Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, and the Maori

By Geoffrey Sanborn | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
COOPER’S DEATH SONG

N the morning of June 16, 1806, sixteen-year-old James Cooper was standing with his family outside their home in Cooperstown, New York, watching the first stages of a total eclipse, when an acquaintance came up to him, took his arm, and said, “Come with me.”1 Cooper left his family and went with the man to a building near the courthouse. At the window of the building, Cooper saw a former schoolmaster named Stephen Arnold, brought out of his dungeon cell for the occasion, weeping and looking up at the sky. A year and a half earlier, Arnold had unintentionally killed his six-year-old adopted daughter, Betsey Van Amburgh, by whipping her with switches seven times over the course of an evening. He had been attempting to correct her pronunciation of the word “gig,” which she had pronounced as “jig,” owing to a speech impediment. When the doctors who came to the house found that she had been “cut and mangled shockingly from the calves of her legs up to the middle of her back” Arnold fled.2 After two months in hiding, he was captured by a bounty hunter on the streets of Pittsburgh, and on May 17, 1805, he was driven to the Cooperstown jail. With the exception of a day in July when he had been carried on a coffin to the gallows, and then, at the last minute, granted a stay of execution, he had been confined in darkness ever since.3

“It was an incident to stamp on the memory for life,” Cooper would later write. “Here was a man drawn from the depths of human misery, to be immediately confronted with the grandest natural exhibition in which the Creator deigns to reveal his Omnipotence to our race.” The

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Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, and the Maori
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Glossary xv
  • Introduction- Grand, Ungodly, Godlike Men 1
  • Chapter One- Te Ara’s Scars 16
  • Chapter Two- Cooper’s Death Song 37
  • Chapter Three- Te Pehi Kupe’s Moko 73
  • Chapter Four- Melyille’s Furious Life 93
  • Notes 133
  • Index 175
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