Daniel Boone

(History of the World: The 17th and 18th Centuries)

Article abstract: In addition to opening the trans-Appalachian frontier, Boone became a legendary symbol of the early American frontier.

Early Life

Daniel Boone was born on a Berks County, Pennsylvania, farm on November 2, 1734, the sixth of eleven children. His father, Squire Boone, was the son of an English Quaker who came to Philadelphia in 1717; his mother, Sarah Morgan, was of Welsh ancestry. Young Boone received little, if any, formal schooling, but he learned to read and to write, although his spelling was erratic. His real interest was in the forest, and as a boy he developed into an excellent shot and superb woodsman.

Squire Boone left Pennsylvania in 1750, and by 1751 or 1752, the family was settled on Dutchman’s Creek in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley. Daniel hunted and farmed, and he was a wagoner in General Edward Braddock’s ill-fated 1755 expedition against Fort Duquesne. He may have been a wagon master three years later, when General John Forbes took the fort. During the 1750’s, Boone met John Finley, who captivated him with tales of the lovely land called Kentucky. In young manhood, Boone was five feet eight or nine inches tall, with broad shoulders and chest. Strong and quick, he possessed marvelous endurance and calm nerves. He had blue eyes, a Roman nose, a wide mouth with thin lips, and dark hair that he wore plaited and clubbed. Boone detested coonskin caps and always wore a hat. Mischievous and fun-loving, he was a popular companion, but Boone was happiest when alone in the wilderness. Honest, courageous, quiet, and unpretentious, he inspired confidence, and he accepted the leadership roles thrust upon him.

On August 14, 1756, Daniel married Rebecca Bryan, four years his junior. Between 1757 and 1781, they had ten children, and Rebecca carried much of the burden of rearing them during Daniel’s long absences. One child died in infancy, and sons James and Israel were killed in Kentucky by Indians. Rebecca ended Daniel’s interest in Florida by refusing to move there in 1766. Boone, sometimes accompanied by brother Squire and brother-in-law John Stuart, explored westward, always tantalized by stories of the fine lands and bountiful game to be found in Kentucky.

Life’s Work

On May 1, 1769, Boone, Finley, Stuart, and three hired hands left Boone’s cabin for his first extended visit into Kentucky. A successful hunt was spoiled by a band of Shawnee, who took their catch and most of their equipment. Stuart was later killed, and when the rest of the party went back for supplies in 1770, Boone remained behind to hunt and explore westward. In 1771, some other hunters investigated a strange sound and found Boone, flat on his back, singing at full volume for sheer joy. The seizure of another catch by Indians was a small price to pay for such delights.

In September, 1773, Boone attempted to take his family and some other settlers into Kentucky, but they turned back after an Indian attack in which Boone’s son James was among those killed. On the eve of Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774, Boone and Michael Stoner were sent to warn hunters and surveyors in Kentucky of the impending danger. In sixty-one days, they covered more than eight hundred wilderness miles, although Boone paused at the incipient settlement at Harrodsburg long enough to claim a lot and throw up a cabin. During the short Indian war, Boone’s role as a militia officer was to defend some of Virginia’s frontier forts.

During these years, Boone became associated with Judge Richard Henderson, who dreamed of establishing a new colony (Transylvania) in the western lands claimed by the North Carolina and Virginia colonies. Boone helped persuade the Cherokees to sell their claim to Kentucky, and agreement was reached at Sycamore Shoals on March 17, 1775. Anticipating that result, Boone and thirty axmen had already started work on the famed Wilderness Road that brought countless thousands of settlers into Kentucky and helped destroy the wildnerness solitude that Boone loved.

Boonesborough was soon established on the south bank of the Kentucky River, and crops were planted in hastily cleared fields. When Henderson arrived with a larger party, a government was set up with representatives from the tiny, scattered stations. Boone introduced measures for protecting game and improving the breed of horses. Indian raids frightened many of the settlers into fleeing eastward, but during the summer of 1775, Boone brought his family to Boonesborough. Had he joined the exodus, the settlements would probably have been abandoned. Even the capture of a daughter and two other girls by Indians did not shake his determination to hang on. Henderson’s grandiose scheme failed when Virginia extended her jurisdiction over the region by creating a vast Kentucky County in December, 1776.

The American Revolution was fought largely along the seaboard, but the British used Indians to attack the Kentucky settlements; the war in the West was fought for survival....

(The entire section is 2065 words.)