If you are an American you’ve probably heard of the famous frontiersmen, Daniel Boone. If not pull up a chair and let me tell you about this chapter of American history. Growing up I was fed a steady dose of bible stories, fairy tales and the lives of extraordinary men and woman who made America and the world what it is today. To this day those stories are my favorite, stories of people who chose who put everything on the line to explore, invent, and push the bar higher. The tales of men and women who didn’t take the easy path, but forged a new one through wilderness, desert, and ideas.
Related Article: Fort Boonesborough Part 1
In March and April of 1775, Daniel Boone and a group of trail cutters began work on clearing Boones Trace so that settlers could begin the long hard journey into the frontier. This trace would be the first road leading into what would one day become Kentucky. It was little more than a footpath just wide enough for a horse.
Boones Party of early settlers arrived and settled in Sycamore Hollow near the Kentucky River shore in April 1775. Three weeks later after the arrival of Richard Henderson (chief proprietor of the Transylvanian Land Company and the man who had acquired the land from the Indians. His plan was to sell pieces of the land to the settlers for a profit), the group moved to higher ground nearby there the permanent fort would be built.
With the arrival of Richard Henderson, lots of work had to be done Boonsborough was to be the “capital of the west”. One of the top priorities was surveying the land for the settlers also building a Storage Magazine to hold the fort’s supply of gunpowder. To afford greater protection for the settlers construction of the fort was taken in earnest.
The structure wasn’t large, it consisted twenty-six one-story log cabins arranged in a hollow rectangle maybe 260 feet x 180 feet. In each corner was erected a block house with a protruding second story so that defenders of the fort could fire down on attackers.
Like many frontier forts Boonesborough didn’t have a well inside its walls, which meant you had to go to the river for water. This put the fort at a serious disadvantage if it came under siege, however, settlers believed that attacks would be quick strikes rather than long sieges.
One of the larger cabins at the fort would serve as a store for the Transylvania Company Supplies, this would be the first store opened in Kentucky.
On April 23,1775 Henderson called for an election for members to the “House of Delegates of the Transylvania Colony” the new government met beneath a giant elm tree where Rev. John Lyth of the Church of England held the first official service in Kentucky. On May 8th, 1775 Henderson Settlement official became Transylvania with Boonesborough as its capital.
Comforts were little at the fort but it was trivial compared to the danger settlers faced. Attacks were frequent, unable to dislodge Kentuckyians from the forts they turned to destroying crops and killing cattle hoping the food shortage would drive settlers out. With food running low, the settlers needed salt to preserve what meat they had left. Boone led a party of 30 men to the salt springs on the licking river. While hunting for meat for the party Boone was captured by Shawnee warriors led by Black Fish, because his group was greatly outnumbered Boone convinced the men to surrender.
Black Fish wanted to continue on to Boonesborough since it was now poorly defended, but Boone convinced him that the woman and children wouldn’t survive the winter trek as prisoners. Instead, Boone convinced them that if they waited until spring they would willingly surrender the fort. His plan was to buy the fort time, but being unable to warn his men of the plan many thought he had switched his loyalty to the British (this is during the American Revolution) as you can imagine this didn’t go over well.
Boone and his men were taken as prisoners to Black Fishes town Chillicothe, as Shawnee custom went some of the men were adopted into the tribe to replace warriors that had been killed. The remainder were taken to Detroit, where the Indians received a reward for every prisoner or scalp taken. Boone was one of the men adopted into the tribe, but eventually, he escaped after learning that Black Fish intended to return to the fort with a large force.
Boone managed to avoid being recaptured and covered the 160 miles in five days to warn the fort. Upon his return, many didn’t trust him, since he surrendered to the Shawnee and seemed to be living happily among them for several months. In response Boone led a preemptive strike against the Shawnee, in the end, it did little good and they hurried back to the fort once they realized Black Fish had moved south.
On September 7, 1778, Blackfish’s forces arrived outside Boonsborough and called Boone out, he reminded Boone of his promise to surrender the fort and presented him with letters from Governor Hamilton saying the settlers would be treated well and taken to Detroit if they surrendered. If they didn’t there were no guarantees. Back in the fort, Boone filled the others in, they agreed they would rather fight. They decided to prolong the talks as long as possible, hoping the expected detachment from Virginia that was due any day would arrive.
Boone and Major William Bailey Smith outside again and told Black Fish they feared the trip would be too hard on the woman and children. Black Fish pointed out that he’d bought 40 horses for those who couldn’t walk. Boone asked for another day to decide, leaders from both sides smoked a ceremonial pipe together and then broke off negotiations.
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For the next two days, settlers prepared for a siege. Based on the faulty information given to them by Hamilton in Detroit, Black Fish and his warriors thought the fort had 200 militiamen, in truth they only had around 40 gunmen. The settlers used this in their favor and reinforced it by dressing some of the women in men’s clothes and having them carry weapons.
On the evening of September 8th, Boone met with Black Fish again, and gave him their answer- they would not surrender. Black Fish proposed a formal treaty conference with all of the leaders to be held the next day. They met outside the fort and shared a meal, afterward, the council began. Both sides had a gunman covering the meeting from a distance in case of danger.
Blackfish demanded to know “by what right had the white people taken possession of this country.” Boone answered that they had bought the land from the Cherokees at Sycamore Shoals. A Cherokee Chief confirmed that this was true, and Black Fish accepted this and proposed that if the settlers would swear their allegiance to the King of England then they would accept the Ohio River boundary and both sides would live in peace. A treaty was signed to this effect, but sadly it wouldn’t last.
The Shawnee approached the Settlers from the fort to shake hands and seal the agreement, what happened next is unknown but a scuffle broke out and it ended with both sides firing on each other. All but one of the men from the fort made it back inside the walls, the last one took shelter behind a stump near the gate until someone could open the gate a bit after dark and he could slip through.
Daniel Boone’s brother Squire Boon was known as an inventor and came up with a makeshift cannon made of wood and reinforced with iron bands they were able to fire it several times before it broke. He also made “squirt guns” out of old musket barrels to put out the fires on the cabin roofs.
In one final effort to take the fort the Indians attempted to burn it but were beaten back and heavy rain helped to put out what fires they started. After the siege Colonel Richard Calloway brought charges against Boone alleging that his sympathies lay with the British. After listening to the testimony the court found Boone not guilty, but by now Boone was humiliated. He returned to North Carolina to bring his family that had left Boonesborough during his captivity thinking him dead, they wouldn’t return to Boonesborough instead they would found Boone’s Station.
While Boone was in North Carolina a retaliatory raid was launched against Black Fish’s town in spring 1779, Black Fish was able to successfully defend his town but was wounded he would later die from this injury after it became infected. On March 8th, 1780 Richard Calloway was caught outside the fort, he was killed, scalped and mutilated.