Hugh Rawson, in his column on the terms cowboys and skinners (“History Now: Why Do We Say That?,” February/March 2004), neatly evades the trap set almost two centuries ago by the fertile imagination of James Fenimore Cooper. Rawson properly identifies skinners in the American Revolution as Loyalist guerrillas operating in Westchester County, New York, and not as Patriot irregulars. The regiment of guerrillas raised in New Jersey by the Loyalist brigadier general Cortlandt Skinner operated in the “neutral ground” of southern Westchester. Most of them fled to Canada after the war.
To spice up his novel The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground (1821), Cooper transformed Skinner’s regiment into guerrilla hangers-on of the Continental Army. Washington Irving was only the first of a long list of authors and historians to pick up and repeat Cooper’s fictional misrepresentations. The facts on this durable deception are best covered in Lincoln Diamant’s Yankee Doodle Days: Exploring the American Revolution (1996).