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Daniel Boone and the Making of America

Meredith Mason Brown

Publication Year: 2008

The name Daniel Boone conjures up the image of an illiterate, coonskin cap-wearing patriot who settled Kentucky and killed countless Indians. The scarcity of surviving autobiographical material has allowed tellers of his story to fashion a Boone of their own liking, and his myth has evolved in countless stories, biographies, novels, poems, and paintings. In this welcome book, Meredith Mason Brown separates the real Daniel Boone from the many fables that surround him, revealing a man far more complex—and far more interesting—than his legend. Brown traces Boone's life from his Pennsylvania childhood to his experiences in the militia and his rise as an unexcelled woodsman, explorer, and backcountry leader. In the process, we meet the authentic Boone: he didn't wear coonskin caps; he read and wrote better than many frontiersmen; he was not the first to settle Kentucky; he took no pleasure in killing Indians. At once a loner and a leader, a Quaker who became a skilled frontier fighter, Boone is a study in contradictions. Devoted to his wife and children, he nevertheless embarked on long hunts that could keep him from home for two years or more. A captain in colonial Virginia's militia, Boone later fought against the British and their Indian allies in the Revolutionary War before he moved to Missouri when it was still Spanish territory and became a Spanish civil servant. Boone did indeed kill Indians during the bloody fighting for Kentucky, but he also respected Indians, became the adopted son of a Shawnee chief, and formed lasting friendships with many Shawnees who once held him captive. During Boone's lifetime (1734–1820), America evolved from a group of colonies with fewer than a million inhabitants clustered along the Atlantic Coast to an independent nation of close to ten million reaching well beyond the Mississippi River. Frontiersman is the first biography to explore Boone's crucial role in that transformation. Hundreds of thousands of settlers entered Kentucky on the road that Boone and his axemen blazed from the Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky River. Boone's leadership in the defense of Boonesborough during a sustained Indian attack in 1778 was instrumental in preventing white settlers from fleeing Kentucky during the bloody years of the Revolution. And Boone's move to Missouri in 1799 and his exploration up the Missouri River helped encourage a flood of settlers into that region. Through his colorful chronicle of Boone's experiences, Brown paints a rich portrayal of colonial and Revolutionary America, the relations between whites and Indians, the opening and settling of the Old West, and the birth of the American national identity. Supported with copious maps, illustrations, endnotes, and a detailed chronology of Boone's life, Frontiersman provides a fresh and accurate rendering of a man most people know only as a folk hero—and of the nation that has mythologized him for over two centuries.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Biography Series

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

Many of us think we know something about Daniel Boone. We grew up hearing about him or seeing someone in a movie or on TV acting the part of Boone—a cheerful, illiterate American patriot wearing a coonskin cap, who discovered Kentucky, built the first settlement there, and killed innumerable Indians. ...


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pp. xvii-xxii

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1. Old Boone

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pp. 1-2

When Daniel Boone was well into his sixties, he moved with his family from Kentucky to Missouri. The story goes that he said there were “too many people!” in Kentucky (which at the time had been a state for less than a decade and which had about 200,000 people in it).1 When Boone was in his eighties, after his wife, Rebecca, ...

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2. Quakers in Pennsylvania, Settlers in Backcountry North Carolina

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pp. 3-11

Daniel Boone was born in 1734 into a Quaker family in Pennsylvania. Although Boone’s father was expelled from his Quaker meeting when Boone was fourteen, and Daniel as an adult never went regularly to any religious services, Quaker principles surely shaped his values. ...

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3. Braddock’s Defeat: How Not to Fight Indians

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pp. 12-20

In July 1755, when Boone was twenty, he saw his first largescale military combat—not as a soldier but as a teamster. Boone drove wagons for the army of British regulars and American militia under the British general Edward Braddock that ended up being cut to pieces by French soldiers and their Indian allies ...

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4. A Good Wife

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pp. 21-27

Back on the Yadkin, Boone once again made his living as a hunter. As an old man, Boone would say that a man needed only three things to be “perfectly happy: a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.”1 Judging by his success in hunting and in the shooting competitions at Salisbury, by the time Boone turned twenty ...

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5. Long Hunts

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pp. 28-38

Boone went on long hunts for more than sixty years—from 1750, when at the age of fifteen he went on his first long hunt, until 1817, the year he turned eighty-three. He kept on hunting even as he grew older and rheumatic and his vision had deteriorated, although the hunts became shorter then, ...

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6. Boone’s First Hunts in Kentucky

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pp. 39-53

Boone did not go to hunt in Kentucky to fulfill a lifelong objective of opening up new territory for white settlement. Although his hunting and trail blazing doubtless played a key role in opening up Kentucky to white settlement, it would be after-the-fact and ideological history to think that he went into Kentucky for that purpose. ...

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7. Boone Begins to Open the Wilderness: The First Attempt to Settle Kentucky

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pp. 54-67

Upon his return to the Yadkin, Boone found that many of the settlers from North Carolina and Virginia had moved farther west, into what is now Tennessee, along the upper reaches of rivers that ran into the upper Tennessee River—the Watauga, the Holston, and the Clinch. Boone and his family may have also moved to the Watauga River. ...

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8. Transylvania, the Wilderness Road, and the Building of Boonesborough

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pp. 68-90

By late 1774 the Cherokees were the only Indian group left having colorable claims to Kentucky, though the Cherokees hunted mostly in the south of Kentucky and the Cherokee settlements were mostly in the western Carolinas and what was to become Tennessee. The Iroquois had given up their claims ...

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9. Dark and Bloody Ground: An Introduction to Kentucky during the Revolutionary War

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pp. 91-103

The Revolutionary War was a long one. The fighting with the British began in April 1775, more than a year before the Declaration of Independence. The peace treaty was not signed until September 1783, though fighting in the coastal colonies substantially ended with the defeat of Gen. Charles Cornwallis ...

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10. The Capture and Rescue of the Girls

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pp. 104-114

At the beginning of 1776 the few settlers in Kentucky faced a dire situation. Indians raiding near Boonesborough in December 1775 had killed and scalped one settler. Further raids were highly likely. Ammunition was growing “scant.”1 The British, from their fort in Detroit, were believed to be stirring up ...

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11. The Shawnees Capture Boone

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pp. 115-129

For a time after the capture and rescue of the girls, white settlers in Kentucky feared Indian attacks, but few occurred. Settlers were able to raise and harvest large crops of corn in 1776.1 The Cherokee threat in the south receded, after combined militia forces from Virginia and both Carolinas in July and August ...

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12. Boone among the Shawnees

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pp. 130-144

Boone and the salt-boilers were at the Shawnees’ mercy. According to one of the men with Boone, Joseph Jackson, the Shawnees came very close to killing all of their captives on the spot. Many of the Shawnees argued that only the blood of whites could avenge the killing of Cornstalk and the other hostages ...

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13. The Siege of Boonesborough

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pp. 145-169

Boone told the settlers at Boonesborough about the Indian forces being readied to attack their little fort. He said that “he was now come home to help his own people fight and they must make what preperration they could but the indeans would certainly be there in a few days.”1 There was much to be done ...

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14. Indian Raids and the Battle of the Blue Licks

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pp. 170-184

Lieutenant Governor “Hair Buyer” Hamilton, after being captured at Vincennes by Clark in February 1779, was led away a captive to Williamsburg, Virginia. He stayed close to his captors going through Kentucky because settlers threatened to kill him for the Indian raids he had encouraged. ...

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15. Whites and Indians

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pp. 185-199

The post-1782 raids by Indians in Kentucky and the exchanges of prisoners taken in the raids tell us much about relations between whites and Indians in frontier Kentucky—relations that were complex and far from uniform. The raids and the prisoner exchanges also illustrate how Boone dealt with the Indians. ...

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16. Trading and Land Speculation: Master of All He Surveyed?

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pp. 200-215

What Colonel Logan had told Captain Johnny and his Shawnee warriors at the Limestone parley in 1787 was right, and Boone must have known it. It was much the same as what the U.S. commissioners had told the Seneca chief Cornplanter in 1783: “You are a subdued people. . . . We shall . . . declare to you the condition ...

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17. Living Legend, Shrinking Fortune

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pp. 216-225

Boone left Maysville a badly battered man. His fortunes did not improve in the next decade, as he moved his home from place to place, generally downward economically and farther away from towns and commerce (and courts and creditors). But while his fortunes declined, his reputation grew. ...

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18. Out to Missouri

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pp. 226-237

In 1799, when Boone and his family moved there, Missouri was still part of the Spanish territory of Upper Louisiana, but Spain’s grasp on that territory was far from strong, and Spain knew it was vulnerable to attack. The whole of Upper Louisiana had few non-Indian occupants—only perhaps four thousand in 1799, ...

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19. Boone in Missouri

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pp. 238-251

Once in Missouri, Boone, as syndic, did some judging. Much more of his time was spent hunting and trapping and in the quest to perfect title to the land he thought he had been granted by the Spanish. Boone was growing older and frailer, but his reputation continued to grow across America and Europe. ...

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20. Last Days

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pp. 252-259

Tough as Boone was, he was mortal. After 1800 he must have been increasingly aware of his mortality. By 1805 three of his daughters had died. He was dealt a harder blow in 1813, when Rebecca, his wife for fifty-six years, died. For seven years Boone and Rebecca had shared a cabin on Nathan’s land, and Boone’s age ...

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21. Life after Death

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pp. 260-273

Already mythic during his life, Boone after his death not only survived but evolved in countless stories, biographies, novels, poems, and paintings. That survival and evolution continues to this day, assisted both by the magnitude and drama of what Boone did and by the scarcity of autobiographical material that survived him. ...

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22. Coda

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pp. 274-284

A cloud of myth and legend surrounds Boone. There are contemporary accounts and letters (including several from Boone himself), but many of the stories about Boone were gathered decades after he died, from very old pioneers and from the children or grandchildren of pioneers. Many of the biographies contain more folktales than facts. ...

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pp. 285-286

The notes that follow, along with the bibliographical note, demonstrate my indebtedness to the many who, starting during Boone’s lifetime, have studied and written about Daniel Boone. I am also indebted to the Kentucky Historical Society (in particular to Kenneth H. Williams for his guidance ...


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pp. 287-342

Bibliographical Note

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pp. 343-356


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pp. 357-375

E-ISBN-13: 9780807134580
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807134580

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Southern Biography Series