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Who Is The Real Natty Bumppo? | A New York Minute In History
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In the second episode of our series: Legends and Lore of the Empire State, A New York Minute In History explores the mystery of the inspiration for Natty Bumppo, one of the most recognizable characters from James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales series.

A trip to Hoosick Falls wouldn’t be complete without a drive down Main Street. As you pass the cemetery, with row upon row of stone monuments dissected by shade trees, an interesting red and gold marker catches your eye. The title reads “Natty Bumppo” a name that is familiar but you can’t quite place it just yet. Reading the marker’s text, those hazy details come streaming back:

NATTY BUMPPO
IN THIS BURIAL GROUND LIES
NATHANIEL SHIPMAN
THE INSPIRATION FOR JAMES
FENIMORE COOPER’S FAMOUS
“NATTY BUMPPO” CHARACTER
NEW YORK FOLKLORE
WILLIAM G. POMEROY FOUNDATION 2019

Natty Bumppo, one of the most recognizable characters from James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales series. He was the rugged frontiersman who dressed in tanned leather and was a skilled hunter and scout. So according to the marker, this is where Cooper’s inspiration came from, a man named Nathaniel Shipman who lies buried in Hoosick Falls.

But, if you drive about 100 miles to the west to Fly Creek, you may come across another red and gold sign with the same title, but the story itself is slightly different. This one reads:

“NATTY BUMPPO”
DAVID SHIPMAN, CA. 1729-1813
BURIAL SITE OF LOCAL HUNTER
KNOWN BY & INSPIRATION FOR
JAMES FENIMORE COOPER’S
LITERARY CHARACTER
NEW YORK FOLKLORE
WILLIAM G. POMEROY FOUNDATION 2018

So what’s the story here? Was David Shipman the true inspiration or was it Nathaniel Shipman? What was their connection to James Fenimore Cooper and what led to a war of words in 1874 which threatened a law suit over erecting a monument?

Co-hosts Devin Lander and Lauren Roberts explore this mystery on the second episode of our series: Legends and Lore of the Empire State.

To learn more about David Shipman, click here.

And to learn more about Nathaniel Shipman, click here.

Thanks to Sherlee Rathbone, President of the Fly Creek Historical Society, and Joyce Brewer, Director of the Hoosick Township Historical Society, for their assistance in telling these stories.

Original music for this episode was provided by Sean Riley.

A New York Minute In History is a podcast about the history of New York and the unique tales of New Yorkers. It is hosted by Devin Lander, the New York State Historian, and Saratoga County Historian Lauren Roberts. WAMC’s Jim Levulis is the producer. A New York Minute In History is a production of the New York State Museum, WAMC Northeast Public Radio and Archivist Media.

Support for this podcast comes from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation®, which helps people celebrate their community’s history by providing grants for historic markers and plaques. Since 2006, the Foundation has expanded from one to six different signage grant programs, and funded nearly 1,000 signs across New York State and beyond … all the way to Alaska! With all these options, there’s never been a better time to apply.

The Foundation’s programs in the Empire State include commemorating national women’s suffrage, historic canals, sites on the National Register of Historic Places, New York State’s history, and folklore and legends. Grants are available to 501(c)(3) organizations, nonprofit academic institutions, and municipalities. To apply for signage at no cost to you, or to learn more about the Foundation’s grant programs, visit WGPfoundation.org.

This program is also funded in part by Humanities New York with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.