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Story Archives: Francis Baily meets Daniel Boone on journey to Natchez in 1797
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|Francis Baily meets Daniel Boone on journey to Natchez in 1797|
(Second in a series)
Twenty-three-year-old Francis Baily was an Englishmen traveling the American frontier when his flatboat landed at Natchez at noon on Thursday, May 11, 1797. Baily quickly learned that the town was in turmoil as various factions were vying for political control.
Natchez was preparing to become American after decades of rule by foreign governments, including France, England and Spain. Baily saw two flags flying -- the Spanish flag at the fort and a thousand yards to the north, the American flag, where a small contingent of U.S. troops, woodsmen and surveyors waited for the Spanish to evacuate town so that a north-south boundary line could be marked separating the two nations from the east side of the Mississippi to the Atlantic.
The 1790s were a time of great change in Natchez country -- political, social and economic -- where for the first time citizens would have a say in how they were governed and no longer would Kings from Europe call the shots. Baily's journey from Cincinnati down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers took 43 days. Along the way, he met frontier legend Daniel Boone and wrote about it in his diary that was later printed in a book called "Journal of a Tour of Unsettled Parts of North America in 1796 & 1797."
Baily's plan was to journey to New Orleans, which was like Natchez a Spanish possession, and return by ship to England. Arriving in Norfolk, Virginia, months early, he did what most travelers heading west did -- he journeyed to the dropping off point on the frontier -- Pittsburgh at the head of the Ohio. A thousand miles west of the settlement, the Ohio enters the Mississippi River at present day Cairo, Illinois, below St. Louis.
Journeying alone from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, Ohio, located on the bank of the Ohio opposite the mouth of the Licking River in northeastern Kentucky, Baily observed Fort Washington, the military outpost built in 1789 to protect frontier settlements on the western fringes of the nation. Baily carried with him "biscuit, flour, brandy, beef, bacon &c...and having packed up a trunk or two of articles for trading with the Indians (as money with them is of no service)..."
He said Cincinnati "is the grand depot for the stores which come down for the forts established on the frontiers; and here is also the seat of government for the (Northwest) territory, being the residence of the attorney-general, judges, &c., appointed by the president of the United States...." Winthrop Sargent, the secretary of the Northwest Territory and soon to be a Natchez resident as Mississippi Territory's first governor, lived in Cincinnati then.
Baily met two men who were loading provisions on a flatboat for sale at New Orleans. They granted him and others a place on the vessel in exchange for their labor and departed on Saturday, April 8, 1797 -- just two months after Andrew Ellicott arrived in Natchez with a surveying crew to mark the new boundary. Baily reported that the flatboat moved down river, which was at high stage, at about five to six miles an hour.
On day two, the travelers came upon an American legend when Baily reported that he spotted a voyager on the river, an "old man, accompanied by his dog and his gun, and a few things lying at the bottom of the boat. We called to him to come into our boat, which he accordingly did; and after a little conversation, our guest proved to be" Daniel Boone. Then 61, Boone had gained fame for both his fights and friendship with Indians, who had tortured and killed his son James in 1773. A marksman with his .29 caliber long rifle that he called "Tick Licker" (because he could shoot a tick off a deer without hurting the animal), Boone had led the exploration and white settlement of Kentucky, which when he was a young man was west of the borders of the original 13 colonies.
"I could observe the old man's face brighten up" when asked about his past exploits in Kentucky, Baily wrote. Boone described how "he was taken prisoner by the Indians" and "interspersed his tale with many a pleasing anecdote and interesting observation..."
Baily asked Boone if he felt pride in leading the first white families across the Cumberland into Kentucky for a new life in the wilderness. Boone frowned, shook his head and said he wasn't proud at all, remarking to Baily that he "had a great deal of land given him on the first settlement of the country (Kentucky), but that when societies began to form around him, he moved off, and divided his lands among his relations, unwilling...to live among men who were shackled in their habits, and would not enjoy uncontrolled the free blessings which nature had bestowed upon them. Since that time, he told me he had spent his time a great deal on the frontiers; and at this present moment...was going to hunt for beavers in some unfrequented corner of the woods...and enjoy the pleasures arising from a secluded and solitary life."
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