6/26/09 - boone's surprise

In today's excerpt - affection, infidelity and loss in the marriage of American hero Daniel Boone:

"On August 14, 1756, Daniel Boone and Rebecca Bryan were married [in North Carolina]. By this time he was twenty-one, she seventeen. Two other couples were married at the same time. Presumably the families had a party, with Black Betty, the liquor jug, being passed from thirsty lips to thirsty lips and bawdy songs being sung below the nuptial chamber.

"The first child of Daniel and Rebecca, James was born on May 3, 1757—eleven days shy of nine months after the wedding date. James was the first of 10 children Boone and Rebecca were to have between 1757 and 1781—on average, one child every 2.4 years. Rebecca was eighteen when the first child was born and forty-two when the tenth child arrived. ... Frontier people tended to have large families. Children helped in settling and working the land, but many of them died young. Among Rebecca and Daniel's children, one son died in infancy and two others were killed by Indians before they were married. In any case, people living along the frontier at that time married young, contraception was minimal, and there were few forms of entertainment to compete with sex.

"The marriage of Daniel Boone and Rebecca Bryan proved remarkably resilient, despite severe challenges, including the perils of Indian attacks, the squalor of frontier settlements, frequent and large financial reverses, repeated moves over thousands of miles, the killings of two sons by Indians, and Boone's recurrent and prolonged absences on long hunts and military campaigns. ...

"On his return [from one such two-year absence], according to several stories gathered many decades later (and denied or questioned by several Boone descendants and biographers), Boone encountered what his nineteenth-century biographer Lyman Draper referred to in his notes as 'Boone's surprise': during her husband's prolonged absence Rebecca had conceived and given birth to another child, Jemima, born on October 4, 1762.

"Rebecca reportedly burst into tears when she saw Boone and told him he had been gone so long that everyone thought he was dead. Boone asked who the baby's father was and was told it was a Boone—according to some stories, Boone's younger brother Edward, known as Neddy, who, Rebecca said 'looked so much like Daniel, she couldn't help it.' Boone took the news in stride. 'It will be a Boone any how,' he reportedly said in another telling of the story, 'and besides I have been obliged to be married in Indian fashion a couple of times. Pho' pho! Dry up your tears and welcome me home.' The teller of the story, who was seventy-six years old and who apologized for having 'only a faint recollection of a mass of incidents without date or form,' reported that Boone's wife was there when Boone told it to him, and she 'made her knitting needles fly very fast' as the story was told. Another account has Rebecca telling the returning Daniel as he sees the new child, 'You had better have staid at home & got it yourself.'

"Like much Boone lore, the stories about Boone's surprise were based on reminiscences of old frontiersmen and women (or their descendants) long after the time in question. The stories also are mutually inconsistent in key aspects, such as the date of the event and the identity of the child and of the father, and other puzzling aspects. When, before Jemima's birth, would Boone have taken an Indian wife? Boone did not live in a Shawnee village until he was taken captive by the Indians in 1778—sixteen years after Jemima was born. But that does not mean that he would not have had opportunities, traveling in Indian country, for encounters with Indian women."


Meredith Mason Brown


Frontiersman: Daniel Boone and the Making of America


Louisiana State University Press


Copyright 2008 by LSU Pres


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