PIONEER OF KENTUCKY.
BY JOHN S. C. ABBOTT.
Published in 1872
All of the following text is a quote from Abbott’s book Daniel Boone, Pioneer of Kentucky.
On the 10th of October, 1717, a vessel containing a number of emigrants arrived at Philadelphia, a small but flourishing settlement upon the banks of the Delaware. Among the passengers there was a man named George Boone, with his wife and eleven children, nine sons and two daughters. He had come from Exeter, England, and was lured to the New World by the cheapness of land. He had sufficient property to enable him to furnish all his sons with ample farms in America. The Delaware, above [Pg 38]Philadelphia, was at that time a silent stream, flowing sublimely through the almost unbroken forest. Here and there, a bold settler had felled the trees, and in the clearing had reared his log hut, upon the river banks. Occasionally the birch canoe of an Indian hunter was seen passing rapidly from cove to cove, and occasionally a little cluster of Indian wigwams graced some picturesque and sunny exposure, for the Indians manifested much taste in the location of their villages.
George Boone ascended this solitary river about twenty miles above Philadelphia, where he purchased upon its banks an extensive territory, consisting of several hundred acres. It was near the present city of Bristol, in what is now called Buck’s County. To this tract, sufficiently large for a township, he gave the name of Exeter, in memory of the home he had left in England. Here, aided by the strong arms of his boys, he reared a commodious log cabin. It must have been an attractive and a happy home. The climate was delightful, the soil fertile, supplying him, with but little culture, with an ample supply of corn, and the most nutritious vegetables. Before his door rolled the broad expanse of the Delaware, abounding with fish of delicious flavor. His boys with hook and line could at any time, in a few moments, supply the table with a nice repast. With the unerring rifle, [Pg 39]they could always procure game in great variety and abundance.
The Indians, won by the humanity of William Penn, were friendly, and their occasional visits to the cabin contributed to the enjoyment of its inmates. On the whole a more favored lot in life could not well be imagined. There was unquestionably far more happiness in this log cabin of the settler, on the silent waters of the Delaware, than could be found in any of the castles or palaces of England, France, or Spain.
George Boone had one son on whom he conferred the singular name of Squire. His son married a young woman in the neighborhood by the name of Sarah Morgan, and surrounded by his brothers and sisters, he raised his humble home in the beautiful township which his father had purchased. Before leaving England the family, religiously inclined, had accepted the Episcopal form of Christian worship. But in the New World, far removed from the institutions of the Gospel, and allured by the noble character and influence of William Penn, they enrolled themselves in the Society of Friends. [Quakers] In the record of the monthly meetings of this society, we find it stated that George Boone was received to its communion on the thirty-first day of tenth month, in the year 1717. It is also recorded that his son Squire Boone was married to Sarah Morgan, on the twenty-third day of seventh [Pg 40]month, 1720. The records of the meetings also show the number of their children, and the periods of their birth.
By this it appears that their son Daniel, the subject of this memoir, was born on the twenty-second day of eighth month, 1734. It seems that Squire Boone became involved in difficulties with the Society of Friends, for allowing one of his sons to marry out of meeting. He was therefore disowned, and perhaps on this account, he subsequently removed his residence to North Carolina, as we shall hereafter show. His son Daniel, from earliest childhood, developed a peculiar and remarkably interesting character. He was silent, thoughtful, of pensive temperament, yet far from gloomy, never elated, never depressed. He exhibited from his earliest years such an insensibility to danger, as to attract the attention of all who knew him. Though affectionate and genial in disposition, never morose or moody, he still loved solitude, and seemed never so happy as when entirely alone. His father remained in his home upon the Delaware until Daniel was about ten years of age.
Daniel Boone As A Child
Various stories are related of his adventures in these his early years, which may or may not be entirely authentic. It makes but little difference. These anecdotes if only founded on facts, show at least the estimation in which he was regarded, and the impression [Pg 41]which his character produced in these days of childhood. Before he was ten years old he would take his rifle and plunge boldly into the depths of the illimitable forest. He seemed, by instinct, possessed of the skill of the most experienced hunter, so that he never became bewildered, or in danger of being lost. There were panthers, bears and wolves in those forests, but of them he seemed not to have the slightest fear. His skill as a marksman became quite unerring. Not only raccoons, squirrels, partridges and other such small game were the result of his hunting expeditions, but occasionally even the fierce panther fell before his rifle ball. From such frequent expeditions he would return silent and tranquil, with never a word of boasting in view of exploits of which a veteran hunter might be proud.
Indeed his love of solitude was so great, that he reared for himself a little cabin in the wilderness, three miles back from the settlement. Here he would go all alone without even a dog for companion, his trusty rifle his only protection. At his camp-fire, on the point of his ramrod, he would cook the game which he obtained in abundance, and upon his bed of leaves would sleep in sweetest enjoyment, lulled by the wind through the tree-tops, and by the cry of the night bird and of the wild beasts roaming around. In subsequent life, he occasionally spoke of these hours as seasons of unspeakable joy.
[Pg 42]The education of young Boone was necessarily very defective. There were no schools then established in those remote districts of log cabins. But it so happened that an Irishman of some little education strolled into that neighborhood, and Squire Boone engaged him to teach, for a few months, his children and those of some others of the adjacent settlers. These hardy emigrants met with their axes in a central point in the wilderness, and in a few hours constructed a rude hut of logs for a school-house. Here young Boone was taught to read, and perhaps to write. This was about all the education he ever received. Probably the confinement of the school-room was to him unendurable. The forest was his congenial home, hunting the business of his life.
Though thus uninstructed in the learning of books, there were other parts of practical education, of infinitely more importance to him, in which he became an adept. His native strength of mind, keen habits of observation, and imperturbable tranquility under whatever perils or reverses, gave him skill in the life upon which he was to enter, which the teachings of books alone could not confer. No marksman could surpass him in the dexterity with which with his bullet he would strike the head of a nail, at the distance of many yards. No Indian hunter or warrior could with more sagacity trace his steps through the pathless [Pg 43]forest, detect the footsteps of a retreating foe, or search out the hiding place of the panther or the bear. In these hunting excursions the youthful frame of Daniel became inured to privation, hardship, endurance. Taught to rely upon his own resources, he knew not what it was to be lonely, for an hour. In the darkest night and in the remotest wilderness, when the storm raged most fiercely, although but a child he felt peaceful, happy, and entirely at home.
Holman’s Ford on Yadkin River
About the year 1748 (the date is somewhat uncertain), Squire Boone, with his family, emigrated seven hundred miles farther south and west to a place called Holman’s Ford on the Yadkin river, in North Carolina. The Yadkin is a small stream in the north-west part of the State. A hundred years ago this was indeed a howling wilderness. It is difficult to imagine what could have induced the father of a family to abandon the comparatively safe and prosperous settlements on the banks of the Delaware, to plunge into the wilderness of these pathless solitudes, several hundred miles from the Atlantic coast. Daniel was then about sixteen years of age.
Of the incidents of their long journey through the wood—on foot, with possibly a few pack horses, for there were no wagon-roads whatever—we have no record. The journey must probably have occupied several weeks, occasionally cheered by sunshine, and [Pg 44]again drenched by storms. There were nine children in the family. At the close of the weary pilgrimage of a day, through such narrow trails as that which the Indian or the buffalo had made through the forest, or over the prairies, they were compelled to build a cabin at night, with logs and the bark of trees to shelter them from the wind and rain, and at the camp-fire to cook the game which they had shot during the day. We can imagine that this journey must have been a season of unspeakable delight to Daniel Boone. Alike at home with the rifle and the hatchet, never for a moment bewildered, or losing his self-possession, he could, even unaided, at any hour, rear a sheltering hut for his mother and his sisters, before which the camp-fire would blaze cheerily, and their hunger would be appeased by the choicest viands from the game which his rifle had procured.
The spirit of adventure is so strong in most human hearts which luxurious indulgence has not enervated, that it is not improbable that this family enjoyed far more in this romantic excursion through an unexplored wilderness, than those now enjoy who in a few hours traverse the same distance in the smooth rolling rail-cars. Indeed fancy can paint many scenes of picturesque beauty which we know that the reality must have surpassed.
It is the close of a lovely day. A gentle breeze [Pg 45]sweeps through the tree-tops from the north-west. The trail through the day has led along the banks of a crystal mountain stream, sparkling with trout. The path is smooth for the moccasined feet. The limbs, inured to action, experienced no weariness. The axes of the father and the sons speedily construct a camp, open to the south and perfectly sheltered on the roof and on the sides by the bark of trees. The busy fingers of the daughters have in the meantime spread over the floor a soft and fragrant carpet of evergreen twigs. The mother is preparing supper, of trout from the stream, and the fattest of wild turkeys or partridges, or tender cuts of venison, which the rifles of her husband or sons have procured. Voracious appetites render the repast far more palatable than the choicest viands which were ever spread in the banqueting halls of Versailles or Windsor. Water-fowl of gorgeous plumage sport in the stream, unintimidated by the approach of man. The plaintive songs of forest-birds float in the evening air. On the opposite side of the stream, herds of deer and buffalo crop the rich herbage of the prairie, which extends far away, till it is lost in the horizon of the south. Daniel retires from the converse of the cabin to an adjoining eminence, where silently and rapturously he gazes upon the scene of loveliness spread out before him.
Such incidents must often have occurred. Even in the dark and tempestuous night, with the storm surging through the tree tops, and the rain descending in floods, in their sheltered camp, illumined by the flames of their night fire, souls capable of appreciating the sublimity of such scenes must have experienced exquisite delight. It is pleasant to reflect, that the poor man in his humble cabin may often be the recipient of much more happiness than the lord finds in his castle, or the king in his palace.
No details are given respecting the arrival of this family on the banks of the Yadkin, or of their habits of life while there. We simply know that they were far away in the untrodden wilderness, in the remotest frontiers of civilization. Bands of Indians were roving around them, but even if hostile, so long as they had only bows and arrows, the settler in his log-hut, which was a fortress, and with his death-dealing rifle, was comparatively safe.
Here the family dwelt for several years, probably in the enjoyment of abundance, and with ever-increasing comforts. The virgin soil, even poorly tilled, furnished them with the corn and the vegetables they required, while the forests supplied the table with game. Thus the family, occupying the double position of the farmer and the hunter, lived in the enjoyment of all the luxuries which both of those [Pg 47]callings could afford. Here Daniel Boone grew up to manhood. His love of solitude and of nature led him on long hunting excursions, from which he often returned laden with furs. The silence of the wilderness he brought back with him to his home. And though his placid features ever bore a smile, he had but few words to interchange with neighbors or friends. He was a man of affectionate, but not of passionate nature. It would seem that other emigrants were lured to the banks of the Yadkin, for here, after a few years, young Boone fell in love with the daughter of his father’s neighbor, and that daughter, Rebecca Bryan, became his bride. He thus left his father’s home, and, with his axe, speedily erected for himself and wife a cabin, we may presume at some distance from sight or sound of any other house. There “from noise and tumult far,” Daniel Boone established himself in the life of solitude, to which he was accustomed and which he enjoyed. It appears that his marriage took place about the year 1755. The tide of emigration was still flowing in an uninterrupted stream towards the west. The population was increasing throughout this remote region, and the axe of the settler began to be heard on the streams tributary to the Yadkin.
Daniel Boone became restless. He loved the wilderness and its solitude, and was annoyed by the [Pg 48]approach of human habitations, bringing to him customs with which he was unacquainted, and exposing him to embarrassments from which he would gladly escape. The mode of life practiced by those early settlers in the wilderness is well known.
Typical Frontier Cabin
The log-house usually consisted of but one room, with a fire-place of stones at the end. These houses were often very warm and comfortable, presenting in the interior, with a bright fire blazing on the hearth, a very cheerful aspect. Their construction was usually as follows: Straight, smooth logs about a foot in diameter, cut of the proper length, and so notched at the ends as to be held very firmly together, were thus placed one above the other to the height of about ten feet. The interstices were filled with clay, which soon hardened, rendering the walls comparatively smooth, and alike impervious to wind or rain. Other logs of straight fiber were split into clap-boards, one or two inches in thickness, with which they covered the roof. If suitable wood for this purpose could not be found, the bark of trees was used, with an occasional thatching of the long grass of the prairies. Logs about eighteen inches in diameter were selected for the floor. These were easily split in halves, and with the convex side buried in the earth, and the smooth surface uppermost joined closely together by a slight trimming with axe or adze, presented a very firm and even attractive surface for the feet.
In the centre of the room, four augur holes were bored in the logs, about three inches in diameter. Stakes were driven firmly into these holes, upon which were placed two pieces of timber, with the upper surfaces hewn smooth, thus constructing a table. In one corner of the cabin, four stakes were driven in a similar way, about eighteen inches high, with forked tops. Upon these two saplings were laid with smooth pieces of bark stretched across. These were covered with grass or dried leaves, upon which was placed, with the fur upwards, the well-tanned skin of the buffalo or the bear. Thus quite a luxurious bed was constructed, upon which there was often enjoyed as sweet sleep as perhaps is ever found on beds of down. In another corner, some rude shelves were placed, upon which appeared a few articles of tin and ironware. Upon some buck horns over the door was always placed the rifle, ever loaded and ready for use.
A very intelligent emigrant, Dr. Doddridge, gives the following graphic account of his experience in such a log-cabin as we have described, in the remote wilderness. When he was but a child, his father, with a small family, had penetrated these trackless wilds, and in the midst of their sublime solitudes had reared his lonely cabin. He writes:
“My father’s family was small and he took us all with him. The Indian meal which he brought was [Pg 50]expended six weeks too soon, so that for that length of time we had to live without bread. The lean venison and the breast of wild turkeys, we were taught to call bread. I remember how narrowly we children watched the growth of the potato tops, pumpkin, and squash vines, hoping from day to day to get something to answer in the place of bread. How delicious was the taste of the young potatoes, when we got them! What a jubilee when we were permitted to pull the young corn for roasting ears! Still more so when it had acquired sufficient hardness to be made into johnny cake by the aid of a tin grater. The furniture of the table consisted of a few pewter dishes, plates and spoons, but mostly of wooden bowls and trenchers and noggins. If these last were scarce, gourds and hard shell squashes made up the deficiency.
“I well remember the first time I ever saw a tea cup and saucer. My mother died when I was six or seven years of age. My father then sent me to Maryland to go to school. At Bedford, the tavern at which my uncle put up was a stone house, and to make the changes still more complete, it was plastered on the inside both as to the walls and ceiling. On going into the dining-room, I was struck with astonishment at the appearance of the house. I had no idea that there was any house in the world that was not built of logs. But here I looked around and [Pg 51]could see no logs, and above I could see no joists. Whether such a thing had been made by the hands of man, or had grown so of itself, I could not conjecture. I had not the courage to inquire anything about it. When supper came on, my confusion was worse confounded: A little cup stood in a bigger one with some brownish-looking stuff in it, which was neither milk, hominy, nor broth. What to do with these little cups, and the spoons belonging to them, I could not tell. But I was afraid to ask anything concerning the use of them.” Dr. Doddridge
Daniel Boone could see from the door of his cabin, far away in the west, the majestic ridge of the Alleghany mountains, many of the peaks rising six thousand feet into the clouds. This almost impassable wall, which nature had reared, extended for hundreds of leagues, along the Atlantic coast, parallel with that coast, and at an average distance of one hundred and thirty miles from the ocean. It divides the waters which flow into the Atlantic, from those which run into the Mississippi. The great chain consists of many spurs, from fifty to two hundred miles in breadth, and receives in different localities, different names, such as the Cumberland mountains, the Blue Ridge, etc.
But few white men had ever as yet ascended these summits, to cast a glance at the vast wilderness beyond. The wildest stories were told around the [Pg 52]cabin fires, of these unexplored realms,—of the Indian tribes wandering there; of the forests filled with game; of the rivers alive with fishes; of the fertile plains, the floral beauty, the abounding fruit, and the almost celestial clime. These stories were brought to the settlers in the broken language of the Indians, and in the exaggerated tales of hunters, who professed that in the chase they had, from some Pisgah’s summit, gazed upon the splendors of this Canaan of the New World.
Thus far, the settlers had rested contented with the sea-board region east of the Alleghanies. They had made no attempt to climb the summits of this great barrier, or to penetrate its gloomy defiles. A dense forest covered alike the mountain cliff and the rocky gorge. Indeed there were but few points at which even the foot of the hunter could pass this chain.
While Daniel Boone was residing in the congenial solitude of his hut, on the banks of the Yadkin; with the grandeur of the wilderness around him in which his soul delighted; with his table luxuriously spread according to his tastes—with venison, bear’s meat, fat turkeys, chickens from the prairie, and vegetables from his garden; with comfortable clothing of deerskin, and such cloths as pedlars occasionally brought to his cabin door in exchange for furs, he was quite [Pg 53]annoyed by the arrival of a number of Scotch families in his region, bringing with them customs and fashions which to Daniel Boone were very annoying. They began to cut down the glorious old forest, to break up the green sward of the prairies, to rear more ambitious houses than the humble home of the pioneer; they assumed airs of superiority, introduced more artificial styles of living, and brought in the hitherto unknown vexation of taxes.
One can easily imagine how restive such a man as Boone must have been under such innovations. The sheriff made his appearance in the lonely hut; the collection of the taxes was enforced by suits at law. Even Daniel Boone’s title to his lands was called in question; some of the new comers claiming that their more legal grants lapped over upon the boundaries which Boone claimed. Under these circumstances our pioneer became very anxious to escape from these vexations by an emigration farther into the wilderness. Day after day he cast wistful glances upon the vast mountain barrier piercing the clouds in the distant horizon. Beyond that barrier, neither the sheriff nor the tax-gatherer were to be encountered. His soul, naturally incapable of fear, experienced no dread in apprehension of Indian hostilities, or the ferocity of wild beasts. Even the idea of the journey through these sublime solitudes of an unexplored region, was [Pg 54]far more attractive to him than the tour of Europe to a sated millionaire.
Two or three horses would convey upon their backs all their household goods. There were Indian trails and streets, so called, made by the buffaloes, as in large numbers they had followed each other, selecting by a wonderful instinct their path from one feeding ground to another, through cane-brakes, around morasses, and over mountains through the most accessible defiles. Along these trails or streets, Boone could take his peaceful route without any danger of mistaking his way. Every mile would be opening to him new scenes of grandeur and beauty. Should night come, or a storm set in, a few hours’ labor with his axe would rear for him not only a comfortable, but a cheerful tent with its warm and sheltered interior, with the camp-fire crackling and blazing before it. His wife and his children not only afforded him all the society his peculiar nature craved, but each one was a helper, knowing exactly what to do in this picnic excursion through the wilderness. Wherever he might stop for the night or for a few days, his unerring rifle procured for him viands which might tempt the appetite of the epicure. There are many even in civilized life who will confess, that for them, such an excursion would present attractions such as are not to be found in the banqueting halls at [Pg 55]Windsor Castle, or in the gorgeous saloons of Versailles.
Daniel Boone, in imagination, was incessantly visiting the land beyond the mountains, and longing to explore its mysteries. Whether he would find the ocean there or an expanse of lakes and majestic rivers, or boundless prairies, or the unbroken forest, he knew not. Whether the region were crowded with Indians, and if so, whether they would be found friendly or hostile, and whether game roamed there in greater variety and in larger abundance than on the Atlantic side of the great barrier, were questions as yet all unsolved. But these questions Daniel Boone pondered in silence, night and day.” Abbott, John S. Daniel Boone The Pioneer of Kentucky