James Fenimore Cooper.

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and having traversed a considerable tract of country
to the southward of the beaten track of travellers, we
entered the State of Pennsylvania, west of the Sus-
quehannah, and proceeded to Pittsburgh. Thence
we descended the Alleghany river to the Ohio, made
a wide circuit in the State of the same^name, and
returned, by the way of Lake Erie, to Buffalo (in
New- York), which is a thriving fresh-water lake-
port. We spent, of course, a few days examining the
mighty cataract of Niagara, and in visiting the shores
of Lake Ontario. On our return east, we followed
the line of the great canal as far as Utica, where we
made a diversion towards the north, for a couple of
hundred miles, in order to permit Cadwallader to
visit an estate of which he is proprietor. This duty
performed, we made our way along the skirts of a
wild and nearly uninhabited region, to the famous
watering places at Saratoga and Ballstown ; passed
the Hudson at Troy, and crossing a spur of the Green
Mountains, penetrated Massachusetts by its western
border ; traversed a small portion of Connecticut in
a new direction ; re-entered New-York above the
Highlands, through which we journeyed by land, and
regained this city, after an absence of about six weeks.
We must have travelled, by land and water, between
twelve and fifteen hundred miles.

The three States named, are computed to cover a
surface of about 131,000 square miles ; being a little
larger than the two islands of Great Britain and Ireland
united. Their population, at the present time, must
be something short of four millions.* If we fix it at

* In 1820, the population of these three States, by the general
census, was 3,003,614. But State censuses have since been
taken in several of the States. The Government of the United
States causes a census to be taken once in ten years, commencing'
with the year 1790. By this estimate the Representatives for
Congress are apportioned. When the States cause the inter-


3,800,000, which is probably near the truth, it will
leave rather more than twenty souls to the square
mile. This is perhaps a little short of the rate of the
population of Russia in Europe, and more than one
half greater than that of the kingdom of Sweden,
exclusive of Norway. But the same remark is appli-
cable to those States, as that which has already been
made of New-England. There is a vast district in
the northern portion of New-York, which is not, nor
probably will not, for ages, be inhabited, except by a
few hunters and lumber-men.* It must, however, be
remembered, that these States possess two second-
rate towns — New- York and Philadelphia : the former
of which contains 200,000, and the latter 150,000
inhabitants.! Those portions of New- York and Penn-
sylvania which lie in their eastern sections, have
an air of populousness about equal to that already
described as belonging to New-England. The same
appearances are preserved by travelling on many of
the great routes to the interior, and there are num-
berless counties, especially in New-York, extending
from its centre very nearly to its western border,
which not only appear, but which in truth are more
populous than many of the older districts. After
having left the Hudson some fifty or sixty miles, the
most material points of difference between the exter-
nal aspect of New-England and of these States, are in
the newness and freshness of the buildings, orchards,
&c. (Szc, and in the greater recurrence of forest, or

mediate census to be taken, it is to answer the objects of their
internal policy. The representatives for the State legislative
bodies are frequently altered to meet the results. The census
of 1820 gave New-York 1,372,812 inhabitants; that of 1825,
1,616,000 ; the increase has been greatest, however, in the newer
State of Ohio, which has nearly doubled its population in the
few intervening years.

* Men who fell the trees, and convert them into the various
objects of use, such as staves, slurries, &;c.

t 1828.


of comparatively half-formed establishments, in the
latter than in the former.

You will always remember that the American, in
seeking a spot for his establishment, has great scope
for his election ; and that, in consequence, he invari-
ably seeks the more fertile lands, or such spots as
afford desirable facilities for commerce or manufac-
tures. Thus, valleys are occupied in succession fre-
quently for a hundred miles, while the crests of the
mountains are left in the forest ; the fields of the hus-
bandman gradually climbing their sides, as his grow-
ing riches or greater necessities shall tempt him to
apply the axe. Some of the best of the land, and
many of the best agriculturists, however, are often
found on the summits of hills of a few hundred feet
in elevation. I think it is rather a peculiarity in
American scenery, that the mountains are, in com-
mon, less abrupt, and more easily to be tilled, than
with us. This is a circumstance which adds to their
usefulness what it subtracts from their beauty. But
where such a variety of natural formation, no less
than of artificial improvement, exists in a country, it
is not easy to convey very accurate ideas of its ap-
pearance, in a few words. The exceptions are so
numerous as to confound the images. You will know
how to make the proper allowances for my imper-
fect descriptions, and I shall therefore pursue them,
in the confidence that I am addressing a man who
will not believe that a bear is to be seen in a dwell-
ing, because he was told one was met in a forest at
no great distance from the place where it stands.
This confusion of ideas is the blunder of Europeans,
in picturing their images of American scenery as well
as of republican manners. They hear of churches,
academies, wild beasts, savages, beautiful women,
steam-boats, and ships; and, by means of a very su-
perficial process, I am satisfied that nine in ten con-
tract opinions which bring wolf, beauty, churches,


and bixt7/-gun frigates in strange and fantastic collision.
Now, when one is in a thriving settlement, or suc-
cession of settlements, in what is called the new
country, (and they are seen by thousands every
where), the only difference between the aspect of
things here and in Europe, is in the freshness of ob-
jects, the absence of ancient monuments, the ordinary
national differences in usages and arrangement, an
air of life and business, always in favour of America,
and a few peculiarities which blend the conveniences
of civilized life with the remains of the wilderness,
in a manner that I shall shortly attempt to describe.

Once for all, dear Waller, I wish you to understand
that — a few peaceable and half-civilized remains of
tribes, that haVe been permitted to reclaim small
portions of land, excepted — an inhabitant of New-
York is actually as far removed from a savage as an
iiihabitant of London. The former has to traverse
many hundred leagues of territory to enjoy even the
sight of an Indian, in a tolerably wild condition ; and
the latter may obtain a similar gratification at about
the same expense of time and distance, by crossing
the ocean to Labrador. A few degraded descend-
ants of the ancient warlike possessors of this country
are indeed seen wandering among the settlements,
but the hidian must now be chiefly sought west of
the Mississippi, to be found in any of liis savage

Cases do occur, beyond a doubt, in which luckless
individuals are induced to make their settlement in
some unpropitious spot where the current of emigra-
tion obstinately refuses to run. These subjects of an
unfortunate speculation are left to struggle for years
in a condition between rude civilization, and one ap-
proaching to that of the hunter, or to abandon their
possessions, and to seek a happier section of the
country. Nine times in ten, the latter course is
adopted. But when this tide of emigration has set


steadily towards any favoured point for a reasonable
time, it is absurd to seek for any vestige of a barba-
rous life among the people. The emigrants carry
with them (I now speak of those parts of the country
I have seen) the wants, the habits, and the institu-
tions, of an advanced state of society. The shop of
the artisan is reared simultaneously with the rude
dwelhng of the farmer. The trunks of trees, piled
on each other, serve for both for a few years, and
then succeed dwellings of wood, in a taste, magnitude,
and comfort, that are utterly unknown to men of
similar means in any other quarter of the world,
which it has yet been my lot to visit. The little
school-house is shortly erected at some convenient
point, and a tavern, a store, (the American term for
a shop of all sales,) with a few tenements occupied
by mechanics, soon indicate the spot for a church,
and the site of the future village. From fifty or a
hundred of these centres of exertion, spread swarms
that in a few years shall convert mazes of dark forests
into populous, wealthy, and industrious counties.
The manufactures of Europe, of the Indies, and of
China, are seen exposed for sale, by the side of the
coarse products of the country; and the same indi-
vidual who vends the axe to fell the adjoining forest,
can lay before your eyes a very tolerable specimen
of Lyons silk, of English broadcloth, of Nankins, of
teas, of coffees, or indeed of moift of the more common
luxuries of hfe. The number and quality of the lat-
ter increase with the growth of the establishment;
and it is not too much to say, that an American vil-
lage store, in a thriving part of the country, where
the settlements are of twenty years' standing, can
commonly supply as good an assortment of the manu-
factures of Europe, as a collection of shops in any
European country town; and, if the general nature of
their stock be considered, embracing, as it does, some
of the products of all countries, one much greater.


As to wild beasts, savages, &c. Sic. &;c., they have
no existence in these regions. A sohtary bear, or
panther, or even a wolf, wandering near the flocks
of a country twenty years old, has an effect like that
produced by an invasion. In the earlier days of the
settlement, it is a task to chase the ravenous beasts
from the neighbourhood. A price is offered for their
heads, and for a time a mutual destruction against
the flocks on one side, and the beasts on the other, is
the consequence. In a year or two, this task is re-
duced to an occasional duty. In a few more, it is
sought as an amusement : and ere the twenty years
expire, the appearance of a wolf among the Ameri-
can farms is far less common than on the most ancient
plains of certain parts of France. Every man has
his rifle or his musket; and every man not only
knows how, but he is fond of using them against such
foes. Thus, you see, though wild beasts may be per-
mitted, like RaphaePs Seraphim, to encircle your pic-
tures of American manners in faint relief, they must
rarely indeed be permitted to enter into the action
of the piece ; more especially if the scene be laid in
any of the settled portions of the three States that
form the subject of this letter.

We made part of this excursion in the public
stages, part with hired horses, and part in steam-
boats. It is impossible to enter on a description of
the surface of the country we saw, for it included
mountains, valleys, and vast plains, intermingled in
such a manner as to render the task wearisome. We
had gone about fifty miles west of Albany, when my
companion desired the vehicle to stop, and invited
me to mount a gentle ascent on foot. On reaching
the summit, he turned and pointed to a view which
resembled none I had ever before witnessed.

We were travelhng along the termination of a
range of mountains, which, running north and south,
fell gracefully away, in the former direction, into


what is caHed the valley of the Mohawk, before ihej
gradually rose again on the other side of that river.
The descent and the ascent were very similar, the
intervening country lying in broken and irregular ter-
races, which often had the appearance of fertile val-
leys, before the rich bottoms of the river are gained.
Our precise position was on the very brow of one
of the most projecting spurs of this broken range,
and it admitted of an uninterrupted prospect to the
north-east, and to the north-west, of the falling coun-
try in our front, and of the rising hills opposite, that
could not have been contained in a circumference of
much less than two hundred miles. The view was
limited to what lay in advance of a line drawn nearly
east and west, the adjacent mountains presenting ob-
stacles to our vision, further south. It was completely
an American scene, embracing all that admixture of
civilization, and of the forest, of the works of man,
and of the reign of nature, that one can so easily
imagine to belong to this country.

There was perhaps an equal distribution of field
and forest. The latter term is not, however, the best,
since it was a constant succession of open land and
of wood, in proportions which, without being exactly,
were surprisingly equal. You have stood upon a
height, and looked down upon a fertile French plain,
over which agriculture has been conducted on a scale
a little larger than common. You may remember the
divisions formed by the hues of the grains of the
vineyards, and of the grasses, which give to the whole
an air so chequered and remarkable. Now, by ex-
tending the view to the size I have named, and en-
larging these chequered spots to a corresponding-
scale, you get a tolerably accurate idea of what I
would describe. The dark green shadows are pro-
duced by the foliage of a wood, reserved, perhaps,
for the use of half a dozen farms, and lying in a body,
(some common objection to culture influencing that


number of proprietors to select adjacent ground for
their reservations,) and the fields of golden yellow,
or of various shades and hues, are produced by the
open fields. The distance diminishes the objects to
the eye, and brings the several parts so much in
union, as to lend to the whole the variegated aspect
of the sort of plain just mentioned. The natural
river which divides this glorious panorama in nearly
two equal parts, with its artificial rival,* and the
sweet meadows that border its banks, were conceal-
ed beneath the brow of the last precipitous descent.
But countless farm-houses, with their capacious out-
buildings, dotted the fields, like indicated spots on a
crowded map. From those in the near view, rose
the light vapoury summer smoke. The fields were
alive with herds, and with numberless and nearly
imperceptible white atoms, which, but for their mo-
tion, it would not have been easy to imagine flocks.
In the distance, though these more minute objects
were lost, habitations, barns, and pyramids of hay and
of grain, could be distinguished, until the power of
vision failed. Immediately at our feet, at the distance
of a few miles, lay a wide, rich terrace, intersected
with roads, that were bordered, as usual, by scattered
farm buildings, surrounded by their granaries and
barns. Near its centre, a cluster of buildings .assumed
the air of a hamlet. From among these roofs, rose
the spire of a country church. I was told that a
multitude of villages lay within the limits of the
view ; but as they were generally placed near some
stream, for the advantage of its water-power, the un-
even formation of the land hid them from our sight.
The eye overlooked even the cities of Albany and
Troy, and rested, in that direction, on some of the
lesser spurs of the mountains of Vermont.

* The great canal, 360 miles in length.


As I looked upon this scene, I felt it only wanted
the recollections and monuments of antiquity to give
it the deepest interest. The opinion might have
escaped my lips, amid the expressions of a sincere
delight. My companion gently touched an arm, and
directed my attention from the view to himself. He
was standing at my elbow with an open map of the
country in his hand. As he met my eye, he gravely
said, " You complain of the absence of association to
give its secret, and perhaps greatest charm which
such a sight is capable of inspiring. You complain
unjustly. The moral feeling with which a man of
sentiment and knowledge looks upon the plains of
your hemisphere, is connected with his recollections;
here it should be mingled with his hopes. The same
effort of the mind is as equal to the one as to the
other. Examine this map. You see our position, and
you know the space that lies between us and the sea.
Now look westward, and observe how many degrees
of longitude^ what broad reaches of territory must be
passed before you gain the limits of our establish-
ments, and the consequent reign of abundance and
civilization.'" Here he dropped the map ; and I
fancied he even spoke with solemnity, as he con-
tinued — "Count ," he said, "you see that I

am a man of middle age : listen to what even my
short memory extends. Along the river which lies
hid in the deep valley before us, the labours of man
have existed for more than a century. There are
one or two shallow streams near us, along which the
enterprise of the settlers early directed itself. A few
miles to the west, we shall enter a little valley,
where a handfuU of refugees from Ireland took up
their abodes some eighty years ago ; and there are
other insulated spots, where solitary individuals trust-
ed to the savage, and raised their simple dwellings
before the war of the revolution. But that little
plain, at our feet, could have fed, and clothed, and


harboured all who were then scattered, not only
over the parts of the country I have shown you here,
but," sweeping his hand along the map, across states
and territories larger than those governed by most of
the European monarchs, "all of white colour, who
then inhabited these wide regions too. I remember
this country. Sir, as it existed in my childhood ; and
it is vain to say, it is a land without recollections.
Draw, a hue from this spot, north and south, and ail
of civilization that you shall see for a thousand miles
west, is what man has done since my infancy. You
exclude, by this boundary, far more than you gain in
the meagre exceptions. That view before you is
but a ftic-simile of a thousand others. I know not
what honest pleasure is to be found in recollection,
that cannot be excited by a knowledge of these facts.
These are retrospects of the past, which, brief and
familiar as they are, lead the mind insensibly to
cheerful anticipations, which may penetrate into a
futurity as dim and as fanciful as any fictions the
warmest imaginations can conceive of the past. But
the speculator on moral things can enjoy a satisfaction
here, that he who wanders over the plains of Greece
w^ill seek in vain. The pleasure of the latter, if he
be wise and good, is unavoidably tinged with melan-
choly regrets ; while here all that reason allows may
be hoped for in behalf of man. Every one in medi-
ocrity of circumstances has enjoyed some of that
interest which is attendant on the advancement of
those objects on which he has fastened a portion of
his aJtTections. It may be the moral or physical im-
provement of his child, — the embellishment of a gar-
den, a paddock, a park, or of the conveniences of
some town ; but, depend on it, there is no pleasure
connected with any interest of this character, that is
commensurate with that we enjoy, who have seen
the birth, infancy, and youth, and who are now
about to become spectators of the maturity, of a


whole country. We live in the excitement of a rapid
and constantly progressive condition. The impetus
of society is imparted to all its members, and we ad-
vance because we are not accustomed to stand still.
Even the sagacious and enterprising New-England-
man, gets an additional impulse in such a living cur-
rent ; the descendant of the Hollander is fast losing
his phlegm ; and men of all nations, hereditary habits
and opinions, receive an onward impulse by the
constant influence of such a communion. I have
stood upon this identical hill, and seen nine tenths of
its smiling prospect darkened by the shadows of the
forest. You observe what it is to-day. He who comes
a century hence, may hear the din of a city rising
from that very plain, or find his faculties confused
by the number and complexity of its works of art.''

Cadwallader ceased, and we re-entered the car-
riage in silence. He had spoken with his customary
warmth and decision, but I felt that he had spoken
the truth. I began to look around me with new eyes,
and instead of seeking subjects of exulting comparison
between what I saw here and what I had left behind
me, I found new subjects of admiration and of won-
der at every turn. You may be assured I was not
so ignorant as to forget that the first step in all im-
provements is more imposing than the subsequent ;
that to clear a country of its wood is in itself a greater
visible change, than to supply the place of the latter
with the more finished accompaniments of civiliza-
tion ; but the progress of which I was a witness,
bounded itself by no such vulgar deception.

Shortly after this detention, we entered the village
of Cherry-Valley, which was the spot named by my
friend as the place originally occupied by the Irish
emigrants. It is a village of perhaps a hundred dwell-
mgs, seated on a httle plain, and is remarkable for
nothing, amid its numberless, neat, spacious, and con-
venient sisters. This place, now rather east of the


centre of the State, was, during the war of the revo-
lution, the frontier settlement in this part of the
United States. At present, two thirds of the State
of New- York, and the whole of the large States of
Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, lie nearly in a line due
west. It was ravaged and burnt bj an incursion of
the British and Indians from Canada, during the war
and many a dreary tale is told of the bloody incidents
of that day. I was shown a dwelling (a modern one)
on whose site a whole family had been cu* off, with
the exception of a lad, then a boy at some distant
school. This boy, nearly if not the sole survivor of
his race, afterwards became one of the most distin-
guished advocates of America. He is recently dead,
and is spoken of universally in terms of adniiration
and esteem.*

Our route now lay, for many miles, amid moun-
tains. The scenery was always striking — sometimes
wild and peculiar, at others as soft and lovely as val-
leys, streams, and quiet, could make it. We passed
the night at Cooperstown, the shire or county town
of Otsego. As we were now completely off all the
great routes west, and in a part of the country that
had been settled about forty years, I profited by the
opportunity to make a few statistical inquiries, that
may serve to give a tolerably accurate general idea
of this portion of the country.

The county of Otsego covers, as near as I could
ascertain, less than a thousand square miles. Its
population in 1826 was 47,000 souls. By allowing
for the increase of numbers since, the proportion will
give rather more than fifty inhabitants to the square
mile. Cooperstown is the largest place in the county,
containing less than fifteen hundred inhabitants, and
consequently this is the rate of the agricultural and
manufacturing population of an entirely inland, and

* Tiip l:i{o .Tolm Wells, of Ne^v-York.
Vol. I. Z


rather secluded, portion of the State. The village is
neat, better built even than is common in America,
which is vastly better (for villages) than any thing of
the sort in Europe. It lies on one of the smallest of
those lakes with which New-York abounds.

There resided formerly near this village a gentle-
man who is the reputed author* of a series of tales,
which were intended to elucidate the history, man-
ners, usages, and scenery, of his native country. As
curiosity on American subjects has led to their re-
publication in Europe, you may possibly have seen
the books. One of them (the " Pioneers") is said to
contain some pretty faithful sketches of certain habits,

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 21 of 58)