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James Fenimore Cooper was a 19th century writer known for his historical romances and stories of the sea. His Leatherstocking tales including the novel The Last of the Mohicans are his best-known works. Around 1710 a fur merchant and New York alderman, Myndert Van Beverout, is intercepted on the street by Lord Cornbury, former governor of the colony who has fallen in disgrace from that high position. Cornbury has been imprisoned for his debts, but since he is a relative of Queen Anne he is allowed out in the evening and early mornings. In chapter 2 a stranger boards a ferry and asks the captain about maritime news. The captain says that there is the appearance in nearby waters of a mysterious ship known as the Water-Witch and commanded by a notorious rover identified only as "The Skimmer of the Seas."