James Fenimore Cooper was born in Burlington, New Jersey, on September 15, 1789. He was the 11th of 12 children. When he was a year old, his family moved to Cooperstown—a village founded by his father—in central New York. The history, culture, and landscape of the region where Cooper spent his childhood provided inspiration for The Last of the Mohicans.
From 1803 to 1805 Cooper attended Yale College. He was expelled when caught playing foolish pranks. After leaving college, he became a sailor in the merchant marine and then in the United States Navy.
In 1811 Cooper married Susan DeLancey. While raising seven children, the couple moved quite often. At times, they lived in Westchester County in New York, New York City, and central New York.
Reportedly, Cooper decided to become an author after reading a poorly written novel aloud to his wife. He vowed that he could do better. His first novel, Precaution, was published in 1820. In 1823 Cooper published The Pioneers, the first of five novels called the Leatherstocking Tales about the life of the hero Natty Bumppo. The work was the first novel about life on the American frontier. The Last of the Mohicans, which tells about Natty Bumppo's middle age, appeared three years later. It was an immediate best seller and remains one of Cooper's most popular works.
The Leatherstocking Tales present a picture of a vanishing wilderness, with Natty Bumppo as its ideal American frontier hero. In The Last of the Mohicans, the Delaware chief Tamenund refers to whites as "locusts" and "a proud and hungry race." Cooper's novel predicts the end of the Mohican tribe in particular and Native American culture in general. While he was writing his novel, the policy of Native American removal was a controversial political issue.
Over a span of 30 years, Cooper—the first American novelist to gain international acclaim—wrote more than 50 books, including novels and works of nonfiction. In 1833, after living in Europe for seven years, Cooper returned to Cooperstown, where he died on September 14, 1851.