12.10.2005

What's in a Name No.1: "The Leatherstocking Region"

This is the first of what I hope to be a series of posts about the origins of place names and other words unique to Upstate, New York. Exploring names helps us to explore our origins and the remnants of the past the stay with us today. Our first installment is on one of the alternative names for Central New York: The Leatherstocking Region.

As a child, I thought the term "Leatherstocking" referred to a now defunct tanning industry that must have "stocked" leather for the country. While dairies are certainly the most prominent agricultural industry in the area, the name is instead from James Fenimore Cooper's series of books known as The Leatherstocking Tales.

While Cooper was born in
Burlington, NJ, (in 1789) his family moved to the frontier settlement of Ostego Lake, NY when he was one year old. The settlement his father founded on the lake was named after the family and is today Cooperstown, NY, famous today for the Baseball Hall of Fame. After graduating from Yale and a stint in the Navy, James settled down in Westchester County to write.

In 1823, he began the Leatherstocking Series:
The Pioneers: Sources of the Susquehanna (1823), The Last of the Mohicans: A Tale of 1757 (1826), The Prairie: A Tale (1827), The Pathfinder: The Inland Sea (1840) and The Deerslayer: The First Warpath (1841) [note: these links are to copies of the books at the Gutenberg Project].

All but The Prairie are set in Upstate New York (The Prairie is set in Kansas), with Pioneers and Deerslayer taking place on Otsego Lake, The Last of the Mohicans around the Adirondacks and The Pathfinder continues the stories of the region during the French and Indian War. All of the books follow the life of the heroic Natty Bumpo, "A valiant, a just, and a wise warrior" (Prairie) and the embodiment of the 19th century concept of the
Noble Savage, the natural man unencumbered with the pains and pettiness of civilization. Bumpo has a number of titles or nicknames in the books: the Deerslayer, the Pathfinder, Hawkeye and "Leatherstocking," his name among the English settlers.

Cooper lives on not only in the name of the region and the town but also in the local name for Ostego Lake: Glimmerglass, a name which is used in
Glimmerglass State Park and the Glimmerglass Opera.

An article discussing Cooper's relation, and that of his family, to Ostego Lake can be found
here. The picture above is of Cooper and is an open source document from Wikipedia; most of the information above was taken from Wikipedia or the quoted link.

Posted by Jesse

5 comments:

Bob Fois said...

Spent many of my summers as a young man on the Unadilla River and Butternut Creek, so I'm thoroughly enjoying these posts about "The Leatherstocking Region."

Jesse said...

Thanks for the comment Bob. Bob's blog joins a number that have mentioned us and therefore helped us begin to move out of the wilderness: Geddesblog,NYCO's Blog, and the Buffalo Pundit

Anonymous said...

The name of the lake is Otsego, not Ostego.

York Staters said...

Yup, you're right, it's definitely Otsego. Sorry about the typo.

Paul said...

I find it odd that you don't explain what leatherstockings are - deerskin chaps, basically, or simply: leather stockings! Nathaniel wore them - as may pioneers in his day would have - as protection to his legs if not just clothing.