|Daniel Boone first sees Kentucky--Painting in Kentucky State Capital at Frankfort.|
On June 7, 1769, Daniel Boone entered Kentucky on a two year long hunt during which he explored much of the game rich land west of the Appalachians and south of the Ohio River. Boone had first glimpsed the territory on another hunt two years earlier and heard many reports of the region, which was common hunting ground for several Native nations. His name and reputation would be forever linked to the place. And he is one of the few legendary frontiersmen whose real life biography may outshine his legend.
Boone was born to a large Quaker family in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 1724. His father was a weaver, blacksmith, and farmer. Daniel, the sixth of eleven children, took to hunting at an early age and was a major provider of his family’s meat by age 12. He spent time among the nearby Indian bands who enjoyed good relations with the pacifist Quakers. He also spent enough time with a Quaker tutor to learn his letters, and although his spelling was never standard, was quite literate as an adult.
In 1750 Daniel’s father Squire Boone, Sr. relocated the family to the frontier settlements Yadkin River in what is now western North Carolina after he was shunned by his Quaker community for allowing two of his children to marry outside the faith community.
Daniel signed on as a teamster with General Edward Braddock's doomed 1755 expedition against the French which led to defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela—the same battle at which young Virginia Militia Colonel George Washington was “charmed” by the whizz of bullets. It would not be Boone’s last military experience.
After the battle he returned to the Yadkin Valley where he married his neighbor Rebecca Bryan and settled in a cabin on his father’s large farm. Rebecca would be his nearly life-long companion and mother to his 10 children.
In 1759 Boone served in the North Carolina Militia after the Cherokee Uprising forced his family and neighbors to flee to Culpeper County, Virginia. Averse to the sedentary life of a farmer, Boone became a market hunter taking small parties deep into Cherokee country where they shot game and collected deer pelts—buckskins, the trade staple of the frontier—and buffalo robes for sale to traders. These long hunts often took him away from his family for as long as two years, but were profitable and allowed Rebecca and his growing brood of children to live in some comfort with his brothers and other kin helping with farming chores.
After the 1762 peace with the Cherokee, Boone moved his family back to the Yadkin, but was soon feeling cramped by waves of new settlers that began pouring into the region. With his older brother Squire, Jr. he explored the possibility of moving to Florida, which Spain had been forced to cede to Britain after the Seven Years War, of which the French and Indian Wars in North America had been just a part. He bought land near Pensacola, but Rebecca reportedly refused to move so far from family. He lost most of his cash in the process, and moved his family instead to a more remote outpost along the Yadkin.
When word arrived on the frontier of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, by which the distant Iroquois Nations centered in New York ceded their claims to the Kentucky hunting grounds in 1788, Boon was moved to extend his hunts to that area. But other nations, notably the powerful Shawnee, also had claims to the hunting ground. Boone found a hunter’s paradise—and trouble. In December 1789 the Shawnee captured Boone and his party and confiscated all of their hides. Undeterred, he continued to hunt until 1771 and then returned again after only a few months at home in 1772. In September of the following year he set of with his family, kin and friends, about 50 people altogether, to establish the first British settlement west of the Appalachians. Boone’s eldest son and a small party returning to bring up supplies to the main party were ambushed and killed by a mixed party of Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee. Young James was the first of three sons Boone would lose in Indian wars.
The massacre was one of the events which sparked Lord Dunmore’s War, named for Virginia’s Royal Governor, primarily against the Shawnee for control of the hunting grounds. In 1774 Dunmore dispatched Boone and a companion on an epic 800 mile journey to warn isolated surveying parties in Kentucky about the war. Upon his return to western Virginia, Boone was made a militia captain and helped organize the defense of the scattered settlements along the Clinch River. He distinguished himself in several skirmishes and in defending stockade settlements from Indian siege. By the end of the brief war Daniel Boone was the best known man on the frontier.
George Caleb Bingham's famous painting Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap
Following the war in 1775 Boone was hired by Judge Richard Henderson to carry wampum for a peace parlay to the Cherokee villages of North Carolina and present day Tennessee. Henderson concluded a treaty in which he bought Cherokee claims to the Kentucky to the hunting grounds. Henderson planned to launch a private colony to be known as Transylvania. He hired Boone to blaze the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky.
Boone commanded about 30 men in surveying and laying out the rough route—road was a far too grandiose description. On the banks of the Kentucky River, he staked out his claim for the settlement of Boonesborough as well as Herrodsburg and other near-by settlements by his employer. On September 8, 1775 Boone brought his family and a group of Cinch River pioneers to his new settlement after famously leading the first party through the Cumberland Gap on his new road.
By this time the American Revolution had broken out and the British were allying with frontier tribes to drive the settlers out. Raids on isolated cabins became common and those settlers who did not flee east forted up at Boonesborough, Herrodsburg and elsewhere. Only about 200 remained in the region by the summer of 1776.
|Fanciful 19th Century rendering of Boone's rescue of his daughter Jemima and friend.|
After the trial he returned to North Carolina to retrieve members of his family who had been sent there for safety and returned with a large number of new settlers for Boonesborough. With some of the newcomers he established the near-by settlement of Boone’s Station. Finding his Transylvania land claims voided by the Virginia Legislature when they organized Kentucky County, Boone turned to locating land claims for other settlers. Entrusted with nearly $20,000 in hard-to-come-by frontier cash to purchase their claims in Virginia courts, Boone was robed as he slept in a tavern in route. Humiliated and ashamed, he promised to replay the losses. He had to sell almost all of his own land to begin repayment and spent years scrupulously making payments on the rest.
Despite the setback Boone was the leading citizen in the west, widely admired by his neighbors and selected for almost any leadership role. When Kentucky was divided into three counties, Boone was named Lt. Colonel of the Militia, elected to the Virginia Legislature, and elected Sheriff of Fayette County. This kind of civic and military leadership belie the myth of Boone as a loner made uncomfortable by the mere sight of a neighbor’s chimney smoke.
Serving under General George Rogers Clark, Lt. Col. Boone joined the invasion of the Shawnee homeland and fought at the Battle of Piqua in 1780. During the same campaign Boones’ brother Ned was shot and killed while hunting with Daniel for camp meat. The Shawnee believed they had killed Daniel and sent Ned’s severed head to Chillicothe as a trophy.
On his way to Richmond to take his legislative seat, Boone was captured with several other legislators by British dragoons under Banastre Tarleton, the hated Tory officer. The war was not going well for the British, however, and Tarleton was forced to parole the captives after a few days.
|Boone at the Battle of Blue Licks with son Israel mortally wounded at his feet.|
While Boon sat in Richmond, General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown to Continental and French troops in October 1781. The war in the West, however, continued. In August 1782 he fought in the last major engagement of the war, the Battle of Blue Licks where his son Israel was killed. The following year he accompanied General Clark again on another foray into the Ohio country, the last campaign of the war.
After the war Boone moved to Maysville on the Ohio River where he entered the most successful economic period of his life. He kept a tavern in the busy river-front town, surveyed claims for new settlers, traded horses, and speculated in land. He amassed large land holdings, had seven slaves, a large number on the frontier, and was returned to the Virginia Legislature from newly created Bourbon County.
Indian warfare on the frontier continued even after the end of the Revolution, as British authorities failed to make good on promises to evacuate their western outposts and continued to supply arms and trade goods to the tribes. Warfare with the Shawnee was particularly brutal and in 1786 Boone, once again Lt. Colonel of the local militia, took part in another expedition into the Ohio Country led by General Benjamin Logan. He nursed wounded Shawnee and helped arrange a truce and prisoner swap. At age 54 it was his last military campaign.
Boone’s prosperity was short lived. His land speculations were largely failures, collapsing in courts where sharp lawyers never seemed to run out of ways to void claims, where cash money was scarce, and debt ruinous. In 1788 he left Maysville deeply in debt but promising to pay back every penny and settled in Point Pleasant, Virginia (now West Virginia) where he operated a trading post and worked as a surveyor.
With the organization of Kanawha County in 1789, Boone for the third time was made county Lt. Col. of Militia and elected again to the Virginia legislature. The fact that he attained these posts three times in three different communities over the space of 10 years speaks volumes about the respect with which Boone was held. But his Point Pleasant business ventures soon failed after he could not borrow money to uphold a contract to provision the militia.
Frustrated Boone and Rebecca moved back to Kentucky where they had to live on the farm of their son Daniel Morgan. When Kentucky finally became a state Boone proposed to make the now famous Wilderness Road a passable wagon road but Governor Isaac Shelby, an old political rival, ignored his offer and award the bid to cronies. As a consolation prize the Kentucky legislature named a new county after him.
Disgusted and wanting a fresh start—but not simply itching for wide-open-spaces, Boone and his clan moved across the Mississippi River into Spanish held Louisiana in what is now Missouri. The Spanish governor appointed Boone Syndic, a kind of justice of the peace with wide authority and Commandant of the Femme Osage district. The Spanish were eager to populate Missouri as an anchor against British encroachment from the North and the new United States from the East. Boone hunted and trapped, leaving farming to his sons and grandsons, but he had finally found a real home.
When the United States acquired Louisiana from France, which had reclaimed title from Spain, he found that his Spanish land grants were not recognized. It took years of effort and appeals to Congress to finally get the grants recognized in 1814. And then Boone had to sell most of his land to retire the last of his Kentucky debts.
|Boone at 80 by Chester Harding.|
Rebecca died in 1813. Some accounts claim that Boone, at the age of 80, made one last long hunt all the way to the headwaters of the Yellowstone. The aging Boone entertained visitors eager to make acquaintance of a legend. They found a small, trim man of courtly demeanor, a full head of white hair and a remarkably youthful face. He was painted Chester Harding in 1820 and possibly by John James Audubon—many critics believe Audubon’s picture was not taken from life, but adapted from Harding.
In 1833 Timothy Flint, who had interviewed Boone and his sons, published Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone, the First Settler of Kentucky, which became one of the most popular biographies of the 19th Century despite being filled with tall tales and romantic nonsense. In fact this book permanently distorted Boone’s image.
Daniel Boone died on his son Nathan’s Missouri Farm on September 28, 1820. His sons and grandsons carried on his traditions and fanned out over the western frontier starting homesteads and founding communities in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and points west. All had large families. The genealogies of thousands of American’s can trace their ancestry to the Great Hunter.