American Biography – Daniel Boone (1734 – 1820)

American Biography – Daniel Boone (1734 – 1820)
Daniel was born near Reading, Pennsylvania. As
a youth, he moved with his family to North
Carolina. He received little formal education,
but did learn how to read and write. Later in
life, he and his companions took turns reading
Gulliver’s Travels to each other as they
wandered the western wilderness.
He began hunting and trapping when he
was twelve. In 1755, he served as a teamster
and blacksmith during General Braddock’s
disastrous campaign against the French. The
rest of his life was spent hunting, trapping,
wandering and exploring the vast uncharted
western frontier.
By 1765, he had traveled as far south as
Florida (then under Spanish rule). Two years
later he made his first trip to Kentucky.
Although he was later credited with
“discovering” Kentucky, he was not the first
white person to visit the area. Nevertheless, he
came to know the territory better than any of his
white contemporaries and became identified with
it in the public mind.
He and several companions spent the
years between 1769-1771 hunting and trapping
across the land. Twice their furs and hides were
stolen by Amerindians. When he finally returned
to his wife and family in North Carolina, he was no wealthier than when he left.
As the eastern colonies like North Carolina became more populated, he decided
that he needed more “elbow room”. He needed to move farther west. In 1773, he led
a party composed of his own and several other families into Kentucky. As they
traveled through a northern pass between Virginia and Kentucky, called the
Cumberland Gap, they were attacked by Amerindians. The survivors refused to
continue, despite Boone’s pleas.
In 1775, Boone led a party of surveyors back into the region and helped build a
road called “The Wilderness Trail”. This road prepared the way for the establishment
of several settlements, including Boonesboro. Later that same year, he brought his
wife and daughter to the new settlement. They were the first white women in
Kentucky. Their arrival is regarded as the beginning of the first permanent colonial
settlement in the territory.
Kentucky became a county of Virginia. Daniel was appointed Lieutenant Colonel
in the Virginia militia, a delegate to the legislature, and sheriff. In 1778, he was
captured by the Shawnee. He was greatly respected by them and the Shawnee chief
adopted him as a son. Daniel was renamed Big Turtle (after the Amerindian belief
that the earth lay on the back of a big turtle; the name suggested a person of great
strength and power). Daniel escaped after a few months and is said to have traveled
almost 260 km on one meal to reach safety.
As the native people were pushed back and the British withdrew after the end of
the American Revolution, more settlers poured into the territory. By 1786, Boone
began to feel cramped again. He moved further west to present-day West Virginia.
But, because of this failure to register his extensive claims properly, he lost them.
He worked as a surveyor for a while, wandering along the Ohio River. In 1789,
he followed his son, Daniel Morgan Boone, to Missouri, which was then under Spanish
rule. The Spanish gave him a sizable land grant and he continued to hunt and trap.
By the time of his death, Daniel
was a legendary figure among his
fellow Americans. Several books had
already been written about him. One
of them inspired the English poet, Lord
Byron, to devote seven stanzas of his
epic poem “Don Juan” (Canto VIII) to
Daniel. Later, he served as the model
for the character “Leatherstocking”
who was created by James
Fennimore Cooper for books such as
Last of the Mohicans.
Even during his lifetime, Daniel
was a character of controversy. Some
Americans regarded him as little better
than a vagrant, never being able to
settle down, uncomfortable with
civilization. Others saw him as the
herald of civilization to the untamed
frontier. Daniel, during an interview
with one of his biographers, stated that
he was “a creature of Providence,
ordained by Heaven as a pioneer in the
wilderness, to advance the civilization
and the extension of his country” – or
so the biographer said!
Question for thought:
How would you describe Daniel Boone? Does your description fit into any of
today’s definitions of the “American way”? Support your thesis.