During the early days of the British wresting control of New York from the Dutch, the politics were active, colorful and dicey. Indians, Africans (both free and enslaved), Dutch, Walloons and others, all began to feel the weight of England's imperialist burdens on the region and the culture in the 1700s. Many people struck out on their own to the North, the South and the West, claiming freedom from tyranny as their right. But what did they wear?!
Most of these adventurers wore the leatherstocking, a set of sturdy leather breeches over their cloth pants. An enire region of New York Sate between the Capital District (Albany) and the Finger Lakes is even called The Leatherstocking Region.
The area was made famous by the United States' first major novelist and New York State resident, James Fenimore Cooper. His book series The Leatherstocking Tales, published between 1827 and 1841, was written to represent life in New York State nearly 100 years earlier. Over the years, due to the popularity of the books, the region has come to embrace the folklore of the novels: Native communties adoting orphan white children and raising them up in the sacred ways of the forest, steep mountains, rugged and green, and settlers with stout hearts and long guns.
In the action-packed, five-novel series that featured "Natty (as in Nathaniel) Bumppo" the adopted white brother of Chingachgook, a Mohican chief, the pair is folowed through early pioneer adventures of life in a drastically changing world. The Last of the Mohicans, the most popular book in the series, was made into a movie in 1992 by the same name starring the British actor Daniel Day-Lewis as Natty Bumppo. In the movie they changed his name from Bumppo to Poe, and he was known by one of his many nicknames throughout the Cooper series, "La Longue Carabine" or Long Gun.
Where did the Leatherstocking originate?
The Eastern Woodlands native people wore leather or cloth, footless "tubes" around their legs to protect them from the elements. The men's version reached their upper thigh and were held in place by loops attached to their belts. When the immigrants to the region came to stay they adopted the protected clothing. The buckskin outfit with leggings has come to embody the idea of "The Noble Savage" as personified by Cooper's good and valiant character, Natty Bumppo: A creature not bound by the false constraints of modern society, a man in tune with nature, rugged, gentle...the romantic 19th century notion of a man that women loved and men wanted to become.
A Snapshop of the Region
The Leatherstocking Region is actually the now called the Central New York Region by an act of Congress and is quite large. It is comprised of eight counties and geographically lies between two valleys. It is famous for its tourists attractions in Cooperstown, namely The National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Glimmerglass Opera House. Cooperstown is not the only draw, however! The region is lush with rivers, streams, farmland and woodlands, foothills and even underground caverns. Depending on who you pile into the car, the following very short and off-beat list can help generate some ideas on where to visit first!
1. Kopernik Observatory - built on top of a 1700 foot hill in Vestal, New York, this is observatory is considered the "best-sited and best equipped in the Northeast." There are programs for children and adults, workshops and a summer camp.
2. Howe Caverns - 156 feet below the surface and over six million years old. Take a tour in Howe's Cave, New York!
3. Erie Canal Village - A reconstruction of a 19th Century village in Rome, New York at the time of the Erie Canal contruction. Why go? The Erie Canal was the gateway to The West. This is a fun place for a family adventure: a blacksmith's shop, a tavern and an ice house are some of the places tour.
Fillmore Glen State Park, one of eight state parks in the Leatherstocking District.