Daniel Boone — The Life of an American Legend

November 2, 1734–September 26, 1820

Daniel Boone was a hunter, explorer, and soldier who is famous for his exploits as a Frontiersman and Trailblazer, the important role he played in the settlement of Kentucky, and blazing the Wilderness Road.

Daniel Boone, Portrait, Harding

Portrait of Daniel Boone by Chester Harding. Image Source: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Who was Daniel Boone?

Daniel Boone was a hunter, explorer, and soldier who rose to fame for his exploits as a frontiersman and trailblazer who played an important role in the settlement of Kentucky. Boone has long been remembered as one of the men responsible for opening the West to further exploration and settlement. He is memorialized in popular culture, which often exaggerates his exploits, including James Fenimore’s classic novel “The Last of the Mohicans.” Regardless, Boone’s willingness and desire to blaze a path into western Virginia played a key role in helping form the state of Kentucky and inspired people to move westward.

Daniel Boone Facts

  • Date of Birth: Daniel Boone was born on November 2, 1734, in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
  • Parents: Boone’s parents were Squire Boone and Mary Morgan, and they were Quakers.
  • Married: He married Rebecca Bryan on August 14, 1756.
  • Children: Boone had 10 children, six sons, and four daughters. Their names were James, Israel, Susannah, Jemima, Levina, Rebecca, Daniel Morgan, Jesse Bryan, William, and Nathan.
  • Date of Death: Boone died on September 26, 1820, at his son’s home in Missouri. He was buried nearby, at his daughter’s home.
  • Fun Fact: He had a near photographic memory and was able to remember the trails he traveled.
  • Famous Quote: The most famous quote attributed to Boone is, “I’ve never been lost, but I was mighty turned around for three days once.”
  • Nickname: His nickname, given to him by the Shawnee, was “Big Turtle.” He is also known as “The Great Pathfinder.”
Daniel Boone, Cumberland Gap. Bingham
This painting depicts Daniel Boone leading settlers through the Cumberland Gap. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Daniel Boone History — the Life and Career of the Great Pathfinder

Daniel Boone is one of the most celebrated of the American explorers and is linked to the concepts of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny. Although there were a handful of people who explored Kentucky before him, Boone’s success helped inspire a generation of frontiersmen who followed in his footsteps, including Davy Crockett, Jim Bridger, and Kit Carson.

Daniel Boone is Born in Pennsylvania

Boone was one of the “Long Hunters,” frontier explorers who went off to the western frontier for months — or even years — at a time. Boone was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1734.

Daniel Boone, the Long Hunter

When he was about 16, the family moved to North Carolina and he went on his first “long hunt” in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his friend, 13-year-old Henry Miller, who worked as an apprentice to Squire Boone. Enjoying the experience so much, Boone declared hunting was his “business of life.” 

Boone at the Battle of the Monongahela

Despite his affection for hunting, he joined the North Carolina Militia and was part of the failed expedition led by General Edward Braddock during the French and Indian War. His cousin, Daniel Morgan, who went on to serve as a General in the American Revolutionary War, was also part of the expedition. The fiasco that took place at the Battle of the Monongahela helped turn both Boone and Morgan against the British.

Daniel Boone’s Children and Marriage

Boone went home to the Yadkin Valley, where he met Rebecca Bryan. The two of them were married on August 14, 1756. They would go on to have a large family of their own of 10 — six sons and four daughters — which expanded further to take care of 8 more children of relatives who were killed or died over the years.

Some of the notable Daniel Boone children were:

  • Jemima Boone
  • Daniel Morgan Boone
  • Nathan Boone
  • Ned Boone

Anglo-Cherokee War

In late 1758, the Virginia Militia attacked and killed some Cherokee warriors who were returning to their homes after fighting against the French. The attack came after the Virginians accused the Cherokee of stealing some of their horses. The Cherokee responded by conducting raids, including in the Yadkin River Valley. Many families, including Boone’s in 1760, moved to Culpepper County, Virginia. Boone was part of the North Carolina Militia during the war and helped lead expeditions into Cherokee territory.

The Proclamation of 1763 Restricts Westward Expansion

Following the war, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains. Despite the new law, Boone and many of his fellow Long Hunters continued to explore and hunt west, over the mountains.

Through the Cumberland Gap and Into Kentucky

In 1767, Boone tried to reach Kentucky but failed. After forming a partnership with Richard Henderson, a North Carolina merchant, Boone set out for Kentucky on May 1, 1769, with a small group of men. They made it through the Gap, and, despite an incident with Shawnee, who told Boone to leave their hunting grounds, he continued to hunt in the area, returning home in 1771. Soon after, he moved his family to the Wautaga area of Tennessee.

Daniel Boone, First View of Kentucky, Painting, Ranney
Boone’s First View of Kentucky by William Tylee Ranney. Image Source: Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art.

Lord Dunmore’s War

Henderson intended to purchase land west of the mountains and create a fourteenth colony, however, his plans were delayed. Boone decided to push ahead and organized his own expedition to Kentucky. However, the trip was abandoned when the settlers were attacked by Indians in Tennessee. Boone’s son, James, was killed in the attack. The attack was one of the first in Lord Dunmore’s War. For the next few years, Boone was forced to lay his plan to the side until the war ended in 1774. 

Boone Cuts the Wilderness Road

In early 1775, Henderson bought land in Kentucky and Tennessee from the Cherokee. The agreement included a “Path Deed,” which gave the settlers permission to access the land by passing through the Cumberland Gap. Even before the agreement was completed, Boone and a group of men set out to cut a road through the wilderness. It was originally known as “Boone’s Trace,” but came to be known as the “Wilderness Road.” The settlement that was established where the road ended, near present-day Union, Kentucky, was called “Boonesborough.” The Wilderness Road contributed to Westward Expansion and the fulfillment of America’s Manifest Destiny.

The Siege of Boonesborough

As the American Revolutionary War dragged on, many of the settlers in Kentucky left, due in large part to attacks from Indians and the hardship of life on the frontier. However, the settlements at Boonesborough, Harrodsburg, and Logan’s Station remained. In July 1776, Boone’s daughter and two girls were kidnapped by Shawnee and taken toward Ohio. Boone led a party that rescued the girls, further adding to his reputation. In 1777, British officials recruited Shawnee and other Indians to carry out attacks on the settlements. Boone was shot in one of the attacks but was rescued by another legendary frontiersman, Simon Kenton.

Daniel Boone, Daughters Kidnapped by Shawnee, Illustration
This illustration depicts the girls being abducted by the Shawnee. Image Source: Archive.org.

While Boone healed from his wound, the Shawnee continued their attacks, and Boonesborough ran short on food and supplies. In January 1778, Boone led 30 men outside of the settlement on a hunting trip. Soon after, they were captured by the Shawnee. Fearing for the lives of everyone in the settlement, Boone worked out an agreement with Blackfish, the Shawnee leader. Blackfish agreed to leave the settlement alone until the following spring. In return, Boone and some of the men would go to Chillicothe, the principal village of the Shawnee, as prisoners.

Some of the Americans, including Boone, were adopted by Shawnee families, according to Shawnee customs. Boone was given the name “Sheltowee,” which means “Big Turtle.” In June 1778, Boone discovered Blackfish intended to send a large force of warriors to attack Boonesborough. Boone escaped from the Shawnee and — according to legend — traveled nonstop for five days and about 160 miles until he reached Boonesborough.

Starting on September 7, 1778, Blackfish and the Shawnee laid siege to Boonesborough. On September 8 and 9, Blackfish and Boone negotiated. At first, Blackfish questioned the right of the Americans to settle in the region, but the purchase of the land was confirmed by a Cherokee chief. Blackfish was still not satisfied and threatened to attack the fort unless the settlers pledged loyalty to King George III. Apparently, Boone agreed to the condition. However, as the leaders of both sides went to shake hands, chaos ensued. It is unclear exactly why, but a scuffle broke out, which led to armed guards for both sides opening fire on each other. Boone and the Americans ran back to the gates of the fort, and the Shawnee chased after them.

Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky, Illustration
This illustration depicts Fort Boonesborough. Image Source: Archive.org.

For the next seven days, the two sides exchanged gunfire. On September 11, a small contingent of men, led by Lieutenant Antoine Dagneaux de Quindre, arrived to provide support for Blackfish. De Quindre conceived a plan to blow up the fort, by digging a tunnel under it, but the plan failed when the tunnel collapsed.

The siege came to an end on September 17 when a final assault by the Shawnee failed. They tried to set fire to the fort, but heavy rains put the fire out. Only two Americans were killed during the siege.

Afterward, Boone was criticized for many of the actions he had taken. He was even suspected of conspiring with the Shawnee and being a Loyalist. The charges were made by Colonel Richard Callaway and Captain Benjamin Logan. Boone was court-martialed at Logan’s Fort. the court cleared him of the charges — and also promoted him to the rank of Major. However, Boone was embarrassed and humiliated by the incident.

Settlement at Boone’s Station

In 1779, he led another group of settlers from North Carolina to Kentucky, including Captain Abraham Lincoln, whose grandson would become the 16th President of the United States. When Boone returned to Kentucky, he established a new settlement called Boone’s Station. 

Battle of Piqua

The following year, Kentucky, which was part of the state of Virginia, was divided into three counties. Boone was made Lieutenant Colonel of the Fayette County Militia. In the fall, General George Rogers Clark organized an expedition to attack the Shawnee at their village, Piqua, near present-day Springfield in West-Central Ohio.

Boone joined Clark for part of the journey, and Clark pushed the Shawnee out of the village and then burned it to the ground. It is estimated that somewhere between 450 and 1,300 of the 3,000 Shawnees living in the village were killed. The Shawnee were forced to relocate to present-day Piqua, Ohio, and ended their participation in the war. 

After the Battle of Piqua, Boone went home, accompanied by his brother, Ned. During the journey, Shawnee warriors shot and killed Ned, believing it was Daniel.

Boone Meets Tarleton, Cornwallis Surrenders

In 1781, Boone was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and went to Richmond for meetings. On the way there, Boone was near Charlottesville, Virginia when he was captured by British forces under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Boone was released on parole after a few days. Soon after, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. However, fighting between Americans, the British, and their Indian allies continued. 

War in the West — The Battle of Blue Licks

On August 19, 1782, a small contingent of Loyalists and Indians attacked the settlement at Bryan Station, Kentucky. Militia forces from Lincoln County and Fayette County joined to intercept the attackers. Boone was second-in-command to Colonel John Todd of Fayette County. The Kentuckians caught up to them near the Lower Blue Licks.

Against Boone’s wishes, the Kentuckians launched an attack — and moved right into an ambush. They were overwhelmed, and Boone ordered his men to retreat.

As they prepared to fall back, Boone’s son, Israel was shot and killed. Furious over the Battle of Blue Licks, which came nearly 10 months after the British surrender, George Rogers Clark carried out another expedition in Ohio against Shawnee villages.

Boone participated in the expedition, which was the last major offensive of the American Revolutionary War.

George Rogers Clark, Portrait, Longacre
George Rogers Clark by James Barton Longacre. Image Source: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Daniel Boone Becomes a Celebrity

Following the war, Boone settled in present-day Maysville, Kentucky. While living there, he worked as a surveyor and ran a tavern. He also traded horses and speculated in land.

During that time, historian John Filson published a history of Kentucky called “The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke.” The book included stories about Boone’s life and his exploits in Kentucky which made him a celebrity during the Confederation Era and beyond.

The Northwest Indian War

Boone returned to the battlefield during the Northwest Indian War and participated in an expedition in October 1786. Benjamin Logan led Kentucky Militia forces against Shawnee towns in Ohio.

Logan and his men burned 13 villages, took women and children prisoner, and murdered the elderly chief, Moluntha, who was trying to surrender.

The events of Logan’s Raid infuriated the Shawnee and escalated the Northwest Indian War, and was the end of Boone’s military career.

Boone Leaves Kentucky

Settling into his life in Kentucky, he continued to be elected to the Virginia House of Delegates but ran into financial problems.

In 1789, he moved to present-day Point Pleasant, West Virginia ran a trading post, and was involved with the county militia.

In 1795, he moved back to Kentucky and lived on land owned by his son, Daniel Morgan Boone.

In 1798, Boone County, Kentucky was named after him. However, Boone’s final years in Kentucky were plagued with disagreements over his debts and land claims, which turned him against the state.

Simon Kenton, Illustration, Dodson
Simon Kenton, who was friends with Boone and saved his life. Image Source: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

West To Missouri

In 1799, vowing never to return to Kentucky, Boone moved west to Missouri, which was part of Spanish Louisiana.

At the time, Spain required people living in the territory to be Catholic but made an exception for Boone, and allowed him to serve as a local judge.

Control of the territory transitioned to the French and then to the United States in 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase was completed.

Later Years

On May 23, 1804, members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition visited the Boone settlement in Missouri, to buy supplies. However, Boone may not have been present when they were there.

Joseph Whitehouse, one of the members of the Corps of Discovery, wrote in his journal, “This settlement was made by Colonel Daniel Boone, the person who first discover’d Kentucky, & who was residing at this place, with a number of his family and friends.”

Despite his vow never to return, there are stories that Boone went back once or twice to pay off creditors and to visit his brother, Squire.

Boone hunted in Missouri for as long as his health allowed. In 1810, he went on a trip up the Missouri River, and may have gone as far as the Yellowstone River — he was 76. He took his last Long Hunt in 1815 and visited Fort Osage in Western Missouri.

The Death of Daniel Boone

On September 26, 1820, Boone was at his son Nathan’s home on Femme Osage Creek, Missouri when he died.

He was buried next to his wife near the home of their daughter, Jemima, near present-day Marthasville, Missouri, however, the graves were unmarked for a time.

When markers were put in place, they may have been put over the wrong graves. In 1845, Boone’s remains were supposedly dug up and moved to a cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

As a result, both Missouri and Kentucky claim to be the last resting place of the backwoods legend Daniel Boone.

Interesting Facts About Daniel Boone

  1. Boone’s father was excommunicated from the Quaker church after one of his daughters and his oldest son married people who were not Quakers. 
  2. Long Hunters like Boone usually traveled in groups, ignoring geographic boundaries established by the Native American Indians, British, and French.
  3. Boone was hired by Richard Henderson to help establish a 14th Colony, which was called Transylvania. Boonesborough was the capital of the short-lived colony. The Virginia General Assembly invalidated Henderson’s agreement with the Cherokee in 1778.
  4. John Filson’s book, “The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke,” made Boone famous outside of Kentucky. Filson interviewed Boone and wrote the book to help inspire people to move to the region. The book included exaggerated stories of Boone’s exploits, which contributed to his status as a folk hero and American legend.
  5. Timothy Flint published “The Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone, the First Settler of Kentucky” in 1833. Flint’s book portrayed Boone as a ferocious man who actively sought conflict with Indians, which was not true.
  6. His cousin, Daniel Morgan, was a hero of the American Revolutionary War. He led American troops during several major battles of the war, including the Battle of Quebec and the Battle of Cowpens. His leadership at Cowpens led the Americans to victory, which helped push Cornwallis to Yorktown.
  7. Legend has it that when he was just 14, he killed his first bear. There are several trees throughout the area he explored that have carvings in them — supposedly made by Boone himself — that mark when and where he killed bears.

Significance of Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone is important to United States history because he played a key role in the exploration and settlement of the American West. He was an experienced woodsman and hunter, and he became well-known for his skills in exploring and mapping the wilderness. He is best known for his exploration of Kentucky, where he blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap, providing a route for settlers to move westward. The road helped open up the West to settlement and played a significant role in the early history of Kentucky and the United States. He is remembered as one of the most important figures in the exploration and settlement of the American West.

Daniel Boone was a hunter, explorer, and soldier who rose to fame for his exploits as a frontiersman and trailblazer who played an important role in the settlement of Kentucky. He is remembered as one of America’s greatest explorers and is most well-known for blazing Boone’s Trace and the larger-than-life exploits that have made him an enduring folk hero.

Wilderness Road, High Bridge, Kentucky
The Old Wilderness Road, circa 1907, from an old postcard. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Daniel Boone AP US History (APUSH) Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study Daniel Boone, Manifest Destiny, and Westward Expansion for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Daniel Boone APUSH Definition

The definition of Daniel Boone for the AP US History exam is an American frontiersman and legendary folk hero who helped blaze a trail through Cumberland Gap, a notch in the Appalachian Mountains near the juncture of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Boone escorted settlers over the mountains, opening the western territory of Virginia to settlement, which eventually led to the establishment of Kentucky as a state.

A History of Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone is the famous frontiersman who helped settle Kentucky. He had a long and full life with many adventures and over time he has been turned into a legend. This video from Kentucky History Channel provides an overview of his life and career.

Daniel Boone on American History Central

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Daniel Boone — The Life of an American Legend
  • Date November 2, 1734–September 26, 1820
  • Author
  • Keywords Daniel Boone, Cumberland Gap, Wilderness Road, Frontiersman, Long Hunter, Boonesborough, Transylvania Colony, Battle of the Monongahela, Anglo-Cherokee War, Lord Dunmore's War, Siege of Boonesborough, Boone's Station, Battle of Blue Licks, Who is Daniel Boone, Daniel Boone children, Where was Daniel Boone born, Daniel Boone history, What did Daniel Boone do, When was Daniel Boone born, How did Daniel Boone die, What was Danie Boone famous for
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date December 3, 2023
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 20, 2023

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