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Fort Boonesborough History

Established June 14, 1963

Click here to download the park's printable history. Adobe PDF Document

Interest in Daniel Boone (1734-1820), the famous frontiersman, has continued for over two centuries. Historians, novelists, and poets have continued to expend countless words on the exploits of this man. Artists have portrayed him in dozens of heroic poses. To many Americans, Boone remains the epitome of the free spirit of the wilderness. Therefore it is only natural that sites associated with his life be preserved and visited by those who revere his memory.

In 1934, the bicentennial of Boone’s birth, the Kentucky General Assembly established the Daniel Boone Bicentennial Commission. On May 25, 1934, the U.S. Congress enacted a law that would permit the minting of a Daniel Boone half-dollar to be sold “at par or at premium” by the commission. Noted sculptor Augustus Lukeman of New York prepared the dies for the new coin. Proceeds from the commemorative coins’ sale would be set aside for other Daniel Boone Bicentennial Commission projects.

Congress enacted legislation on June 18, 1934 to acquire four Boone sites; Boonesborough, Boone’s Station, Bryan’s Station, and the Blue Licks Battlefield. A national highway would eventually connect the Boone related properties. They would then become a part of the National Parks Service. The Pioneer National Monument Association was formed to acquire the Boone sites.
The acquisition of all the Boone sites proved impossible and only Blue Licks and Boonesborough became part of the Kentucky Parks System. For a time it seemed that the Boonesborough site might be lost due to the proposed construction of a dam on the Kentucky River at the mouth of Jessamine Creek. By 1961, all plans for a dam had been canceled. The Boonesborough site again came under consideration for a state park.

Between 1956 and 1960, the Pioneer National Monument Association acquired 12 acres at the Boonesborough site from the U.S. Corps of Engineers. On June 14, 1963, the Kentucky Department of Parks accepted the deed to 12 acres and a cash contribution of $125,000. Another 65 acres were obtained surrounding the land where Boonesborough once stood.

The exact location of the old 1775 fort soon became a topic of debate. An account by F.W. Huston of Bourbon County appeared in an 1889 issue of The Lexington Morning Transcript. Huston’s grandfather had recounted some of his memories of Boone and the fort. According to the memoir, the “fort was south of the Kentucky river, and fifty yards from it, running up and down stream, and on a flat a few hundred yards in circumference.”
Another description of the fort came from Samuel Shearer Sr. who saw the site on a number of occasions during the late pioneer period. Shearer at age 93 reported his recollection of Boonesborough to Judge French Tipton, of Madison County. In his very brief description Shearer noted: “Logs 10 to 15 feet high, some of them split; side of the river, cabins inside. Saw sycamore trees; good fresh water and sulphur spring.”

By 1810, Boonesborough had become nothing more than a small obscure village. Within a few years the site had been deserted. During its heyday the fort had been one of the centers of settlement in Kentucky. Judge Richard Henderson’s dream of a fourteenth colony called Transylvania located in the Kentucky wilderness seemed a reality. By the summer of 1775, the fort and settlement of Boonesborough consisted of 26 one-story log cabins and four blockhouses. The cabins and stockades had small portals for guns in case of Indian attack.

One of the larger cabins served as a store for the Transylvania Company supplies. This structure became the first store opened in Kentucky. Henderson occupied one of the blockhouses. In this crude settlement the first representative form of government in Kentucky was formed. On April 23, 1775, Henderson called for an election for members to the “House of Delegates of the Transylvania Colony.” On May 8, 1775 the Henderson settlement officially became Transylvania with Boonesborough as its capital. The new government had representatives from Boonesborough, Harrodsburg, Boiling Spring, and St. Asaph’s. The delegates met to conduct the affairs of the new government under the shade of a huge elm tree where Rev. John Lythe of the Church of England performed the first formal religious service in Kentucky,
Henderson’s dream of a new colony did not survive. His treaty with the Cherokee failed to impress either Virginia or the Shawnee Indians who laid claim to Kentucky. For his efforts at establishing the fourteenth colony, Virginia granted him 200,000 acres in western Kentucky in the area of present day Henderson County. Boonesborough and the other Kentucky settlements remained a part of Virginia until June 1, 1792, when the Commonwealth of Kentucky became the fifteenth state of the Federal Union.

Life at Boonesborough during the early years of its existence offered little in the way of comfort. The cabins had only the bare minimum of comforts. A crude table made of a slab of wood, a bed with a feather tick or buffalo skins provided the early Kentucky householder with a dry and warm place to sleep. The fireplace provided the only source of heat for the one room that held all the pioneer family owned, as well as the pioneers themselves. The chimney of the cabin was at best crude. Made from sticks and mud, it provided a means for smoke to escape the cabin, but also posed a serious risk of fire. If a chimney fire occurred the ingenious pioneers would push the chimney away from the cabin to save it from burning.

The lack of comforts seemed trivial next to the danger of Indian attack. In the autumn of 1778 a large force of Indians attacked and laid siege to Boonesborough. For nine days and nights the Indians surrounded the fort. The defenders held out and the Indians abandoned the siege. Soon Boonesborough became a center of pioneer life on the Kentucky frontier.

By 1780 Boonesborough had grown too big for its namesake. Daniel Boone moved away from the fort to a spot across the Kentucky River in what is now Fayette County. In 1783 the American Revolution ended and the need for a fort around the Boonesborough settlement also ended. The old fortified settlement became an open and thriving town for a brief period of time. However, within a couple of decades it had all but disappeared.

The memory of Fort Boonesborough remained a vital part of the Kentucky frontier experience. The need to honor this hallowed site of pioneer Kentucky saw fruition in 1963 when Fort Boonesborough State Park opened on 153 acres on the banks of the Kentucky River. On August 30, 1974 a reconstruction of the historic fort was dedicated. The reconstruction is located on higher ground than the original structure and it is made up of 10,000 southern yellow pine logs. There is a museum of Daniel Boone’s life along with cabins displaying pioneer crafts.

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