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Our early history has been less sympathetic toward the Indian. The storyof the massacre which occurred at Cherry Valley, not many miles fromCooperstown, in 1778, although the Tories who took part in it were quiteas savage as their Indian allies, has made memorable the darker side ofIndian character. But although many innocent victims were exacted by hisrevenge both here and elsewhere, it was not without cause that theIndian resorted to bloody measures against the whites. Americans ofto-day can well afford a generous appreciation of the once powerful racewho were their predecessors in sovereignty on this continent. The leagueof the Iroquois is no more, but in the Empire State of the AmericanRepublic the scene of their ancient Indian empire remains. It is leftfor the white man to commemorate the Indian who made no effort toperpetuate memorials of himself, erected no boastful monuments, andcarved no inscriptions to record his many conquests. Having gained greatwealth by developing the resources of a land which the Indians used onlyas hunting grounds, the white man may none the less appreciate the loftyqualities of a race of men who, just because they felt no lust ofriches, never emerged from the hunter state, but found the joy of lifeamid primeval forests.
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Judge Cooper's chief political opponent in the county was Jedediah Peck,who settled in Burlington, Otsego county, in 1790, a man of an entirelydifferent type from Judge Cooper, yet equally famous in the politicallife of the times. Coarse and uneducated, Peck overcame alldisadvantages by his shrewdness, intellectual power, [Pg 97]and great naturalability. He gained much influence with the people of the county by hishomely skill as a traveling preacher, going about distributing tracts,and preaching wherever he could gather an audience. He was an aggressivesupporter of the political views and administrative policies of ThomasJefferson, and violently antagonized the Federalists of the county, whowere under the leadership of Judge Cooper. This opposition culminatedduring the administration of President Adams in 1798, when Peck wasarrested under the Alien and Sedition Act for circulating petitionsagainst that Act. He was indicted and taken to New York in irons, butwas never brought to trial, and upon the repeal of the Act wasdischarged. Peck's arrest and imprisonment fastened attention upon him,and, together with his continued denunciation of the federaladministration, made him the recognized leader of the Republican(Jeffersonian) party of Otsego county, so that he dictated its policyand nominations for many years thereafter. Indeed, the overthrow of theFederal party in this State, with the consequent success of Jefferson inthe presidential canvass, is attributed to the excitement andindignation aroused by the spectacle of this little dried up man,one-eyed but kindly in expression and venerable, a veteran of theRevolutionary War, being transported through the State in the custody offederal officials, and manacled, the latter an unnecessary andoutrageous indignity.
The controversy between Cooper and his critics had now reached a degreeof violence that was grotesque. To stand alone, as Cooper stood, againstfurious assaults that represented the sentiments of nearly the wholepublic was not conducive to playful moods of the spirit; yet thecontroversy had its humorous side, and if the novelist had had a keensense of humor he would have been spared much trouble. Certain aspectsof the ludicrous appealed to Cooper, and there was a range of absurditywithin which his merriment was easily excited, as when he laughed untilthe tears ran down his cheeks because his man-of-all-work thought thatboiled oil should be called "biled ile"; but his attempts to create andsustain humorous characters, such as the singing-master in The Last ofthe Mohicans, justify Balzac's comments on Cooper's "profound andradical impotence for the comic." Nothing could be more comic than hisrôle of lecturer to the American people upon refinements of social usageand manners. The many who were guilty of the vulgarities which he wishedto correct were precisely those who could not be made to see theimpropriety of them, and most fiercely resented any attempt to improvetheir deportment. If Cooper had possessed an acute sense of humor hewould never have written Home as Found, nor would he have dignifiedwith a reply the attack of every scribbler who assailed him. But he tookall criticisms seriously, and felt it a solemn duty, in justice [Pg 288]tohimself and to the principles for which he stood, to defend himselfagainst all and sundry. There is no doubt that in standing alone againstthe whole world he believed himself to be performing a public service,and displayed a degree of courage which is too rare not to commandextraordinary admiration. At the same time those of his friends whodescribed him as borne down by the weight of his sorrow at themisunderstanding and ingratitude which he encountered had not taken thefull measure of his character. So splendid a fighter as Fenimore Cooperusually finds some pleasure in fighting, especially if, as in his case,he is habitually victorious. He leaped into the fray of each controversywith such alacrity that it is difficult to avoid the belief that Cooperwas animated not only by a sense of justice, but by a joy of battle.
The occasion of the libel suits was the publication in August, 1837, inthe Otsego Republican, a Cooperstown newspaper, of an article copiedfrom the Norwich Telegraph, in which Cooper was roundly abused inreference to the Three-Mile Point controversy, and to which theRepublican added comments of its own, repeating the disprovedstatement that the father of the novelist had reserved the Point for theuse of the inhabitants of the village. Cooper promptly notified theeditor of the Republican, Andrew M. Barber, that unless the statementswere retracted he would enter suit for libel. Barber refused to retract;the suit was begun; and in May, 1839, at the final trial, the juryreturned a verdict of [Pg 289]four hundred dollars for the plaintiff. Theeditor sought to avoid the payment of the whole award, and a greatoutcry was raised against Cooper because the sheriff levied upon somemoney which Barber had laid away and locked up in a trunk. Cooper suedalso the Norwich Telegraph, and when other newspapers took the side oftheir associates he entered suit promptly against any that publishedlibelous statements. In this way one suit led to another, until Cooperwas bringing action against the Oneida Whig, published at Utica; theCourier and Enquirer of New York, edited by James Watson Webb; theEvening Signal of New York, edited by Park Benjamin; the CommercialAdvertiser of New York, edited by Col. William L. Stone; the Tribune,edited by Horace Greeley; and the Albany Evening Journal, edited byThurlow Weed. This list includes the leading Whig journals of the timein the State of New York, which were among the most influential in thewhole country. Col. Stone, Thurlow Weed, and Watson Webb were formerresidents of Cooperstown, the two first named having each served anapprenticeship as printer in the office of the Freeman's Journal. Weedwas recognized as the leader of the Whig party in the nation, and hisnewspaper was correspondingly important. He was Cooper's most persistentopponent, and in 1841 the novelist had commenced five suits against himfor various articles published in the Evening Journal. It is a curiousfact that Weed was noted as a bigoted admirer of his adversary's novels.Weed himself [Pg 290]afterward related that when about to leave Albany bystage-coach to attend one of these trials, and inquiring at thebooksellers for some late publication to read on the journey, he wasinformed that the only new book was The Two Admirals, which had justbeen issued. "I took the book," said Weed, "and soon became so absorbedthat I had hardly any time or thought for the trial, through which theauthor who charmed me was trying to push me to the wall."
One incident connected with the school made a sensation at the time.During the winter of 1840 a strong party of Indians found their way tothe village, and remained for several days. One of them got into adrunken bout, and died quite suddenly. Shortly after the departure ofthe band the rumor was circulated among the loungers in the streets thatthe friends of the dead Indian suspected foul play, and were coming fromtheir encampment on the following night to wreak vengeance upon thevillage. These flying rumors came to the ears of some of the pupils ofDuff's Academy, who hastened to communicate the alarming intelligence totheir principal. Whether Duff really accepted the truth of the reports,or wished to test the military efficiency and courage of his pupils, hepromptly called his troops together, delivered an impressive harangue onthe danger of the situation and the glory to be won by rallying to thedefence of the village against a savage foe. Plans were soon made torepel the attack. Muskets were made ready for service. Some boys weresent into the village for powder, others for lead from which they weresoon actively engaged in moulding bullets. A detachment was sent toremove to the house all effects from the schoolroom which stood near thegate, and the doors and windows of the house were strongly barricaded.Preparations were made to patrol the village at night, and the schoolwas detailed into squads, who were to protect the principal streets.Sentries paced from the house to the gate, and from Christ churchyard[Pg 355]to the corner of Main Street, while outposts were stationed across theriver who were to give warning of the enemy's approach by the dischargeof a musket. The younger boys were left at home on guard at the doorsand windows of the house. As the midnight hour approached Major Duffsallied forth and inspected the disposal of his forces. During the longwinter darkness of that night the boys marched up and down the villagestreets, with imaginations so fearfully wrought up as to deny the needof sleep which lay heavy upon them. If any of the inhabitants of thevillage sympathized in this watchfulness in their behalf, or kept awaketo see what was going on, there was no evidence of it. The boys wereleft to their vigil. They passed the night in anxious watching. NoIndians appeared, and all danger was dispelled by the rays of the risingsun. 041b061a72