Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Baptism of Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone is a well known American pioneer who lived the last twenty years of his life here in Missouri. Those who know me know that I love to study early American history and that I have a long standing interest in Daniel Boone in particular. A few years ago I came upon a little known event in his life: his baptism. 

It seems that Daniel Boone and his family were baptized by a traveling Anglican minister in 1772. During that year, Daniel Boone was living on the Watauga River (in what is now eastern TN), living near James Robertson, later known as the "Father of Tennessee." Robertson's children later wrote to historian Lyman Draper that "a traveling Episcopalian clergyman" baptized Daniel Boone, his wife Rebecca, and their seven children, and three of the Robertson children at the Robertson's house. This is significant because Daniel and Rebecca had been raised as Quakers, and Quakers do not practice baptism. This is therefore an important link in the shift Daniel and his family underwent from his Quaker upbringing to mainstream Protestantism. It is also an indication of Daniel Boone's Christian faith that he would desire baptism for him and his family. This event fits with how Daniel's son, Nathan Boone, said that his father "fully believed in the great truths of Christianity ... seemed most partial towards the Presbyterians ... had all his children, when he could, regularly christened."

Robert Morgan, in his modern biography of Boone, briefly mentions this account, but dismisses it as "almost certainly untrue." But his piece of evidence against it is that Anglicans were not called Episcopalians until after the American Revolution. But the letters to Draper which calls the minister an Episcopalian were written in 1854 and 1855, and it would have been natural for Robertson's children to call the denomination by its current name. The event is not something they were unsure of, writing that "such events are rarely forgotten" and saying one of them had "heard her mother relate it so frequently that she has no doubt of it."

In fact, there is a likely candidate for the identity of this traveling minister: Rev. John Lythe. Even Draper, in his short bio of Rev. Lythe in The Life of Daniel Boone, refers to him anachronistically as "of the Episcopal Church." He was a traveling minister who was from Virginia, spent a year in South Carolina in 1767, and shows up in Harrodsburg, KY in 1775 as the first clergyman in Kentucky. He was a delegate to the first legislative assembly held in Kentucky at Fort Boonesborough in 1775 and served as its chaplain. He proposed a bill "to prevent profane swearing and Sabbath-breaking" and the next day held the first Christian worship service in what would become Kentucky.

- Letters from Felix Robertson (James Robertson's son) to Lyman Draper, quoted in William Curry Harlee, Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, 3 vols. New Orleans: Searcy & Pfaff, 1935-1937, 3:2500, 2513. 
- My Father, Daniel Boone: The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone, ed. Neal O. Hammon, p. 38, 139.
- Lyman Draper, The Life of Daniel Boone, p. 284, 295, 569.
- Robert Morgan, Boone: A Biography, p. 431.
- The Churchman's Year Book, with Kalender for the Year of Grace 1870, compiled by William Stevens Perry, p. 264-265; available for free online at Google Books. 

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