So if we're telling a story about the Whiskey Rebellion, we need Whiskey rebels. Cooper has an idea about what Whiskey Rebels looked like, and thus we get old Natty Bumppo's role in the story. And the fact that Bumppo turns out to be such an interesting character tells us that Cooper has an interesting reading of the Rebellion. (Inevitably.)
So that might be all there was, originally, to Natty Bumppo. Two years later, when Cooper was acting as tour guide to a group of British visitors interested in the battlefields of 1757, and, as it turned out, the "sublime" scenery on the route from New York to Fort Ticonderoga, his very distinguished guests demanded a romantic, "Indian" story set in this dramatic scenery. And whatever his reasons for recycling material from Pioneers, the result was Last of the Mohicans. And Cooper found himself the proprietor of the first genuinely American hero, Leatherstocking/Hawkeye/Le Longue Carabine/Natty Bumppo.
It's quite possible that this was pure serendipity, but that doesn't mean that Cooper did not now have an asset with which to carve his idea of America into the American body politic like a ritual scar. I've called Killdeer the American Excalibur, and Elizabeth Temple the Lady of the Lake. So clearly there was a story in the original gift of Excalibur.
On second thought, let's not go there. 'Tis a creepy place.
Anyway, to the extent that I've got Cooper's inspiration right, his vision will be informed by the 1816 edition of Le Morte d'Arthur, which apparently caused quite a stir even before Lady of Shallot (1835), and the big deal here is the end. And that's where Cooper goes in The Prairie, the next Leatherstocking Tale. Natty is going to die, and that death is going to be Meaningful. There'll be ironic comment about race and religion, as Natty is buried, accompanied by his dog. And Cooper will play with issues of identity. In all of The Prairie, that name is never once uttered. Natty is only "the Trapper." Now, at the end, Natty asks Captain Middleton for a headstone, simply engraved with his name and dates. (As always, he is ignored, and gets a motto, too.) But Cooper fails to give the full inscription on the headstone. This isn't how he did it last time, and it is very reminiscent of this odd choice:
"Hannah Cooper's tomb in Christ churchyard, within the Cooper family plot, is inscribed with some plaintive verses that her father composed and caused to be carved upon the slab, with the singular omission of hername, which was not added until many years afterward."
Above all, Natty doesn't want to be buried with his arms, as his Pawnee adopted son proposes to do. To the contrary:
Killdeer is going back to the Lady of the Lake, to hang in that curious hall that Judge Marmaduke Temple built, Elizabeth inherited, and John renovated. That very curious hall.
Does it still look like this?
We do know that all of this has been swept away by 1837 in favour of a new architectural allegory. The thing is that the ashes of Dido, and the busts with their dubious likenesses to Homer and Shakespeare, Caesar/Faustus, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin are all gone away, so in that limited sense, they're with the American Excalibur, mysteriously absent.
So, Cooper doesn't always wield his allegories very subtly. That's not a universal thing. I really don't get the whole "might be Caesar, might be Faustus" thing unless it's a reference to Judge Temple, for example. I am, however, going read the rest. Shakespeare, Homer, Washington, and Dido look like an ancestral gallery. Homer and Shakespeare are poetic ancestors for a novelist (so the crack about blind Homer is the self-deprecation that you only find in Cooper if you look very, very close), while Washington is the father of his country. Chingachgook is eventually burnt to death on his own funeral pyre, just like Dido (albeit out in Nature rather than at a temple), and I could extend that parallel indefinitely from Cooper's fiction, and even go back to Tammenund/Tammany.
So what about Franklin? Well, the Purcell version of Dido was performed at the Inner Temple. And while Cooper doesn't explicitly name the English school where Edward Effingham gets his gentlemanly polish, the Inns of Court were the place that American notables sent their sons. With three separate strands of reference to temples, I think it's fair to note that Benjamin Franklin famously had a natural son, William Franklin, and William, in turn, had his own illegitimate son as heir, William Temple Franklin.
Since the Temple Franklins and Coopers were partners, and, later, litigants, in the development of the old Croghan grant, I find it hard to believe that this subtle double reference is unintended. Given that the way the story comes out, with the revelation of a private arrangement between the exiled, Loyalist Effinghams and Judge Temple, I find it hard to believe that it is not echoed by a private settlement between the real-life Coopers and Franklins/Temple Franklins.
Now, it seems reasonable to me to infer that neither William Cooper nor Elizabeth Fenimore were children of their parents of record. We know that William Temple was raised by a private family until his paternity was discovered. Old Benjamin's natural daughter (or daughters, as we're arguing from the use of a plural where a singular is warranted) passed as children of another. It's hardly an uncommon thing, and it would explain the many anomalies of their marriage. So my suggested private settlement is that the children of Judge William Cooper are actually the descendants of George Croghan and Benjamin Franklin.
Eh, it's a theory. And if you think that it's speculative now, I haven't even brought in the Barbary Coast, the trans-Atlantic horse trade, the descendants of Uncas the Mohican, William Penn's treaty with the Indians, and the descendants of Erik the Red.
What the heck; if it isn't history, it might make a good novel.