The Neutral Ground: The André Affair and the Background of Cooper's The Spy

By Bruce A. Rosenberg | Go to book overview

11
The McDonald Papers

This vision of chaos was not conceived entirely out of Cooper's imagination; his model was Westchester County, where he spent a good many of his adult years, itself a neutral ground during the Revolution. Thanks to a collection of reminiscences by residents collected and transcribed by a Dr. J. M. McDonald in 1844-47, we can reconstruct some idea of what the area must have been like in the 1780s. These oral histories are uneven in that McDonald does not seem to have had a particular organizing principle in collecting; and none of the informants is identified. It is as though this collection were made for other residents in Westchester, all of whom would know of the characters mentioned in the anecdotes by name; for them no identification would be necessary. If Dr. McDonald had in mind to write a complete oral history of Westchester during the Revolution, none has survived, and no mention of one has ever been found.

Many of the informants locate their stories at some time during 1780 or 1781; McDonald's collection is dated 1844 (and for several years following). The informants, therefore, would have been at least eighty-four years old at the time (assuming that they were twenty in 1780). Their memories would necessarily be faulty, the details blurred. And it is clear from McDonald's transcription that he has polished up their narrative styles; in a few cases he has prompted his informants, or edited their errors. Whether or not he added or altered significant details cannot be known. Nevertheless, despite all these possibilities for misrepresentation, exaggeration, and understatement, for error plain and simple, these reminiscences do provide, collectively, an idea of what life

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The Neutral Ground: The André Affair and the Background of Cooper's The Spy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Part One - Major André 1
  • 1 - Hanging is for Spies 3
  • 2 - The Gentleman's Code 9
  • 3 - The Blackest Treason 15
  • 4 - A Gentleman's Education 19
  • 5 - The Arnold Enlistment 27
  • 6 - This is a Spy! 41
  • 7 - Posthumous Encomia 51
  • Part Two - James Fenimore Cooper 61
  • 8 - The André Affair and the Spy 63
  • 9 - André and Cooper 73
  • 10 - Cooper and the Spy Novel 83
  • 11 - The McDonald Papers 87
  • 12 - The Neutral Ground 95
  • Part Three - The Spy 103
  • 13 - An American Novel 105
  • 14 - Dramatis Personae 113
  • 15 - The Neutral Ground 135
  • References 147
  • Index 153
  • About the Author 157
  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture 158
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