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 Daniel Boone

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Daniel Boone

Early American Pioneer, Frontiersman. He is remembered for his exploration and settlement of what is now Kentucky, which was then part of Virginia but on the other side of the mountains from the settled areas. He remains an iconic figure in American history, although his status as an early American folk hero and later as a subject of fiction has tended to obscure the actual details of his life. The general public remembers him as a hunter, pioneer, and "Indian-fighter," in spite of the uncertainty of when he lived or exactly what he did. He was born the sixth of eleven children to Squire Boone, a weaver and blacksmith and Sarah Jarman Morgan, who were Quakers and had emigrated to Pennsylvania from England because of their religious beliefs. In 1750 Squire Boone sold his land and moved the family to North Carolina, eventually settling on the Yadkin River, in what is now Davie County, about two miles west of Mocksville, in the western backwoods area. Because he grew up on the frontier, he had little formal education but deep knowledge of the woods and he knew how to read and write, although his spelling was unorthodox. As a young man, he served with the British military during the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763), part of the Seven Years War between Britain and France. In 1755, he was a wagon driver in British General Edward Braddock's drive to push the French out of the Ohio Country, which ended with defeat of the Braddock expedition at what is known as the Battle of the Monongahela. In 1756 he returned home and on August 14, he married Rebecca Bryan, a neighbor in the Yadkin Valley whose brother married one of Boone's sisters. The couple initially lived in a cabin on his father's farm. There were ten children born to this union. In 1758 a conflict erupted between the British forces and the Cherokee, their allies in the French and Indian War (which continued in other parts of the continent). After the Yadkin Valley was raided by Cherokee, the Boones and many other families fled north to Culpeper County, Virginia. He served in the North Carolina militia during this "Cherokee Uprising" and his militia expeditions deep into Cherokee territory beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains separated him from his wife for about two years. In 1762 he moved his wife and their four children back to the Yadkin Valley. By the mid-1760s, with peace made with the Cherokee, colonial immigration into the area increased. The competition of new settlers decreased the amount of game available and he had difficulty making ends meet. He was often taken to court for nonpayment of debts and eventually sold his land to pay off creditors. After his father's death in 1765, he 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. According to a family story, he purchased land near Pensacola, but his wife refused to move so far away from her friends and family. He then moved his family to a more remote area of the Yadkin Valley, and he began to hunt westward into the Blue Ridge Mountains. In May 1769 he began a two-year hunting expedition in Kentucky and in December of that year, he and a fellow hunter were captured by a party of Shawnee Native Americans, 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. However, he continued hunting and exploring Kentucky until his return to North Carolina in 1771, and returned to hunt there again in the autumn of 1772. In September 1773 he 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. He was still an obscure hunter and trapper at the time and 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 Native Americans, including Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees. Following the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, Native Americans 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 brutality of the killings sent shock waves along the frontier, and Boone's party abandoned its expedition. This killing was one of the first events in what became known as Dunmore's War, a struggle between Virginia and, primarily, Shawnee Native Americans of the Ohio Country for control of what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. In the summer of 1774 he volunteered to travel with a companion to Kentucky to notify surveyors there about the outbreak of war, traveling more than 800 miles in two months to warn those who had not already fled the region. Upon his return to Virginia, he 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, the Shawnees relinquished their claims to Kentucky. Following Dunmore's War, he was hired by Richard Henderson, a prominent judge from North Carolina, 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 to establish a colony called Transylvania. Afterwards, Henderson hired him 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 30 workers, Boone marked a path to the Kentucky River, where he founded Boonesborough. Other settlements, notably Harrodsburg, were also established at this time. Despite occasional Native American attacks, he returned to the Clinch Valley and brought his family and other settlers to Boonesborough in September 1775. Violence in Kentucky increased with the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783). Native Americans who were unhappy about the loss of Kentucky in treaties saw the war as a chance to drive out the colonists. On July 14, 1776 his daughter Jemima and two other teenage girls were captured outside Boonesborough by a Native American war party, who carried the girls north towards the Shawnee towns in the Ohio country. He and a group of men from Boonesborough followed in pursuit, finally catching up with them two days later, ambushing them 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, the British Lieutenant Governor of Canada, began to recruit American Indian war parties to raid the settlements in Kentucky. 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. While he recovered, the 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, so in January 1778, he led a party of 30 men to the salt springs on the Licking River. On February 7, 1778, when he was hunting meat for the expedition, he was surprised and captured by warriors led by Chief Blackfish of the Chilicothe Shawnee. Because his party was greatly outnumbered, he persuaded his men to surrender rather than put up a fight. He 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 and the remainder were taken to Hamilton in Detroit. He 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 Blackfish was about to return to Boonesborough with a large force, he eluded his captors and raced home, covering the 160 miles to Boonesborough in five days on horseback and, after his horse gave out, on foot. During his absence, his wife and children (except for Jemima) had returned to North Carolina, assuming he was dead. Upon his return to Boonesborough, some of the men expressed doubts about his loyalty, since after surrendering the salt making party he had apparently lived quite happily among the Shawnees for months. He responded by leading a preemptive raid against the Shawnees across the Ohio River, and then by helping to successfully defend Boonesborough against a ten-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 him for his recent activities. In the court martial that followed, he was found not guilty, and was even promoted after the court heard his testimony. After the trial, he returned to North Carolina to bring his family back to Kentucky. In the autumn of 1779, a large party of immigrants came with him, including (according to tradition) the family of future President Abraham Lincoln's grandfather. Rather than remain in Boonesborough, he founded the nearby settlement of Boone's Station and began earning money at this time by locating good land for other settlers. Transylvania land claims had been invalidated after Virginia created Kentucky County, so settlers needed to file new land claims with Virginia. In 1780 he collected about $20,000 in cash from various settlers and traveled to Williamsburg to purchase their land warrants. While sleeping in a tavern during the trip, the cash was stolen from his room. Some of the settlers forgave him the loss; others insisted he repay the stolen money, which took him several years to do. In 1780 he joined General George Rogers Clark's invasion of the Ohio country, fighting in the Battle of Piqua on August 7 of that year. In October, when hunting with his brother Ned, Shawnees shot and killed Ned. Apparently thinking they had killed Daniel Boone, the Shawnees beheaded Ned and took the head home as a trophy. In April 1781 he was elected as a representative to the Virginia General Assembly and traveled to Richmond to take his seat in the legislature, but British dragoons under Banastre Tarleton captured him and several other legislators near Charlottesville. The British released him on parole several days later. During his term, British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781, but the fighting continued in Kentucky unabated. He returned to Kentucky, and in August 1782, fought in the Battle of Blue Licks, in which his son Israel was killed. In the Battle of Blue Licks he led a militia to Lower Blue Licks where he failed to win the battle. He was outnumbered at the battle and out maneuvered and unprepared. At the battle he gave a stray horse to his son Israel, but he was mortally wounded. Later Boone found his son dead and took the horse he gave to his son to escape the battlefield. In November 1782, he took part in another Clark expedition into Ohio, the last major campaign of the war. County. After the Revolutionary War, he resettled in Limestone (renamed Maysville, Kentucky), then a booming Ohio River port. In September 1786 he took part in a military expedition into the Ohio Country led by Benjamin Logan, which would be the last time that he saw military action. 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. However, he soon began to have financial troubles. 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 his ventures ultimately failed because his investment strategy was faulty and because his decency made him reluctant to profit at someone else's expense. In 1788, frustrated with the legal hassles in land speculation, he moved upriver to Point Pleasant, Virginia (now West Virginia) where he operated a trading post and occasionally worked as a surveyor's assistant. When Virginia created Kanawha County in 1788, he 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, so he closed his post and returned to hunting and trapping. In 1795 he and his family moved back to Kentucky, living in Nicholas County on land owned by their son Daniel Morgan Boone. The next year he applied to Isaac Shelby, first governor of the new state of Kentucky, for a contract to widen the Wilderness Road into a wagon route, but the contract was awarded to someone else. In the meantime, lawsuits over conflicting land claims continued to make their way through the Kentucky courts and his 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 his arrest after he ignored a summons to testify in a court case, although the sheriff never located him. That same year, Kentucky named Boone County in his honor. In 1799 he and his family left Kentucky and moved to a frontier area then part of Spanish Louisiana, near Saint Louis (in the present-day state of Missouri). The Spanish, eager to promote settlement in the sparsely populated region, did not enforce the requirement that all immigrants had to be Roman Catholic. Looking to make a fresh start, Boone moved 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. He served as syndic and commandant until 1804, when the area became part of the Louisiana Territory of the US following the Louisiana Purchase. Because his 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. He then sold most of this land to repay his old Kentucky debts. When the War of 1812 came to the Missouri Territory, his sons Daniel Morgan Boone and Nathan Boone took part, but by that time he was too old for militia duty. He 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. According to one story, in 1810 or later (one story places his trip after the death of his wife in March 1813), he went with a group on a long hunt as far west as the Yellowstone River, a remarkable journey at his age, if true. He died of natural causes on at the home of his son, Nathan Boone, Femme Osage Creek at age 85, just a few weeks short of his 86th birthday and was buried next to his wife at the Old Bryan Farm Cemetery on the bank of Tuque Creek near Marthasville, Missouri. In 1845 the Boones' remains were supposedly disinterred and reburied in the new Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Resentment in Missouri about the disinterment grew over the years, and a legend arose that his remains never left Missouri. According to this story, his tombstone in Missouri had been inadvertently placed over the wrong grave, but no one had ever corrected the error. Boone's relatives in Missouri, displeased with the Kentuckians who came to exhume him, kept quiet about the mistake, and they allowed the Kentuckians to dig up the wrong remains. There is no contemporary evidence that this actually happened, but in 1983, a forensic anthropologist examined a crude plaster cast of Boone's skull made before the Kentucky reburial and announced it might be the skull of an African American. Black slaves had also been buried at the Old Bryan Farm Cemetery, making it possible the wrong remains were mistakenly removed from the crowded graveyard. Both the Frankfort Cemetery in Kentucky and the Old Bryan Farm cemetery in Missouri claim to have his remains. The Daniel Boone half dollar was a U.S. commemorative coin issued from 1934 to 1938 in honor of the bicentennial of his birth. The outdoor drama "Horn in the West," performed annually in Boone, North Carolina since 1952, is a fictional account of the lives of settlers whom Daniel Boone led into the Appalachian Mountains. In the "Daniel Boone" television series, which ran from 1964 to 1970, the popular theme song for the series described him as a "big man" in a "coonskin cap," and the "rippin'est, roarin'est, fightin'est man the frontier ever knew!" This did not accurately describe the real Daniel Boone, who was not a big man and did not wear a coonskin cap. He was portrayed this way because Fess Parker, the tall actor who played Boone, was essentially reprising his role as Davy Crockett from an earlier TV series. That Boone could be portrayed the same way as Crockett, another American frontiersman with a very different persona, was another example of how his image could be reshaped to suit popular tastes. The US Navy's James Madison-class Polaris submarine USS Daniel Boone was named for him. This nuclear submarine was decommissioned in 1994, and has since been scrapped. Numerous places in the US are named in his honor.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 109
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Daniel Boone (2 Nov 1734–26 Sep 1820), Find A Grave Memorial no. 109, citing Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .