By Sharon Hernes Silverman
This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXIV, Number 3 - Summer 1998
Mere mention of the name Daniel Boone conjures images of an American icon: trailblazer of the Wilderness Road, preeminent Kentucky frontiersman, defender of early settlements, a crack shot with a long rifle Boone's real and folkloric exploits are so well-known that his character is often overlooked, as is the fact that his personality took shape during a boyhood not spent in "Kentucke" but in Berks County's picturesque Oley Valley. The Daniel Boone Homestead at Baumstown, southeast of Reading, interprets the way of life of the Boone family and later eighteenth-century residents, highlighting the cultural and environmental influences that shaped Daniel Boone's future and took the area from frontier to developed settlements.
Daniel Boone's ancestors arrived in southeastern Pennsylvania, following an established Quaker migration pattern from England. His father, Squire Boone (1696-1765)--Squire his given name, and not an honorific title--left Devonshire for America in 1713. Squire Boone, traveling shipboard as cabin boy, had been sent with his brother and sister by their father, George Boone, to help decide if the entire family should emigrate. The Boones had contacts with the members of the Society of Friends who lived in Abington (in present-day Montgomery County), where they first settled, and from which they sent favorable reports back home. The remaining Boones arrived four years later, and the family moved ten miles northwest to Gwynedd.
In Gwynedd, Squire Boone met Sarah Morgan (1700-1777), an American-born woman of Welsh Quaker background. They married in 1720 and lived first in Gwynedd, then in Chalfont, Bucks County, before they purchased two hundred and fifty acres in the Oley Valley in 1730. (The valley was part of Philadelphia County until 1752, when it became part of the new Berks County.) His father and brothers had already relocated to the area and enjoyed prominence in business, government, and the Exeter Friends Meeting.
A Lenape word, Oley meant "kettle," "bowl," and "hole." The valley was rich agricultural area full of movement and transition by the mid-eighteenth century. "Oley was a conglomeration of Europeans," explains James A. Lewars, administrator of the Daniel Boone Homestead. "Within a five mile radius were Germans, Swiss, French Huguenots, Welsh and English Quakers, Irish, Swedes--about a dozen different groups. The spirit of the people was reflected in their religious associations.
"Oley had some of the best land in Pennsylvania, as well as early industries, including ironmaking," Lewars adds. "The Blue Mountains, which form the northern border of Berks County about twenty to twenty-five miles away, were the edge of settlement." Europeans were the newcomers to the Oley Valley, and area encompassed today primarily by the townships of Oley and Exeter. Although some Native Americans were beginning to move westward, those who did not still covered the countryside. An alliance between Pennsylvania and the Iroquois Confederacy attracted Native Americans there who had been displaced by European colonization in their traditional homes. Bands of hunter-gatherer Lenape (also known as Delawares) built villages, remained a short time, then moved on after they had exhausted the resources. The Shawnee Path ran down the center of the valley and was used by the Cayuga, the Onondaga and others, as well as the Shawnee. Europeans and Native Americans were in mostly peaceful, and often commercial, contact with each other in the province at the time the Boones arrived, contends John Mack Faragher, the most recent of Daniel Boone's biographers. Indian trade accounted for nearly a third of Pennsylvania's commerce in the first half of the eighteenth century.
Squire Boone was primarily a tradesman. Following in his father's footsteps as a weaver, he set up five looms. He also worked as a blacksmith and gunsmith. The Boones farmed their new land in Oley as well. Although the red sandstone soil in this southern part of the valley did not yield the bounty that the lime-based northern portion did, successful farming productive enough to feed a growing family was certainly possible. With the help of family and friends, Squire built a one-and-a-half story log house with a stone "ender" wall on one side. The basement housed an integral springhouse typical of the early eighteenth century, and the cool, flowing water was useful for drinking, washing, cooking, and cold storage. The cellar's archway supported the fireplace above. It was in this house that Daniel Boone, the sixth of Squire and Rebecca's eleven children, was born on October 22, 1734 (according to the Old Style calendar, which today, by the modern calendar, is November 2).
In the vast woods and great open fields, with the Schuylkill River a mile away and streams aplenty, with people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and philosophies in frequent, congenial contact, and with a strong ethic of Quakerism underlying his family's moral code, Daniel Boone's character was molded. When he was ten, his father bought twenty-five acres of pasture to build up his dairy herd. Since squire had to manage his weaving and smithing, Daniel and his mother tended the cows, living in a rustic cabin during the grazing season.
Daniel Boone enjoyed the outdoors, often neglecting his herding duties and slipping away for a day or more. Taught by Native Americans and by white backwoods hunters, he learned to observe and interpret the habits of wild turkey, deer, bear, beaver, and other animals. Too young for a gun, he fashioned a spear-like club with which he became an expert hunter of small game. He began to master the skills of a woodsman and to internalize the social values that, despite their theistic and societal differences, were shared by both the white and native cultures: personal freedom and family loyalty.
Most of what is known about Daniel Boone's childhood is based on oral history originating with Boone's own reflections (see "Daniel Boone: The Formative Years" by Koren P. McCarthy in the Winter 1985 edition). One familiar anecdote that foreshadows his lifelong restlessness is traced to his confinement during a smallpox epidemic, possibly in 1738 or 1739 when he was about four. He and his older sister, Elizabeth tired of being housebound, decided to sneak out to an ailing neighbor's to intentionally contract the highly infectious disease, "and when it is over, be free to go where they pleased." Their plan succeeded. In a few days, the symptoms appeared, at which time the children's mother demanded the truth and received a confession from her son.
Daniel acquired his first rifle, a short-barreled piece, when he was twelve or thirteen. He quickly became a crack marksman, keeping the family supplied with game and wandering the forests and mountains for increasingly longer periods. He much preferred this to attending school. Even though his formal education was sporadic and his spelling atrocious to the point of tarnishing the family's reputation for literacy, his relatives were quiet learned for the time, and numbered among them a teacher and a mathematician. Despite his deplorable spelling, Daniel was by no means illiterate; his favorite book was Gulliver's Travels, the 1726 satirical classic by Jonathan Swift.
In the 1740s, relations between Squire Boone and the Friends of Exeter Meeting grew strained. In 1742, Daniel's sister Sarah married "out of Meeting" by wedding a German, John Wilcoxen. Squire and his wife confessed that their mistake had been letting the couple keep company in the first place, but that they had found themselves faced with an unhappy dilemma when they discovered that pair had been "too conversant." The suspicion later shown to be true, was that the young Sarah was pregnant at the time of the marriage.
Despite their work to be more mindful of their children's behavior, the Boones' eldest son, Israel, also married a "worldling" in 1747. Called to account again, Squire resisted the communal discipline the Society of Friends attempted to impose, insisting that Israel could choose to marry whomever he wished. In 1748, the Exeter Friends Meeting expelled Squire; his wife remained a member in god standing.
Squire had had enough of Pennsylvania. Besides his trouble with the Quakers, his land--with no crop rotation or fertilization--was rapidly declining in productivity. Land was cheaper in the South. In 1750, the Boone family left the Oley Valley of Pennsylvania for the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. At the age of fifteen-and-a-half, Daniel's Pennsylvanian days were ending but the imprint they had made upon him was deep and lasting. This influence would extend throughout and beyond the trans-Appalachian West as the Berks County youth became the leader of the Kentucky pioneers. Boone only returned to the area of his childhood twice, in 1781 and 1787, to visit relatives.
"The Boones' move was part of a migration of thousands of families down the Shenandoah Valley to North Carolina," says Lewars. "In the eighteenth century, people did not settle down permanently till they found the best possible place. Land was less expensive in the South; Squire Boone paid three shillings for one square mile in North Carolina, while here, in 1730, it had cost ninety pounds for several hundred acres. As Pennsylvanians moved down though western Maryland and Virginia and the Carolinas, they greatly influenced material culture, architecture, language, and religion. They took things with them form their 'cultural hearth' in southeastern Pennsylvania, as historians refer to it. A distinct culture, including decorative arts, was incubated here. It spread as settlers made their way across the country. By looking at material culture remnants--bank barns, furniture, and so on, you can trace the travels and influence of Pennsylvanians in the eighteenth century."
William Maugridge, a Philadelphia shipwright and house builder--related to the Boones although not himself a Quaker--purchased a portion of Squire Boone's Pennsylvania property in 1750. Historians are not completely certain if Maugridge expanded the house, or if the large, two-story stone section of the present house fronted by the porch had been built by the Boones. "There's no specific documentation," says Lewars, "but I believe that if William Maugridge had built the stone house anew he would have built a more tasteful, stylish house. In Philadelphia, he was a vestryman of Christ Church; he know Benjamin Franklin and other movers and shakers. The stone portion of the Boone house is a traditional country house, not a fashionable structure. I think William Maugridge was a man who valued pretension; perhaps he was aspiring to a status like the minor country gentry. Maugridge was active in the church; he owned two slaves. He became a Berks County judge in 1752; maybe some of this influential friends in Philadelphia helped him." During Maugridge residency, the house reflected English features including a bible closet and the typical "hall and parlor" arrangement of rooms.
Maugridge died in 1766. In 1770, the property was purchased by Pennsylvania German John DeTurk, one of the prosperous DeTurk grain farmers in northern Oley. Descended from French Protestants who had migrated to Germany, DeTurk "Germanized the farm in many ways. "They way people organize their living space says chapters about their cultural roots," says Lewars. "DeTurk removed the walls of the log house and changed the floor plan into a classic Pennsylvania German farmhouse with its roots in the Rhine Valley." The main entrance leads into the kuche, or kitchen, with the stube, or parlor, and the kammer, or bedroom, in the building's stone section, which was previously constructed of logs. The furnishings were also German-style; instead of using chests-of-drawers for storage, the DeTurks used painted blanket chest and shranks, or wardrobes.
Following John DeTurk's death in 1808, a number of farmers owned the property until an attempt at preservation was initiated by the Rev. A. B. Vossler of St Michael's Church in Birdsboro, who purchased the farm in 1926 with the help of William C. Foote of East Orange, New Jersey. The property was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1937 in order to preserve and restore it.
The Daniel Boone Homestead, situated on nearly six hundred acres, is the largest historic site administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). Historic site staff interpret the lives of the Boone, Maugridge, and DeTurk families as a microcosm of eighteenth-century life in the Oley Valley. The sheer size and rural nature of the site lend themselves to contemplation and recreation. Traditional meadows, hedgerows, and woods are a refuge for wildlife, while nature walks and orienteering are reminiscent of the activities Daniel Boone, a consummate nature enthusiast, surely would have enjoyed.
The Boone-Maugridge-DeTurk house, which visitors may explore on a guided tour, contains fine examples of furniture representative of its English and German inhabitants. Visitors can examine, firsthand, an English-inspired walnut chest with cotter pin hinges, a German-style blanket chest made about 1780 by Johannes Rank in Lebanon County, a trundle bed, a toddler bed, and a William and Mary chest of drawers with bun feet, original brass fittings, and recessed-panel sides. A former bedroom is interpreted as a workroom with six spinning wheels, including one of the best specimens of a "walking wheel" extant. Decorated with exquisite chip carving, it is dated September 10, 1768.
The Daniel Boone Homestead includes a smokehouse, probably built by the DeTurks, in which they would have used apply and hickory wood to preserve meat, and a Pennsylvania German bank barn that houses draft animals and a small flock of sheep. A 1769 blacksmith shop, moved to the property from nearby Amityville, is similar to the kind Squire Boone would have used. He, like other rural blacksmiths, made and fixed wrought-iron tools and hardware, in addition to shoeing horses and oxen.
The Bertolet house, an excellent example of eighteenth-century Pennsylvania German log architecture, tells the story of early Germanic settlers in Oley. Built between 1737 and 1750, the building was moved from Quarry Road in Oley Township to the Daniel Boone Homestead in 1968. Like the DeTurks, the Bertolet family was originally French Huguenot and became Germanized. (The DeTurks and the Bertolets, incidentally, were related by marriage). The layout of the house is traditional German, with a centrally located raised-hearth fireplace opening into the kuche . Behind the fireplace are two rooms: the larger is the stube, the smaller, the kammer. The long, side-lapped shingles of the roof overlap in such a way that every nail had to be driven through six shingles. A combination bake oven and smokehouse outbuilding, moved to the historic site with the Bertolet house, has an equally interesting roof. Made of clay tiles, the shingles were not nailed at all, but positioned with lugs and held by gravity. Visitors will also want to examine the 1810 water powered vertical-blade sawmill relocated to the property in 1972.
As the eighteenth century marched on in Berks County, so did time pass for Daniel Boone. After his family settled in North Carolina, he made hunting his profession. Serving as a wagoner with General Edward Braddock's army in 1755, he barely escaped with life when Native Americans, led by the French, vanquished a British and colonial expedition on the Monongahela River. When he returned to North Carolina he married, in 1756, Rebecca Bryan, who would be the mother of his ten children. It was during several winter-long hunting excursions, that he explored the Kentucky wilderness.
In 1773, Boone attempted to settle his family in Kentucky, but they were thwarted by Native Americans at Cumberland Gap. In the attack, Boone's oldest son James, born in 1757, was killed. Two years later he founded Boonesborough in Kentucky, despite Shawnee attacks. Over the next several years he had many encounters with the Shawnee, including a period of three months when he was their captive. The Kentucky frontier was under attack during the American Revolution. In 1782, Boone was a division leader in an American force defeated by the Shawnee at Blue Licks on the Licking River of Kentucky. His son Israel was killed standing at his side.
Through the years, Boon's reputation grew. In 1784, The Adventures of Daniel Boone by John Filson, a romanticized work claiming to be Boone's autobiography, established the backwoodsman as the ultimate embodiment of American frontier virtues. But the celebrated frontiersman's finances were a disaster. He lost one hundred thousand acres of Kentucky land through defective titles and was subject to numerous lawsuits; his farming and business ventures all failed, and in 1798 a warrant was issued for his arrest for debt. Plagued by creditors and haunted by disillusionment, Boone relocated to the Femme Osage Creek settlement in Spanish-controlled Missouri in 1799. When the United States absorbed the area after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Boone's titles were found faulty, but special action by Congress in 1814 saved most of his Missouri claims. He took great pride in returning to Kentucky to satisfy personal depts. Hunting and trapping until the year before his death in 1820, Boone had cordial encounters with several old Shawnee leaders who had been his enemies and captors decades before.
The lore and legend of Daniel Boone continued to blossom after his death. James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) drew of Boone's adventurers for the main character, Natty Bumppo, in The Leatherstocking Tales. Despite such mythology, however, the reality is that throughout his life's struggles Daniel Boone remained true to his Berks County roots. Even though the death a brother and two sons had been at the hands of Native Americans, Boone--influenced by his Quaker upbringing and by the early encounters he had had with Native Americans--never became an "Indian-hater" as did many fellow pioneers. As Boone and his followers took their culture south and west into America's frontier, Pennsylvania's influence became a strong thread woven into the fabric of a young America during an electrifying era of its growth.
The Daniel Boone Homestead is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Sunday, noon to 5 P.M. Guided tours are available. In addition to the restored house built by the Boones and expanded and rebuilt by their successors, the property includes a smokehouse, a blacksmith shop, and the Bertolet log house with its bake oven and sawmill. Recreational opportunities include picnicking, hiking, fishing, and orienteering sessions. The Wayside Lodge is available to youth groups for overnight camping. Flintlock marksmanship events are held regularly. There is an admission fee.
A major living history program, Architectural Heritage Day, scheduled for Sunday, October 18, 1993, will feature crafts demonstration, talks, and activities relating to eighteenth-century architectural structures and what took place in and around them.
For information write: Daniel Boone Homestead, 400 Daniel Boone Road, Birdsboro, Pennsylvania 19508; or telephone (610) 582-4900. Persons with disabilities should telephone the historic site in advance of their visit to discuss their needs. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired who wish to contact a hearing person via Text Telephone may use the PA Relay Center at (800) 654-5984.
Rich in history, Berks County is home to a number of historic sites and museums, one of which, the Conrad Weiser Homestead in Womelsdorf is also administered by the PHMC (see "Finding a Light in the Forest: Conrad Weiser Homestead" by Philip E. Pendleton in the Summer 1996 edition). Conrad Weiser (1690-1760) was many things to many people: to the Iroquois he was "Holder of the Heavens"; to the family of William Penn he was "Honest Conrad"; and to fellow pioneer settlers he was known as a farmer, an interpreter of Native American languages, a diplomat, a soldier, a peace negotiator, a lay religious leader, a treaty-maker, and a highly ambitious entrepreneur.
Other popular attractions in the county include Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, in Elverson, once an important ironmaking community that has been restored to its mid-nineteenth-century appearance, and the Historic Joanna Furnace Plantation, located in Geigertown. The Reading Public Museum exhibits and interprets significant works of art, artifacts, and objects, in addition to offering a variety of educational programs. The museum has a fine collection of paintings by acclaimed regional artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, among them Ben Austrian (1870-1921), Francis Daniel Devlan (1835-1870), Earl L. Poole (1891-1972), Christopher Shearer (1846-1926), William W. Swallow (1912-1962), Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), and George Papashvily (1898-1978). Also in reading, the Historical Society of Berks County, established in 1869, preserves and presents county and regional history with permanent and changing exhibitions. The society also houses an extensive library, popular with genealogists and researchers.
Showcasing an outstanding collections of vehicles manufactured, owned, or used in Berks County, the Boyerstown Museum of Historic Vehicles, founded 1978, offers visitors a look at the evolution of ground transportation, while the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, located at the Reading Municipal Airport, collects, exhibits and operates historic aircraft and aviation-related items. The Berks County Heritage Center, Sinking Spring, is an interpretive complex encompassing the Gruber Wagon Works, the
C. Howard Heister Canal Center, Wertz's "Red" Covered Bridge, Melcher's Grist Mill, and the Deppen Cemetery.
Information about these and more than two dozen popular visitors attractions is available by writing: Reading and Berks County Visitors Bureau, 352 Penn Street, Reading, PA 19602; by telephone (610) 375-4085 or (800) 443-6610.
Sharon Hernes Silverman of West Chester, Chester County, is a frequent contributor to Pennsylvania Heritage. Her most recent feature, "Blast from the Past: Cornwall Iron Furnace," appeared in the Spring 1998 issue.
The author thanks James A. Lewars, historic site administrator, and site interpreter Michael Emery of the Daniel Boone Homestead for their assistance and insight.
For Further Reading:
Bakeless, John. Daniel Boone. Harrisburg: Stackpole Company, 1965.
Brand, Millen. Field of Peace: A Pennsylvania German Album. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970.
Faragher, John Mack. Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1992.
Lofaro, Michael A. The Life and Adventures of Daniel Boone. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1978.
Pendleton, Philip E. Oley Valley Heritage: The Colonial Years, 1700-1775. Birdsboro: Pennsylvania German Society and Oley Valley Heritage Association, 1994.
Wallace, Paul A.W. Daniel Boone in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1987.