Rebecca’s Apron

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Rebecca’s Apron

“Yes, that’s right. I am Rebecca Bryan’s cambric apron. I guess you could say I was born, actually sewn, in 1755. Rebecca made me when she was just a young girl of sixteen back in Virginia. Rebecca is an old woman now of seventy-four, this year of 1813, March 18th to be exact here in the wilds of Missouri. Oh yes, I’m still with her and I’m probably a little thread-barren by now. She has packed me along all these many long years. It’s quite a story how she and I got from Virginia to Missouri. Here’s what happened.

“Rebecca made me to wear over her first woman length dress for the wedding of Mary Boone, one of Rebecca’s best friends. Mary was wedding Rebecca’s uncle, William Bryan. There was a wedding feast that day for the married couple. Now I suppose Rebecca knew of Mary’s brother Daniel, and possibly Daniel had his eye on tall, dark-haired Rebecca.

“Well, something was sparking between Daniel and Rebecca that day because he gave her hand a tight squeeze, then said he’d be back for her. And that was that. They didn’t get married right away since Daniel Boone was a volunteer under Major General Braddock and his British regulars. But when the army returned William and Mary Bryan put on a big shindig for all the Boones. It was at this feast that Daniel Boone popped the big question to Rebecca Bryan. She said ‘yes’ and they were married on August 14, 1756. Folks said it was a fine match, too, since Rebecca was nearly as good with a rifle as her new husband.

“The new Mr. and Mrs. Boone didn’t have their own cabin right off so they stayed with his folks for a spell. After a while they built their own cabin on Sugar Tree Creek. Shortly after they move into their new cabin there first child was born. They moved back on the Yadkin River in North Carolina in 1759 and Boone bought 640 acres from his father for L50. He built Rebecca a cabin there and put in a crop of corn. Soon after, he was off west into the mountains. He’d come home and farm a bit in the spring and summer and then disappear again. In the fall he’d hunt. Come winter he’d be off trapping beaver.

“Later on the Boones moved to another cabin in Culpepper County and stayed there until 1766. The Boones did a considerable amount of moving around. I guess it didn’t take long for Rebecca to realize that this man of hers was the restless sort that just had to see what was on the other side of the next hill, then the next. They moved again, this time to the head of the Yadkin River.

“By 1773 Daniel had done a considerable amount of trotting around the country. Some of those times Rebecca, and whatever amount of little Boones there were, went right along with him. If Rebecca went, I went too. After all, I am Rebecca’s apron. During a lot of Daniel’s travels Rebecca stayed home, at whatever place the Boones were calling home at the time.

“Also by 1773 Daniel Boone had it in his head, which never wore a coonskin hat, that Kentucky would be a fine place to settle his growing family. By now Rebecca and Daniel were the parents of eight strapping children. So Rebecca packed up their belongings, including me–her apron, and off we went. And just let me add that if Daniel had worn a coonskin hat I’d remember a good looking specimen of male attire like that–oh, yeah.”

“With Daniel Boone at their head, six families left North Carolina for Kentucky in September of 1773. Of course, being Rebecca Boone’s apron I was carried right along. It was an exciting trip, let me tell you, but not all the adventures were welcome ones. Their son James, who was 16 by then, was trailing behind with some other youngsters. For two weeks things went well, then near Cumberland Gap disaster struck.

“Young James Boone and his friends were ambushed by Shawnees. James was horribly tortured and surely Rebecca could hear him screaming for death until it came, at last, for the poor boy. Daniel rode back in time to bury his son. Well, that was the end of that trip to Kentucky. The whole party turned around and started back to where they’d come from.

“Clinch River in North Carolina, was the Boone’s next home. They stayed there for almost two years. During that time Rebecca’s uncle, James Bryan, showed up on their doorstep one day, and his news was not good. His wife had died and there he was with six children to see to, ranging in ages from six to sixteen. Rebecca, bless her heart, didn’t hesitate an instant. She told James to bring the children in to live with her and Daniel. Then Rebecca’s ninth child was born.

“Daniel still hadn’t gotten the idea of a home in Kentucky out of his head. So in 1775 the Boones and a caravan started for Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky. Back then, Boone’s Fort wasn’t much more than a few crude shacks built along the Kentucky River, and that is what Rebecca saw that was to be her new home. In spite of its crudeness, in true Boone style, Rebecca made do. And she did gain the prestige of being the first white woman to stand on the banks of the Kentucky River.

“While they were there, in July of 1776, some Shawnees captured and carried off Rebecca and Daniel’s daughter, Jemima, and two of her friends. Well, Daddy Boone didn’t give up until he’d gotten those girls back home, safe and sound. Daniel tracked those Indians for three days. When he did catch up to them he had to kill two of the Indians before he could get the girls back.

“Things went pretty well for the Boones in Kentucky until about 1782, then what was said to be the last considerable combat of the Revolution took place. It came to be called the Battle of Blue Licks and it turned out to be a pretty bloody affair. Five minutes after the battle began 60 Kentuckians lay dead. Unfortunately for the Boones, one of the dead was their son Israel. Daniel had tried to prevent that backwoods militia from plunging into this Indian ambush. No one listened to him and the Wyandots mowed them down. The truth of it was that the whole uproar was the aftermath of a raid into Kentucky by a force of more than 400 Ohio Indians under the notorious Simon Girty.

“It was also that year that Daniel began his elevation to the status of National Hero.”

“Up until 1782 Rebecca Boone’s husband, Daniel, was just one of hundreds of footloose, buckskin-clad Americans who had dreams of wide-open spaces and free land—or nearly free except for the backbreaking toil it took to civilize it.

“It seems a Pennsylvania schoolteacher by the name of John Filson had his own dream. He was going to write a book about Kentucky. So Filson took a trip down Kentucky way to interview some of the old settlers. The book became popular and held a lot of truths, as well as a good measure of myths. He was generous and devoted a whole section to Daniel Boone and his exploits.

“After the publication of Filson’s book folks started asking Daniel to locate, survey and stake out tracks of land for them in Kentucky. Boone obliged them and set the price on his services at one half of the land surveyed. By 1788 Rebecca’s husband owned some 50,000 acres of prime Kentucky land. At last Daniel could provide for his Rebecca and their large brood the way he thought a man ought too.

“Whether Daniel did it purposelessly or unknowingly, he often surveyed lands that had previous claims on them. He also sort of had a tendency, after locating and surveying land, to put off establishing a clear and legal title to it. The urge to go off wondering through the woods and do some hunting was still a strong pull in the nature of Rebecca’s husband. I guess it never occurred to him that some others might use this delay to establish title for themselves on lands he’d surveyed. As a result, thousands and thousands of acres were lost by his customers, which meant Daniel’s portions were lost, too. It wasn’t long before folks started to regard this honest backwoodsman as a fraud, and the lawsuits began. Doing the best he knew to do, he started selling off his land to pay people back, but a lot of what he’d thought was his was not his to sell. Once more, Rebecca’s husband took off for the forest.

“I recall back in about the mid-1790s when a backwoodsman came upon the Boone camp. What he saw there was unbelievable, considering Daniel Boone had been regaled as a hero. The Boones, with two of their daughters and their husbands, were living in open-sided lean-tos near the Big Sandy River. They had one butcher knife among them and had made forks from pieces of cane to eat their meals with off wooden troughs. But, being Boones, they were making the best of it till times got better. Not only that, Old Boone was real happy because he’d just shot what he called the ‘master bear of the Western country.’ And as always, he was looking forward, not backwards, as he expected to get a good price for the bear’s skin and several others he had drying near their campfire. For Boone, things were always bound to get better, and for a time they did. And, of course, that meant packing up and moving further west.

“Back then, in 1799, as far west as a man and his family could go was still in Spanish held Missouri. By that winter Rebecca, Daniel, and various others of the growing Boone family were settled on tracts of land in Missouri totaling some thousands of acres just above St. Charles on the lower Missouri River. Best of all, for Daniel, there was a whole new stretch of wilderness for him to explore. Surely, Rebecca noticed that when the creditors who followed the Boones to Missouri came around Daniel seemed to have his strongest urges to go grab Old Tick-Licker, his favorite rifle, and take off exploring and hunting. All in all, things were going well again for the Boones in Missouri until the Louisiana Purchase put a kink in their plans.”

“Life was really good for Rebecca Boone, her husband Daniel, and their family after they moved to Missouri. It was some good times. I know, since being Rebecca’s apron I saw it all. Spain even granted Daniel several thousand acres of land there. However, there turned out to be one slight hitch in the situation.

“It seems that when Spain gave Rebecca’s husband those thousands of acres in Missouri it was before 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase was signed. After that noted date the United States Government didn’t recognize any land grants made by the Spanish to frontier men who had fought for their country and lost so much, men such as Daniel Boone.

“Rebecca Boone, during all those years before the Boones settled in Missouri, saw Indians capture her husband and felt his absence for many months until he escaped and returned. She lived through a time of the fort in Kentucky being held under siege by Indians who sent their burning brands into the enclosure as they tried to burn the settlers out while she molded bullets and loaded rifles.

“Whether it was because of combined disagreements with his fellow settlers or other factors, Rebecca packed up to move when Daniel said it was time to go. This time the Boones moved on to settle Boone’s Station north of the Kentucky River. She stood by supportively when Boone was robbed of $20,000 of his own money and $30,000 belonging to a friend to buy warrants to establish title to some unclaimed acreage.

“Rebecca was a tough and practical woman. She also had a tremendous capacity for getting along by her self, with my help of course, when Daniel was gone. One time she shot seven deer from a tree while Boone was away from their home on the Yadkin River. Over the years her talents became considerable. She could hoe the garden and chop wood. She bore 10 children and helped Daniel run a tavern he’d opened on the Ohio River. She’d holler at him when he’d get blood on his shirt from some deer he’d be butchering, but she’d followed him to wilder frontiers without complaint. More recently she’d go into the Missouri woods to cook for him and help him boil maple sugar. But those times are over now for Rebecca Boone. She’s earned her rest.

“They’ll be burying Rebecca today, March 18, 1813, here in Warren County, Missouri. And I’ll be going with her, of course. She’ll be wearing me, her chambric apron, for the occasion. It’s kind of funny and a whole lot sad: all those years Daniel went tramping around, leaving Rebecca alone to do the best she could, now its her turn to find some peace and solitude and leave him behind. Daniel will most likely follow in a few years, I expect.

Authors note:

Daniel Boone died in 1820 at his son Nathan’s home in Missouri. He was buried next to his wife, Rebecca Bryan Boone, in a cemetery in Warren County, Missouri. In 1845 both of their bodies were removed and reburied at Frankfurt, Kentucky. There remains a controversy concerning whether or not it was Daniel Boone’s body that was removed, or someone else.