Daniel Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now Kentucky, which was then part of Virginia but on the other side of the mountains from the settled areas. He is known as one of the first American folk heroes, but was also an American pioneer, explorer, a woodsman, and a frontiersman. His exploits made him the stuff of legends.
The Boone family were “Quakers”, they belonged to the Religious Society of Friends, and following persecution in England for their dissenting beliefs, Daniel’s father, Squire Boone emigrated from the small town of Bradninch, Devon (near Exeter, England) to Pennsylvania in 1713, to join William Penn’s colony of dissenters. In 1720, Squire who worked as a weaver and a blacksmith, married Sarah Morgan. They moved to the Oley Valley, near the modern city of Reading. There they built a log cabin, partially preserved today as the Daniel Boone Homestead. Daniel Boone was born there, the sixth of eleven children. One of the folktales that was told of a young Boone was that he was hunting in the woods with some other boys, when the howl of a panther scattered all but Boone. He calmly cocked his rifle and shot the predator through the heart just as it leaped at him. The validity of this claim is contested, but the story was told so often that it became part of his popular image.
In 1750, Squire sold his land and moved the family to North Carolina. Daniel did not attend church again. He identified as a Christian and had all of his children baptized. The Boones eventually settled on the Yadkin River, in what is now Davie County. On August 14, 1756, Daniel married Rebecca Bryan, a neighbor whose brother married one of Boone’s sisters. The couple initially lived in a cabin on his father’s farm and would have ten children.
Boone would support his family by hunting and trapping game, and selling their pelts in the fur market. It was through this occupational interest that Boone first learned the easy routes to the area. Despite some resistance from American Indian tribes such as the Shawnee, in 1775 Boone blazed his Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina and Tennessee into Kentucky. There he founded the village of Boonesborough, Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachians.
Boone was a militia officer during the Revolutionary War (1775–83), which in Kentucky was fought primarily between the American settlers and the British-aided Indians. On July 14, 1776, Boone’s daughter Jemima and two other teenage girls were captured outside Boonesborough by an Indian war party, who carried the girls north towards the Shawnee towns in the Ohio country
. Boone and a group of men from Boonesborough followed in pursuit, finally catching up with them two days later. Boone and his men ambushed the Indians while they were stopped for a meal, rescuing the girls and driving off their captors. Boone would eventually be captured by Shawnee warriors in 1778. He escaped and alerted Boonesborough that the Shawnees were planning an attack. Although heavily outnumbered, Americans repulsed the Shawnee warriors.
Boone was elected to the first of his three terms in the Virginia General Assembly during the Revolutionary War, and fought in the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782. Blue Licks, a Shawnee victory over the Patriots, was one of the last battles of the Revolutionary War, coming after the main fighting ended in October 1781. Following the war, Boone worked as a surveyor and merchant, but fell deeply into debt through failed Kentucky land speculation. Frustrated with the legal problems resulting from his land claims, in 1799 Boone immigrated to eastern Missouri, where he spent most of the last two decades of his life.
Daniel Boone died of natural causes on September 26, 1820, just 2-1/2 months short of his 86th birthday. His last words were, “I’m going now. My time has come.” He was buried next to Rebecca, who had died on March 18, 1813. Boone remains an iconic figure in American history. After his death, he was frequently the subject of heroic tall tales and works of fiction.