Daniel Boone was a hunter, fur trapper and trailblazing American frontiersman whose name is synonymous with the exploration and settlement of Kentucky. Crossing the Appalachian Mountains and traveling through the Cumberland Gap, Boone helped carve the Wilderness Road from Virginia to Kentucky and established the Boonesboro settlement. He fought in the French and Indian War and escaped the wrath of Native Americans many times over. Boone became a living legend, thanks in large part to writer John Filson, who mythologized his adventures in the American frontier.

Daniel Boone’s Early Life

Daniel Boone was born into a large Quaker family on November 2, 1734 in Berks County, Pennsylvania. His parents, Squire and Sarah, had 11 children in total, with Boone being the sixth.

Boone had no formal education, but he learned how to read and write on a rudimentary level. Fascinated with the outdoors, he spent most of his youth hunting in the wilderness near his home, becoming an impressive marksman by age 13.

The Boone family moved to North Carolina around 1750 and settled in the northwestern region along the Yadkin River. Because skirmishes would break out regularly between the white settlers and the Native Americans who didn’t want their land encroached upon, Boone joined a militia to help protect the settlements.

The French and Indian War

Siding with the British who were fighting with the French for territory, Boone joined the French and Indian War as a wagoner.

While in British General Edward Braddock’s campaign to attack the French fortification Fort Duquesne, Boone met trader John Findley who first told him of Native American land called “Kentucke” – a place teeming with wildlife.

After his involvement in the French and Indian War, Boone found his way back home to North Carolina, while never forgetting Findley’s tales of Kentucke.

Daniel Boone’s Children

In 1756 Boone married Rebecca Bryan. Like his parents before him, Boone had 10 children with his wife.

He was often away from his family, however, on remote wilderness hunting trips – some were solitary adventures – that would occasionally last for months.

One of his six sons, James Boone, would be killed at the hands of the Cherokees. Another son, Israel, was killed at the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, one of the last skirmishes of the Revolutionary War (Boone was also at the battle and saw his son die).

Wilderness Road

Boone never forgot his conversation with Findley. In fact, he first journeyed to Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap on a small hunting excursion in 1767.

However, it was his 1769-1771 expedition there with Findley that was more memorable since he gained a much deeper knowledge of the region’s wilderness and terrain.

In 1775 Boone was hired to take a group of men to carve a path to Kentucky, which became known as Wilderness Road. Once Boone and his men reached the Kentucky River, they built the Boonesboro settlement, and the frontiersman brought his family to live with him there.

Angry at the white settlers living off their land, many Native Americans attacked Boonesboro and neighboring settlements. In 1776 one of Boone’s daughters, Jemima, was captured by the Cherokee and Shawnee, but luckily for Boone, he was able to retrieve her safely two days later.

As a militia leader, Boone spent the ensuing years successfully defending multiple white settlements in Kentucky. He ended up being captured by the Shawnee in 1778 but escaped months later.

Land Speculator and Slave Owner

Although he was famous as a militia leader, hunter and surveyor, Boone was not adept in business. By most reports he was an aggressive land speculator who often went heavily into debt to acquire property.

Because he wasn’t a skilled negotiator – his ability to read legal documents was marginal at best – and after numerous lawsuits and losses (including a warrant for his arrest), Boone lost all of his land in Kentucky by 1798.

Boone was also a slave owner, who at one point in his life owned as many as seven slaves.

Daniel Boone’s Final Years

After losing his property titles in Kentucky and faced with ongoing legal problems, Boone moved his family in 1799 to Missouri, which at the time was territory claimed by Spain.

He was a respected leader in his new community and in 1807 was appointed a justice of Femme Osage township by Meriwether Lewis, famed leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition who at the time was serving as governor of the region.

At the age of 78, Boone volunteered for the War of 1812 but was denied admission into the armed forces. In 1817, the lifelong outdoorsman went on his final long hunt into his beloved wilderness.

Boone died at his son Nathan Boone’s home at age 86 on September 26, 1820, near Defiance, Missouri. Nathan Boone’s home was later made into a historical site.

Legacy of Daniel Boone

Boone’s intrepid exploration as a frontiersman was the stuff of legends, though many of the stories involving Boone’s exploits are exaggerations or outright fabrications.

Author John Filson helped make Boone a living legend at age 50, when the former published The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, which included an appendix entitled “The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon [sic].”

Americans and Europeans alike devoured romantic tales by Filson and other authors about Boone traversing dangerous wilderness, fending off attacks by wild animals and savages while pushing forth to unknown land, despite the fanciful nature of these stories.

Sources

Daniel Boone. The State Historical Society of Missouri.

Who Was Daniel Boone? Daniel Boone Homestead.

Daniel Boone. The Reader’s Companion to American History.

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