Monday, April 22, 2013

The Family Economy of Daniel Boone

Seeing the family as central to work and economics has been a very common view throughout time. An example of this can be found in the life of one of America’s frontier heroes. In the life of Daniel Boone we can see a family that worked as a unified economy and built a multigenerational legacy of creative and diligent dominion taking. It was families like these that formed the economic foundation for our country.

Daniel Boone was born in 1734 in the Schuylkill Valley of Pennsylvania. He was the sixth of eleven children. He was raised in an enterprising home that took on tasks such as weaving, blacksmithing, and farming. Each family member had a job to do and contributed in his/her own way to the family’s work. Daniel’s mother, Sarah Boone, took care of the family’s dairy industry. From his tenth to his seventeenth year, Daniel’s chief occupation was to be her assistant. He was to watch, take care of, and herd the cows. Daniel, as a ten year old who spent much time in the woods, would carry a club and would hunt birds and small game with it. A few years later he got a gun and became a good marksman and hunter as well as a herdsman. During this time Daniel was “homeschooled” by his older brother, Samuel, and Samuel’s wife. They taught him to write a little, read, and spell. After the Boone family moved to North Carolina, Daniel worked in his father’s blacksmith/gunsmith shop for a time. After that, he used his hunting and trapping skills for profit in the winter, and would work as a teamster for his family in the summer, bringing in their diverse produce into market. The lessons he learned of responsibility, initiative, and literacy were to prove very important as he grew to be a man and a leader.

At the age of 22 Daniel Boone married Rebecca Bryan and set to establish his own household. While the young family started out living on Daniel’s father’s land, they soon established themselves on their own land. They grew and made quite a bit of what they needed. Daniel also earned money by hauling goods by wagon for hire, hunting, and trapping. That way they could buy the things which they couldn’t produce themselves. Regrettably the hunting and trapping often required him being away from the family for weeks and even months at a time. But even when the family was separated, they still worked for their own household economy. As Daniel had done growing up, he had his own job and responsibility, but it fit into the larger plan of the whole family. And Daniel still sought to integrate his family, especially his sons, into his hunts as best he could. One of his sons later told how Daniel “started taking James [Daniel’s first son] on hunts when he was seven or eight years old; and sometimes during a cold, snowy spell, Father would have difficulty in keeping little James comfortably warm and could do so only by hugging him up to him.”

On the longer hunts Daniel took his younger brother, Squire Boone Jr., and with him started to explore Kentucky. In 1775 Daniel led his family and other families to this land. There weren’t many “job openings”, but there was a lot of work to do and abundant resources to improve. A new problem, though, faced them. This was the beginning of the American War for Independence. The British-allied Indian tribes (who had long disputed among themselves the ownership of Kentucky) began to attack the American settlers. The Boone family and the families with them now had to work together, not only to provide, but to defend themselves. These families worked, suffered, and sometimes died together. With hard work these families subdued and civilized the wilderness. As Daniel later said, “we behold Kentucky, lately a howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts, become a fruitful field…in the midst of a raging war, and under all the disadvantages of emigration…Here, where the hand of violence shed the blood of the innocent, where the horrid yells of savages and the groans of the distressed sounded in our ears, we now hear the praises and adorations of our Creator.” After more than twenty years of frontier violence the Boones were even more tightly woven as a social economic unit.

As the Indian troubles died down, the Boone family continued to support themselves with various family businesses such as growing ginseng, farming, hunting, trapping, running a general store, surveying, etc… They had a weakness, though, in keeping up with their paperwork, and not all the new settlers in Kentucky were as virtuous and trustworthy as the Boones. It wasn’t long before the Boones were involved with land disputes and other financial claims made against them. Instead of spending the rest of his life defending his land claims, Daniel sold what he could, paid off his debts, relinquished his rights to his disputed lands, and moved to Missouri in 1799.

When Daniel moved to Missouri, it was a migration of a community. Not only his immediate household moved, but also his grown children, relatives, and friends. There Daniel spent the last twenty years of his life enjoying the fruits of his labor. While Daniel and Rebecca had land of their own, they spent most of their time with their children’s families who provided for and took care of the aging couple. Daniel still went hunting and trapping with his children and grandchildren, even into his eighties. He spent his time telling stories of the old days to his grandchildren, and anyone else that came by, up to his last day. He saw his children and children-in-law follow in his footsteps as military leaders in the War of 1812, and as those respected in the community with enterprising families of their own. He and his wife had 10 children, 70 grandchildren, and 364 great-grandchildren. This progeny formed an important part of the communities of Kentucky and Missouri. Even the deaths of the Daniel and Rebecca showed the strength of their family. Rebecca died after she and Daniel had aided their daughter’s family in making sugar. Daniel died after being cared for by his grandson-in-law, Dr. John Jones, in his son Nathan’s house with children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends gathered around. The funeral was preached by another grandson-in-law, Rev. James Craig.

The later western explorations would tend to become less family oriented. Although the family and covered wagon continued the tradition of family settlement, it would become more common for the explorations to be composed of mountain men employed by fur companies, military expeditions, miners with families back east, and cowboys. The life of Daniel Boone is a great example of using the family to take dominion and subdue the earth. May we learn from his example and remember to be diligent, flexible, creative; to train our children, and to honor our parents in their old age. May we see our families, as Daniel Boone saw his, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28).

Main Sources Used: 
Boone, Colonel Daniel Daniel Boone: His Own Story. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1996. (Originally: The Adventures of Daniel Boone, 1784)

My Father, Daniel Boone: The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone. Ed. Neal O. Hammon. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

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