Daniel Boone (1734–1820)

Daniel Boone | PBS World Explorers
Daniel Boone | PBS World Explorers

Early Years

Boone was born on October 22, 1734, near Reading, Pennsylvania, the son of Squire Boone and Sarah Morgan Boone. Boone’s parents were Quakers, but following a dispute between Squire Boone and the Society of Friends, the family left Pennsylvania about the beginning of May 1750 and in October of that year settled near the Yadkin River in what is now Davie County, North Carolina. En route Daniel Boone made his first long trek as a professional hunter. With one companion he left the family’s camp in the Shenandoah Valley and spent several months hunting in the Blue Ridge Mountains and along the Roanoke River.

Boone served as a teamster on General Edward Braddock‘s ill-fated expedition to Fort Duquesne in 1755, after which he returned to the Yadkin Valley and on August 14, 1756, married Rebecca Bryan, a member of a prominent local family. They settled near present-day Farmington, Davie County, North Carolina, and had six sons and four daughters. Early in 1760 Boone temporarily moved his family to Culpeper County to escape the fighting of the Cherokee War and then resumed his life as a professional hunter in the backcountry. He ranged as far as the Holston and Clinch rivers and won renown for his skills with his gun and traps.

In May 1769 Boone and five companions followed a path through the Cumberland Gap into Virginia’s Kentucky wilderness. They spent two years there exploring, hunting, and trapping and returned to the Yadkin Valley in the spring of 1771. In September 1773 Boone set out for Kentucky again, guiding a small party of farmers who intended to establish a settlement there, but during the journey Indians attacked the party and killed one of Boone’s sons. Boone retreated to the Clinch River valley with his family and stayed there for two years. In 1774, during Dunmore’s War, Boone served as a captain in the Fincastle County militia, overseeing the region’s defenses under the command of Colonel William Preston.

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In the Kentucky Portion of Virginia

In 1775 the North Carolina land speculator Richard Henderson hired Boone to cut a road from the westernmost settlements into Kentucky. The route, later celebrated as the Wilderness Road, ran from present-day Kingsport, Tennessee, through the Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky River, where the first contingent of Henderson’s colonists, including Boone’s family, built Boonesborough, one of the first settlements in Kentucky. The next summer Indians carried away one of Boone’s daughters and two of her companions. Boone tracked the party through the wilderness for three days and rescued the girls on the banks of the Licking River. Boone’s fame as a woodsman rested on skills he demonstrated on this and similar occasions, but some of the exploits later attributed to him were embellishments of more modest accomplishments or outright fiction.

In January 1778 Boone led an expedition of about thirty men to the salt springs on the Licking River. While hunting in February he was captured and taken to the Shawnee chief Blackfish, from whom he learned of an Indian plan to drive the settlers out of Kentucky. Hoping to delay the attack, Boone offered to obtain the surrender of his men at the salt springs, accompany the Indians to Boonesborough the following spring, and help them to negotiate the fort’s capitulation. He duly persuaded the salt makers to lay down their arms. Some of the captives were sold to the British. Blackfish adopted the remainder, including Boone, who was given the name Sheltowee, or Big Turtle. Boone subsequently escaped in time to return to Boonesborough and lead a successful defense of the settlement. Yet his motives came under suspicion, in part because of the Loyalism of his wife’s family, and Boone was later summoned before a court-martial. He was acquitted and soon afterward promoted to major in the militia. Stung by the legal action, Boone and several of his friends formed a new settlement called Boone’s Station, and Boone built his own cabin on Marble Creek, several miles away from Boone’s Station.

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John Filson’s Book on the Settlement of Kentucky

Boone became deputy surveyor of Fayette County in December 1782 and began speculating in land, but his ventures failed and involved him in expensive and unsuccessful lawsuits. He moved to Limestone in 1783 and opened a trading store and tavern in the small Ohio River port town. When the town was incorporated as Maysville in 1787, Boone was named a trustee, and he won election the same year to the House of Delegates from Bourbon County. In 1789 he moved to Point Pleasant and made another unsuccessful attempt to run a store. In 1791 Boone was elected to the General Assembly a third time, representing Kanawha County. During all three of his House terms he sat on the Committee on Propositions and Grievances, and in his final term he was also appointed to the Committee for Religion. While attending the assembly Boone contracted to furnish supplies to the county militia. His debts from his store, however, made it impossible for him to obtain credit, and he lost the contract, closed his store, and moved into a cabin in the woods about sixty miles up the Kanawha River from Point Pleasant. Boone was plagued with debts for the remainder of the decade, and a warrant for his arrest was issued in 1798 but never served.

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Later Years

In October 1799 the Spanish governor of Louisiana granted Boone a tract of land at Femme Osage, near the Missouri River. Boone lived the last twenty years of his life in what is now the state of Missouri, but in 1809 a court ruled that he had not satisfied the conditions under which the grant was issued, and he appealed to Congress for a tract of the public domain in recognition of his services to the country. Five years later Congress confirmed his title to the Missouri land. Boone died at the home of his son Nathan Boone on September 26, 1820, and was buried in the family graveyard. In 1845 bones that were presumed to be those of Boone and his wife were removed from the Missouri graveyard at the behest of the Kentucky legislature and reinterred with much ceremony in a cemetery near the state capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky.

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