14 Facts About Daniel Boone

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Daniel Boone was a frontiersman who helped introduce the United States to a little place we like to call Kentucky. He was famous for his extraordinarily long hunts and his navigation skills. ("I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days," he reportedly said.) The myth of him as a rugged gun-toting pioneer, however, doesn't match history. Get to know the real Daniel Boone.

1. HE WASN'T SOUTHERN.

Boone was born and raised in eastern Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from the modern city of Reading. Granted, in the 1730s, this was close to the frontier, and Boone—who was raised by Quakers—was given his first gun at the age of 12 to hunt. But, after two of Boone’s siblings married non-Quakers, their father was expelled from the church. A few years later the family moved to North Carolina.

2. JUST LIKE MANY YOUNG PEOPLE, HE BLEW HIS ENTIRE FIRST PAYCHECK.

When he was a teenager, Boone took his first long hunting trip. Animal furs and hides were in high demand in east coast and European cities, and Boone took his spoils to Philadelphia—and promptly, over the next three weeks, spent all of the money he earned on "a general jamboree or frolick." He was hooked. Boone would be a professional hunter for the rest of his life, and he soon acquired a reputation as an able navigator who could remember every trail he walked.

3. AS A SOLDIER, BOONE WASN'T AFRAID … TO FLEE.

The French and Indian War began as a border dispute over who got to claim land along the Ohio River. In 1755, Boone joined the side of the British colonies and served as a teamster in General Edward Braddock's expedition. While marching toward what is now Pittsburgh, Braddock's men experienced a deadly and embarrassing defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela. One out of three soldiers died. Boone survived by running away as fast as he could.

4. HE WAS A TRAILBLAZER WHO OPENED UP A PORTAL TO KENTUCKY.

Daniel Boone escorting settlers
Botaurus, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By the 1770s, Boone was known for his geographical know-how. In 1775, a land speculation company hired him to lead a large crew and open a path through the Cumberland Gap, a narrow mountain pass near the modern borders of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Their successful trek led to the construction of the Wilderness Road, which would allow more than 200,000 settlers to pour into Kentucky.

5. HIS SETTLEMENTS HELPED EXTEND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE WESTWARD.

When Boone got to the other side of the Cumberland Gap, he established Fort Boonesborough. With 15-foot-high walls and 26 log cabins, it was one of the first English-speaking communities west of the Appalachians (and it's now a state park). While Boone was relatively chummy with Cherokee Indians, his move across the gap created palpable resentment among other native populations, who claimed Boone violated the Proclamation Line of 1763, which guaranteed Native Americans land west of the Appalachians.

6. HE ESSENTIALLY LIVED THE PLOT OF TAKEN.

Daniel Boone rescuing his daughter Jemina
Library of Congress // Public Domain

In July 1776, Boone's daughter Jemima, along with two other teenagers, were abducted by Cherokee and Shawnee Indians while they were out canoeing. With help from the girls—who were breaking twigs and leaving markings whenever they could—Boone managed to find them in just three days (just like Liam Neeson, he had a very particular set of skills). At least two of their captors were killed. The incident later inspired a scene in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans.

7. HE WAS A SHAWNEE CHIEF'S ADOPTED SON.

In February 1778, Boone and a party of men were captured by Shawnee Indians. Boone made an impassioned case to Chief Blackfish, asking the natives to spare their lives. In exchange, come spring he would ensure that Boonesborough would surrender peacefully. Boone's plea worked. Not only did Chief Blackfish adopt Boone into the tribe, he made the frontiersman his son. "During our travels, the Indians entertained me well; and their affection for me was so great, that they utterly refused to leave me there with the others," Boone said. He was given the name Big Turtle.

8. WHEN HE HAD SOMEWHERE TO GO, HE COULD REALLY COVER SOME GROUND.

Daniel Boone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While living with the Shawnee, Boone learned that the tribe was planning to attack Boonesborough. (It was the middle of the Revolutionary War, and the Shawnee were allied with the British.) To warn his friends and family, Boone escaped the tribe and traveled 160 miles over rough terrain, returning to Boonesborough in just four days. They successfully withstood a 10-day siege.

9. HE WAS A SURVEYOR (BUT NOT A VERY GOOD ONE).

Because he had such a deep knowledge of the local terrain, land surveyors often asked Boone to be their assistant whenever they explored the woods around Boonesborough. By the 1780s, Boone had picked up enough knowledge to become a surveyor himself. He surveyed at least 150 patches of new terrain. (Some say he went as far west as Texas.) The problem? He wasn't very good. His maps were rarely accurate.

10. HE WAS A POLITICIAN, AND HE HELD AN ECLECTIC MIX OF OTHER PUBLIC OFFICES.

Just look at this resume: Deputy Surveyor of Lincoln County, Sheriff of Fayette County, Lieutenant Colonel of the militia, Coroner of Fayette County, Justice of Femm Osage, and—most notably—a three-time representative in the Virginia General Assembly. (As a legislator, Boone served on committees for religion and was present for debates over the formation of the state of Kentucky.)

11. HE OWNED SLAVES.

Boone's legacy is inextricably linked with slavery—mainly because enslaved people saved his life on more than one occasion. Slaves helped defend Boonesborough during the siege, and a slave named London was one of the few American fatalities. It was also the smarts of an ex-slave (who joined the Shawnee) that helped Boone vouch for his life to Chief Blackfish in 1778. This man, named Pompey, helped translate Boone's desperate pleas. And yet, despite his Quaker background, Boone would buy seven slaves in the 1780s, mostly women, who worked in a tavern he owned.

12. HIS GRANDSON PROVED THAT IT'S NEVER A GOOD IDEA TO BRING A BOOK MANUSCRIPT ON A CANOE TRIP.

In 1809, Daniel Boone dictated his autobiography to his grandson John Boone Calloway. Unfortunately, five years later, Calloway was canoeing down the Missouri River with the manuscript in hand when his boat tipped over. What might have been the most accurate account of Boone's life was swept down the Missouri.

13. FAME ANNOYED HIM.

Daniel Boone hunting
iStock

John Filson's 1784 book The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke made Boone famous. Soon, stories about Boone's life were detaching from reality. He hated it: "Nothing embitters my old age [more than] the circulation of absurd stories … many heroic actions and chivalrous adventures are related of me which exist only in the regions of fancy. With me the world has taken great liberties, and yet I have been but a common man."

14. HE DID NOT WEAR A COONSKIN CAP.

Boone might have been a professional hunter, but he was no bumpkin. He was often carefully groomed. "My father, Daniel Boone, always despised the raccoon fur caps and did not wear one himself, as he always had a hat," his son Nathan said. Boone usually opted for a classic flat, broad-brimmed hat.

Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Anthony Blunt: The Art Historian/Russian Spy Who Worked at Buckingham Palace

Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Des Willie, Netflix

*Mild spoilers for season 3 of The Crown on Netflix ahead.

Viewers of the third season of The Crown on Netflix will likely have their curiosity piqued by Anthony Blunt, the art historian who is revealed to be a spy for the Russians during his 19 years of service to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Instead of getting the boot once he was discovered, however, Blunt went on to remain under Her Majesty's employ for eight more years—until his official retirement. While treason never looks good on a resume, the royal class had good reason to keep him on.

Blunt, who was born and raised in England, visited the Soviet Union in 1933 and was indoctrinated as a spy after being convinced of the benefits of Communism in fighting fascism. He began recruiting his university classmates at Cambridge before serving during World War II and leaking information about the Germans to the KGB. Blunt was one of five Cambridge graduates under Soviet direction. Two of them, diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, relocated to the Soviet Union in 1951. Another, Kim Philby, went undetected until 1961. John Cairncross escaped notice, too, but was eventually outed.

However, it was Blunt who had a post at Buckingham Palace. After being tipped off by American intelligence, MI5 interrogated Blunt. He confessed to his treachery in 1964 and was granted immunity from prosecution. Why was he able to remain employed? One theory has it that British intelligence was so embarrassed by Blunt's ability to circulate in the upper levels of the monarchy that firing him would have raised too many questions. Another thought has Blunt having knowledge of some bizarrely congenial wartime correspondence between Adolf Hitler and the Duke of Windsor (a.k.a. King Edward VIII, whose abdication led to Elizabeth's eventual ascension to the throne).

Whatever the case, the Queen was advised by MI5 to keep Blunt around. In his role as art curator, he had no access to classified information. Blunt was at the Palace through 1972 and spent another seven years roaming London giving lectures. His actions remained a tightly guarded secret until Margaret Thatcher disclosed his treason in 1979.

As for that speech seen in The Crown, where Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth makes some not-so-subtle digs at Blunt at the opening of a new exhibition, there's no record of such a takedown ever happening. While the two reportedly kept their distance from each other in private, according to Miranda Carter's Anthony Blunt: His Lives:

“Blunt continued to meet the Queen at official events. She came to the opening of the Courtauld’s new galleries in 1968, and in 1972 she personally congratulated Blunt on his retirement, when the Lord Chamberlain, knowing nothing of his disgrace, offered him the honorary post of Adviser on the Queen’s pictures—inadvertently continuing his association with the Palace for another six years.”

Stripped of his knighthood as a result of the truth about his actions being made known, Blunt became a recluse and died of a heart attack in 1983. His memoirs, which were made public by the British Library in 2009, indicated his regret, calling his spy work "the biggest mistake of my life."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER