Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2631
First published: 1846
Type of work: Novel
Type of plot: Historical romance
Time of work: 1842
Locale: Upstate New York
Hugh Roger Littlepage, the narrator and the heir to Ravensnest
Hugh Roger Littlepage, called Uncle Ro, his uncle
Mary Warren, a friend of the Littlepage family
The Reverend Mr. Warren, her father
Seneca Newcome, an antirenter
Opportunity Newcome, his sister
Mrs. Ursula Littlepage, Hugh's grandmother
Patt Littlepage, Hugh's sister
Joshua Brigham, another antirenter
Susquesus (Trackless), an old Onondaga Indian living at Ravensnest
Jaap (Jaaf), an old black servant at Ravensnest
Hall, a mechanic
Hugh Littlepage and his Uncle Ro, the owner of Satanstoe and Lilacsbush, had been traveling through Europe and the East for five years, and they had not heard from their family in America for eighteen months. Upon arriving at their apartment in Paris, they received a bundle of letters and packages from the family. Among other things, the letters told them that the Littlepages' Ravensnest estate was in danger from tenants who had formed a terrorist party known as the "Injins." Since Hugh was now master of the estate and the rents were due in the fall, he and his uncle decided to return home early, even though they were not expected before autumn. They decided to travel under the name of Davidson in order to keep their return a secret.
Arriving in New York, they went to see the Littlepage agent, Jack Dunning, who informed them that the estate was threatened from two sides. On the one hand, there were the Ravensnest tenants led by the demagogue lawyer Seneca Newcome; on the other, there were the Albany politicians, who depended on the tenants for votes. The politicians had already raised the taxes on the estate, and the tenants were petitioning for a removal of the rents and a chance to buy the property at their own low prices. To speed up the process, the tenants had resorted to terrorizing the landlords with tar buckets, rifles, and calico hoods. To mask their greed for land, they claimed that their activities were carried on in the name of liberty, equality, and justice.
Because it would be dangerous to visit Ravensnest openly, Hugh and his uncle disguised themselves as a watch peddler and an organ-grinder, acquired broken German accents, and started for Ravensnest. On the boat to Albany, they met Seneca Newcome, who, thinking that they might make good Injins, invited them to Ravensnest. They got off at Albany and went from there to Troy. In that city, they made the acquaintance of the Reverend Mr. Warren and his daughter Mary. In his new role as an organ-grinder, Hugh invented a false history for himself and his uncle, a story accepted by the Warrens. Hugh soon learned that the Warrens lived at Ravensnest, where Mr. Warren was an Episcopal clergyman, and that Mary was a close friend of Hugh's sister Patt. Mary proved to be a charming, well-bred girl in striking contrast to Opportunity Newcome, who was also present at the inn. After Seneca Newcome joined the group, the conversation turned from Opportunity's pretentious learning to antirentism. Mary and her father argued gracefully and well in marked contrast to Seneca's and Opportunity's ill-constructed logic.
After a journey by train and carriages, Hugh and his uncle arrived in Ravensnest. Still in their new roles as peddler and organ-grinder, they traveled about the area to see for themselves how matters stood. At the tavern where they stopped overnight, they heard two men arguing over antirentism. While a lawyer took a mild stand against it, Hall, a mechanic, stood firmly against it and the greed behind it.
After a day's walk, the travelers arrived at Ravensnest manor. They decided, however, to retain their disguises and visit the two old men on the place, the Indian, Susquesus, and the black servant, Jaap. While they were at the hut of these faithful old retainers, Hugh's grandmother, Mrs. Ursula Littlepage, his sister Patt, Mary Warren, and his uncle's two wards, Henrietta Coldbrook and Anne Marston, rode up. None penetrated the disguises. After the others had gone, Susquesus revealed that he knew who Hugh and his uncle were, but he promised secrecy.
The two also visited the Miller farm where they learned that Tom Miller was hostile to antirentism and that a farmhand of his strongly favored it. The farmhand, Joshua Brigham, was extremely greedy, Miller pointed out. While they were at the Miller farm, the five women again rode up, and Uncle Ro showed them some watches. Mrs. Littlepage, who wished to buy a very expensive watch for Mary, told them that they could receive payment for the watch at the manor.
That evening, still dressed as peddlers, they went to the Littlepage home. Hugh, asked to play his flute, performed very well, but when the flute was passed around, his grandmother recognized it. When she drew her grandson aside he confessed to the deception. Soon he and his uncle were reunited with Mrs. Littlepage and Patt, who also promised secrecy. Later that evening, Hugh slept in the Miller house next to Joshua Brigham. Drawn into a discussion on antirentism, the farmhand, thinking Hugh shared his sentiments, told of his plans for robbing the Littlepages of their land. He also revealed that the Injins were to hold a meeting the next day.
On the following day, Hugh and his uncle rode in a wagon to the meeting at the town of Ravensnest. They were stopped on the way by a gang of hooded Injins who wanted to know their business. Interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Warren and Mary, the hoodlums disappeared into the bushes. The Littlepages, trying to pacify the hiding Injins by expressing mild antirentist sentiments, provoked Mr. Warren to argue with them, whereupon the Injins came out of hiding. The Injins then drove Uncle Ro and Mr. Warren to the meeting, leaving Hugh to drive Mary. On the way, he disclosed to her his true identity and motives.
At the meetinghouse, the imported lecturer began to rant about liberty, equality, and justice, accused the Littlepage family of standing for slavery, aristocracy, and injustice, and declared that they were no better than other folks. When he had finished, Hall, the mechanic, got up to speak. He said that the true aristocrats of America were demagogues and newspaper editors, that the Littlepages had as much right to their ways as he did to his, and that if the Littlepage property should be divided, that of the tenants should be too. His speech was interrupted by several Injins who came whooping into the meetinghouse. Most of the people fled, but Mary, Hall, and the Littlepages remained, comporting themselves with dignity.
The Injins ran wild, stealing calico and wagons from their own sympathizers. After seeing the Warrens off, Hugh and his uncle got into their wagon and rode toward the manor. They could see a party of armed men following them. On the way, they met some antirenters who had been deprived of their wagon. They walked alongside, still talking about the virtues of antirentism. Suddenly a group of real Indians appeared in the road. Surprised, Uncle Ro forgot his German accent, and the antirenters, realizing who their companions were, ran into the bushes. The Littlepages learned that the Indians had come from Washington and were seeking Susquesus, the old Onondaga who lived at Ravensnest manor. When the terrorist Injins appeared, the real Indians let out a war whoop, and the Injins ran. Two, Joshua Brigham and Seneca Newcome, were captured but were soon released. The Littlepages invited the Indians to stay in an old farmhouse at the manor. When Hugh and his uncle arrived home, everyone knew who they really were, and there was great rejoicing.
That night the Indians held a conference on the lawn in which Susquesus was the center of attention. The Indians spoke about the old days, the coming of the white man, and the different types of men with force, eloquence, and reserve. Hugh felt that they were as much gentlemen in their own way as he and Uncle Ro were in theirs.
Later that night Hugh, looking from his bedroom window, saw Opportunity Newcome riding toward the house. The ostensible purpose of her visit was to tell him that the Injins were trying to get a legal charge against him and that they were planning arson. He immediately warned Mary to keep an eye out for trouble and then went to tell the Indians to do the same.
A short time later, Mary signaled to him as he was patrolling the grounds. She said that two Injins were setting fire to the kitchen. Hugh rushed to the kitchen window and fired a shot into the air as the men came out. He clubbed one over the head and fell grappling with the other. Hugh might have been overpowered if Mary had not come to his aid. At that moment the Indians, attracted by the shot, arrived on the scene. The prisoners turned out to be Joshua Brigham and Seneca Newcome. A short time later, a few Injins set fire to a load of hay and then ran off, the Indians close at their heels.
Sunday morning was peaceful. The Littlepages went to church and sat in the canopied pew that the tenants resented. After church, following a brief meeting down the road, three antirenters presented Hugh with a petition to remove the canopy; he refused. On the way home, Opportunity coyly asked Hugh to release her brother, but he was noncommittal. After leaving her, he learned that the canopy had been torn down and placed over the Miller pigpen. On arriving home, he was told that Seneca had tried to escape arson charges by proposing to each of the four young women at the manor.
Later that day, a final ceremony was held in honor of Susquesus. The peace pipe was passed around, and Jaap, the companion of Susquesus, was invited to make a speech. He was interrupted, however, by the appearance of a large group of Injins. While the Littlepages waited to see what was intended, Opportunity rode up, drew Hugh into the house, and told him that these Injins were not afraid of Indians. She said that Hugh was standing over an earthquake if he did not release her brother. Hugh was called outside again when it was discovered that the Injins had surrounded the Warrens. Mr. Warren and Mary maintained their composure, however, and managed to go free. The Injins were duly warned about the ferocity of the Indians, and the ceremony was continued. The Indians told how the white men broke their laws for selfish reasons and hid their shame under calico hoods, while the red men upheld their laws even at great personal sacrifice. The Injins were humiliated by this speech. While they were listening, Jack Dunning, the business agent, arrived with the sheriff and a posse to drive off the Injins. By this time, however, the Injins had lost public support and were thoroughly disgraced. Taking advantage of the confusion, Opportunity released her brother and Joshua Brigham, and the two were never seen in that part of the country again. The Supreme Court upheld the rights of the landlords, and the antirent wars ended.
Uncle Ro gave a good portion of his estate to Mary when she and Hugh were married. Hugh heard that Opportunity Newcome intended to sue him for breach of promise, but nothing ever came of that threat.
THE REDSKINS: OR, INDIAN AND INJIN is the final novel in James Fenimore Cooper's Littlepage series. Like many of his novels, this work deals with the conflict between a cultured upper class of high principles and an uncultured middle class with no principles except those of self-interest. Cooper's characters are drawn in keeping with their sympathies, according to whether they sympathize with the rights of the landowning Littlepage family or with the grasping Newcome family. Cooper stacks the cards in favor of the landowners and makes the conflict one between the patroons and the poltroons. He tends to caricature his villains and to treat them with satire and irony. In spite of the rather restricted interest of the antirent controversy around which THE REDSKINS centers, the novel has suspense, action, romance, villainy, conflict, and some sharp, if limited, insights into the structure of American society. Cooper clearly saw the perpetual struggle for power within America, and he described it with compelling logic. The reader will discern Cooper's belief that Jacksonian democracy had degenerated into an ill-conceived, leveling movement which threatened the genteel American ethic in the pre-Civil War period. Hugh Littlepage—gentleman, world traveler, and landowner—represented the ideal America which Cooper wanted to preserve from the opportunistic and materialistic self-interests of the middle class represented by Seneca Newcome.
THE REDSKINS begins with an indirect approbation of the American leisure class and their values. The reader quickly learns that the Littlepage family had become wealthy in the course of two generations and were spending much of their leisure abroad. Their apartment in Paris and their recent return from faraway places set the tone for the Littlepages' adventurous spirit and cosmopolitan taste. At the same time, the news of trouble at Ravensnest serves as a means to depict Hugh and his Uncle Ro as representative American landowners who willingly accept their responsibilities as paternal but benevolent superiors.
While Hugh and his Uncle Ro are members of the landed class, however, they can also identify with the lesser classes as illustrated by the disguises they adopt when they return to New York to investigate Ravensnest's troubles. Incognito as immigrant artisans, the two members of Cooper's "natural" aristocracy learn about the real feelings, ideals, and fears of such individuals as: the Reverend Mr. Warren and his daughter, Mary, and the true nature of the antirenter, Seneca Newcome, and his crass sister, Opportunity Newcome.
Cooper's message is clear. Jacksonian democracy would work if America were a nation of Warrens who are basically honest, hardworking, and sensible. In reality, however, America also consisted of men like Newcome, who, under the guise of justice and reform, would tear down the American Republic and its noble principles and values. In THE REDSKINS, these principles and values triumph at the ceremony where wise old Susquesus is reunited with the members of his tribe. Jaap, Susquesus' black companion, reveals the story behind the old prairie Indian's exile. This development illustrates Cooper's ideal values of benevolent paternalism and noble obligations as the antirenter movement dissipates by the moral force of Jaap's tale—and the physical presence of Susquesus' braves.
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