Read The Pioneers Online

Authors: James Fenimore Cooper

The Pioneers (69 page)

The manumission of the slaves in New York has been gradual. When public opinion became strong in their favor, then grew up a custom of buying the services of a slave, for six or eight years, with a condition to liberate him at the end of the period. Then the law provided that all born after a certain day should be free, the males at twenty-eight, and the females at twenty-five. After this the owner was obliged to cause his servants to be taught to read and write before they reached the age of eighteen, and, finally, the few that remained were all unconditionally liberated in 1826, or after the publication of this tale. It was quite usual for men more or less connected with the Quakers, who never held slaves, to adopt the first expedient.
In America the term Yankee is of local meaning. It is thought to be derived from the manner in which the Indians of New England pronounced the word “English” or “Yengeese.” New York being originally a Dutch province, the term of course was not known there, and further south different dialects among the natives themselves probably produced a different pronunciation. Marmaduke and his cousin being Pennsylvanians by birth were not Yankees in the American sense of the word.
People who clear land by the acre or job are thus called.
It is possible that the reader may start at this declaration of Benjamin, but those who have lived in the new settlements of America are too much accustomed to hear of these European exploits to doubt it.
The divines of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, commonly call other denominations
though there never was an established church in their own country!
The Susquehannah means crooked river; “hannah,” or hannock, meant “river,” in many of the native dialects. Thus we find Rappahannock as far south as Virginia.
Before the revolution, each province had its own money of account, though neither coined any but copper pieces. In New York the Spanish dollar was divided into eight shillings, each of the value of a fraction more than sixpence sterling. At present the Union has provided a decimal system, with coins to represent it.
The author has no better apology for interrupting the interest of a work of fiction by these desultory dialogues, than that they have reference to facts. In reviewing his work, after so many years, he is compelled to confess it is injured by too many allusions to incidents that are not at all suited to satisfy the just expectations of the general reader. One of these events is slightly touched on, in the commencement of this chapter.
More than thirty years since, a very near and dear relative of the writer, an elder sister and a second mother, was killed by a fall from a horse, in a ride among the very mountains mentioned in this tale. Few of her sex and years were more extensively known, or more universally beloved, than the admirable woman who thus fell a victim to the chances of the wilderness.
All this was literally true.
Of all the fish the writer has ever tasted, he thinks the one in question the best.
The probability of a fire in the woods, similar to that here described, has been questioned. The writer can only say that he once witnessed a fire in another part of New York that compelled a man to desert his wagon and horses in the highway, and in which the latter were destroyed. In order to estimate the probability of such an event, it is necessary to remember the effects of a long drought in that climate, and the abundance of deadwood which is found in a forest like that described. The fires in the American forests frequently rage to such an extent as to produce a sensible effect on the atmosphere at the distance of fifty miles. Houses, barns, and fences are quite commonly swept away in their course.

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