News of Otsego County

alan taylor

Otsego County, Reclaim Natty Bumppo As Own


Otsego County, Reclaim

Natty Bumppo As Own

Hawkeye lives! Daniel Day Lewis reintroduced Natty Bumppo to the modern audience in the 1992 “Last of the Mohicans.”

Editor’s Note: This editorial, from May 6, 2016, is timely again today, after the news that the Pomeroy Foundation has awarded a “Legends & Lore” historical marker to both Fly Creek, home of David Shipman, and Hoosick Falls, home of Nathaniel Shipman.

Alan Taylor, the eminent historian and author of the Pulitzer-winning “William Cooper’s Town” is emphatic in his conclusion: David Shipman was James Fenimore Cooper’s inspiration for the famed Natty Bumppo. Fly Creek Historical Society President Sherlee Rathbone says primary sources are lacking.

It’s a step in the right direction that Hawkeye is honored locally, but the “Legends & Lore” marker is a step short of Pomeroy’s “Historical Marker” designation.

Bruce Shipman, David Shipman’s descendant who was leading that argument, passed away in 2017. Someone needs to pick up the challenge and continue it until OUR Shipman’s rightful role is accurately recognized.

“The Last of the Mohicans” is James Fenimore Cooper’s most enduring novel. In this frontispiece, Natty Bumppo collaborates with Chingachgook, who, legend has it, was based on a Mohican family from the Richfield Springs area.

Who isn’t familiar with the image above? Daniel Day Lewis reinvented “The Last of the Mohicans” for a modern audience, although – believe it or not – that movie version (1992) came out almost a quarter-century ago. It’s time for another reinvention for the PS4
generation, and that inevitably will happen.

And, yet, here in the home of Hawkeye, or Natty Bumppo, or The Leatherstocking, or “La Longue Carabine,” he’s largely forgotten – but for his descendant Bruce Shipman. (And, of course, Hugh MacDougall, Cooperstown village historian, key player in the founding of the James Fenimore Cooper Society in 1989, which necessarily is a celebration of Cooper’s greatest creation and one of the most enduring characters in American literature.)

Yes, the next “Last of the Mohicans” hit movie is inevitable. But are we ready to celebrate – and capitalize on – our most famous citizen (the fictional one, but also his human counterpart) when that happens?

When you think about it, it’s quite shocking how little David Shipman, who James Fenimore Cooper acknowledged as “the Leatherstocking of the region” in “Chronicles of Cooperstown” (1838), is recognized around here.

As SUNY Binghamton professor Thomas Jordan put it in 2012, “Bumppo reflects the core qualities of the burgeoning American character – rugged individualism, self-reliance, moral certitude in the face of difficult ethical dilemmas, and freedom from the potentially stifling strictures of society.”

Think National Security State, and Natty Bumppo has never been more relevant.
In our PC-burdened national dialogue, Cooper’s hero – and his companion, Chingachgook (related to the Brushells of Richfield Springs, it’s said) – also reflect
a more complex reality, of newcomers and American Indians living side by side, the
good allied against the bad among settlers and natives alike.

David Shipman as Cooper’s inspiration was clouded by Ralph Birdsall’s seminal (and very readable) “The Story of Cooperstown” (1917), which lays out Hoosick Falls’ argument for the alternative Nathaniel Shipman.

But Alan Taylor’s Pulitzer-winning “William Cooper’s Town” (1996), which researches the complicated relationship between David Shipman and the Cooper family, proves outright
our local Leatherstocking’s status.

Taylor confirmed that in a recent e-mail: “I certainly consider DS to be the model for JFC in crafting the character of Natty Bumppo.”

That is the final word, and should bring all local historians behind Bruce Shipman of Richfield Springs in his effort to place a historical marker on his ancestor’s grave in the Toddsville Cemetery on Route 56 just east of Fly Creek.

Shipman, patriarch of the extensive Shipman clan, has sought the support of the Fly Creek Area Historical Society, and he should have it, and from the Otsego Town Board, and he should have it. But David Shipman is bigger than any single local community.

County Treasurer Dan Crowell’s parents live on Otsego Manor Road, and he will tell you that the legendary Shipman’s cabin was on the far end of that property.

As you cross the Route 11C bridge between Routes 28 and 33, look to the northwest, and you’ll see a V formed where Oaks Creek meets the Susquehanna. That’s where it was. That deserves a historical marker.

And the Leatherstocking-topped obelisk in Lakewood Cemetery (there’s a whole other story there) – that deserves a historical marker.

The point is that James Fenimore Cooper’s novels may be dated, but The Leatherstocking is not. He’s waiting to be reinvented in the next Hollywood block-buster, and to be rediscovered by scholars seeking to understand the nation’s complex ethnic interplay.

Meanwhile, we should be prepared for that inevitable day. Celebrating Hawkeye would
be a high-profile project for high-energy OCHA (the Otsego County Historical Association).

It would be a worthy project for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s scholars.

As a community, we should understand Natty Bumppo’s significance, as Hannibal, Mo., should understand Huck Finn. Let’s digest Alan Taylor’s research, and recognize Cooper’s greatest hero with one historical marker, or two, or as many as necessary, and figure out how to tell “La Longue Carabine’s” story to the rest of the world.

Both Bumppo Claims Equal, Power Foundation Concludes


Both Bumppo Claims Equal,

Power Foundation Declares

Pete Nowicki, the county’s sign expert, examines Bumppo “Legend & Lore” marker. (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

FLY CREEK – Wuz we robbed?

The Pomeroy Foundation has, finally, approved a “Legend & Lore” marker for the grave of David Shipman, whom James Fenimore Cooper himself identified as the model for Natty Bumppo, who ranks with Huck Finn among the foremost protagonists in American literature.

Here’s the text of the new “Lore & Legend” marker in Hoosick Falls.

At the same time, though, Pomeroy also approved a “Legend & Lore” marker for Nathaniel Shipman’s grave in Hoosick Falls, giving him equal billing with the local woodsman who inspired the most memorable character in Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”

The “Legend & Lore” marker is a step down from Pomeroy’s “Historical Marker,” which would actually aver David Shipman was the model for Natty Bumppo. Instead, the marker set up at the Adams Cemetery between Fly Creek and Toddsville simply said that some people think he was Cooper’s hero, also known as the Leatherstocking and “La Longue Carabine.”

“It means you can’t prove it,” said Sherlee Rathbone, president of the Fly Creek Historical Society, which sought the Pomeroy designation. “In order to have a ‘History’ sign, we need to have primary sources. And we don’t; we can’t find it. We had no option.”

That is contrary to the conclusion reached by Alan Taylor, author of the Pulitzer-winning “William Cooper’s Town” (1996), who now holds the Thomas Jefferson Chair in American History at the University of Virginia. He has since won a second Pulitzer, in 2014 for “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.”

Taylor researched the complicated relationship between the Cooper family and David Shipman, who would often provide the village’s first family’s table with venison, fish and other edible wildlife.

As proof, Taylor cites James Fenimore Cooper identifying David Shipman as Bumppo in “Chronicles of Cooperstown” (1838).

That – the writer himself designating David Shipman – would constitute a primary source.
In a 2016 e-mail to this newspaper, Taylor declared, “I certainly consider DS to be the model for JFC in crafting the character of Natty Bumppo.”

In addition to the gravesite, former county treasurer Dan Crowell’s family has identified the confluence of Oaks Creek and the Susquehanna – it can be seen on the north side of the Route 11C bridge – as the site of David Shipman’s cabin. A depiction of Shipman also appears atop the Cooper obelisk in Lakewood Cemetery.

On its website, the Pomeroy Foundation also includes an audio tape, recording Rathbone and Joyce Brewer, from the Hoosick Township Historical Society.

It traces the rivalry between Cooperstown and Hoosick Falls to 1874, when David Shipman’s great-granddaughter threatened to sue, blocking plans in the Washington County town from raising a statue to Nathaniel Shipman.

Nathaniel was born in 1738 in Connecticut, moving to Hoosick in 1756, where he was a scout for the British.  When the American Revolution began, Nathaniel was tarred and feathered for his loyalty to the crown, and fled to the Otsego Lake region, supporting himself by hunting and fishing, and living in a cave.

Back in Hoosick Falls, his daughter, Patience, married a John Ryan, who became a state Assemblyman, Brewer recounts. In Albany, he met Judge William Cooper, also an Assemblyman, who regaled him with stories about a Shipman.

Acting on this information, Ryan and Patience retrieved an “aged white man” from the Cooperstown area, and brought him back to Hoosick Falls, where he died in 1809 and is buried in the Baptist Cemetery.  Patience was “pretty sure that was her father,” the audiotape says.

“Natty,” Brewer says, is a nickname for “Nathaniel,” not “David.”

The audiotape, quoting Rathbone, reports David Shipman was born in 1740 in Saybrook, Conn., and died in Fly Creek in 1813 and was buried in the Adams Cemetery.  “He was a renowned hunter and trapper,” she said, “dressed in leggings and high moccasin boots – hence Leatherstocking.  He supplied the table of many folks with venison and wild meats, include Judge Cooper’s.”

Hoosick Falls has a corpse, Brewer said.  “We do not,” said Rathbone.  “We do have anecdotes.”

First Cooperstown Election Was A Wild One


First Cooperstown Village

Election Was A Wild One

Illustrations inn Alan Taylor’s “William Cooper’s Town” including, upper right, Cooper’s Otsego
Manor, where Victor Salvatore’s James Fenimore Cooper statue is today, and, upper left, Elihu Phinney, Otsego
Herald publisher, a friend of Cooper’s who became a bitter political foe.

Editor’s Note: The uncertainly surrounding this year’s village elections locally and throughout New York State, now scheduled six months late on Sept. 15, brought to mind the tumult surrounding Cooperstown’s first village elections, recounted in Alan Taylor’s “William Cooper’s Town,” which won a 1996 Pulitzer Prize.

The (state) Legislature (in 1807) was considering two rival petitions to incorporate the
village at the foot of Lake Otsego. Incorporation would provide Cooperstown with a government
distinct from Otsego Township.

Ostensibly the rival petitions disputed the official name for the incorporated village (formation of an aqueduct company was also at issue): in one, (Cooperstown’s founder, Judge William) Cooper and the village Federalists sought to retain the name Cooperstown, while the other championed by (Otsego Herald publisher) Elihu Phinney and his new Republican friends, favored “Otsego Village” in order to dishonor the judge.

…The judge spent much of March in Albany haunting the Assembly lobby to press for passage of his bill. Instead, on April 3, the day after Phinney openly endorsed (gubernatorial candidate Daniel) Tompkins in the Otsego Herald, the state Legislature passed a bill incorporating Otsego Village and empowering Phinney and four associates to establish their aqueduct company.

Wounded by the theft of his village, William Cooper plunged into the campaign of 1807 with a vengeance. It became his personal mission to punish Phinney and the (ascendant Democratic Republicans) by helping to defeat their candidate for governor.

Flushed with victory, Phinney and his associates aggressively moved to implement the new government for Otsego Village. The May 14 issue of the Otsego Herald announced Tompkins’ sweeping victory and
summoned the villagers to meet at the courthouse on Tuesday, May 19, to elect five trustees.

But Phinney and Metcalf underestimated the resiliency and the anger of the Federalists, who were still a solid majority in the village, if no longer in the county at large.

On the 19th, the Federalist majority packed the courthouse and elected five trustees favored by William Cooper. Four days later the village Federalists reconvened at Maj. Joseph Griffin’s Red Lion Tavern.

They instructed the new trustees not to act until the legislature amended the incorporation and restored the name Cooperstown.

…Enraged by Phinney’s betrayal, Cooper urged his neighbors to cancel their subscriptions to the Otsego Herald, and he launched an effort to bring another, solidly Federalist newspaper into the village. In late 1808, the Cooperstown Federalists established their own newspaper, misnamed The Impartial Observer, (renamed The Freeman’s Journal in 1817.)

…The Federalists briefly obtained a majority in the state legislatire and, in June 1812, pushed through a bill reincorporating the village as Cooperstown.”


Performance of ‘Love Letters’


THEATER – 2 p.m. Performance of ‘Love Letters,’ by A.R. Gurney, which tells the story of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner via the letters they exchanged over their lifetime. The Production Center of the Foothills Performing Arts Center, 124 Market St., Oneonta. Info, (607) 432-5407 or

QUILT SHOW – 11 a.m.-4 p.m.. Thru Sunday Feb. 26. Cooperstown Art Association, 22 Main St., Cooperstown. Info,

PLAY READING – 6:30 p.m. Reading of “Lord of the Wilderness” by local playwright Ron Nash. Telling the story of William Cooper and the founding of Cooperstown. Based on Alan Taylor’s book “William Cooper’s Town.”Fenimore Art Museum Auditorium, 5798 NY-80, Cooperstown. Info,

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