Telling our ancestor’s stories requires knowledge of their time. What better way to discover life on the frontier during the Revolutionary War than to read a historical narrative? Author Matthew Pearl tells the tale of a specific era in Daniel Boone’s life that was pivotal for history. The Taking of Jemima Boone: Colonial Settlers, Tribal Nations, and the Kidnap that Shaped America backs up the retelling of this famous story with 231 endnotes, many of them referring to manuscripts from the Draper Collection. Reading good historical narratives can help us write our own stories, so let’s see what we can learn from The Taking of Jemima Boone.
We’re reading The Taking of Jemima Boone for our spring book club selection on the Family Locket Book Club hosted on Goodreads. If you share a love of reading and a love of writing your family’s stories, join our book group. We read a variety of books that inspire us to write our own family stories of trials and triumphs.
Start with a Hook
If we want to capture our reader’s attention from the beginning, we need to start our writing with a hook – an exciting event that doesn’t have to be at the beginning of the story necessarily. In The Taking of Jemima Boone, the author sets the stage with a minor incident involving Daniel Boone’s wife, Rebecca. Noticing the absence of men who were to be guarding the fort in their frontier home of western Virginia, Rebecca and the other women fired guns into the air and then shut the gates demonstrating to the men the need for constant vigilance. Pearl writes:
Rebecca had just demonstrated to young Jemima [her daughter] a crucial lesson. When the men in authority stumbled, women would have to rise up. Jemima carried the lesson to Kentucky, where the family set up not just a home but a community, and she continued to build on it as she entered the folklore of the American frontier when she was kidnapped in July 1776.
The author explains that the kidnapping incident inspired James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans. While that story became immensely popular, it was, after all, fiction. Based on source material, the Taking of Jemima Boone tells the story from the perspective of those who lived it. Notably, the author uses the initial kidnapping to tell the rest of the story, evidenced by the main headings: Book 1: The Taking, Book 2: Retaliation, and Book 3: The Reckoning.
Gather the Sources
When writing our stories, we need to research a variety of materials – documents, interviews, historical accounts, and more. For The Taking of Jemima Boone, Pearl had the vast manuscript collection known as the Draper Collection to draw upon. During the early 1800s, Lyman C. Draper and John D. Shane traveled the frontier soliciting stories from those who had settled from New York to Alabama, called by them the Trans-Allegheny West. Housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Draper Manuscript Collection holds a variety of documents, including military records, interview notes, letters, and more. Because of the importance of the collection, many finding aids have been devised to help navigate the 491 volumes divided into 50 series of varying lengths.
We may not have as much source material to work with, but we can dig deeper into newspapers of the era, county histories, lives of the neighbors, and seek out every detail in source documents. If you have an ancestor that could be mentioned in the Draper Collection, the St. Louis County Library provides an excellent article: Guide to finding your ancestors in the Draper Manuscript Collection. The FamilySearch Wiki discusses a search strategy and links to other locations where the collection may be accessed.
Reading other accounts of events our ancestors encountered can add historical background and perspective. We can also seek out accounts of the prominent people in the community as they might have more written about them! The endnotes in The Taking of Jemima Boone show that the author researched deep and wide to gain an understanding of the events and people and we can do the same.
The following illustration is taken from George W. Ranck, Boonesborough: Its Founding, Pioneer Struggles, Indian Experiences, Transylvania Days, and Revolutionary Annals.1 Written in 1901, Ranck provides another telling of the events, but with different details added. The appendix includes many transcriptions of source documents. The book has been digitized and is available on the Internet Archive.
What Does it Mean?
In The Taking of Jemima Boone, the author doesn’t stop with the kidnapping and rescue. He continues the story and gives the reader closure in the last chapter titled “Aftershocks.” We see the event through the lens of history and observe the ramifications of the actions of all involved – American settlers, British soldiers, and Native Americans. Pearl writes:
Saving Boonesboro and preserving the frontier – as Daniel and Jemima Boone had been insrumental in doing – allowed the United States of America to keep pushing westward, ultimately to the Pacific Ocean, monetizing land to pay war debts and fund economic development, with progressively catastrophic consequesces for American Indian tribes.
Boon, as characterized by family tradition, ‘had no vague idea of empire, or rule, or profit.’
We can do the same and add our final thoughts to the story of our ancestors. What did they learn from their experiences? How did their actions influence the world around them? What decisions did they make that changed the course of their lives?
I hope you’ll check out The Taking of Jemima Boone, both to learn about the history and to get ideas for writing your own family story.
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors.