Daniel Boone (1734-1820)

Daniel Boone is perhaps the best known of the early "long hunters" who ventured across the Appalachian Mountains to hunt and explore in the area of present-day Tennessee and Kentucky. Born on November 2, 1734, in Oley, Berks County, Pennsylvania, he was the sixth child of Squire and Sarah Boone. By 1752 Daniel Boone was living in the Yadkin River Valley in what is now Davie County, North Carolina. He was already recognized as an able hunter and an expert marksman. In 1755 he signed on as a wagoner with General Edward Braddock's expedition to capture Fort Duquesne and was caught up in the rout that followed. While on this expedition, Boone heard his first eyewitness accounts of rich lands and abundant game west of the mountains.

Returning to North Carolina, Boone married Rebecca Bryan in August 1756. Sometime the next year, he began exploring across the Blue Ridge Mountains into what is now Upper East Tennessee. Boone recorded his presence in Washington County in 1760, when he carved on a tree the inscription, "Cilled a Bar." He continued to hunt and explore the region for the next several years, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of other long hunters.

By 1769 Boone had formed an association with North Carolina promoter Richard Henderson, who planned to purchase large regions of the trans-Appalachian land from Indian tribes and create a fourteenth colony. Boone and six others, including his brother Squire, set out in that year to explore Kentucky in preparation for the proposed purchase. Some of his companions soon abandoned the expedition, but Boone persisted, locating and passing through the Cumberland Gap and along the Warrior's Trace into Kentucky. He explored the region until spring 1771. At about this time Boone relocated his family to the Watauga settlements in upper East Tennessee, perhaps as a more convenient base from which to explore and gain information about the region where Henderson planned to establish his settlement.

A delay in Henderson's purchase prompted Boone to formulate his own plans for starting a settlement in Kentucky. In September 1773 Boone led a group of settlers, including many of his in-laws, through Cumberland Gap. The expedition was abandoned, however, following an Indian attack in Powell's Valley, Tennessee, in which Boone's son, James, was killed.

The onset of Lord Dunmore's War the next year further stalled Boone's plans for settlement. Though he was unable to continue his explorations of Tennessee and Kentucky, Boone was employed to locate surveying parties in the mountains and beyond and alert them to the war and the consequent threat of Indian attacks. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the militia and later promoted to captain.

By early 1775 Henderson was completing preliminary negotiations with the Cherokees for the purchase of a huge tract of land in what is now Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. Boone played an important role in the purchase. By then he had acquired substantial knowledge of the West, and his association with the project promised to boost interest and sales. More importantly, Boone was expected to clear a road to the settlements and provide assistance to settlers as they migrated west.

In March 1775 the Cherokees signed a treaty at Sycamore Shoals formalizing Henderson's Transylvania Purchase. As a condition to the purchase the Cherokees also agreed to an access corridor known as the "Path Deed," which was to run from the treaty site through the Cumberland Gap and on to the settlements in Kentucky. Boone set out with a company of thirty axmen to start construction even before the treaty was formalized. By early April the "Wilderness Road" was completed, terminating at the Big Lick near the confluence of Otter Creek and the Kentucky River. Boone's party started construction of a few cabins, but most of their time was spent in locating and claiming the best lands in the vicinity. When Henderson and additional settlers arrived at the site, later known as Boonesborough, the stockade, which was supposed to have been completed, had not been started.

The next few years were difficult ones for Boone. His leadership at Boonesborough was critical to the successful defense of the settlement. On one occasion, however, he was forced to surrender a small company of men to Shawnees. Although they eventually escaped, Boone was forced to defend his actions in a court-martial. He was acquitted, but his leadership role was never as strong afterwards. A different problem confronted Boone with regard to his land titles, many of which had come to him as pay for his service to Henderson's land company and thus were questionable after the Virginia legislature invalidated the Transylvania Purchase in 1777. Most of his other land claims were either improperly filed or successfully challenged by new claimants and Boone was left virtually propertyless. As a result of these difficulties, Boone relocated first to western Virginia and eventually to Missouri, where he died on September 21, 1820.

Suggested Reading

John Mack Faragher, Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer (1992).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010