Read William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic by Alan Taylor Online


An innovative work of biography, social history, and literary analysis, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book presents the story of two men, William Cooper and his son, the novelist James Fennimore Cooper, who embodied the contradictions that divided America in the early years of the Republic. Taylor shows how Americans resolved their revolution through the creation of new sociAn innovative work of biography, social history, and literary analysis, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book presents the story of two men, William Cooper and his son, the novelist James Fennimore Cooper, who embodied the contradictions that divided America in the early years of the Republic. Taylor shows how Americans resolved their revolution through the creation of new social forms and new stories that evolved with the expansion of our frontier. of photos....

Title : William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic
Author :
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ISBN : 9780679773009
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 576 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic Reviews

  • Manray9
    2019-03-20 06:35

    William Cooper's Town certainly deserved recognition with the 1996 Pulitzer Prize. It is an intriguing look at the development of a frontier community in the earliest days of the republic. The story of parvenu William Cooper's rise and eventual decline from political and social prominence in Upstate New York is well-told with keen insight into the fractiousness of early U.S. politics. James Fenimore Cooper's first great success in the literary world was a fictionalized account of his father's life. While there are many valuable histories of early American life, Taylor's book is particularly fascinating due to the parallel between William Cooper's life story and his son's novel, The Pioneers. William Cooper's Town is an unusual combination of political history, social analysis and biography linked to a study on James Fenimore Cooper's literary effort to vindicate his father's struggle for wealth, social prominence and prestige. Taylor's book is an interesting new twist on the old story of a rising man on America's frontier. I recommend it highly. It is well worth your reading time.

  • Kirsten Mortensen
    2019-03-07 07:16

    What is interesting about this book is that while it is nominally a history, it is interlaced with a delicious helping of literary criticism.The William Cooper of the title is the father of James Fenimore Cooper, and as Taylor shows, Cooper's novels were more than Revolutionary era romances. They also romanticized the Cooper family's personal history. "The Pioneers," in particular, functioned as a retelling of William's life story -- only with an ending more to James Fenimore's liking than what happened in real life.I grew up in Central New York, not that far from Cooperstown, and I've read quite a few histories of this part of the country. "William Cooper's Town" (which won a Pulitzer) ranks as one of the best. I particularly appreciated Taylor's description of how the Revolutionary War disrupted the Colonial-era status quo both socially and economically. I've known for some time, for instance, that many New York State Loyalists fled to Canada or England after the war. Taylor pulls back the curtain on this story: when the Loyalists left, rogues and opportunists took advantage of the ensuing chaos to make claims (often of dubious legal standing) on "abandoned" property. William Cooper was one of those rogues. From a start as a barely-literate wheelwright, he became one of the era's prominent land speculators -- and, by the standards of the time, enormously rich. And Cooperstown, New York, was the eponymous capital of his primary holding (the Otsego Patent). There William presided over his land leases and mortgages and related business concerns, and built a mansion and ran for political office -- and also tried to re-fashion himself as an aristocrat. The latter effort failed, ultimately -- partly because he simply didn't know how to conduct himself in society, and partly because he was actually a terrible business manager. When he died, his children lived the high life for a few years, but all too soon the his entire estate was bankrupt, auctioned off to pay creditors. James Fenimore was protected from abject poverty because he'd married wealth. And then he got the idea to write a novel set in Revolutionary Era New York State . . . I should add one other thing. Most people today probably know Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it's also home to the Fenimore Art Museum, which has incredible collections American Folk Art, North American Indian art, Hudson River School art, and 19th-century genre paintings. Cooperstown has one of the coolest craft breweries in the country as well (Ommegang), the highly regarded Leatherstocking Golf Course (resort course -- I've never played it but I'd love to!), and a vibrant performing arts scene, including the internationally acclaimed Glimmerglass Opera.After William's death -- in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the town struggled economically. Today, it's a jewel of a community, and well worth the trip if you are looking for a summer vacation spot in the Northeastern United States. Maybe I'll even see you there? ;-)

  • John
    2019-03-09 03:29

    This is a really great work of history- very well crafted. Taylor blends literary analysis and social history and biography to examine in detail the changes that occurred in American society in the early republic period. William Cooper, a relatively uneducated wheelwright, took advantage of the changes brought by the Revolution to reinvent himself as a great proprietor/landholder. He tried his best to assume a new position among the genteel elite. He and the other elites believed that the Revolution should not be allowed to go too far, that America's new society should not change all that much from the old colonial society...the United States would be simply be ruled by American elites, rather than British elites. But they couldn't control the government they had created, and democracy overtook the land. The antics and mayhem of the American experiment ensued. Later, after the Cooper family had basically lost the frontier empire William built, his son James Fenimore built a career for himself as a novelist, creatively re-writing the history of the frontier the way he wished it had transpired. I really admire Taylor's work. He goes so far as to analyze the records of the library in William Cooper's hometown, to see which books Cooper was checking out compared to other patrons, and to show that he was giving himself a crash course in how to be a gentleman. Taylor also does a great job explaining why Cooper's first major venture- founding Cooperstown- worked out, and why his subsequent ventures fell into such difficulty. This book also helped me understand the "Revolution of 1800" (Jefferson's election) much better than any other book I've read. In places like New York, the politics were much more complicated than simply a question of Jefferson vs. Adams. The Federalists couldn't get themselves together and the Jeffersonian Republicans basically invented the party based campaign. This is a must read for anyone working on early America/early Republic.

  • Jeffrey David
    2019-03-18 04:13

    Immeditaley, following the War for Independence and the Constitution, the U.S. was a very unstable place both politically and econmically. Anyone who thought that "free land" meant "freedom" was mistaken 9at leat that's what I got out of this book.) Taylor teaches at UC-Davis and I've caught many of his lectures. He is very wise to a forgotten p[eriod of AMerican history, the highly-contentions 1790 political battles. This book documents politics on the Amreican forntier in upstate New York, as William Cooper, self-made gentleman of the Republic amassed a fortuen thorugh land specualtion, only to lose it all becasue he failed to navigate the destablizing effects of non-propertied Americans voting and their erosion of traditional social mores. William Cooper's son was none other than james Fennimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans and Leathersotcking and Deerslayer. Cooper examines J.F. Cooper's novels to see how he treid to reddem his father's life and the values of aristocracy on the expanding American frontier.

  • Zachary Bennett
    2019-02-25 06:34

    A beautiful book. Taylor doesn't make much of a new argument in this book, rather illustrates the myriad changes wrought by the Revolution by following the life of NY land speculator William Cooper. As a young man, WC embodies the mobility afforded to white men by the Revolution, as he emerges from modest origins to get enough money to speculate in land in upstate NY, recently taken from the Iroquois. WC tries to makes himself a gentleman in the fashion of the colonial order by educating himself. Once in his new town, Cooper embodies Federalist paternalism as he expects the settlers to respect his preponderance of power and social superiority. This doesn't work out, as the rise of Republicanism is NY challenges WC's worldview, and throws him out of power. I really noticed how dirty politics and patronage were back then--NY governor burned votes to get his way. This story was foundation for WC's son James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Frontiersman?. There are so many connections in this book while making a succinct and powerful point. Truly deserved the Pulitzer.

  • Zack Pecenak
    2019-03-24 06:19

    This book might be the most interesting book I have read. The way Taylor combines a biography, regional/national history, and a literary criticism of one of America's premier authors is stunning. I found myself flipping page to page as each brought a different aspect of the story.It is a great insight into how the American frontier was formed and transformed, transforming it's people and politics. It is amazing how this book can have enough data to be a textbook but read like a novel.I wish there was 6 stars to give this book.

  • Meghan
    2019-03-05 09:21

    Read for American history class with that prof with the big red nose

  • Josh Maddox
    2019-03-24 09:26

    “By treating William Cooper’s career and his son’s most powerful novel as parts of a whole, William Cooper’s Town is a hybrid of three usually distinct genres: biography, social history, and literary analysis. First, it is a biography of Judge William Cooper…Second, this book is a social history-a community study of Cooperstown, New York…Third, I reassess the production and meanings of The Pioneers.” As Alan Taylor explains in his introduction, William Cooper’s Town is a very atypical history book. In form, it is most like a biography; Judge William Cooper’s life provides the skeleton for the story. The other two parts of the book, the social history and the literary analysis, hang from this frame. In all three ways, biography, social history, and literary analysis, the book is a success. The main part of the book, the biography, is the best. The author tells the tale of William Cooper, a wheelwright who rises from manual laborer to speculator, Congressman, Judge, town leader, investor, and preeminent landholder. The book follows Cooper’s life, tracing him throughout his many varied (and often unsuccessful) pursuits. This framework illuminates the book and provides a sound basis for the other two sections. Though the book is of three types, the narrative of William Cooper allows the author to blend them into one personal and easily understandable chronological narrative rather than three separate sections.Another aspect which adds to the book’s worth is the author’s meticulous research. He shows not only a mastery of the common original sources such as diaries, letters, and newspapers, but a thorough knowledge of more obscure sources, such as bills and receipts. It is also quite clear that the author meticulously dug through the store’s records. This is evident in his deep knowledge of Cooper’s store’s records, particularly those related to maple sugar. The ease with which Taylor uses the records and constructs a story from them builds upon the usual sources of letters and journals. The next part of the book, the community history, is told almost without deviation as it related to William Cooper. In this sense, it is less of a community history and more an addition to Cooper’s biography. Nonetheless, it is an interesting and important section of the book. As he chronicles the town’s growth from a tiny backwoods village, to a pretentious town run by ostentatious lawyers, to an older and more realistic city, he also tells of the rise and fall of William Cooper. Because of Cooper’s intimate involvement with the town from its inception to his death, the town both influences and is influenced by his story.Due to Cooper’s political proclivities, much of the book focuses on the political history of the Otsego area. This is another area in which Taylor’s writing excels. Instead of simply barraging the reader with numbers, Taylor references previous statistics and analyzes both sets of data. For example, throughout the book he tracks the political leanings of the residents of Otsego and the surrounding areas and breaks them down by sub-region. Because of his heavy reliance on statistics and numbers, Taylor’s writing is quite convincing. Due to his usage of data and multiple sources, his points and assertions seem less like arguments and more like clear statements of fact which should be readily apparent to any reader. Thus, Taylor comes across as an unbiased historian telling the tale of Cooper’s town, not an ideologue pouring his narrowly disguised opinions into the readers’ minds. Although it is unusual have a community history linked with a biography, in this case, it seems as if it could hardly be any other way. William Cooper and the story of his town are so closely related that it would be impossible to tell their stories separately. The third member of this conglomeration of methods is different. It is much more unusual to incorporate the literature of the son in a biography of the father. Still, the literary analysis is woven in deftly throughout the rest of the book and seems a natural, if inessential, part of Cooper’s biography. James Fenimore Cooper was not only the first great American novelist; he was also William Cooper’s son. In addition to his more famous The Last of the Mohicans he wrote many other books, including Pioneers, a book which closely follows his father’s life in the town he founded. By relating the real stories in Judge William Cooper’s life to the fictionalized account given in the Pioneers, Taylor adds a new level of depth to the story. He writes not only of the events themselves, but of their effect on a future generation. Though unorthodox, Taylor’s blending of genres is effective. He uses the three different types of writing together to produce something greater than the three could have done separately, and in doing so creates a readable, straightforward, well-researched, and ultimately entertaining story.

  • Jonathan
    2019-02-28 09:13

    An impressive accomplishment. It's too heavy on blow-by-blow political history for my taste, but it certainly does what it tries to do historically. Yet I don't entirely buy into the personal story.Alan Taylor describes how William Cooper (father of novelist James Fenimore Cooper) rose from poor wheelwright to New York land magnate after the Revolution thanks to a long series of fraudulent land deals; how he became an influential but awkward local community leader in the frontier town he built to bear his name; and how he provoked a political and social reaction from other common men hoping to rise in the new republic. Taylor presents Cooper's story as a microcosm of the social and cultural transformation of the United States after the Revolution. Cooper was economically a man of the new era of competitive getting-forward, but intellectually a man of a genteel and deferential age. He tried to work his way up into the gentry, not recognizing or not accepting the values of the bourgeois economy he was helping to create. Likewise, he seems to have subscribed only imperfectly to either the old patronage politics or the new spoils-system politics, demanding absolute loyalty from his Cooperstown subordinates while frequently provoking the anger of state politicians and their allies through his own ambition. No aristocrat himself, he tried to become an oligarch through sharp dealing, only to find himself surrounded by democrats. By the end of his life, his county had turned against him politically.Taylor, I think, finds Cooper ultimately a sympathetic though tragic character. I have a harder time finding any value in him. It is hard to see any significant sign of personal integrity in Cooper (willful pride is not the same thing). He came from, but usually didn't subscribe to, a Quaker tradition that taught him plain dealing and personal humility, yet everything he accomplished was built on bad faith and pursued for personal aggrandizement of one kind or another. At his death, he left a large estate hopelessly compromised by debts and faulty title deeds; a neglected and broken wife; and at least two spendthrift sons who had apparently never learned from him how to control their appetites. He was, to be sure, a symptom of his age, but nothing in this book gives me a reason to care about him.

  • Gwynneth
    2019-03-14 01:26

    It should come as no surprise that disreputable real estate deals and land brokers have not changed all that much since the 18th century. The fashions may be different, but the fast and loose rules are relatively the same. Taylor documents the rise of William Cooper from poverty to genteel landlord and political office holder. This was accomplished by combining aspects of social climbing with sketchy land title grabs and political intrigue (aka special interest lobbying). If there is one point that can be learned from this book, it's that property title insurance is well worth its weight in gold. Unfortunately, title insurance was not around in Cooper's time which proved a boon for him and a bane for his customers who were often left to sort out flawed title claims against others who had bought the same piece of property, but from another land agent. Ultimately, Cooper was nothing more than a current day real estate flipper seizing economic opportunities that became available in the post-Revolutionary War frontier expansion. But those coveted social and political positions came at a cost. Cooper falls into a no-man's middle ground fenced in by disdain for his rough, plebian edges from the more genteel leaders and distrust for the put-on aristocratic airs from his rural constituents.Cooper recognizes this insurmountable chasm and attempts to redeem himself through his children's accomplishments, namely, James Fenimore Cooper. Ironically, his past dealings in faulty land claims come back to haunt them on his death as their inherited paper wealth turns into nothing more than the paper it's written on. The last part of the book details James Fenimore attempts to reclaim his heritage and a sense of his own position through such books as The Pioneers and the more commonly known, The Last of The Mohicans (still one of the more gory books to read even today). Overall, an excellent book well written on a topic that most readers mistakenly view as being dry and uneventful. Certainly very deserving of its Pulitzer Prize.

  • Steven
    2019-03-13 02:37

    Essential for understanding James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Pioneers (1823)--but more importantly, essential for understanding post-revolutionary America: the frontier tenacity of settlers; the self-making potential of the ambitious; the erratic speculation of land; the humbling of the Federalists and the subsequent empowering of the populists. Taylor takes us to the brink of a new industrial era and, on the way, shows how the wealthy, genteel patrician (the emblem of money and power in one supposedly enlightened body) split into specialized, independent spheres of commerce and political authority--a world we live in still.

  • Margaret Sankey
    2019-02-28 01:16

    Fantastic history of the two generation rise and fall of would-be patriarch William Cooper and his dubiously gained Otsego Patent in New York--rising from marginal society thanks to a Revolution he didn't participate in, land chicanery, maple sugar and land development schemes, self-education and a failed attempt to get big city elite to pay him deference, misjudged Federalist politics in 1800 and ultimately the squandering of potential by spoiled heirs raised in privilege and frontier luxury when the frontier shifted and only James Fenimore Cooper was left to recast the story in a rose-colored novelization with a happy, elitist and Federalist ending.

  • Lindsay
    2019-03-26 04:12

    As history books (and I love history) go this one is pretty darn interesting. It's not as all-absorbing as some fiction work, but the people in the story come alive and Taylor does a great job of showing you their whole characters, flaws and all. For anyone who is from or has visited upstate New York, it's a fascinating read about the roots of this town and how different it was back then. Not the fastest or easiest of history books to read, but if you are in the mood for a longer, more challenging tale, then definitely give this a try.

  • Abby
    2019-02-24 07:28

    2.0-2.5I feel like this would have been much more enjoyable to me if it had been an article in the New Yorker. I just didn't think the subject matter was interesting enough to warrant 425 pages. I don't really care to know the minutae of late 18th century real estate dealings in Western New York. If that kind of thing interests you, this book is a great choice. It is very well written and scholarly, I just didn't find the topic interesting enough to hold my interest. More a personal preference than anything else.

  • Scott Cox
    2019-02-28 01:11

    There's more to Cooper's Town, New York than the Baseball Hall of Fame! This Pulitzer Prize winning book discusses the struggles of early settlers in the northeastern United States. It is a story that highlights the lives of author James Fenimore Cooper ("Last of the Mohicans") and his father, William Cooper. This was an interesting and educational read.

  • Vam Norrison
    2019-03-18 09:27

    I picked this up after reading Taylor's "American Colonies" and James Fenimore Cooper's "Pioneers" in school. The depth of Taylor's research and his ability to navigate between real events and their fictions make this book rewarding. This is a wonderful companion to "The Pioneers" and a great model for history research and writing.

  • Lauren Hopkins
    2019-03-21 03:33

    Reads like a novel. I love the literary analysis when Taylor attempts to connect his biography of William Cooper to James Fenimore Cooper's novel, "The Pioneers." Very unique and very telling in terms of the relationship between this father and son. Also just a great historical analysis of early America.

  • George
    2019-03-14 02:30

    Reads like a Greek tragedy. The rise and fall of land speculator and politician William Cooper, the father of the novelist James Fenimore Cooper. A fascinating picture of American life in the late 18th and early 19th century.

  • Judy
    2019-03-24 08:13

    I got to page 84 and decided it wasn't interesting enough to finish. It read more like a history book than a Pulitzer Prize winner. Maybe my expectations were too high and I expected something easier to read like Champlain's Dream.

  • Roy White
    2019-03-12 08:26

    Taylor is an exemplary historian, combining human empathy with context and erudition. Here is a sort of review:

  • Christina
    2019-03-23 01:20

    This was a fantastic read!

  • Johanna
    2019-02-26 01:37

    Only vaguely interesting as I had just moved to Cooperstown when I read it. All in all a very difficult book to get into though.

  • Tom O'meara
    2019-03-08 02:34

    Impressive research. Idea that Cooper was not murdered?

  • AskHistorians
    2019-02-28 05:26

    Fascinating study of William Cooper and his son, James Fenimore Cooper - and of the dramatic social/cultural changes that they witnessed.

  • Martha Duke
    2019-03-09 01:32

    Bought this book because I thought I should. Tried to plod through it. Didn't get very far.

  • John
    2019-03-16 02:10


  • Wisteria Leigh
    2019-03-26 04:30

    2009-Winter,Pulitzer Prize,American history,late 1700s,Cooperstown,William Cooper,biographical,narrative,James Fenimore Cooper,The Pioneers,gentility