Fort Boonesborough State Park

Location: Richmond, Kentucky

Website: Kentucky State Park

General Description: In 1774, a coalition of Native Americans were defeated in Ohio Country in Dunmore’s War.  The resulting treaty stipulated that the Ohio River would be the boundary with lands north of the Ohio belonging to the Native Americans.  However, the Native American tribes were not well organized and many did not participate or agree with the treaty.  In 1775, Richard Henderson, founder of the Transylvania Company, purchased a large amount of land including Kentucky from the Cherokee Indians on which he intended to establish a colony named Transylvania.  He hired Daniel Boone to connect a series of woods trails through the Cumberland Gap that became known as the Wilderness Trail into central Kentucky.  On the left bank of a stream that emptied into the nearby Kentucky River, Daniel Boone established Fort Boone, later to be renamed Fort Boonesborough in 1775.  Beginning as strictly a horse trail, the Wilderness Trail opened up new land for settlers eager for the opportunity.  Fort Boonesborough was intended to be a temporary home for these settlers as they established homes and farms in the surrounding countryside and as a place for defense when the need arose.  In 1776, Fort Boonesborough became formally a part of the Virginia Colony, who was now at war with the British at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  While the Revolution did not directly impact the settlers at Fort Boonesborough, the British under the command of the Lieutenant Governor of Canada at Fort Detroit, Henry Hamilton, began supplying the Native Americans with weapons and supplies to raid the settlements in Kentucky.  The burning of crops and homes in Kentucky by the Native Americans caused a food shortage overall and increased the need for salt to preserve the meat they had left.  In January, 1778, Daniel Boone led a party of salt workers to the salt springs on the Lick River where he and his 30 men were captured by Shawnee Indians under the command of Blackfish.  Boone convinced Blackfish to wait until spring to continue on to Fort Boonesborough when he guaranteed a peaceful surrender.  The prisoners were taken to their camp at Chillicothe where most were taken on to Fort Detroit to collect the bounty from the British.  However, Boone and a few others were instead adopted by the tribe, which was a Native American custom to replace lost warriors.  Boone was adopted by Blackfish given the Indian name Sheltowee, Big Turtle.  Consequently, Boone was reported to have switched loyalties to the British which led to his wife and family moving back to North Carolina and new leadership council taking over Fort Boonesborough.  When Boone learned of Blackfish’s plans to attack Fort Boonesborough in June, he escaped and returned to the Fort to warn them.  On September 7, 1778 Blackfish finally arrived at Fort Boonesborough with a sizable force of 444 Native Americans, mostly Shawnee.   Boone and Blackfish parlayed outside the fort with Blackfish demanding Boone fulfill his promise of surrendering the fort, however, Boone was no longer in command and could only present his demands.  After 2 days of negotiations, Blackfish agreed to leave and recognize the Ohio River as the boundary if the settlers would pledge allegiance to the British.  Once the treaty was signed and the parties approached each other to shake hands, a scuffle broke out and shots were fired.  The siege was on and over the next several days sporadic gunfire was exchanged between the two sides.  Without cannons to destroy the fort, the Indians attempted to set fire to the fort with torches, but this made easy targets for the men manning the walls.  An attempt to dig a tunnel to place gunpowder below the walls failed due to heavy rains collapsing the tunnel.  On September 17, the Indians made one final attempt to set fire to the fort, but were beaten back and the rains helped put out the fires.  The Indians then abandoned the siege.  After the siege, Boone was brought up on charges of switching loyalties to the British, however, he was found not guilty and was even promoted to Major for his efforts.  The next spring he retrieved his family from North Carolina, although he did not return to Fort Boonesborough establishing a new settlement known as Boone Station.  Fort Boonesborough continued for many years to function as the first homes for new settlers coming to Kentucky, especially once the Wilderness Trail was improved for wagons.  Eventually, the location of Fort Boonesborough being a distance from the Kentucky River that was navigable only during the spring floods, became less important and it was slowly abandoned.  It is hypothesized that the wooden stockade and homes were salvaged for building materials and eventually the fort and even its actually location was lost to history.  Archeological research has now determined the approximate location of the original fort and today the fort has been reconstructed on a nearby site to serve as a living museum.  Within Fort Boonesborough State Park, many artisans demonstrate the crafts of the day including weaving, blacksmithing, candle and soap making, gardening, and cooking.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) Although it was disappointing to find out that the reconstructed fort is not where the original fort was, they have done a wonderful job in the reconstruction.  It was interesting to see that the fort consisted of mostly the back walls of the homes laid out in a rectangle with a wooden palisade between the walls and blockhouses at each corner.  While these were intended to be only temporary homes for new settlers, all of the homes are simple, single rooms with dirt floors and a minimum of space.  Outside of a blacksmith and gun powder magazine in the center of the fort there are not the usual features you would find within a fort, as these would be built outside of the fort.  It was mostly for temporary housing and for defense when needed.

2) Especially since it is a popular location for school trips during the week, there were quite a few artisans working even in mid-October.  We spent time with the weaver, soap and candle makers, as well as the gunsmith and leather worker.  Once the grade school classes left around noon, we had the place pretty much to ourselves and enjoyed our visits with the various artisans.

Weaver

3) One of the blockhouses is set up as a museum with numerous exhibits about the history and life at Fort Boonesborough.  There is a lot to read and easily took an hour to learn all I could about the fort, as well as, the siege in 1778.  There are also exhibits about the archeological work in discovering the original location of the fort and why its exact location is still not known for sure.