Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Celebrating 'Daniel Boone Day'

Daniel Boone

Today is “Daniel Boone Day”.  It was on this date in 1769 that frontiersman and American folk hero, Daniel Boone first saw the great land of what would one day become known as Kentucky.

Daniel Boone was born on October 22, 1734 but because the Gregorian calendar was adopted during his lifetime, his birth date was changed to November 2, 1734.  Boone only accepted the October 22 date.  He was born the sixth of eleven children in Berks County, Pennsylvania to Squire and Sarah Morgan Boone.  His parents were of English and Welsh decent and were practicing Quakers. 

Boone spent his childhood hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania, before his parents moved to Davie County, North Carolina in 1750. Although his formal education was limited, Boone was often the only literate person in a group of frontiersmen. 

Boone and his dog
He served with the British militia during the French and Indian War.  Then, on August 14, 1756, he married Rebecca Bryan.  The couple settled in a cabin on Boone’s father’s farm in the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina.  Boone supported his family as a market hunter.  During the autumns, he would go on “long hunts", which lasted several weeks or months.  During that time he would collect hundreds of deer, beaver and otter skins to sell to the commercial fur traders on his return in the spring.  Once asked if he ever became lost during these long hunts, Boone supposedly replied, “I’ve never been lost, but I was once bewildered for three days.  By the late 1760’s, Boone was traveling up and down the Ohio River trapping for furs in the Cumberland and Green Valleys.

Daniel Boone is well known for founding the first settlement west of the Appalachian mountain in what is now the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  This region was beyond the western boundaries of the original thirteen colonies and legally belonged to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Indians.  

On September 25, 1773, Boone moved with his family and about 50 other pioneers, to begin the first settlement in Kentucky, ignoring the British ban on westward migration. During their attempt to establish a settlement, Boone’s older son James and another man, William Russell, were captured, tortured and killed by Indians.  The killings were so brutal; Boone’s party decided to abandon the idea of a settlement and turned back.  This massacre was one of the first events in what would become known as Dunmore’s War.

Crossing the Cumberland Gap
In the spring of 1775, Boone blazed a trail through the Cumberland Gap, opening up what became known as the Wilderness Road from North Carolina and Tennessee into Kentucky.  Once in central Kentucky, Boone built a fort in what is now Madison County and founded the community of Boonesborough, Kentucky.  On September 8, 1775, he brought his family and other settlers to Boonesborough to live in one of the first English-speaking settlements west of the Appalachians. Boone told the pioneers there were three elements vital to survival here, “A good gun, a good horse and a good wife.  Thousands of pioneer families poured through the steep and rough pass on foot or horseback, heading for the ‘promised land.’   In 1792, the newly formed Kentucky legislature provided money to upgrade the Wilderness Road.  In 1796, the road was improved enough for wagon travel.  By 1800, over 200,000 pioneers had traversed Boone’s road and crossed the Cumberland Gap to settle in Kentucky.  Forty years later, in 1840, the Wilderness Road was abandoned.

Capture of Jemima
Up until this time, Boone’s life had been an adventure, but he began to suffer hardships in the summer of 1776.  In July, his daughter Jemima was captured by the Shawnee and Cherokee Indians.  He rescued her but only two years later the Shawnee seized him.  

Capture of Boone
He managed to escape and warn Boonesborough of an impending attack, thus saving them from capture.  After the uprising, he set off East to purchases lands for some of the settlers.  Along the way, he was robbed of all the money he had been given.  He repaid the settlers out of his own money and was never able to get out of debt again.

In 1781, Boone was elected to the Virginia legislature.  In 1786, he was elected again.  Two years later, he left Kentucky after he lost all of his land claims due to an error in the records. He moved west to what is now Missouri.  When asked why he had left Kentucky Boone reportedly replied, “Too crowded, too crowded!  I want some elbow room.”

Boone Half Dollar
Boone was an explorer, a frontiersman and a legend in his own time.  His deeds and accomplishments were woven into an assortment of fact, legend and folklore, weaving him into the fabric of American history as a folk hero.  Boone’s autobiography, called “Adventures” was published in 1784, making him famous throughout America and Europe.

Boone's Grave Site
at Frankfort, KY
View from Boone's Kentucky
Grave Site
Daniel Boone died on September 26, 1820 at his son’s home on Femme Osage Creek in Missouri.  He was buried on Teuque Creek, next to his wife, Rebecca, who had died in 1813.   In 1845, Boone’s remains were taken and reburied in the new cemetery (Frankfort Cemetery) in Frankfort, Kentucky.  Legend has it that the wrong bones were dug up in Missouri and taken back to Kentucky.  Both cemeteries still claim to have Boone buried there.

Engraving on Grave Marker
Regardless, Daniel Boone will always be remembered as one of the earliest frontiersmen in America, a hunter, explorer and pioneer, a true and fearless leader of the great westward migration of our country.

~ Joy


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