Backyard Wilderness Blog
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"Boone" by Robert Morgan. An absorbing book!
Last month's blog page was a little late, causing some to ask where I have been lately.
For the past month I have been some distance away, both in time and space…
In December, while searching for the Cherokee ancestry claimed by my maternal grandmother from West Virginia, I discovered that in 1745 my fifth great-grandfather Johannes Mueller, traveled south from Pennsylvania along the Great Wilderness Road through the Shenandoah Valley and built the first mill, then later a store, near Fincastle, Virginia, in present day Botetourt County. At that time, Fincastle, located near the New River on the eastern side of the Allegheny Mountains, was the last stop at the edge of the great frontier for long hunters, trappers, and settlers to purchase tools, ammunition, and supplies, and to make any necessary repairs to wagons before they traveled farther west through Panther Gap into land that later became West Virginia and Kentucky. It was also a place frequently visited by many Powhatan, Shawnee and Cherokee. In fact, over time my relatives adopted some of the native ways and were chided for wearing “Indian style” deerskin clothing when visited by friends and relatives from Pennsylvania in 1752. Johannes and wife Maria Magdalena (Faber) Miller were followers of Conrad Beissel, the charismatic founder of the Ephrata religious community in Pennsylvania. They, along with other German families like the Macks, Zinns and Shavers became first members of Mahanaim, (meaning "two camps,") a southern branch of the Ephrata cloister, on the west bank of the New River. Later this area would become known as "Dunkard's Bottom" in reference to the style of baptism practiced there. Today, the remains of Mahanaim are submerged under Claytor Lake, a man-made reservoir created on the New River by the construction of a hydroelectric dam in 1939 near Radford, Virginia.
Toward the end of the 1750's in southwestern Virginia, there was hostility between the settlers living along the New River and the Shawnee, prompting John Miller and wife Maria to move farther south into North Carolina. Traveling by night down the Roanoke River, they took refuge with Moravians at Bethabara, near present day Winston-Salem, and eventually settled at the junction of Muddy Creek and the Yadkin River in Clemmons. Coincidentally, a few years earlier, Squire Boone, (father of famous Daniel,) and his family had migrated to this same area from Pennsylvania, settling on land across the river on the opposite bank of the Yadkin. Here, Daniel Boone later met his future bride, Rebecca Bryan.
It was exciting to think that members of my family may have walked and talked with Daniel Boone! Continuing this genealogical search, I finally discovered that Johannes Mueller’s grandson, John “Slickhead” Miller, (my third great-grandfather,) married a Nancy Henson, daughter of Revolutionary War veteran William Henson and Ann Jacobs of Wilkes County, NC. It was said about William Henson that he "crossed the blue ridge and went upon the waters of the Watauga, (river,) where he found his bride." Ann was a “Jacobs Indian” or “Jacobs Cherokee,” and thus I found my grandmother's Cherokee great-grandmother.
Knowing of my interest in this time period and our family connection between the Boones and the Millers, my son gave me a copy of “Boone” by Robert Morgan for Christmas this year. In my lifetime I have read many books about Daniel Boone, beginning with one published in the Golden Books for Children series when I was six years old. Most early Boone books were written with the intention of extolling him as one of the English Colony's, then later America's “larger than life” heroes, which indeed he was in many ways, but this newest biography, drawing from thousands of documents readily available in this digital age, is better researched and more objectively written, citing both the strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, of this iconic man; revealing him as an imperfect, yet much more believably authentic person. This book also gives Daniel's wife Rebecca her due, describing the life of toil and hardships endured by this extremely strong pioneer woman while Daniel was off in the woods.
One of the most interesting points in the book for me was a reference to the wild edible plants that were eaten by early settlers in Kentucky during Boone’s time. “Poke”, (early spring pokeweed shoots,) “cressy greens,” (pronounced creasy, like the word greasy,) and mustard greens were most frequently consumed. It was fascinating to see that this list was identical to one I made in 2007 while interviewing an eighty year old woman in North Carolina. As a young girl growing up in rural south-western Virginia near the Kentucky border, she and her siblings often foraged not only for food, but for boneset and other medicinal plants they could sell to a local pharmacist to earn money for school supplies. It was fascinating to hear stories that revealed just how close to nature people still were just seventy-five years ago. They were not weekend hobby foragers or wild edible enthusiasts, but people still intimately connected to and dependant upon the land for their well being.