The Water-Witch

Or, The Skimmer of the Seas

By James Fenimore Cooper
Edited by Thomas Philbrick, Marianne Philbrick
Introduction by Thomas Philbrick, and Marianne Philbrick

Subjects: Fiction, Literature, New York/regional, American History
Series: The Writings of James Fenimore Cooper
Paperback : 9781438485225, 691 pages, September 2021
Hardcover : 9781438485218, 691 pages, September 2021

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Table of contents


Historical Introduction


Preface [1830]

Preface [1834]

Preface [1851]

The Water-Witch

Explanatory Notes

Textual Commentary

Note on the Manuscripts

Textual Notes


Rejected Readings


An exciting tale of nautical adventure on the waters of colonial New York Harbor.


Chiefly set on the waters and islands of New York Harbor in the early years of the 1700s, James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Water-Witch (1830) paints a vivid picture of life in the little colonial port. It was familiar territory for Cooper, who a century later had served as a junior officer on board an eighteen-gun sloop-of-war stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That experience acquainted him with the navigational intricacies and dangers with which his characters must deal as they carry out the central action of the novel, the repeated attempts by a British naval cruiser to capture the brigantine commanded by a notorious smuggler known as the Skimmer of the Seas. As in all of Cooper's nautical novels, the scenes of ship-handling and naval combat in The Water-Witch are rendered with absolute authenticity, but here he envelops them in a cloud of mystery and magic that is dispersed only in the chaotic climax of the book. This scholarly edition includes an informative historical introduction and thorough explanatory notes. It also serves as an example of the processes by which an authoritative text is established.

The Writings of James Fenimore Cooper

The distinguished Cooper scholar James Franklin Beard (1919–1989) began organizing the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper in the late 1960s, as his work on publishing the monumental Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper came to fulfillment. Beard's intention was to provide readers with sound scholarly editions of Cooper's major works, based wherever possible on authorial manuscripts. To date, the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper has made available texts of many of Cooper's best-known novels, as well as some of his most important works of political and social commentary.

Thomas Philbrick is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. Marianne Philbrick (1931–2015) participated in the editing of five volumes of the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper and was the author of Seasoning, a collection of her poetry.