Chapter 1 Summary
James Fenimore Cooper’s historical novel The Last of the Mohicans was first published in 1826 and is considered by many critics to be his best work. The novel is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War; it takes place in the British-controlled North American colonies. Although historic events in this novel are often embellishments of truth, the novel, when first published, provided readers with a look into frontier life and the relationship between Europeans and Native Americans. These factors made the book very popular in the nineteenth century. Although widespread mainstream readership has declined since then, The Last of the Mohicans continues to be studied in American literature classrooms across the nation.
As the story begins, the narrator explains the present state of war between the British soldiers, who are accompanied by American colonists, and the French forces, which employ Native American soldiers. The British are reputed to have lost the winning edge. Where once the British ruled supreme, they have recently lost major battles in the American colonies due in large part to the cunning and less rigid war tactics of the American Indians.
One of the Native American scouts the British have enlisted, a man named Magua, brings news from the vulnerable Fort William Henry that a troop of French and Native American soldiers have been seen marching toward it. Magua makes this report to General Webb, who is the commander at another British post, Fort Edward. The message to General Webb is to immediately send reinforcements to the fort to aid in its defense during the imminent attack. General Webb orders a detachment of fifteen hundred of his soldiers to ride as quickly as they can to Fort William Henry, which is located at the southern end of Lake George in what is present-day upper New York state.
In addition to the soldiers making their way to Fort William Henry, Alice and Cora Munro, daughters of the commander, at Fort William Henry, insist that they too must go to the fort in order to be with their father, Colonel Munro. Magua says he will guide the two women to the fort by an alternate route, one that is only known by Native Americans. Major Duncan Heyward, a colonist from the South who is not very knowledgeable of either the Northern forests or Native Americans, joins the travelers for the young girls’ protection.