The theme of men and women under stress is a current that runs through each of at least five levels of story-telling and moralizing in James Fenimore Cooper's sea adventure novel, THE CRATER, of 1847. Those levels include: seamanship, wars with pirates and natives, religion, the decline of political morality in the USA, romance and family and inter-racial relations and inter-marriage. ***** The basic plot is built around young (16 years old in 1793) 5' 11" Mark Woolston (for generations the Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania family has pronounced their name "Wooster"). Mark leaves Nassau Hall College in Princeton after three years and goes to sea in 1793 on the a merchantman trading with Canton, China. He is good at what he does and is already, a couple of years and two voyages later, first mate of that stout East Indies merchantman -- the Rancocus -- (named for a tributary of the Delaware River, spelled Rancocas today), sailing under Captain Crutchely, a distant cousin by marriage. ****** In a later voyage, young Mark and the older man who had taught him seamanship, the Quaker Robert Betts, are left alone in the tropical Pacific ocean aboard the Rancocus. Their ship has blindly threaded its way among unseen reefs into a trap. Captain Crutchely, drunk, had been swept overboard. The second mate and a boatload of men had been borne off as well. Mark Woolston and Bob Betts are left alone on the Rancocus. ***** The two men find themselves anchored very close to a barren volcanic island. Bob and Mark see years of Robinson Crusoe isolation before them -- unless they can somehow get their ship out of its trap and take her to the open sea. Yet Bob thinks that even with a full crew the Rancocus could never make it to the open Pacific. He continues: "Men is men, sir, and you can get no more out on 'em than is in 'em" (Ch. 4). ***** But the Rancocus, they soon discover, had been fitted out with a huge variety of goods to trade with natives, with seeds, as well as with live chickens, pigs and a goat. The merchantman also contains the making of a small ship. The two set to work sowing seeds and building shelters on flat lands and on the rim of a dormant volcano. ***** And they build and launch a smaller vessel. Alone in a storm aboard the newly built ship, Bob Betts is swept out to sea. Mark is now alone, sustained by his growing Episcopalian faith in God and love of his young bride left behind in Pennsylvania, Bridget Yardley. ***** Over time, the Crater area becomes a paradise Eden. For survivor Bob returns with Mark's rich young wife. A small colony of carefully selected Americans is soon formed around the crater, with Mark Woolston as its law-giving Governor. All goes well at the closely kept secret Colony into the time of the Napoleonic wars. Then an unauthorized shipment of colonists arrives, mostly relatives of people already there. The ship also includes a printer, a lawyer and preachers of different Christian sects. ***** Soon discord arises. Although the colony several times repels attacks from natives based 400 miles away as well as one pirate raid, the inhabitants clamor for more liberty. By parliamentary tricks, they depose Mark. ***** He, his brothers, wife and children and others go back to Pennsylania. Mark is long since wealthy through the boats that he and Bob Betts have built and used to harvest sandalwood in the islands and sell them to use in China for burning incense to idols. When Mark returns not too many months later, he finds the colony, Atlantis like, sunken under the waves and gone. Was this a punishment from God because their trade was to create incense to worship false gods? Or because all the press-driven gossip had corrupted their morals? Read THE CRATER and find out. -OOO-
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