Image courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society
Frontiersman and pioneer Daniel Boone served three terms in the Virginia General Assembly. While not a notable lawmaker, his presence there is still noteworthy.
In November 1780, the Virginia legislature divided Kentucky, then a part of the commonwealth, into Jefferson, Lincoln and Fayette counties. There, one of Fayette's best-known residents, Daniel Boone, served in several capacities, as sheriff, coroner, deputy surveyor and lieutenant colonel of the militia.
"He believed in public service," writes biographer John Mack Faragher, in the 1992 book Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer. Boone "never hesitated to claim the honor of office, and was not shy about using the prerequisites of position."
In May 1781, Lord Cornwallis and his troops advanced on Richmond. The legislature moved to Charlottesville as lawmakers were pursued by Col. Banastre Tarleton, a notorious British officer who commanded 180 dragoons and several mounted infantry, and who hoped to nab outgoing Gov. Thomas Jefferson. Had not militiaman Jack Jouett galloped overnight to Monticello on June 4, 1781, Tarleton might've succeeded. The legislators slipped away to Staunton, although dragoons came upon Boone and Jouett loading government documents into a wagon.
Boone didn't look the part of a lawmaker, dressed as he was in "real backwoods stile," as a contemporary described him, wearing a hunting shirt, buckskin and Indian leggings. The British were about to let them go when Jouett said, "Colonel, this is our road."
Boone got shunted into a coalhouse, where he sang happy tunes to pass the time. After a few days, he and Jouett were released, for reasons never ascertained, although Boone detractors at the time claimed he signed a promise not to take up arms against England (a member of his wife's divided family may have served in Tarleton's detachment).
In his book Daniel Boone: An American Life , historian Michael A. Lofaro writes, "He put the safety and welfare of his family and friends ahead of the politics of nations."
After his mysterious release, Boone resumed the Assembly session in Staunton, where he introduced a petition to form the town of Lexington (Ky.).
Faragher notes that Boone spent much of his time during the fall session in Richmond "meeting with old friends or escaping into the woods for short hunts." On Dec. 7, 1781, the Assembly speaker ordered the House's sergeant-at-arms to "take in his custody Daniel Boone" in order to bring him back to work.
In 1784, schoolmaster John Filson wrote the biographical The Adventures of Daniel Boone as an appendix to his The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke. The story, mostly true though embellished, quickly made Boone an international figure. In this way he became a character — a myth — while contending with a bloody defeat at Blue Licks, Ky. by a combined force of British and Indians, the death of children, lawsuits over land and business disappointments.
In April 1791, in Fort Lee (which is now Charleston, W.Va.), Boone again stood for election to the General Assembly. For this third October to December term, he voted with the majority and served on committees for religion and propositions and licenses. During this session, Virginia's lawmakers debated the possibility of forming the new state of Kentucky.
His wife, Rebecca, and Nathan, the couple's youngest child of 10, traveled with Boone to Richmond. In Faragher's biography, he explains that one day, Nathan sent the sergeant at arms into the House to deliver an important message to his father. Boone hurried to the doorway, rather worried until he saw Nathan. The youngster needed some pocket money to buy trinkets. Interviewed as an adult, Nathan recalled picnicking by the James River with his parents on one cool autumn evening, his father buying oysters from a vendor that Rebecca roasted over an open fire. Boone hugged Nathan to his chest as they stared into the flames.
On Dec. 13, 1791, Boone proposed to Governor Henry "Light-horse Harry" Lee III that he, Boone, should receive the state contract to transport ammunition to the northwestern frontier garrisons in Moorefield, Morgantown and Wheeling. The terrain proved rough, and transporting more than a ton of flints, lead and powder was slow going — Boone didn't complete the route until April.
During the next couple of years, commanders complained of Boone's unreliability. A shouting match with Capt. Hugh Caperton of the Kanawha County Rangers ended when Boone, hefting his rifle, stalked off into the woods to camp and sulk. He could've been court-martialed, but owing to the deference of his reputation, another supply officer took his place.
Boone and Rebecca eventually moved further west, settling in Missouri. Rebecca, who would carry her husband's rifle when he was too arthritic to do it himself, died in 1813, and Boone followed in 1820. The legendary frontiersman's remains (at least some of them) were later reinterred in Frankfort, Ky., in 1845, along with those of his wife.