- Historic Sites
Ghost Writer To Daniel Boone
John Filson first brought the frontier hero to notice, giving him fine words that made him the idol of the romanticists
October 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 6
Boone and his companions, John Finlay, John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Monay, and William Cool, wandered about Kentucky in peace until the twenty-second of December. On that day, he and John Stewart, while on “a pleasing ramble,” were captured by some Indians, who rushed out of a canebrake upon them; and for seven days they were held prisoners. But at the end of that time, in the dead of night “when sleep had locked the senses” of their captors, Boone gently woke his companion and both stole away to their camp. There they found their companions “dispersed and gone home” but in their stead, Daniel’s brother, Squire, who, with another adventurer, had come from North Carolina in search of Daniel. He had arrived at an inauspicious time, for the Indians, who resented the escape of their prisoners, recaptured John Stewart and killed him.
Daniel was pleased to see his brother and to share with him some of the natural and simple joys of the life in the wilderness:
Here is the natural man, innately good, freed from the tensions of society and from the shackles of convention, finding supreme happiness in the simple life. That these were Boone’s own words, few believed; but that they expressed his philosophy was assumed by the readers who elected Boone the popular hero of the Romantic revolution.
Gilbert Chinard, a student of the American influence on French literature, has marveled at Boone’s philosophical powers and was forced to distinguish him from the French “philosophes en chambre":
Squire Boone returned to North Carolina on the first of May, 1770, leaving Daniel alone in Kentucky. Never, confessed Daniel, had he been under any greater necessity of exercising philosophy and fortitude. But the beauties of nature soon “expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought.” After gaining the summit of a commanding ridge—there is considerable doubt that a spot exists in Kentucky from which all the scenery described below is visible—but let him continue—
It was not until the twenty-fifth of March of the next year that Boone returned to his family in North Carolina. He sold his farm and, on the twenty-fifth of September, 1773, set out again for Kentucky, accompanied by his own and five other families. The enthusiasm of this hopeful beginning, however, soon subsided, for on the tenth of October they were attacked by Indians. Six men, including Boone’s eldest son, fell. This misfortune overtook them as they were approaching the Cumberland Mountains, which Boone described as follows:
How this coonskin hero, entirely innocent of letters, knew that Persepolis and Palmyra were in ruins is a minor mystery; but like the romantic, natural man of his age, he had acquired an incredible store of classical allusions. If Filson’s book was more popular in Versailles than in Boonesborough, it is small wonder.
After this attack by the Indians, Boone stopped with his family on the Clinch River, where he remained until—in June, 1744—Governor Dunmore of Virginia asked him to run an 800-mile errand: to proceed to the Falls of the Ohio and conduct a party of surveyors into the interior of Kentucky. Returning to his family after 62 days, Boone was immediately placed in charge of three garrisons of Dunmore’s troops that were marching against the Shawnees. As soon as this tour of duty was finished, he again undertook the settlement of Kentucky, this time associating himself with Richard Henderson and the famous Transylvania Company.