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Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History for 1993
In the first and most reliable biography of Daniel Boone in more than fifty years, award-winning historian Faragher brilliantly portrays America’s famous frontier hero. Drawing from popular narrative, the public record, scraps of documentation from Boone’s own hand, and a treasure of reminiscence gathered by nineteenth-century antiquarians, Faragher uses the methods of new social history to create a portrait of the ...
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History for 1993
In the first and most reliable biography of Daniel Boone in more than fifty years, award-winning historian Faragher brilliantly portrays America’s famous frontier hero. Drawing from popular narrative, the public record, scraps of documentation from Boone’s own hand, and a treasure of reminiscence gathered by nineteenth-century antiquarians, Faragher uses the methods of new social history to create a portrait of the man and the times he helped shape. Blending themes from a much vitalized Western and frontier history with the words and ideas of ordinary people, Faragher has produced a book that will stand as the definitive life of Daniel Boone for decades to come, and one that illuminates the frontier world of Boone like no other.
An award-winning historian portrays America's most famous frontier hero. From Boone's extraordinary accomplishments and from the conflicting accounts of his life and character, Faragher depicts not only the hero but the uniquely American hero-making process. Photos.
The dark cloud of war lifted momentarily from Kentucky in 1783, and after nearly ten bloody years the Revolution in the American West came to an inconclusive end. Daniel Boone first got word of the preliminary treaty between Britain and the United States from a messenger who rode over the mountains that spring with a badge on his hat inscribed "Peace." It turned out to be the wrong word, for after a brief respite, warfare along the Ohio River resumed and continued for another ten years as villages of Shawnees, Delawares, Mingos, and Miamis north of the Ohio remained determined to defend their country from invasion. But there was at least an end to major attacks on inland Kentucky stations and settlements, and American energies turned to pursuits other than war. Over the mountains and down the Ohio, pioneer men and women streamed in, adding their number to the twelve thousand who already had settled west of the Appalachians. Men opened the first commercial distilleries for the manufacture and sale of corn whiskey, the trustees of Transylvania Seminary in Lexington met to organize the first institution of higher education in the West, and politicians spoke of the possibility that Kentucky might break away from Virginia to become the fourteenth of the confederated states.
Daniel Boone turned fifty in 1783, and it was a year of transition for him as well. He and his wife, Rebecca Bryan Boone, would move their family to the Ohio River settlement of Limestone, one of the most important ports of entry for settlers, where he would set up as a trader and tavern keeper. Son of a yeoman farmer, Boone had grown up on the frontiers of Pennsylvania and North Carolina; he inherited a share in his father's patrimony but had never owned significant property. Now, as Kentucky moved into its second stage of development, he began to acquire vast sections of virgin real estate.
Boone's fiftieth year also marked the moment when his reputation leaped from local to national, even international, proportions. He had been a leader of the settlers' struggle against the Indian defense of their hunting grounds, and in the last years of the American Revolution the state of Virginia honored him with an appointment as lieutenant colonel of militia and his fellow citizens elected him to the state assembly. He was one of a number of Kentucky military heros, including James Harrod, Benjamin Logan, and George Rogers Clark, but alone among them his name would command world attention.
The man responsible for the sudden ascent of Boone's fame was John Filson, a thirty-year-old schoolmaster from Chester County, Pennsylvania. After spending the war teaching school near Wilmington, Delaware, Filson was caught up in the postwar excitement about the West and set out for Pittsburgh, where he booked passage down the Ohio on a barge and entered Kentucky in 1783. He was an unlikely pioneer, and he comes down to us a folk stereotype, the pedantic schoolmaster, a character perfected in Washington Irving's portrayal of Ichabod Crane. The stories people told about him made him seem the fool—tumbling clumsily off his wagon, being swindled in trade by an old trapper who passed off muskrats as beaver, the butt of crude frontier jokes and pranks.
"When I visited Kentucke," Filson later wrote, "I found it so far to exceed my expectations, although great, that I concluded it was a pity that the world had not adequate information of it. I conceived that a proper description, and map of it, were objects highly interesting to the United States." He loudly disclaimed any "lucrative motives" in this writing project but neglected to mention that before leaving Delaware he had converted his share of his latefather's estate into depreciated currency, bought land warrants, and entered claims in Kentucky for more than twelve thousand acres. He possessed no talent for improving these holdings with an ax or plow, but with his pen he hoped to produce a book that would publicize the country and thereby increase the value of his investment. Like nearly everyone else in Kentucky, including Daniel Boone, Filson was speculating in land.
Filson immediately began a tour of the country, traveling from pioneer settlement to station, seeking out prominent men, interviewing them for his book. He was so exceedingly persistent in his inquiries, Kentuckians said, that the only sure way to get rid of him was to tell him all they knew. He could ask more questions and provide fewer answers, they complained, than anyone alive. But these men were happier to talk than they admitted. Filson found them "polite, humane, hospitable, and very complaisant." With the Revolution successfully concluded, the time was right to reflect on the past and anticipate the future. It was also a particularly auspicious time for Filson to meet Boone, attempting to settle into a position earned by years of struggle. Boone lived north of the Kentucky River in a crowded log cabin with his wife, children, and several cousins as well as a married daughter and her family; it was understandable if he looked forward to the opportunity for retreats to Filson's rooms, where he reflected on his Kentucky adventures for a sympathetic listener.
Boone had first crossed the mountains to the fabled land of Kentucky as a man in his mid-thirties. For fifteen years he labored to explore, settle, and defend this land, braving Indian warfare and captivity, suffering the loss of family and friends. It was a terrible struggle, but now he looked forward to prosperity in this land of abundance. Boone rambled, but as Filson accumulated the details, he began to sense dramatic possibilities in these stories that might transform his work into something more than simply the "compleat guide" he had at first envisioned writing. Over the next few months he completed a manuscript divided into two major sections. He first described Kentucky's geography, its rivers, soil, and climate, its flora, fauna, and curiosities, referring the reader to a detailed map he prepared with the close advice of Boone and other experienced surveyors and explorers. Kentucky, he concluded in the swollen prose of the promoter, was "the most extraordinarycountry that the sun enlightens with his celestial beams." He included a practical discussion of purchasing land and the prospects for trade and commerce. But in the second and more enduring section of the book he attempted something considerably more grand, transforming Boone's stories, taken down "from his mouth," into "The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon."
Filson structured Boone's narrative to read like an epic. He begins with the perilous journey when Boone leaves home "to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucke," his language here recalling medieval legend. After crossing the mountains, Boone and one of his companions are taken prisoner by the Indians; Boone escapes, but the other man is killed. Left alone, Boone is nearly overwhelmed by "dreadful apprehensions." But one day, as he mounts a commanding summit and looks out over the land below, he is struck by the wonder of the landscape: "I surveyed the famous river Ohio that rolled in silent dignity, marking the western boundary of Kentucke with inconceivable grandeur. At a vast distance I beheld the mountains lift their venerable brows, and penetrate the clouds. All things were still. I kindled a fire near a fountain of sweet water, and feasted on the loin of a buck, which a few hours before I had killed." In this moment of epiphany and communion, Boone resolves to make the land his own. He returns to his family "with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucke, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune."
His first attempt at emigration is turned back by an Indian attack that costs the life of his eldest son, but Boone finally succeeds in bringing his kin across the mountains, "my wife and daughter being the first white women that ever stood on the banks of Kentucke river." With other pioneers they establish the wilderness community of Boonesborough, but in the deadly struggle that is the central feature of heroic epic, Boone "passes through a scene of sufferings that exceeds description." Filson related a succession of thrilling episodes in which Boone rescues his daughter and two young girlfriends from Indian kidnappers; is captured by Indians but manages to escape to lead the defense of Boonesborough against savage siege; and suffers during an awful massacre in which more than sixty Kentucky fighters under his command, including his second-born son, are slaughtered in an Indian ambush. Onlyafter General Clark rages across the Ohio with his army, destroying the native towns, are the Indians finally "made sensible of our superiority."
The narrative closes with Boone reflecting in the aftermath of the Revolution. "Now the scene is changed, peace crowns the sylvan shade," he says. "I now live in peace and safety, enjoying the sweets of liberty, and the bounties of Providence, with my once fellow-sufferers, in this delightful country, which I have seen purchased with a vast expence of blood and treasure." Filson emphasized the manner in which Boone's deeds were woven into the fabric of national destiny. The hero's apotheosis is virtuous, not by reaping personal reward but by the promise of Kentucky becoming "one of the most opulent and powerful states on the continent of North-America." "The love and gratitude of my country-men," says Filson's Boone, "I esteem a sufficient reward for all my toil and dangers." Throughout the struggle he has been "an instrument ordained to settle the wilderness."
Filson told Boone's story as romantic myth. In so doing he demonstrated his thorough familiarity with the perennials of colonial American literature—narratives of Indian warfare and captivity and journals of spiritual revelation and growth. Even more obvious is his debt to an ersatz Enlightenment philosophy of "natural man." Filson's Boone declaims: "Thus situated, many hundred miles from our families in the howling wilderness, I believe few would have equally enjoyed the happiness we experienced. I often observed to my brother, You see now how little nature requires to be satisfied. Felicity, the companion of content, is rather found in our own breasts than in the enjoyment of external things: And I firmly believe it requires but a little philosophy to make a man happy in whatsoever state he is."
In May of 1784 Filson left Kentucky to arrange for the publication of his manuscript in the East. The book, with the map attached and folded as the frontispiece, was issued by a printer in Wilmington, Delaware, in an edition of fifteen hundred copies. Filson announced the publication of The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke ... To which is added An Appendix, Containing The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon on October 22, 1784—Boone's fiftieth birthday.
With interest in Kentucky running high, the first printing soldwell enough, but Filson found no enthusiasm for a second edition. Eventually he returned to Kentucky, although he had no further connection with Boone, and tried fur trading, school teaching, and more land speculation, before being killed by Indians while working with a surveying party in 1788. But, unbeknownst to Filson, his book became a minor sensation in Europe, where intellectuals celebrated Boone as an American original, the "natural man." Less than a year following its initial American publication, the text was translated into French and published in Paris. Several months later it appeared in Frankfurt, and at least two more German editions soon followed. It was reprinted in England and Ireland in the 1790s. With no copyright laws in effect, neither Filson nor his estate realized anything from the sale of these foreign editions.
Boone thus achieved international fame, and he soon became a national hero as well, though in an abridgment of Filson's narrative that pared it of the philosophizing. In the summer of 1785 the printer John Trumbull, a member of the famous Connecticut family, printed a version that lopped off Filson's asides and conclusions, reducing its length by a third, and revised it to read like a diary of events. Trumbull's version emphasized action over thought, the struggle at the expense of the denouement. The following year Trumbull published his version as a little pamphlet, and it is fair to say that it has rarely been out of print in the more than two centuries since. During Boone's lifetime, when people spoke of reading his narrative, they invariably referred to Trumbull's Boone, not Filson's.
As for the original, critics have subjected it to a torrent of abuse. "Exaggerated and sophomorical," said one nineteenth-century biographer; "minor value as historical material," declared another. "The silly phrases and total disregard for what must have been the rude words of the old hunter," wrote a twentieth-century critic, "serve only, for the most part, to make it a keen disappointment to the interested reader." Although he claimed that the narrative was in the pioneer's own words, it is clear that Filson radically altered Boone's voice. These revisions could become ludicrous, as when the uneducated pioneer compares the rugged passes of the Appalachians to the ruins of the ancient cities of Persepolis and Palmyra. This language, insisted one of the pioneer's sons, was "none of Boone's," a truth readily apparent to anyone who reads the man'sletters. A relative suggested that Boone's account had become "adulterated and tangled" in Filson's reworking. "If you had Boone's Naritive as he wrote it himself," he believed, "it would be plain and intillagible. Boone did not pen the errors himself."
Boone himself, however, offered no such apologies or complaints. With his fellow Kentuckians Levi Todd and James Harrod, he signed an endorsement of Filson's book and map, recommending them to the public as "exceeding good performances, containing as accurate a description of our country as we think can possibly be given." Other evidence confirms most of the details of Boone's life in Filson's text. Although Filson's limitations as an amanuensis are clear, The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon is still best understood as a collaboration between the two men. Boone was never reluctant to complain about people who misrepresented his life or deeds, but for Filson's narrative he had nothing but praise. One of Boone's visitors watched "the old man's face brighten up" as he read passages of Filson's text aloud, and he "confirmed all that was there related of him." "All true! Every word true!" Boone reportedly exclaimed following one such reading. "Not a lie in it!"
Curiosity Is Natural
1734 to 1755
By the time he was fifteen, Daniel Boone had a reputation as one of the best hunters in the Pennsylvania countryside of his birth. An old folktale relates the boy's prowess. Boone and several of his friends are out hunting when suddenly they hear the piercing cry "from the throat of a ferocious panther." Looking up, they see it crouched in the branches above. The other boys flee in terror, but Daniel stands his ground, confidently levels his piece, and shoots the wildcat dead as it is about to spring upon him. Where did young Boone acquire this education in woodcraft? "Curiosity is natural to the soul of man"—with these words John Filson began Boone's narrative of 1784. Boone's was a curiosity that he fulfilled by striking out in new directions; certainly he did not acquire his skills from his emigrant family of English weavers.
Daniel's father, Squire Boone, came to America in 1713 when he was eighteen, with a brother and sister. The three of them were sent to reconnoiter the new American world by their father, George Boone, of the town of Bradninch, near Exeter, England. The Boones were members of the Society of Friends, and the young scouts went immediately to the town of Abington, twelve miles north of Philadelphia, where they had contacts among some of therecently arrived Quakers. Receiving favorable reports from his children, patriarch George Boone emigrated with the rest of the family four years later, and all of the Boones relocated ten miles to the northwest of Abington, where they "joined themselves to Gwynedd Meeting."
A few years later, in 1720, twenty-five-year-old Squire Boone declared his intention of marrying Sarah Morgan, five years his junior. After certifying Squire's "Cleanness from Other Women," an investigating committee of the local meeting approved the match and in September they were married "at a Solemn Assembly of ye People called Quakers." According to a contemporary, Daniel's father was a man of small stature, with a fair complexion, red hair, and blue-gray eyes; his mother was a large woman, strong and active, with dark eyes and black hair. Their firstborn was named for her mother; by the time Sarah Morgan was forty-six she had delivered a total of eleven children. Squire was a weaver, like his father, but with Sarah's help he also worked a tenant farm, raising subsistence crops and livestock.
In 1731 Squire and Sarah Boone moved their family to a location in the upper Schuylkill River valley known as "Oley," an Algonquian word for valley. Other Boones had settled there several years before, and the area had attracted Quakers as well as Swedes, Germans, and Scots-Irish. It was beautiful, gently rolling country covered by hardwood forests that opened to grassy meadows; the loamy soil took a plow gladly. Squire purchased 250 acres several miles south of the stone house of his father and with the assistance of kin and neighbors erected a one-room log cabin directly atop an outcropping of rock with a fresh spring. Eventually he enclosed the spring in a stone arch and laid a fine stone floor in the cellar. In this house, on the banks of Owatin Run, Daniel Boone was born on October 22, 1734.
As an Oley resident later remembered, the Boones were identifiable by their broad Cornish dialect and notable for their clannishness. Squire's farm was bounded on all but one side by the land of three brothers, and three others lived within a mile or two. His two sisters and their husbands were nearby as well. Daniel Boone later remembered how as a child he spent a great deal of time at the home of uncle John Webb, who would "greatly pet him." The Boones were local leaders. Grandfather George served for manyyears as justice of the peace, and when he became too old and frail to continue, the position passed to his oldest son, George, Jr. The Oley Quakers established a permanent monthly meeting, erecting a brownstone meetinghouse in 1737 on land donated by the Boones, just a mile or two from Daniel's boyhood home. Squire Boone became an overseer of the meetinghouse in 1739 and a few years later assumed responsibility as a trustee of the burying ground. When population growth led to the division of Oley township in 1741, the section in which the Boones resided was renamed Exeter, in honor of their English origins. Family life interpenetrated with civic life.
Like other families, of course, they had their conflicts with the Quaker meeting. Reading the Exeter minutes, nineteenth-century Boone biographer Lyman Draper found records of eighteenth-century Boones reproved for "belligerence" and "self-will," and the old Quaker mistress who showed Draper the manuscripts admitted that "strong drink, so common then, overcame one or more who had to be dealt with." She insisted, however, that "the Boones were active for good" and urged the historian to suppress any "sad stories" that might "annoy the very respectable family of Boones now living in this vicinity." More than a century after Daniel's family had left Exeter, community and family were still woven into a seamless fabric. And so it must have impressed the young boy, growing up amidst this close-knit network of kith and kin.
In his old age Boone repeated tales of his Pennsylvania childhood for the enjoyment of his grandchildren. These anecdotes constitute the first chapter of Boone's unwritten autobiography and offer the best explanation of how this first-generation American became the foremost pioneer of our history. In one tale, which refers to a period earlier than any of the others, Boone told of how his mother confined him to the house during an outbreak of smallpox. (This may have been during the widespread epidemic of 1738-39, which would have made him only four years old.) After a period of intolerable confinement, he and his six-year-old sister, Elizabeth, conspire "to take the smallpox, and when over it, be free to go where they pleased." That night they steal away to a neighbor's and climb into bed with young friends who had the disease. When, after a few days, he begins to show symptoms, his mother confronts him."Now Daniel," says she, "I want thee to tell me the truth." Without hesitation or fear, he confesses the truth. "Thee nasty stinking gorrel!" she cries, "why did thee not tell me, so that I could have had thee better prepared?" Labeling her son the old English equivalent of a lout was about as harsh as she could be with him. In this story, old man Boone counterposed his childish willfulness against Sarah Morgan's maternal indulgence. It was a theme frequently reiterated in his tales. His mother favored him "above all her children," he once told a young hunting companion, and he in turn had been extraordinarily devoted to her.
Another story of his childhood begins with Daniel and his mother on the Schuylkill banks one spring at the annual shad run, she cleaning the catch, he nearby, napping on a flat rock by the river, hat pulled over his face against the afternoon sun. Two girls, caught up in the spirit of rough joking that characterized these festive occasions and tempted by his vulnerability, grab a pail of fish guts and dump them on the sleeping boy. He jumps up and, seeing the culprits, punches them both in the face. The girls run off in tears but are soon back with their mother, who harangues Sarah Morgan about such a son who would bloody girls' noses. Mother looks to Daniel. "They are not girls," he declares. "Girls would not have done such a dirty trick. They are rowdies." Sarah Morgan turns back to the angry woman: "If thee has not brought up thy daughters to better behavior, it was high time they were taught good manners. They got no more than they deserved." Boone smiled at the remembrance of a mother who stood with her son, where others might have stood with their sex.
Other fragments of oral tradition contain important hints about Boone's relationship with his father. When required to discipline his sons, Squire Boone would beat them until they asked for forgiveness, at which point he would put down the rod and reason with them, Quaker fashion. The system worked well with all of his sons but Daniel, who always endured the punishment in silence. A Boone descendant reported that "the father, wishing to gain his point in government, would appeal to Daniel, 'Canst thou not beg?' But he could not beg, leaving his anxious parent to close the matter at his pleasure." This tradition is reminiscent of a tale Boone himself told, in which he and a neighbor boy, one Henry Miller, engage in a verbal standoff that becomes a fistfight. Daniel, whovery early in his life established a local reputation as the boy to beat, quickly gets the upper hand and, pinning his opponent to the ground, calls upon him to submit. "I give up, you are the best man," Henry cries out. From that moment the two are fast friends, keeping up a lifetime relationship despite the many miles and years that would separate them. Here the boy imitated his father's style, suggesting his deep paternal identification by embracing and befriending the subdued male. But, unlike Henry, Daniel himself would not submit, missing the opportunity for his father's embrace.
Boone also told of a time when he and Henry, who joined the household as Squire's apprentice, decide to meet their friends in some nighttime revel. Knowing his father would refuse permission to go, the boys wait until the family is asleep, then steal away on Squire's "best nag." Returning double-mounted and in high spirits, they attempt to jump the horse over a cow sleeping on the path, but as they approach at a full gallop the cow starts up and the horse stumbles and breaks its neck. Shaken and horrified, the boys return the saddle and bridle to their place in the barn and creep to bed, leaving the horse lying dead in front of the house. The next day Squire is dumbfounded at how a horse might have escaped from the barn and broken its own neck, but Daniel keeps silent. While he could confess easily and fully to his mother, he held back from his father. Boone would always possess a certain social reticence and maintain a self-imposed isolation that made him seem distant to other men.
Squire Boone had a weaving business in Exeter, with five or six looms, and he also kept a small smith's forge at the house, where he employed apprentice Henry Miller. Besides bearing and raising eleven children, Sarah Morgan managed the garden, henhouse, and dairy. By the time Daniel was ten years old the couple had purchased several dozen acres of grassland a few miles north of the homestead, where they grazed their herd of milk cows. In one of Boone's fondest memories, he and his mother drive the herd to this distant pasture, where there were cow pens and a small dairy house. From his tenth or eleventh year, mother and son spend each "grass season" together there, he tending the stock while she milks and churns during the day, then at night listening to her sing the old Welsh songs before the open fire. He fashions a sharp woodenshaft, which he calls his herdsman's club, and with it becomes expert at killing small game for their supper. The scene has a dreamlike quality—Daniel assuming the role of his mother's provider—and all the markings of an early adolescent fantasy. While it was a Welsh custom for the wife and mother to do her dairy work out at the pasture, she surely would have taken some of her younger children along. It seems scarcely possible that she would leave behind Boone's brother Squire Jr., still a nursing babe in the summer of 1745, or her youngest daughter, Hannah, born in August of 1746.
But this was the way Boone remembered it. As he looked back from the vantage of old age, he recalled those summers as the point when his life's course had been determined. His "love for the wilderness and hunter's life," he reminisced, began with "being a herdsman and thus being so much in the woods." It was Sarah Morgan's pattern to return to Owatin Run weekly, taking home butter and cheese to store in the cool cellar, but young Boone began to remain alone at the pasture, where he grew increasingly fond of solitude. When he was twelve or thirteen his father gave him what he later described as a "short rifle gun," probably a large-caliber European fowling piece. In two or three years of long summers roaming meadow and wood, he developed into an excellent marksman, his growing "love for the chase" frequently resulting in his neglect of the cows. It became common for him to be absent for several days during fall and winter, then suddenly to appear at the door with meat enough to supply the family for a week. Thus did the strapping boy find resolution for adolescent tensions, spending less time at his father's house and more time in the woods, a domain he identified with his beloved mother.
According to Boone family tradition, one consequence of this love for the woods was a neglect of book learning. A nephew related the tale that for a short time Daniel had attended a school taught by a dissipated Irishman who frequently retreated from the classroom to the woods, where he imbibed from a hidden bottle of whiskey. One day Daniel is chasing a squirrel, comes upon the bottle, and as a joke adds to it a powdered herbal emetic. Some hours later the Irishman is in agony and, recognizing the trickster by Daniel's barely suppressed snickers, attempts to cane the boy, but he is knocked to the floor by the robust youth. Daniel runshome, where Sarah Morgan rebukes him but does not force him to return, and so ends his formal education. This is boilerplate American folklore.
A second tale also hinges on Boone's resistance to corporal punishment, but it is somewhat more credible for the inclusion of specific references to members of the family. A bachelor uncle, John Boone, runs a subscription school attended by the neighborhood children, but Daniel intensely dislikes the confinement of the classroom and will not learn. John believes that his nephew's interest in learning can be piqued by a liberal application of the rod, bringing him into open conflict with Sarah Morgan, who knows better. "Dan would learn to spell if Sarah would leave me alone," Uncle John complains to his brother Squire. "It's all right, John," Boone's father reassures him, "let the girls do the spelling and Dan will do the shooting, and between you and me that is what we most need."
Both of these tales locate the roots of Boone's willful adult personality in his childhood resistance to authority. They also make reference yet again to the sympathy and protection of his mother. Most interesting is the polarity they set up between Boone's native accomplishments and the acquirements of civilization. The schoolmaster is tricked by young Daniel's familiarity with the woods, and Squire explicitly raises the contrast between shooting and spelling. Boone's talents, the stories suggest, rendered him ill-suited for school. But with reference to his physical prowess and his developed marksmanship, the tales have Boone already in his teens, leaving unexplained why his parents would have waited so long before initiating his education. Possibly schools were not organized in the district until the late 1740s; a German Lutheran preacher complained of their scarcity as late as 1748: "In Oley sind die Schulen sehr entfernt." But Boone later told his own children that he had never attended school a day in his life. It seems a logical inference that his parents decided quite early that, as the dialogue attributed to Squire implied, what the family needed most was his skills as a shooter, not as a scholar. The tales may have originated as attempts to absolve Squire and Sarah Morgan of any culpability for Boone's lack of formal education.
Actually, by the time Boone reached young manhood he had acquired a level of literacy that was the equal of most men of his times. In 1748, when he was thirteen, his older brother Samuelmarried a young Quaker woman, Sarah Day. She took young Boone under her wing, taught him to read, to spell a little, and to write in what was known as "a common farmer's hand." "He could at first do little more than rudely write his own name," related Boone's son Nathan, but with practice he gradually "added something to his acquirements as he grew up." During his middle years, when Boone worked as surveyor and trader, he honed his skills with lessons from a son-in-law. Many people have noted Boone's idiosyncratic spelling, but in fact it was no more awkward than that of most literate eighteenth-century Americans. He usually employed a sensible phonetic rendering of his native speech—"clark" for clerk, "sarvis" for service, "Indan" for Indian. His children and grandchildren testified to his lifelong love of reading, and in the company of frontiersmen he was often one of the few who could read or write. Moreover, despite Squire Boone's comment about teaching the girls to spell, most of the women in Boone's life were illiterate. A missionary who once visited Boone's wife, Rebecca, in North Carolina noted in his diary that "she can not read," and judging from their marks inscribed on indentures, deeds, and bills of sale, neither his mother nor his daughters ever learned to write. Within Boone's own household, therefore, his civilized accomplishments were fully acknowledged.
Exeter was at the western edge of European settlement in southeastern Pennsylvania. Before the 1750s this frontier was one of the most peaceful in all of North America, though, to be sure, European colonialism had introduced terrible turmoil into Indian societies. As a result of first Swedish, then Dutch, then subsequently English colonization, the native peoples of the Susquehanna and Delaware river region were devastated by imported diseases, reducing their village populations by as much as 90 percent by the eighteenth century. Commercial trade reoriented native economic life and introduced cutthroat competition among colonists and Indians alike for access to valuable fur-bearing regions and merchant centers.
Unlike other colonies, however, Quaker authorities organized no militia or army, negotiated with Indians over the title to land, and promised natives "the full and free privileges and Immunities of all the Said Laws as any other Inhabitants." A de facto alliancebetween Pennsylvania and the powerful Iroquois Confederacy of western New York further contributed to a half century of peace. Attracted by this policy, a number of Indian peoples, dislocated from their homelands by the reverberating effects of colonization, relocated in Pennsylvania. In the early century Conoys and Nanticokes from the Chesapeake, Tuscaroras and Tutelos from the piedmont of North Carolina, and Shawnees from southern Ohio joined Susquehannocks and Delawares in the upriver country of southeastern Pennsylvania. Within twenty or thirty miles of the Boone home were numerous Indian settlements, and beyond the Oley Hills, in the Lehigh and Lebanon valleys, were multiethnic Indian communities, including Manangy's Town, later renamed Reading when it was Americanized in midcentury. Down the Schuylkill was Manatawny, later called Pottstown.
The North American frontier was a distinctive milieu, where peoples of different cultural origins made contact and conducted business with one another. This was good for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and during the first half of the eighteenth century the Indian trade accounted for nearly a third of the commonwealth's foreign exchange. As merchants, Pennsylvania authorities wanted Indians near at hand. But the colony also operated as a land company, and as real estate agents, authorities sought to gain possession of Indian lands in order to sell tracts to emigrants like the Boones who began pouring into the colony in 1713 at the end of Queen Anne's War. That this was accomplished by what one Iroquois chief described as "Pen-and-Ink work" rather than warfare marked the Pennsylvania frontier as distinct.
Despite the peace, however, even Pennsylvania grew tense with growing Indian resentments and settler fears. At Manatawny in 1728, a party of Shawnees got into a fight with settlers who refused to provide them with food. There was an exchange of gunfire and one Indian was wounded. The Boone neighborhood, just ten miles away, was thrown into panic. Grandfather George Boone, local magistrate, sent a dispatch to the colonial governor pleading for assistance "in order to defend our fronteers." "Our Inhabitants are Generally fled," he wrote, but "there remains about 20 men with me to guard my mill, where I have about 1000 bushels of wheat and flour, and we are resolved to defend ourselves to ye last Extremity." Sometime later a dozen Shawnees, perhaps the same group, extortedfood and drink from a few terrorized families in the area. A posse of about twenty local men pursued them, and in a short fight two settlers were wounded. This concluded the only record of Indian warfare at Oley, but it was evidence of increasing settlement and congestion. Under such pressures Shawnees, Delawares, and other Indians began moving west, into the mountains or beyond. A steady stream of Indians, however, continued to pass along the Perkiomen Path, which cut directly through the Boone neighborhood.
Grandfather Boone enjoyed a reputation among the Indians for befriending natives. During the conflict of 1728 he led the rescue of two Indian girls held by a group of settlers who harbored lustful and murderous intentions. Indian hunters and diplomats passing along the path knew they could find food, drink, and a place to sleep at the Boone homestead; when Sassoonan, known as "king" of the Schuylkill Delawares, stopped for a time at the Boone place on his way to Philadelphia, with his retinue of twenty-five men, women, and children in 1736, the visit was important enough to record.
There were other occasions, too, when Indians were an obvious presence in the area. In the winter of 1742, for example, Moravian missionaries held religious services for a large party of Delawares in an Oley barn, and a number of Indians were baptized. As a child, Daniel had numerous opportunities to see and meet the native peoples of many tribes, and discussion of their visits was surely a common subject around the tables of his kinfolk.
When he ventured out of his own neighborhood into the woods surrounding the Schuylkill settlements, the young hunter entered a mixed cultural world. On woodland thoroughfares the hunters of many nations met, and over a smoke of tobacco or kinnikinnick, a pungent mixture of dried bark and leaves, they traded news and information. A pidgin tongue based on Algonquian but employing many English, French, Dutch, and Scandinavian terms served as the lingua franca of the forest, and along the trails trees were often blazed, the bark pulled back and the trunks painted with pictographs that constituted a simple but common written language. There were camping places, sometimes with huts of small logs and bark, where hunters shared meat and sleeping quarters. It was in these circles that young Boone found his forest teachers. There werebackwoods hunters descended from European colonists, many of them of Scandinavian background, whom the Delawares called nittappi, or friends. There were Indians of many ethnic varieties who also called friend this young hunter carrying the respected name of Boone. These men of the forest frontier instructed Daniel in a way of life that combined elements of both cultures and bridged many of the differences between Indian and European.
This way of life centered on hunting. Hunters from both cultures sought meat and hides to feed and clothe their families, as well as hides and furs for trade. They considered bear the prime game meat but also favored opossum and raccoon. Venison was inferior eating, they thought, but deer provided skins for clothing and footware; there was a steady commercial demand for deerskin and beaver pelts. Firearms were in wide use and included muskets, shotguns, pistols, and rifles. Indians who hunted with bow and arrow did so not from choice but because they lacked European weapons or ammunition. Most desired was the American long rifle, developed during the early eighteenth century by the German gunsmiths of southeastern Pennsylvania to fill the requirements of backwoods hunters for a well-balanced, small-caliber weapon, very accurate at distances of up to two hundred yards. A fine long rifle was a hunter's most valuable possession, and in choosing it, it was said, a man must be "even more particular than in selecting a wife." The tools of the trade were thus European, but its techniques—the calls, disguises, and decoys, the surrounds and fire hunts—were nearly all of Indian origin. Most emigrants to America came without any hunting traditions, for in most European countries hunting had been reserved for the nobility, so the hunting way of life that developed in the backwoods depended on Indian knowledge and skill.
Hunters from both cultures dressed in a composite of European and Indian styles. Moccasins were of deerskin but made and patched with European awls. The hunting shirt was a loose frock that reached halfway down the thighs and overlapped by as much as a foot or more in the front, sometimes fitted with a fringed cape used to cover the head. It was generally made of linsey or linen, sometimes of dressed deerskin, but this material had the disadvantage of being cold and uncomfortable in wet weather. In the front folds of the shirt hunters kept small rations of provisions. From theleather belt that pulled the shirt tight, they hung their powder horns, bullet pouch, knife, and tomahawk. Many Americans wore breeches or drawers, but as they moved further west they took to the Indian breechclout, a length of cloth about a yard long and nine inches wide that passed between the legs, under a cloth belt, with folds hanging front and back. Long leggings stretching to above the knee were supported by garter straps. Beaver hats were de rigueur on the eastern frontier of the eighteenth century, and although west of the Appalachians some men wore fur caps, Boone always despised them and kept his hat. Like Indian men, American hunters let their hair grow long and dressed it with bear grease, plaiting it into braids or knots. In time of war or for ritual occasions, Indian warriors might shave or pluck their scalps, leaving only a lock of hair, which they greased to stand upright or to which they attached deerskin ornaments or feathers. They painted their bodies with vermilion. American backwoodsmen heading into battle frequently adopted a similar style of ornamentation. The frontier American was "proud of his Indian-like dress," wrote a preacher in western Pennsylvania. In breechclout and leggings, their thighs and hips exposed naked to the world, he had seen them strut down village streets and even into churches, which, he added, "did not add much to the devotion of the young ladies." Boone adopted these styles as a youth in Pennsylvania, and they remained his through the whole of his long life.
The woods were a man's world, but American and Indian hunters returned to settlements and villages where women practiced similar forms of cultivation, raising corn, beans, and garden vegetables, nearly all of their primary crops native to the Americas. The farther west Americans moved, the more they incorporated hunting techniques to supplement farming. But as hunting yields declined with the increasing density of population, Indians in turn adopted European livestock, such as poultry, horses, hogs, and, less frequently, cattle. Over time the two economies converged. The Indians as well as British colonists adopted the simple form of log construction introduced during the seventeenth century by Swedish and Finnish colonists in the Delaware Valley. Obtaining iron woodworking tools through trade, Indians learned to build log homes and stockades, at villages with names like Logstown on the Ohio River. These Indian towns were somewhatmore concentrated and centralized than those of the Americans, who tended to disperse themselves on individual farmsteads across the face of the country.
The Americans and Indians who lived in these backwoods hunting communities also shared a set of general social values. Both groups were geographically mobile, in part because hunting constantly led them farther into less exploited territory, in part because growing coastal populations pressed on them from the East, in part because that was the way they liked it. Both emphasized personal freedom and independence while at the same time adhering to the loyalties of family and clan. Both were localistic in their attachments, valuing their primary groups over tribes or nations—theirs was a village world. Both were warlike and violent, believers in honor and vengeance, adherents to the ancient law of blood, and for both cultures the bloodshed was made worse by alcohol. By the eighteenth century these two groups were fully acculturated to each other's ways. The noted American anthropologist Alfred Kroeber once described the Indians of the eighteenth-century frontier as "a new, assimilated, hybrid-Caucasian culture." American frontiersmen, in turn, were often characterized by their contemporaries as hybrid Indians. Indeed, many colonial observers commented disparagingly on their "half-Indian appearance," and one missionary described them as "generally white Savages, [who] subsist by hunting, and live like the Indians."
The two peoples also shared a number of cultural traits, such as common dietary conventions, medicinal practices, a belief in the power of omens and the foreshadowing of dreams, but at deeper levels they understood the world in essentially different ways. Europeans and their American descendants tended to make a radical separation between the material and spiritual realms, and whatever their sectarian Christian beliefs, for the most part they were practical instrumentalists, interested in what worked. Indians, by contrast, tended to believe in the inseparability of matter and spirit, and their recorded history is punctuated with frequent and divisive cultural debates about the meaning or consequences of new approaches to the world. Americans were monotheists, lured by the simplicity of grand designs and single causes, while Indians were pantheists, describing a universe with a multiplicity of powers, sometimes in harmony, more frequently in conflict among themselves.Holding to a hierarchical model of reality, Americans favored clear lines of authority and power; Indians, believing in a more complicated and perhaps ultimately unfathomable universe, lived in societies with a diversity of overlapping roles and authorities, all of which seemed perfectly natural to them, but to most Americans seemed a trackless maze and cacophonous din. These descriptions, of course, are at opposite ends of a spectrum, and there were Americans, Boone among them, who moved quite far in the Indian direction of seeing things.
Boone's basic loyalty always remained with Anglo-American culture. His strong and affectionate attachments to his family and community, developed during his childhood in Exeter, were at the heart of his identity, and the private ownership of property, the basis of this way of life, marked a fundamental difference with the communal holdings of the Indians. A number of times during his life he returned to Pennsylvania to renew ties with his kinfolk and refresh the memories of his youth. But during that youth he also grew in his knowledge of the ways of the American woods and of the culture of the Indians. Over the course of his life, despite living through a generation of warfare and suffering the loss of sons and brothers, he practiced the Quaker tolerance he learned on the Pennsylvania frontier. Unlike so many of his peers, he never became an Indian hater. Daniel Boone would always view the central struggles of his life through the lens of his early experiences in Penn's woods.
In the late 1740s, because of the conduct of their family affairs, Boone's parents became subjects of controversy within the Exeter meeting of Friends. The outcome of this controversy had a great impact on the adolescent boy, first because it resulted in the family's moving from Pennsylvania and second because it suggested important lessons about the balance between individual will and communal demands. The dispute had its origins in 1742, when he was seven years old. Early that summer, the family's eldest child, eighteen-year-old Sarah, married a young German, John Wilcoxen. Wilcoxen was not a Quaker but a "worldling," and the wedding was held outside the circle of the Friends. In July, Squire and Sarah Morgan Boone were roundly criticized by "sundry persons" shocked that they had "countenanced" the match despite the fact that Wilcoxen was "not joined to our society." An all-make committee wasappointed to meet with Squire about the matter and another committee of women was appointed to meet with Sarah Morgan. A month later both parents stood humbly before the Friends. "He was no ways Countenancing or Consenting to the said Marriage," Squire declared, "but confesseth himself in a Fault in keeping them in his House after he knew of their keeping company." He "was somewhat Sensible that they had been too Conversant," he told the meeting, but "he was in a great streight in not knowing what to do." He "hopeth to be more careful for the future." Without excuses, Sarah Morgan also accepted blame, "and signified that if it were to do again she would not do the like." Squire's reference about his daughter being "too Conversant before" was made considerably more explicit by the report of the women's committee on Sarah Morgan: "Some also suppose her daughter to be with child, which time may make appear." A year later the minutes recorded that the women "had found the truth of a former suspicion viz, that Sarah Wilcoxen, daughter of Squire Boone, was with child before she was married." The offending young wife was required to make a written confession and read it before the meeting.
The promise of Squire and Sarah Morgan "to be more careful for the future" could not have been made idly, for they had many more children to marry off, and those were difficult times for parents. A revival of religious fervor, known as the Great Awakening, was sweeping across the country, stirring Protestants to strengthen their faith. The revival often had the ironic effect, however, of shattering the former discipline of congregations, including Quaker meetings. The emphasis on personal revelation and the emotional process of religious commitment often undercut communal and parental authority. Simply put, it became increasingly difficult for parents to supervise the behavior of their older children. The Boones certainly had a great deal of company in their embarrassment. Throughout the colonies a significant increase in premarital conception signaled a decline in the ability of parents to determine the choices of their children.
The next child to marry was Israel, the Boones' eldest son, who reached the age of majority in 1747, the year Squire gave Daniel his first rifle. Even the most diligent of Boone genealogists have been unable to unearth the name of Israel's bride, but we know that she too was a worldling. In its minutes for October the meeting recordedthe appointment of a committee "to speak with Squire Boone for countenancing his Son's disorderly Marriage." But now, five years after his first public humiliation over his daughter's marriage, the committee found a father unwilling to submit further to communal discipline. The difference may have been simply the prospect of having to repeat this same demeaning process again and again with his many children. Perhaps the independent spirit of the times had affected Squire as well.
It also may have been significant that George Boone, Sr., the patriarch of the family, had died during the intervening years, in 1744. During the initial incident in 1742, when the meeting required Squire to submit, George surely recalled public confessions he had been required to make in his own Quaker history. In 1716, before leaving England, he had endured the harsh criticism of his fellow Friends and had made an emotional confession of "my transgressions and sins against God," admitting to "keeping wild company and drinking by which I sometimes became guilty of drunkenness" and owned to a "gross sin by which the honour due unto marriage was lost, for the marriage bed was defiled." Then in 1720, in Gwynedd, after being taken to task for not seeking the permission of the meeting before allowing one of his daughters to keep company with a young man, he humbly acknowledged his "forwardness." The strategy of grandfather George, and the course he undoubtedly urged on his sons and daughters, was submission to the discipline of the meeting—but now George was dead.
The minutes of the Exeter meeting show that in 1747 Squire refused to accept any fault or blame. "The Friends which were appointed to speak to Squire Boone report that they spoke with him and that he could not see that he had transgressed, and therefore was not willing to condemn it until he saw it to be a transgression." Even after repeated discussions with him, fellow Friends could not bring him "to a Sense of his Error," and so "he was not willing to give any satisfaction to the Meeting." On the contrary, they reported, he argued back, "giving Room to a reflecting Spirit even against his Friends who sought his everlasting Peace and Welfare, and against the Orders and Discipline of Friends in general." He even penned an angry letter to the meeting, which the secretary deemed too impertinent to copy into the minutes. Finally, in March of 1748, the Exeter Friends were driven to invoke theirultimate sanction. Although Squire Boone had "been a Professor among us for many Years," the meeting took "Public Testimony against him as not being a Member with us until such time as we may be sensible of his coming to a Godly Sorrow in himself." His wife, Sarah Morgan, remained in good standing and continued to bring the children with her to the monthly meeting, but Squire Boone was finished with the Quakers.
The expulsion of his father from the central institution of communal life was surely a cause of conflict for thirteen-year-old Daniel. His mother and his extended family continued their association with the meeting, but, especially in light of the boy's adolescent struggles, his father's defiance of the meeting's demand—"Canst thou not beg?"—called for admiration, for strengthened identification. Moreover, these events took place at a significant juncture in Daniel's life, as he acted for the first time on his own, first learned the culture of the woods, first began to articulate to himself personal ambitions. The impact of the expulsion must have been heightened when Squire began to express interest in moving the family southwest to the new frontiers of settlement, to places then being much discussed in young Boone's circle of woodsmen.
Squire did not immediately decide to emigrate. Nine months after his expulsion he took out a warrant for an additional 250 acres adjoining his farm. But during the spring of 1749 dozens of settler families passed through Exeter on their way from coastal Pennsylvania to the frontier. Squire's brother-in-law Joseph Stover and his sister Sarah, with whom he had emigrated to America nearly forty years before, had recently moved to the headwaters of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in the great interior valley of Virginia, from where they sent back encouraging news about the country. Good land, for far less than prevailing Pennsylvania prices, was available as near as Maryland, and in the valley of Virginia or further south, in backcountry North Carolina, land was practically being given away. The decision to move must have been made during the winter of 1749-50. In January of 1750 the minutes of the Women's Meeting of the Exeter Quakers recorded Sarah Morgan's request for a letter of transfer addressed "to Friends in Virginia, Carolina or elsewhere." In April, Squire and his wife sold their Exeter homestead for £300 to William Mogridge, a cousin. When the family began their trek, about the first of May, they werenot yet sure where they would resettle, only that it would be on the frontier.
Young Boone's namesake, his mother's older brother, was a traveling Quaker minister, "noted as a man of great bodily strength fearlessly encountering the perils of the wilderness," as one of his descendants proudly put it. Like his uncle Daniel Morgan, Boone now guided his family toward the unknown country to the southwest. Unlike him, Daniel Boone had nothing more to do with the Quakers. Boone later told his family and friends that his ancestors had all been Quakers, and that he too had been "brought up with those Religious views," but when he emigrated from Pennsylvania, he said, he left the Society of Friends forever. His father left them too, but Squire later helped to organize and lead a nondenominational congregation in their new community. Though Boone always considered himself a Christian, he remained unchurched until he died. "I never knew any good to come of religious disputes," he once told a hunting companion. The pattern of attitudes and values formed amid a Quaker family and community, however, characterized Boone for the rest of his life.
The emigration party, guided by fifteen-year-old Daniel, was led by Squire Boone and included his wife, their eight unmarried children, ranging in age from nineteen to three years, their two married sons and daughters-in-law, and their married daughter with her husband and baby, possibly including some members of his extended family. One of Squire's grown nephews joined them, as did the apprentice Henry Miller, Daniel's best friend. A group this large required three or four big Conestoga wagons, with their distinctive bowed beds, huge wheels, and canvas tops, each hauled by a team of five or more horses. The first stage of their journey took them due west over what soon would become known as the Allegheny Trail. At fifteen miles per day, a rate of travel possible only with the benefit of good roads and dry weather, they could have ferried across the Schuylkill by the end of the first day and traveled as far as the settlement of Conrad Weiser, Pennsylvania's Indian agent, by the second. From there it was at least three days' travel through the Lebanon Valley to Harris's Ferry on the Susquehanna River, soon to be renamed Harrisburg. (Their approximate route can be traced today by following U.S. highways 422 and 322.)
From the crossing of the Susquehanna the trail shifted to the southwest, following the great curve of the Appalachian Mountains. Known then as the Virginia Road (today as U.S. 11), this had been the principal artery of communication between Indian peoples of north and south for centuries. By 1750 it was the major route of migration for settlers bound for the southern backcountry. They made up a cultural kaleidoscope. A diarist on the road in the early 1750s noted in his journal that he bought "some hay from a Swiss" and "some kraut from a German," shared a cup of tea with an Englishman, and camped "so as not to be too near the Irish Presbyterians," who had a reputation for contentiousness. Traveling amid this considerable and diverse traffic, with a little luck the Boones might have reached the ford of the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland, seven days after leaving Harris's Ferry. It then would take another week to follow the Shenandoah River south down the Great Valley of Virginia to the vicinity of their Stover kin. Since things never went so smoothly, their trip from Exeter probably took them a month.
According to Boone descendants, the family made camp on Linnville Creek, a few miles north of Harrisonburg, Virginia, and remained there for at least one, possibly two, growing seasons. Filled with a spirit of adventure, however, during the summer and fall of 1750 Daniel, accompanied by his friend Henry Miller, started off on his first "long hunt," an extended expedition of several weeks or months, usually undertaken in the fall and early winter. Long hunting was entirely derived from the patterns of woodland Indian culture. Details about Boone's first long hunt came from descendants in the Miller family, who remembered it because Henry later looked back on it as one of the major turning points of his life. The two young men first hunted in the nearby Shenandoah Mountains, but finding the game sparse, took off down the valley, lingering to hunt and trap around Big Lick on the Roanoke River. From there they followed the Roanoke Gap east through the Blue Ridge, then south to the high piedmont country in the vicinity of the Virginia—North Carolina dividing line. Late in the fall the young men returned north, stopping briefly with the family, then continuing north to Philadelphia, where they sold their substantial cache of hides and furs. Years later, with a certain irony, Miller described these profits as "the best spent" of his life.He and Boone "went on a general jamboree or frolick," he said, that lasted three weeks, until "the money was all spent." Afterward Daniel seemed perfectly content, but Henry was disgusted with himself for wasting his funds. On their way back to Virginia, wrote one Miller descendant, "our grandfather told Boone, if he chose he could go on hunting, trapping, etc., but for his part, he intended to quit, and settle down, make money and keep it." Miller's conclusion to the tale of his long hunt carried a strong moral message for his children. "Boone was very profligate," Henry said to his son. "[He] would spend all of his earnings and never made an effort to accumulate." Such was the memory of a man who had remained in Augusta County, Virginia, where he became a substantial landowner and, building on the apprenticeship spent at Squire Boone's forge, established a noted and profitable ironworks.
Land records indicate that Squire Boone also found his way to North Carolina during the fall of 1750, perhaps traveling in the company of the young hunters. In October he filed a warrant claiming 640 acres in an area called the Forks of the Yadkin River (now in Davie County) "upon Grants Creek alias Lickon Creek including a great Timber Bottom and Paul Garrison's Cabbin." To provide so specific a description Squire must have inspected the ground himself, selecting a settlement site for his family amid the thousands of square miles offered for sale by agents of the Earl of Granville, who owned the entire northern half of the colony. Although the annual quitrents in North Carolina were higher than they had been in Pennsylvania, a square mile of this fine land cost a mere three shillings, which amounted to little more than a filing fee. The Yadkin and its creeks were clear, rapid-flowing mountain streams, offering excellent opportunities for mill sites. There was forest and canebrake along their courses and a good deal of the rolling country was wooded. But the landscape was punctuated by beautiful meadows, perfect for grazing livestock, and well-watered lowlands where the soil was fertile clay, brick-red when plowed and exposed to the sun, a shocking contrast to Pennsylvania's black loam but still fine land for corn and other crops.
Emigrant families usually arrived at their destinations in the fall of the year with provisions sufficient to take them through a first winter on the new land. Some local traditions placed the Boones in a cave on the east side of the Yadkin for their first few months, butit is more likely that they built their first cabin in the Forks when they arrived in late 1751 and moved into it immediately. They certainly had established themselves on their claim by the following February, when a neighbor's plot of land was described as lying "on the E. side of the path that leads from Sandy Creek Ford to Squire Boon's." They were part of a large migration into western North Carolina. "Inhabitants flock in here daily, mostly from Pensilvania and other parts of America," the governor of North Carolina wrote in 1751; "they commonly seat themselves toward the West and have got near the mountains." A Moravian missionary exploring "the back of the colony" for lands suitable for his brethren noted that in 1752 alone "more than four hundred families have come with horse and wagon and cattle." The colonial authorities estimated that the number of adult males in three western counties had jumped from just one hundred in 1746 to at least three thousand by 1753. That was the year Squire Boone completed the purchase of two 640-acre parcels near what later would become the village of Mocksville. At about the time of their arrival, two more of his children were wed, and each of the five young married couples, as well as Squire's nephew, were able to draw from the extensive supply of family land. Over the next decade or so, as the younger children reached maturity, they too were established on land carved from the family estate. The size of these farms and the distances between them were significantly greater than those in Exeter, but otherwise the Boones transplanted to the Yadkin a landscape of kinship very similar to the one they had left behind in Pennsylvania.
Daniel was now the oldest of the Boone children residing at home. Approaching twenty, he was nearly full grown, a man of average height, about five feet eight inches, but of powerful build, with broad shoulders and chest, strong arms, and thick legs. One who knew him described Boone later as "a sort of pony-built man," a bit undersize but built like a horse. During his young manhood he weighed approximately 175 pounds. Boone had pronounced facial features noted by many: a high forehead and heavy brow, prominent cheekbones, a tight, wide mouth, a long and slender nose. He had his father's penetrating blue-gray eyes and fair, ruddy complexionbut his mother's dark hair, which he always kept plaited and clubbed in Indian fashion.
His assistance around the homestead was essential to Squire, now a man in his late fifties. Boone cleared land and plowed in the spring, tended the field crops and the livestock in the summer, but he did not enjoy the work. "He never took any delight in farming or stock Raising," his nephew Daniel Boone Bryan remembered, and "was ever unpracticed in the business of farming." Boone himself told his children that working his father's fields during the summers, he would pray for the rains to come, and if they did he would grab his rifle and head for the woods; "and though the rain would cease in an hour, yet he was so fond of gunning, he would be sure to remain out till evening." In fall and winter he could turn his full attention to the woods. "He took great delight in hunting and killing Deer, Bare, etc.," Bryan continued, but "it was not so much a ruling passion of Boone's to hunt, as his means of livelihood, his necessary occupation, from which he could not part." As his son Nathan put it, Boone hunted "not only because he was fond of that roving life, but because it was profitable." After his first long hunt in 1750 he became a professional hunter, and until his last years, when he grew too weak to leave his house, seldom did he ever miss a fall hunt. In North Carolina hunting became, as Boone once put it, his "business of life."
The country of the Upper Yadkin teemed with game. Bears were so numerous, it was said, that a hunter could lay by two or three thousand pounds of bear bacon in a season. The tale was told in the Forks that nearby Bear Creek had taken its name from the season Boone killed ninety-nine bears along its waters. The deer were so plentiful that an ordinary hunter could kill four or five a day, and it was said that Boone and a companion once took thirty between sunup and sundown near the head of the Yadkin. Deer were best when they were "in the red," during summer or early fall, before they acquired their blue winter coats. Beaver, otter, and muskrat were trapped during the winters, when their coats were long and oily.
The deerskin trade was an important part of the regional economy. In 1753 over thirty thousand skins were exported from North Carolina, and thousands more were used within the colony for themanufacture of leggings, breeches, and moccasins. A "buck" was the standard of the trade, and by 1750 the term already had become a synonym in the American colonies for its monetary equivalent, the widely circulating Spanish peso, known by its German name of "thaler," or dollar. By weight, beaver were five times more valuable, so a good winter of trapping could be very lucrative. The deerskins accumulated quickly at the Boone family cabin on Dutchman's Creek during the summer months, and Boone was soon making regular wagon runs to the traders located at Salisbury, the seat of Rowan County, a dusty crossroads town twenty miles south of the Forks, consisting of a few log cabins and a courthouse. A hunter bought his supplies there—powder and lead, traps, tools for gunsmithing, and packhorses—but there was always money besides for gaming and frolicking.
Boone soon acquired a reputation as one of the best marksmen and hunters in the county. In Salisbury he was a frequent competitor at shooting matches, where sometimes the prize was beef but more frequently was whiskey or simply the privilege of collecting all of the lead in and about the target. Boone was always ready to compete and he always scored high. So cocky did he become that he took to perfecting trick shots. He impressed the cronies hanging about the county courthouse by stepping up to the line and firing a winning round with the rifle held in only one of his powerful arms. Then, as one descendant remembered the scene, he would strut proudly before the other riflemen, "pat them on the shoulders, and tell them they couldn't shoot up to Boone."
A Boone family tradition moralized about how such arrogance once got Boone into considerable trouble. An Indian by the name of Saucy Jack, a Catawba with a considerable reputation for both his hunting skill and his bragging, is beaten by Boone in competition. Nursing his injured pride over rum in Salisbury one afternoon, Jack grows loud in his complaints. The more he drinks, the angrier he becomes, until finally he blusters drunkenly that he will eliminate this upstart once and for all. Boone is not present at the time, but word of the threat soon reaches Squire, in town on business. "Well, if it has come to this," the ex-Quaker thunders, "I'll kill first," and seizing a nearby hatchet, he sets out in search of Jack, who, warned by some friends, wisely flees. Boone told John Filson in 1784 that later, when he was a captive among the Indians, "I was careful notto exceed many of them in shooting, for no people are more envious than they in this sport." Saucy Jack's lesson in humility would serve Boone well.
Saucy Jack typified the sentiment and situation of many Indians. Over the previous century the Catawbas had greatly declined in number as a result of European epidemic diseases; they had ceded a great deal of land and pulled back to a small reserved territory on the Catawba River, near the present urban complex of Charlotte, North Carolina. Many of the openings and meadows among the woods were, in fact, old Indian fields. Now the Catawbas were being pressed hard by American settlers, who claimed much of the Indians' former hunting territory for themselves and competed for deerskins and beaver pelts. The Catawbas maintained their friendly alliance with the English, for fear of powerful Indian enemies such as the Cherokees to their west, but the patience of other tribes, under similar pressures, had been stretched to the breaking point by the mid-eighteenth century. In the 1750s these frustrations found expression in the massive intercolonial struggle known to subsequent American generations as the French and Indian War. This conflict, engulfing all of eastern America, became Boone's introduction to Indian warfare.
The war had its beginnings in the country of the upper Ohio River, where most of the Indians of southeastern Pennsylvania had relocated. In the mid-eighteenth century, the Ohio country was thought to begin at the divide between Atlantic and Mississippi watersheds, and by moving west to those waters, the Indians sought to establish the Appalachians as a barrier between themselves and American settlement. To the Pennsylvania authorities in the 1730s, the chiefs of one group of early Shawnee emigrants to the west wrote that "they must starve" had they remained in the east, there being "litle or no Game to be mett with in those parts." American settlements had crowded into the forests, leaving little room for the Indians. These Indians were followed west by Pennsylvania merchants, who continued to trade furs and hides for weapons, ammunition, manufactured goods, and alcohol, products far superior to anything the Indians could obtain from the French.
Yet the Indians were vocal about their grievances with the British. Perhaps the most infamous affront was the so-called "WalkingPurchase," a cession of land from the Delawares of the Lehigh Valley engineered by Pennsylvania in 1737. Under terms negotiated a half century before, the natives had agreed to cede lands vaguely bounded by the distance a man could travel in a day and a half. The Indian understanding was that this was to be a walk taken at the "common" pace, pausing at noon for a midday meal and a pipe. But Pennsylvania authorities prepared a cleared path for a group of specially trained "walkers" who ran to cover more than sixty miles in the specified time, thus succeeding in turning this vague provision into a huge tract of land encompassing the entire upper Delaware and Lehigh valleys and dispossessing a large number of Delawares and Shawnees. It was a clear violation of the spirit of the earlier agreement and displayed an obvious contempt for the Indians.
The Indian perception of events is evident in the tales they told, aimed at explaining how they had lost their land. When the English first arrive they ask for a cession of land only as big as a bull's hide. Reasonable enough, think the Delawares, who wish to be accommodating. But the colonists then soak the hide to expand it, and they cut it into long, thin strips with which they enclose a great quantity of ground. The angry Indians cry out, "You have cheated us, is this the way you are going to treat us always while you remain in this country?" The English respond by asking for just one more piece of land, this one large enough on which to place their chair. Reasonable enough, think the Delawares, who wish to be hospitable. But the English take off the seat of the chair, made from hundreds of small cords, tie them together to make a long string, and with it surround another great piece of land. The Delawares complain, but the English say this is the custom among them. And thus, said the Shawnees, the Delawares are cheated, their lands stolen, and they are forced to move west. Such tales were repeated countless times by the native peoples on the Ohio. "This very ground that is under me," a Delaware chief later declared as he stamped his foot on the ground at one treaty negotiation, "was my Land and Inheritance, and is taken from me by fraud." The Walking Purchase was "not the principal cause that made us Strike our Brethren, the English," he said, "yet it has caused the stroke to come harder than it otherwise would have come."
By the late 1740s Americans had begun to push beyond theAtlantic piedmont and into the Appalachian highlands of Pennsylvania. Like Boone, these settlers were well versed in the woodland way of life and competed directly with the Indians for forest resources. Indeed, the American conflict with the Indians came not because they were so alien to each other but precisely because they were so much alike. The settlers "interfere much more with the Indians than if they pursued agriculture alone," wrote Sir William Johnson, English agent to the Iroquois. "The Indian hunters already begin to feel the scarcity this has occasioned, which greatly increases their resentment." When in 1752 the British government granted five hundred thousand acres on the upper Ohio to the Ohio Company, a group of prominent Virginian land speculators, and when, two years later, the Iroquois bargained away their right to the Juniata River valley, which penetrated deep within western Pennsylvania, the fears of the interior Indians were further excited. Settler cabins already were being raised on the Juniata, not far from streams that fed the Ohio.
These Indian communities were frequently mixed, with Shawnees, Delawares, and Iroquois migrants living together, often intermarrying. They came to constitute an independent force, allied with neither the British nor the French and free from the control of the Iroquois Confederacy as well. When, in the early 1750s, the French decided to exclude the British from the interior by military force, these independent villagers refused to take part in the campaign, but, supplied by the French, they waged their own independent war against the threatening settlers of the American backcountry. Bands of warriors left their towns on the Ohio and headed south along the Great Warrior's Path, which ran down the west flank of the Appalachians, crossing to the Atlantic side at the Cumberland Gap. They fanned out along the mountains, attacking settlements in the interior valleys. In the summer of 1753 a Shawnee war party struck near the Forks of the Yadkin, destroying a number of isolated cabins before being driven off by a combined force of county militia and Catawba Indians. In this battle several warriors were killed, and on their bodies were found silver crucifixes, beads, looking glasses, tomahawks, and other items of French manufacture. At the time of this incident Boone was a private in the county militia. It is not known if he participated in this encounter, but it was a warning of events soon to follow.
The English and French struggle for the West focused on control of the Forks of the Ohio, the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, the site of present-day Pittsburgh. In 1754 Canadians built Fort Duquesne at the Forks, then defeated and turned back a force, led by Col. George Washington, that came to secure the region for Virginia. In response the British sent Gen. Edward Braddock to North America with two regiments of regular troops and orders to drive the French back into Canada. In April 1755 Braddock met with the governors of the British colonies in Alexandria, Virginia, and secured their agreement to a coordinated plan of attack involving colonial militia as well as British troops. In North Carolina the governor's son, Maj. Edward Brice Dobbs, organized a company of frontiersmen to fight with Braddock, and in May it marched north to Fort Cumberland in the mountains of western Maryland, the staging ground for the British attack on Fort Duquesne. Young Boone, the twenty-year-old sharpshooter, joined Dobbs's company as a teamster.
In early June, Braddock's force of nearly two thousand men set off northwest across the mountain divide; the column stretched into a line of march nearly four miles long. Axemen hacked at the old Indian path and the advance party slowly transformed it into a road suitable for the heavy cannon and supply wagons that brought up the rear. A week into the march they had traveled only thirty miles. Frustrated with the pace, Braddock divided his army, leaving much of the baggage behind, and advanced with about half of his troop, who were supported by packhorses and wagons, one of them driven by Boone. This quicker-moving force still required three weeks to cover the one hundred miles to the banks of the Monongahela, where they arrived in early July. To avoid a dangerous narrows in the trail on the right bank, Braddock decided on a double crossing of the river, which would put his army within striking distance of Fort Duquesne.
The column began to ford the Monongahela on the morning of July 9, 1755. It was midday before Boone and the other teamsters finally whipped their teams across, and the sight of the army ahead of him must have impressed Boone. To the sound of fife and drum, red-coated regulars and blue-coated Virginians paraded forward, led by their mounted officers. Following were groups of frontiersmen,cannon, howitzers, and mortars, as well as wagons. The whole maneuver was performed with British spit and polish. Suddenly, however, shots were heard in the distance and gathering clouds of smoke ahead indicated that an attack had begun. Knowing that they could not hold the fort against English bombardment, the French had come forward, desperate to stop the advancing army. While Canadian troops blocked the road, Indians fired down on the British column from the forest cover on both sides.
Had he proceeded with Indian scouts, Braddock might have avoided this battle, but he showed no appreciation of the assistance Indian allies might offer. The Delaware chief Shingas, nephew of Sassoonan, later told of offering the services of his warriors to Braddock, if only the general would reassure him on several important points. What, Shingas asked, did the general intend to do with the Ohio country once he drove the French away? It would then be English land, Braddock replied. But might not the friendly Indians at least "be Permitted to Live and Trade Among the English and have Hunting Grounds sufficient to Support themselves and Familys?" Shingas asked. "No Savage Should Inherit the Land," Braddock responded. Stung by this rejection, Shingas declared that "if they might not have Liberty To Live on the Land they would not Fight for it," and his delegation left to Braddock's shouted taunt "that he did not need their Help and had no doubt of driveing the French and their Indians away." It was Braddock's failure to employ Indian spies and scouts, Boone believed, that cost him the battle.
When the shooting began at the front of the line, American woodsmen charged for the timber to fight in the only way they knew, but the British officers, intent on maintaining discipline, kept their regular troops in suicidal formation. From Boone's position a half mile back, officers hastened their companies forward, leaving a guard for the wagons. As they rushed against the stalled front, the entire army crushed together like an accordion. Chaos soon prevailed amid the rain of fire. In the rear, snipers began to take their toll. The teamsters were ordered not to turn about but to hold their horses at the ready for advance. But with balls whistling past their heads, many of them cut their horses from the wagons and galloped away during the first minutes of the battle. According toBoone, he remained. Nowhere could the enemy be seen, only the bursts of their rifle fire amid the trees and the men dropping "like Leaves in Autumn," as one British officer later remembered.
The slaughter continued for nearly three hours. Of the nearly fourteen hundred men committed to battle, more than nine hundred were killed or wounded, many by their own fire. Most of the Americans who died probably were shot by regular British troops who mistook them for Indians among the trees. A high proportion of the officers fell. Washington had two horses killed under him, and though balls tore through his uniform, he somehow emerged without a wound. In the rear, two officers, father and son, were shot dead while Boone held his team. Braddock attempted to organize a retreat, but the wagons now blocked passage to the rear. Driven to frenzy, the survivors finally broke for the river when the general himself was hit and fell from his horse, mortally wounded. "The yell of the Indians is fresh on my ear," one soldier later recalled, "and the terrific sound will haunt me until the hour of my dissolution." The Indian cries and the sight of the troops rushing past, death on their faces, finally unnerved Boone. He jumped onto his lead horse, slashed its harness free, and galloped hard for the river. He remained
Until that he saw all attempts were in vain, From sighs and from tears he could scarcely refrain. Poor Brittons, poor Brittons, poor Brittons remember, Although we fought hard, we were forced to surrender.
Members of the Boone family long sang this plaintive backwoods ballad.
Canadians and Indians quickly overran the wagons, but they did not pursue the fleeing men across the ford, for they turned to plundering the rations of rum and other supplies, scalping the dead, and rounding up the wounded, who were lead back to the fort to be tortured and burned at the stake. The Battle of the Monongahela, Boone's initiation into forest warfare, was one of the bloodiest and most disastrous British defeats of the eighteenth century.
After the battle Boone apparently left on foot, heading east to visit his relatives in Exeter, where family traditions placed him before he returned home to the Yadkin. At the crossing of theJuniata River gorge he suddenly was confronted by a big, half-drunk Indian man standing in the center of the bridge. "He drew his knife on me," old Boone remembered, "flourishing it over his head, boasting that he had killed many a Long Knife, and would kill some more on his way home." Indians on the upper Ohio called Americans "Long Knives" because of the sabers many carried into battle. But here Boone was unarmed—perhaps his weapon had been lost in the debacle on the Monongahela—and he kept his distance. There was no way around the man, however, who repeated his threat. Fresh from the scene of slaughter, Boone thought to himself "that the blood-thirsty red skin had killed his last victim—that it was high time an end should be put to his bloody career." He watched for his opportunity. The drunken man lurched forward, weaving, and quickly Boone dashed at him. Using his low center of gravity to advantage, he drove his shoulder hard under the big man's ribs, lifting him off his feet, throwing him back and off the side of the bridge. He plunged forty feet to the jagged rocks below.
Boone told this story to the sons of his old friend Henry Miller toward the end of his life. Most tales about him "represented him as a wonderful man who had killed a host of Indians," but the truth was, he said, "I never killed but three," and the man lying mangled on the rocks of the Juniata River was the first. Young Boone, shaken, hurried on to his Pennsylvania birthplace. This was nothing to crow about, certainly nothing he could repeat to his Quaker kin in Exeter, and there is no record of Boone ever telling this story to the members of his own family. "Boone had very little of the war spirit," one contemporary wrote. "He never liked to take life and always avoided it when he could." It was an aspect of his character that the Indian haters never could understand.
Copyright © 1992 by John Mack Faragher
|1||Curiosity Is Natural: 1734 to 1755||9|
|2||My Domestic Happiness: 1755 to 1769||40|
|3||In Quest of the Country of Kentucke: 1769 to 1773||68|
|4||On the Banks of Kentucke River: 1773 to 1776||98|
|5||Prisoners to Old Chillicothe: 1776 to 1778||141|
|6||A Vast Expence of Blood and Treasure: 1778 to 1784||177|
|7||Unable to Call a Single Acre His Own: 1784 to 1789||235|
|8||A Wanderer in the World: 1789 to 1811||264|
|9||God Never Made a Man of My Prisipel to Be Lost: 1811 to 1820||303|
|10||Left Until I'm Put in the Ground: Myth and Memory||320|
|Sources of Quoted Material||365|
Posted July 22, 2012
Fascinating view of the legend. Daniel Boone was revealed in facts and honesty taking away the image that hollywood and those not steeped in facts use to show the false information found in most history books. Boone had an understanding that he was not the first and seems to have respected us "First People" unlike hollywood and other liberal thinking whites. Overall the book was a fast read and full of information and I may do something I rarelyu do: Read it again! I highly recommend this tome to any interested in facts behind the legends.
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