Daniel Boone – the Man, the Myth, the Legend Part One

Everyone has heard of Daniel Boone, so I’ve never written about him. I figured there wasn’t much I could tell that everyone didn’t already know about him.

Daniel Boone / Image Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

Several weeks ago, I received a message from Chad Wells, Maintenance Supervisor at Fort Boonesborough State Park, inviting us to come visit. He kindly offered us a personal tour of the grounds including some lesser known historical facts. I thought that this just might be my chance to write about Daniel Boone while maybe offering some information that everyone DIDN’T know.

Needless to say, we took Mr. Wells up on his offer last week, and I am so thrilled that we did. Not only for the benefit of this blog, but for our own personal knowledge and deeper understanding of Mr. Boone, the people who surrounded him, and the events that help create and shape Kentucky.

So, “Come and listen to my story about a man named [Boone]” … I’m sorry I couldn’t help it! It’s what came to my mind as I was writing this. Don’t tell me you didn’t sing it as you read it! (If you don’t know the reference, you can listen here.)

But seriously, my hope is to tell you of Daniel Boone and the people who surrounded him through Kentucky’s historical landmarks. (Landmarks that wouldn’t be so historical if it weren’t for Daniel Boone.) Maybe along the way I’ll provide you with some things you didn’t know about Boone or at least something you didn’t know about the time period or events.

I know, thanks to Mr. Wells, that my daughter and I came away with a more accurate and detailed look at what would become known as Fort Boonesborough.

Young Daniel Boone

Daniel was born to Squire and Sarah Morgan Boone (a Quaker family), on November 2, 1734 in Oley Township, Colonial Pennsylvania. As a young boy, he spent a lot of time alone in the forests wandering, exploring, and developing hunting skills.

After breaking from the Quakers, the Boone family moved to Colonial Virginia and then on to the Yadkin River Valley in Colonial North Carolina when Daniel was 15 years old. Daniel had no desire to become a farmer. Instead, he desired to be a long hunter, which would allow him to wander and explore as he had done as a child.

Ranging far from home for months and sometimes years at a time, these individuals [long hunters] relied on the money from the sale of deerskins collected on their hunts to support themselves and their families. 

American Battlefield Trust

Boone spent the next several years as a long hunter, spending months away from home, but in 1755, Daniel went to fight in the French and Indian War. While working as a wagoner, he met a man named John Findley who told him stories of the deer, elk, buffalo, and other wild game that could be found west of the Allegheny Mountains in a land called Kentucky. These stories stuck with Boone for years to come. (To watch a PBS film clip on “Daniel Boone at War”, click here.)

Courtship and Marriage

In 1753, during one of his return trips home, Daniel began courting Rebecca Bryan. (The Boone and Bryan families had settled near one another in the Yadkin River Valley years before and knew one another very well.) Just three years later, on August 14, 1756, Daniel and Rebecca married. Daniel was 22 and Rebecca was 17.

Now, Boone continued his hunting, even after marrying Rebecca, which took him into the Carolinas and Florida. Even with long absences from home, Daniel and Rebecca welcomed their first child into the world on May 3, 1757, and over the next 23 years, they would have 10 children together.

Daniel and Rebecca’s Children

  • James (1757-1773) – killed by Native Americans at Cumberland Gap while accompanying Daniel Boone as he tried to lead a group of settlers into Kentucky
  • Israel (1759-1782) – killed in Kentucky during the Battle of Blue Licks, one of the last skirmishes of the Revolutionary War
  • Susannah (1760-1800) – married William Hayes in 1775
  • Jemima (1762-1829) – married Flanders Callaway
  • Levina (1766-1802) – married Joseph Scholl around 1785
  • Rebecca (1768-1805) – married Philip Goe
  • Daniel Morgan (1769-1839) – married Sarah Griffin Lewis in 1800
  • Jesse Bryan (1773-1820) – married Chloe Van Bibber
  • William (1775-1775) – died in infancy
  • Nathan (1781-1856) – married Olive Van Bibber in 1799
Source: Historic Missourians

Through the Cumberland Gap

In early 1769, John Findley returned to the Boone family cabin in the Yadkin River Valley in hopes of persuading Daniel to join him in an exploration over the Allegheny Mountains. Having remembered the stories of Kentucky from years before, Boone likely didn’t need much persuasion.

It was also found that John Findley wanted to return there [to Kentucky] for more trading, but he wanted to travel overland with saddle and packhorses to avoid that difficult and dangerous trip on the Ohio with an overloaded canoe. He was not a woodsman, and he needed a skillful woodsman who could guide him to Kentucky and who was experienced in the ways of the wilderness and with hostile Indians. His old Army friend, Daniel Boone, just happened to meet all of these requirements.

National Park Service

Once again, Daniel left home and made his first historic trip to the Cumberland Gap with Findley, his brother-in-law John Stuart, and three other men.

In early June, Boone’s party reached the region where John Findley had previously traded at the Shawnee town Eskippakithiki. The explorers walked up a promontory and from there on June 7, 1769, first saw the beautiful expanse of the bluegrass region of Kentucky stretching before them.

Becoming America 250

Daniel spent the next two years exploring the wilderness of Kentucky, reaching as far as the Falls of the Ohio River. He did not return home until May of 1771.

British Rule, White Settlers, and the Native Americans

Now, you may be wondering when we’ll get around to discussing Fort Boonesborough. We’re really close, so stay with me as we turn our attention away from Boone for a moment and instead we’ll take a look at the events surrounding Kentucky at this time in history.

Just for a moment, we’re going to jump back a few years on our timeline to 1763. At this time, we were still under the rule of the British king, King George III and the British had just finished with the French and Indian War. Not wanting to stir up another war with the Native American tribes, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The proclamation reserved the land west of the Appalachian Mountains for the Native American tribes and was to prevent white settlers from crossing onto those lands – the western-most edge of Colonial Virginia.

The problem was that white settlers were already on those prohibited lands and there wasn’t much the King could do to stop the continued settlement. Backcountry hunters, including Boone, were increasing their efforts to commercially harvest game animals on those Kentucky lands. So, “by 1774, an estimated forty thousand white settlers were illegally living in the prohibited land,” (O’Malley, Unearthered: Boonesborough, pg 2).

Many of those white settlers were land surveyors and pioneers that would go on to become historically famous including but not limited to: John Floyd, Capt. Thomas Bullitt, Hancock Taylor, and James Harrod.

Now, as can be expected, the Cherokee and Shawnee tribes of the area did not willingly accept the settlers on their land. Many conflicts and gruesome attacks took place between the Native Americans and the pioneers/settlers of the time.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a growing number of white settlers arriving in Kentucky on the Wilderness Road clashed with Indigenous people over land. Hoping to push settlers out of Kentucky, Native American warriors from the Shawnee, Hurons, Shawnee, Wyandot, Mingo and other tribes fought against the colonists alongside their British trading partners in the Revolutionary War.


The Transylvania Company

Watching these events develop and transpire from a distance was a man by the name of Judge Richard Henderson of Colonial North Carolina. Henderson was hatching a plan to form a new colony in Kentucky but would need the help of collaborators to pull it off.

He needed to persuade family and friends, who had both money and connections, to partner with him. In 1774, Henderson, along with Thomas Hart, and John Williams organized the Louisa Company. The company’s sole purpose was to purchase Kentucky land from the Cherokee.

In 1775, the company grew to nine members when David Hart (Thomas and Nathaniel Hart‘s brother), Leonard Henley Bullock, James Hogg, John Luttrell (Nathaniel Hart’s nephew by marriage), and William Johnston became partners. The company was then renamed to the Transylvania Company.

In the early Spring of 1775, Richard Henderson and Daniel Boone negotiated and persuaded the Cherokee to sell an estimated 16 million acres of land in Kentucky and 1.6 million acres in present-day Tennessee. On March 17, 1775, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals (on the Watauga River) was signed between the Transylvania Company and the Cherokee.

The Map of the Purchased Lands / Image Credit: O’Malley, Unearthed, pg. 10

Once the treaty was signed, the Transylvania Company hired Boone to gather a crew of men that would cut a road through the Cumberland Gap to the spot where the company planned to establish the capital of the new colony. The new colony that they intended to name Transylvania.

Although this agreement with the Transylvania Land Company violated British law [and the law of the Virginia General Assembly], it nevertheless became the basis for the white takeover of that area.

Daniel Boone and early settlers coming through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky / Painting by David Wright / Image Credit: National Park Service

Boone’s Trace

Boone, once again leaving his family behind, gathered his company of 30 “axe men” and set off to blaze a 200 mile trail through the Gap and into Kentucky. (Kentucky was still a part of Fincastle County of Colonial Virginia.) Largely following the path of buffalo herds and Native American trails, Boone and his team cut a walking path barely wide enough to pass a horse through it. This path ended at what would become Fort Boonesborogh and became known as Boone’s Trace or Boone’s Path.

Wilderness Road; more than Boone’s Path

“As more settlers followed Boone Trace into Kentucky, it developed various branches off the main route to diverse frontier stations and settlements. One branch forked from Boone Trace in present-day Laurel County and followed Skagg’s Trace northwest toward Crab Orchard. That route was eventually extended to the settlement at Harrodsburg, and then to the falls of the Ohio River (present-day Louisville.)”

“Originally, Boone Trace was little more than a walking path, not large enough for wagon travel. The Wilderness Road, which developed from Boone Trace, was widened and improved in the 1790s.”

“Today, only a few original sections of the Wilderness Road survive.”

– Explore KY History.org

Ft. Boonesborough

Boone’s group arrived at the spot along the Kentucky River on April 1, 1775, and Henderson’s party arrived a few days later on April 20th. Upon arrival, Henderson made a plan for the location of the fort. Looking at the mountainous terrain, he chose to build on the lower terrace of the mountain, closer to the river for transportation purposes, but not in the “hollow” which he believed could easily flood. A layout was then designed and construction began. Very soon, Henderson began using the term Fort Boone to refer to the construction that was to become the capital of his new colony.

The party of travelers that left Watauga that morning, for its destination on the Kentucky River some 250 miles distant, was equipped for the permanent occupation of a frontier settlement. In addition to Judge Richard Henderson and 40 mounted riflemen armed and equipped for frontier travel, the party included 40 pack horses, a herd of cattle, several Negro slaves and a train of heavily loaded wagons. Packed securely on these wagons were the many items essential for frontier living, such as powder, bar lead, flints, tools, materials for making gunpowder, garden seed, seed corn, food items and personal effects.

In addition to Judge Henderson other members of the Transylvania Company traveling with the party were Colonel Thomas Hart, Captain Nathaniel Hart and Captain John Luttrell. In addition, the group included Samuel Henderson, brother of Richard Henderson, and Captain William Cocke of Amelia County, Virginia. Another Virginian, William Baily Smith, who had served as a major in the Virginia Militia before moving to North Carolina, had joined the party for travel to Kentucky where he hoped to work as a surveyor. All of these individuals were destined to play important parts in the establishment of the Kentucky settlements.

A History of the Daniel Boone National Forest

Henderson’s design included four block houses creating the corners of a rectangular shape. Gates were to be constructed on the two longer sides, with cabins filling the four sides. Stockade, “a line of tall posts that are set in the ground and used as a barrier to protect or defend a place” (Encyclopedia Britannica), was used to fill the gaps between the cabins and block houses.

It was not until many months later that the fort would actually be completed, but enough progress had been made on cabins, crops, and other improvements that the group felt it possible to make trips back home to retrieve family members. So, in mid-June of 1775, Boone left Fort Boonesborough and made his way back to his home in Colonial North Carolina to collect his family. He planned to return to the fort as soon as possible.

Transylvania Colony Fails

With the War of Independence in full swing (the war had begun on April 19, 1775), delegates were now being sent to Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia, for the Virginia Convention.

Settlers in Harrodsburg, which established in 1774, were frustrated with their distance from Williamsburg and felt the need to be better represented. John Gabriel “Jack” Jones and George Rogers Clark, elected representatives of Harrodsburg, left for Williamsburg in July, 1776. They hoped to address the need for better representation, speak against the Transylvania land claims, and inquire about the “legality of land purchases from Native Americans” (O’Malley, Unearthed, pg. 23), as the settlers of Harrodsburg also had issue with the rising land prices set by the Transylvania Company.

With the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in August of 1776, a new Virginia Legislature was organized. In the very first session, the Virginia Legislature passed an act creating Kentucky County out of Fincastle County. The new county, included the Transylvania territory. This act effectively cancelled the company’s land purchase making it null and void. Thus ending the chance for a 14th colony called Transylvania.

Photo Credit: Explore KY History

“… the proprietors succeeded in one respect. Fort Boonesborough, established just a few days before the shots rang out that started the Revolutionary War, was positioned as a place of sanctuary for Kentucky settlers and became a critically important point of defense on the western war front.”

—Nancy O’Malley, Unearthed

Our Visit

We always try to grab a selfie to remember our trips!

As you can see there is so much to tell about Boone and the beginnings of our fine state. We are by no means finished with his story. The next post will cover Boone and his role in the Revolutionary War along with the events that took place at Fort Boonesborough. We may even need to write a 3rd post to cover his story after the war, and another post to cover what happened to Fort Boonesborough once the war was over. There is just so much to cover in this time period and this location.

If it were not for our visit with Mr. Wells at Fort Boonesborough State Park, we certainly would not have as much to cover. I say this because we had visited Fort Boonesborough many years ago, when my daughter was probably three years old. We went straight to the fort, completed the tour, and went on our way. I would have done the same thing again, if we were not scheduled to meet Mr. Wells for a tour.

I was quite surprised when we met with him further down the hill, passing the fort entrance. Mr. Wells directed us to the memorial set up by the DAR and proceeded to tell us that the area closest to the river was the actual location of the fort. He discussed with us exactly where it stood, how large it had been, and the area of land that it covered. I was truly in shock. While I knew that the physical fort, further up the hill, was a replica, I believed it was built on the original site. So to hear this was the actually location simply surprised me. Now, I don’t know if this information wasn’t told to us all those years ago when we first visited the fort replica, or if I simply wasn’t paying enough attention. I mean I was chasing a 3 year old around the fort, but I was truly shocked that I had no idea that the low lands even existed!

Mr. Wells showed us the many signs that have been placed throughout the acreage that would have been Fort Boonesborough in 1765. He also informed us of the archeological dig completed by the University of Kentucky, which led to our purchase of O’Malley’s book Unearthed; Boonesborough. He also shared with us that the road currently running through the low lands section of the park is a part of the original Boone’s Trace. He told us the stories of Boone’s and Calloway’s daughters along with other stories that occurred on the property during the Revolutionary War. (All of which I will include in our next post!) Lastly, Mr. Wells took the time to tell of what happened with the fort and the property after it was no longer needed as a safe place for the pioneers, showing us other historically significant places within the low lands of the park. That too will be included in my upcoming blog posts. Like I said, there’s just too much history to include in one post. Isn’t this one long enough already???

Reflection & Conclusion

We finally bid our farewells to Mr. Wells and thanked him for his time and wealth of knowledge, and headed down the road to a few other locations within the park to take photos. I’ll tell you more about that next time. Then we headed back up the mountain to the fort replica. I wanted to purchase the book Mr. Wells has suggested and I thought we might as well tour the fort while there. My daughter disagreed. Her rationalization, there was simply nothing truly historical within the fort replica, we had already stood on the grounds of where Daniel Boone and all the pioneers had once stood and roamed. I understood her point of view and having visited Ft. Harrod numerous times, we both knew what a fort looked like on the inside and how it was laid out. There truly was no reason to tour it again.

(Don’t get me wrong! If this was the first experience we had had with a fort, we absolutely would have toured. If you have never seen a fort, reproduction or otherwise, you really do need to put it on your list. It does help you to picture what life was like within the walls and on the frontier. I also believe the reproduction is very valuable. It educates our children on where we came from and the dedication, strength, and courage it took for the pioneers and settlers to cross those mountains and to stay. It’s an extremely important part of our history!)

So, off we went headed back toward home, talking about the things we had learned from our trip:

  • 1. I was completely unaware of the original location of the fort.
  • 2. I foolishly thought there were no slaves on the frontier. Men, like Henderson, who did have money brought their slaves with them to the frontier.
  • 3. I was clueless that Boone had been hired by the Transylvania Company and thought he had put this together himself. (Thanks again to Mr. Wells for his wealth of knowledge!)

Now knowing all of this and thinking about where I wanted to take this Daniel Boone series, we couldn’t go straight home just yet. We had to make one more stop, a stop in Frankfort, where we would grab a very late lunch and visit Daniel Boone one more time.

Curious? Then stay tuned for our next blog post where I will wrap up the story of Daniel Boone and the fort named after him.

Until then… Happy Travels!

4 thoughts on “Daniel Boone – the Man, the Myth, the Legend Part One

  1. Thank you for your most interesting blog! I live in Northern KY,have visited the fort on several occasions and never once realized it was actually a replica! Thank you for Mr. Wells for this most informative information. Please let me know when the second blog has been published! I so look forward to reading more! Blessings to you and your family!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so happy that you have enjoyed this post. You can sign up for our email list to receive notifications directly in your inbox when posts are published! 💚

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