Daniel Boone Biography

Daniel Boone October 22 (November 2 new style), 1734 - September 26, 1820, was an American pioneer and hunter whose frontier exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now the U.S. state of Kentucky, which was then beyond the western borders of the Thirteen Colonies. Despite resistance from American Indians, for whom Kentucky was a traditional hunting ground, in 1775 Boone blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky. There he founded Boonesborough, one of the first English-speaking settlements beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Before the end of the 18th century, more than 200,000 people entered Kentucky by following the route marked by Boone. Boone was a Militia officer during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), which in Kentucky was fought primarily between settlers and British-allied American Indians. Boone was captured by Shawnees in 1778 and adopted into the tribe, but he escaped and continued to help defend the Kentucky settlements. He was elected to the first of his three terms in the Virginia General Assembly during the war, and fought in the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, one of the last battles of the American Revolution. Boone worked as a surveyor and merchant after the war, but he went deep into debt as a Kentucky land speculator. Frustrated with legal problems resulting from his land claims, in 1799 Boone resettled in Missouri, where he spent his final years. Boone remains an iconic, if imperfectly remembered, figure in American history. He was a legend in his own lifetime, especially after an account of his adventures was published in 1784, making him famous in America and Europe. After his death, he was frequently the subject of tall tales and works of fiction.

The Daniel Boone half dollar was a U.S. commemorative coin issued from 1934 to 1938 in honor of the bicentennial of Boone's birth. Daniel Boone was born in either late October or early November of 1734. He was the sixth of eleven children in a family of Quakers. His father, Squire Boone, Sr. (1696-1765), had immigrated to Pennsylvania from the small town of Bradninch, Devon, England in 1713. Squire Boone's parents George and Mary Boone followed their son to Pennsylvania in 1717. In 1720, Squire, who worked primarily as a weaver and a blacksmith, married Sarah Morgan (1700-1777), whose family members were Quakers from Wales, and settled in Towamencin Township, Pennsylvania in 1708. In 1731, the Boones built a log cabin in the Oley Valley, now the Daniel Boone Homestead in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where Daniel was born. Daniel Boone spent his early years on what was then the western edge of the Pennsylvania frontier. There were a number of American Indian villages nearby. The pacifist Pennsylvania Quakers generally had good relations with the Indians, but the steady growth of the white population compelled many Indians to relocate further west. Boone received his first rifle at age 12 and picked up hunting skills from local whites and Indians, beginning his lifelong love of hunting. Folk tales often emphasized Boone's skills as a hunter. In Boone's youth, his family became a source of controversy in the local Quaker community that existed in what is now present day Lower Gwynedd Township, Pennsylvania. In 1742, Boone's parents were compelled to publicly apologize after their eldest child Sarah married John Wilcoxson, a "worldling" (non-Quaker), while she was visibly pregnant. When Boone's oldest brother Israel also married a "worldling" in 1747, Squire Boone stood by his son and was therefore expelled from the Quakers, although his wife continued to attend monthly meetings with her children. Perhaps as a result of this controversy, in 1750 Squire sold his land and moved the family to North Carolina. Daniel Boone did not attend church again, although he considered himself a Christian and had all of his children baptized. The Boones eventually settled on the Yadkin River, in what is now Davie County, North Carolina, about two miles (3 km) west of Mocksville. Because he spent so much time hunting in his youth, Boone received little formal education.

As a young man, Boone served with the British military during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), a struggle for control of the land beyond the Appalachian Mountains. In 1755, he was a wagon driver in General Edward Braddock's attempt to drive the French out of the Ohio Country, which ended in disaster at the Battle of the Monongahela. Boone returned home after the defeat, and on August 14, 1756, he married Rebecca Bryan, a neighbor in the Yadkin Valley. The couple initially lived in a cabin on his father's farm. They would eventually have ten children. In 1759, a conflict erupted between British colonists and Cherokee Indians, their former allies in the French and Indian War. After the Yadkin Valley was raided by Cherokees, many families, including the Boones, fled to Culpeper County, Virginia. Boone served in the North Carolina militia during this "Cherokee Uprising", and his hunting expeditions deep into Cherokee territory beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains separated him from his wife for about two years.

Boone's chosen profession also made for long absences from home. He supported his growing family in these years as a market hunter. Almost every autumn, Boone would go on "long hunts", which were extended expeditions into the wilderness, lasting weeks or months. Boone would go on long hunts alone or with a small group of men, accumulating hundreds of deer skins in the autumn, and then trapping beaver and otter over the winter. The long hunters would return in the spring and sell their take to commercial fur traders. Frontiersmen often carved messages on trees or wrote their names on cave walls, and Boone's name or initials have been found in many places. In 1762 Boone and his wife and four children moved back to the Yadkin Valley from Culpeper. By mid-1760s, with peace made with the Cherokees, immigration into the area increased, and Boone began to look for a new place to settle, as competition decreased the amount of game available for hunting. This meant that Boone had difficulty making ends meet; he was often taken to court for nonpayment of debts, and he sold what land he owned to pay off creditors. After his father's death in 1765, Boone traveled with his brother Squire and a group of men to Florida, which had become British territory after the end of the war, to look into the possibility of settling there.

Boone first reached Kentucky in the fall of 1767 when on a long hunt with his brother Squire Boone, Jr. While on the Braddock expedition years earlier, Boone had heard about the fertile land and abundant game of Kentucky from fellow wagoner John Findley, who had visited Kentucky to trade with American Indians. Boone and Findley happened to meet again, and Findley encouraged Boone with more tales of Kentucky. At the same time, news had arrived about the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, in which the Iroquois had ceded their claim to Kentucky to the British. On May 1, 1769, Boone began a two-year hunting expedition in Kentucky. On December 22, 1769, he and a fellow hunter were captured by a party of Shawnees, who confiscated all of their skins and told them to leave and never return. The Shawnees had not signed the Stanwix treaty, and since they regarded Kentucky as their hunting ground, they considered white hunters there to be poachers. Boone, however, continued hunting and exploring Kentucky until his return to North Carolina in 1771, and returned to hunt there again in the autumn of 1772. On September 25, 1773, Boone packed up his family and, with a group of about 50 emigrants, began the first attempt by British colonists to establish a settlement in Kentucky. Boone was still an obscure hunter and trapper at the time; the most prominent member of the expedition was William Russell, a well-known Virginian and future brother-in-law of Patrick Henry. On October 9, Boone's eldest son James and a small group of men and boys who had left the main party to retrieve supplies were attacked by a band of Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees. Following the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, American Indians in the region had been debating what to do about the influx of settlers. This group had decided, in the words of historian John Mack Faragher, "to send a message of their opposition to settlement." James Boone and William Russell's son Henry were captured and gruesomely tortured to death.

The massacre was one of the first events in what became known as Dunmore's War, a struggle between Virginia and, primarily, Shawnees of the Ohio Country for control of what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. In the summer of 1774, Boone volunteered to travel with a companion to Kentucky to notify surveyors there about the outbreak of war. The two men journeyed more than 800 miles (1,300 km) in two months in order to warn those who had not already fled the region. Upon his return to Virginia, Boone helped defend colonial settlements along the Clinch River, earning a promotion to captain in the militia as well as acclaim from fellow citizens. After the brief war, which ended soon after Virginia's victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in October 1774, Shawnees relinquished their claims to Kentucky. Following Dunmore's War, Richard Henderson, a prominent judge from North Carolina, hired Boone to travel to the Cherokee towns in present North Carolina and Tennessee and inform them of an upcoming meeting. In the 1775 treaty, Henderson purchased the Cherokee claim to Kentucky in order to establish a colony called Transylvania. Afterwards, Henderson hired Boone to blaze what became known as the Wilderness Road, which went through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky. Along with a party of about thirty workers, Boone marked a path to the Kentucky River, where he established Boonesborough. Other settlements, notably Harrodsburg, were also established at this time. Despite occasional Indian attacks, Boone returned to the Clinch Valley and brought his family and other settlers to Boonesborough on September 8, 1775.

Violence in Kentucky increased with the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Native Americans who were unhappy about the loss of Kentucky in treaties saw the war as a chance to drive out the colonists. Isolated settlers and hunters became the frequent target of attacks, convincing many to abandon Kentucky.

On July 14, 1776, Boone's daughter Jemima and two other teenage girls were captured outside Boonesborough by an Indian war party, who carried the girls north towards the Shawnee towns in the Ohio country. Boone and a group of men from Boonesborough followed in pursuit, finally catching up with them two days later. Boone and his men ambushed the Indians while they were stopped for a meal, rescuing the girls and driving off their captors. The incident became the most celebrated event of Boone's life. In 1777, Henry Hamilton, a British Lieutenant Governor of Canada, began to recruit American Indian war parties to raid the Kentucky settlements. On April 24, Shawnees led by Chief Blackfish attacked Boonesborough. A bullet struck Boone's leg, shattering his kneecap, but he was carried back inside the fort amid a flurry of bullets by Simon Kenton, a recent arrival at Boonesborough. Kenton became Boone's close friend as well as a legendary frontiersman in his own right. While Boone recovered, Shawnees kept up their attacks outside Boonesborough, destroying the surrounding cattle and crops. With the food supply running low, the settlers needed salt to preserve what meat they had, and so in January 1778 Boone led a party of thirty men to the salt springs on the Licking River. On February 7, 1778, when Boone was hunting meat for the expedition, he was surprised and captured by warriors led by Chief Blackfish of the Chilicothe Shawnee. Because Boone's party was greatly outnumbered, he convinced his men to surrender rather than put up a fight. Blackfish wanted to continue to Boonesborough and capture it, since it was now poorly defended, but Boone convinced him that the women and children were not hardy enough to survive a winter trek. Instead, Boone promised that Boonesborough would surrender willingly to the Shawnees the following spring. Boone did not have an opportunity to tell his men that he was bluffing in order to prevent an immediate attack on Boonesborough, however. Boone pursued this strategy so convincingly that many of his men concluded that he had switched his loyalty to the British.

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Boone and his men were taken to Blackfish's town of Chillicothe where they were made to run the gauntlet. As was their custom, the Shawnees adopted some of the prisoners into the tribe to replace fallen warriors; the remainder were taken to Hamilton in Detroit. Boone was adopted into a Shawnee family at Chillicothe, perhaps into the family of Chief Blackfish himself, and given the name Sheltowee ("Big Turtle"). On June 16, 1778, when he learned that Blackfish was about to return to Boonesborough with a large force, Boone eluded his captors and raced home. During Boone's absence, his wife and children (except for Jemima) had returned to North Carolina, fearing that he was dead. Upon his return to Boonesborough, some of the men expressed doubts about Boone's loyalty, since after surrendering the salt making party he had apparently lived quite happily among the Shawnees for months. Boone responded by leading a preemptive raid against the Shawnees across the Ohio River, and then by helping to successfully defend Boonesborough against a 10-day siege led by Blackfish, which began on September 7, 1778. After the siege, Captain Benjamin Logan and Colonel Richard Callaway both of whom had nephews who were still captives surrendered by Boone brought charges against Boone for his recent activities. In the court-martial that followed, Boone was found "not guilty" and was even promoted after the court heard his testimony. After the trial, Boone returned to North Carolina in order to bring his family back to Kentucky. Rather than remain in Boonesborough, Boone founded the nearby settlement of Boone's Station. Boone began earning money at this time by locating good land for other settlers. Transylvania land claims had been invalidated after Virginia created Kentucky County, and so settlers needed to file new land claims with Virginia. In 1780, Boone collected about $20,000 in cash from various settlers and traveled to Williamsburg to purchase their land warrants. While he was sleeping in a tavern during the trip, the cash was stolen from his room. Some of the settlers forgave Boone the loss; others insisted that he repay the stolen money, which took him several years to do. A popular image of Boone which emerged in later years is that of the backwoodsman who had little affinity for "civilized" society, moving away from places like Boonesborough when they became "too crowded". In reality, however, Boone was a leading citizen of Kentucky at this time. When Kentucky was divided into three Virginia counties in November 1780, Boone was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Fayette County militia. Meanwhile, the American Revolutionary War continued. Boone joined General George Rogers Clark's invasion of the Ohio country in 1780, fighting in the Battle of Piqua on August 7. In October, when Boone was hunting with his brother Ned, Shawnees shot and killed Ned. Apparently thinking that they had killed Daniel Boone, the Shawnees beheaded Ned and took the head home as a trophy. In 1781, Boone traveled to Richmond to take his seat in the legislature, but British dragoons under Banastre Tarleton captured Boone and several other legislators near Charlottesville. The British released Boone on parole several days later. During Boone's term, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781, but the fighting continued in Kentucky unabated. Boone returned to Kentucky and in August 1782 fought in the Battle of Blue Licks, in which his son Israel was killed. In November 1782, Boone took part in another Clark expedition into Ohio, the last major campaign of the war.

After the Revolution, Boone resettled in Limestone (renamed Maysville, Kentucky in 1786), then a booming Ohio River port. In 1787, he was elected to the Virginia state assembly as a representative from Bourbon County. In Maysville, he kept a tavern and worked as a surveyor, horse trader, and land speculator. He was initially prosperous, owning seven slaves by 1787, a relatively large number for Kentucky at the time, which was dominated by small farms rather than large plantations. Although the Revolutionary War had ended, the border war with American Indians north of the Ohio River soon resumed. In September 1786, Boone took part in a military expedition into the Ohio Country led by Benjamin Logan. Back in Limestone, Boone housed and fed Shawnees who were captured during the raid and helped to negotiate a truce and prisoner exchange.

Boone began to have financial troubles while living in Maysville. According to the later folk image, Boone the trailblazer was too unsophisticated for the civilization which followed him and which eventually defrauded him of his land. Boone was not the simple frontiersman of legend, however: he engaged in land speculation on a large scale, buying and selling claims to tens of thousands of acres. The land market in frontier Kentucky was chaotic, and Boone's ventures ultimately failed because his investment strategy was faulty and because his sense of honor made him reluctant to profit at someone else's expense. Frustrated with the legal hassles that went with land speculation, in 1788 Boone moved upriver to Point Pleasant, Virginia (now West Virginia). There he operated a trading post and occasionally worked as a surveyor's assistant. When Virginia created Kanawha County in 1789, Boone was appointed lieutenant colonel of the county militia. In 1791, he was elected to the Virginia legislature for the third time. He contracted to provide supplies for the Kanawha militia, but his debts prevented him from buying goods on credit, and so he closed his store and returned to hunting and trapping. In 1795, he and Rebecca moved back to Kentucky, living in present Nicholas County on land owned by their son Daniel Morgan Boone. The next year, Boone applied to Isaac Shelby, the first governor of the new state of Kentucky, for a contract to widen the Wilderness Road into a wagon route, but the governor did not respond and the contract was awarded to someone else. Meanwhile, lawsuits over conflicting land claims continued to make their way through the Kentucky courts. Boone's remaining land claims were sold off to pay legal fees and taxes, but he no longer paid attention to the process. In 1798, a warrant was issued for Boone's arrest after he ignored a summons to testify in a court case, although the sheriff never found him. That same year Kentucky named Boone County in his honor.

In 1799, Boone moved out of the United States to Missouri, which was then part of Spanish Louisiana. Boone, looking to make a fresh start, emigrated with much of his extended family to what is now St. Charles County. The Spanish governor appointed Boone "syndic" (judge and jury) and commandant (military leader) of the Femme Osage district. The many anecdotes of Boone's tenure as syndic suggest that he sought to render fair judgments rather than to strictly observe the letter of the law. Boone served as syndic and commandant until 1804, when Missouri became part of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase. Because Boone's land grants from the Spanish government had been largely based on verbal agreements, he once again lost his land claims. In 1809, he petitioned Congress to restore his Spanish land claims, which was finally done in 1814. Boone sold most of this land to repay old Kentucky debts. When the War of 1812 came to Missouri, Boone's sons Daniel Morgan Boone and Nathan Boone took part, but by that time Boone was too old for militia duty.

Boone spent his final years in Missouri, often in the company of children and grandchildren. He hunted and trapped as often as his failing health allowed.

Boone died on September 26, 1820, at Nathan Boone's home on Femme Osage Creek. His last words were, "I'm going now. My time has come." He was buried next to Rebecca, who had died on March 18, 1813. The graves, which were unmarked until the mid-1830s, were near Jemima (Boone) Callaway's home on Tuque Creek, about two miles (3 km) from present day Marthasville, Missouri. In 1845, the Boones' remains were disinterred and reburied in a new cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

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