American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

THE PATHFINDER (1840). This fourth novel in James Fenimore Cooper’s* (1789-1851) Leatherstocking Series, The Pathfinder is set in the Lake Ontario region during the French and Indian War. In addition to detailing his hero Natty Bumppo’s failed attempts at romance, Cooper delineates for the first time the characteristics of sailing on the Great Lakes,* a region he learned during his service in the Navy just before the War of 1812. Cooper creates a young Lakes sailor, Jasper Western, who commands the Scud, a vessel designed and rigged to handle the difficult conditions on the Lakes. When Western is accused of treason, his command is given to an experienced saltwater seaman, Charles Cap, who voices the typically condescending attitude of ocean sailors for Lake men during the early nineteenth century. Cap’s boasted saltwater skills prove unequal to the task of handling the vessel in a freshwater gale, however, and Western reassumes command, proving Cooper’s point that on the frontier new conditions demand new technology, new methods, and new attitudes.

Victoria Brehm