one written, though it chronicles the earliest period of Natty's life.
Cooper was outspoken on matters of authorship in the United States (there were no effective copyright laws at the time) as well as politics. His social criticism, as well as his fictional works, got him a lot of attention--particularly The American Democrat, published in 1838. He is considered one of the first "American authors," a man born and raised in the U.S. who made his living by his pen and was held in some esteem by the reading public. But James Fenimore Cooper had very definite ideas about his own work and character, as well as the character of the "American" figure. He was often considered contentious, and spent many years in legal battles with publishers.
He died in 1851, in Cooperstown, New York.