Monday, November 29, 2021

The Taking of Jemima Boone: Colonial Settlers, Tribal Nations, and the Kidnap that Shaped America - Matthew Pearl

Summary: On a quiet midsummer day in 1776, weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, thirteen-year-old Jemima Boone and her friends Betsy and Fanny Callaway disappear near the Kentucky settlement of Boonesboro, the echoes of their faraway screams lingering on the air.

A Cherokee-Shawnee raiding party has taken the girls as the latest salvo in the blood feud between American Indians and the colonial settlers who have decimated native lands and resources. Hanging Maw, the raiders’ leader, recognizes one of the captives as Jemima Boone, daughter of Kentucky's most influential pioneers, and realizes she could be a valuable pawn in the battle to drive the colonists out of the contested Kentucky territory for good.

With Daniel Boone and his posse in pursuit, Hanging Maw devises a plan that could ultimately bring greater peace both to the tribes and the colonists. But after the girls find clever ways to create a trail of clues, the raiding party is ambushed by Boone and the rescuers in a battle with reverberations that nobody could predict. As Matthew Pearl reveals, the exciting story of Jemima Boone’s kidnapping vividly illuminates the early days of America’s westward expansion, and the violent and tragic clashes across cultural lines that ensue.

In this enthralling narrative in the tradition of Candice Millard and David Grann, Matthew Pearl unearths a forgotten and dramatic series of events from early in the Revolutionary War that opens a window into America’s transition from colony to nation, with the heavy moral costs incurred amid shocking new alliances and betrayals. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I don’t know about you, but I know (knew?) very little about Daniel Boone. I know the folk hero-type things, and of course I feel like his reputation is the stuff of legends, but I haven’t researched anything about him. I didn’t even really know what time he was alive. Because of this, I found this book to be fascinating. First of all, Daniel Boone lives up to the hype. He’s as cool as “they” say he was, and even historical documents from all different walks of life and viewpoints remember him fondly and recognize how impressive he was.

Did you know that Daniel Boone was one of the first white settlers in Kentucky, and that the Native Americans there were not only fighting against him and the frontiersman for taking their land, but also because the British paid them to kill them and stop their progression? I didn’t know this at all. Also, this was all right around during the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. Because Boone and crew were living way off the proverbial grid, they often didn’t know when wars had ended or battles won and just carried on with their business until their heard otherwise.

The actual story of the kidnapping of Jemima Boone and her friends was really interesting and led to a lifetime of implications for Daniel Boone, the other settlers, and the Native Americans around at the time. I found this book to be well-researched and in-depth but also short enough to be a quick read. The writing was accessible and yet maintained a level of academic language that I appreciated to delineate it from just a novel or short story with the same information.

I appreciated the fair viewpoint taken by Pearl. The reactions of the Native Americans were discussed and explored, and their plight explored and described. I also really appreciated the role of women in the research, especially Jemima, and was glad the author gave them the credit that they deserved in the roll of settling the territory.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. I was just constantly exclaiming to various people how fascinating it was, and it was just so cool tying together things I had heard about Daniel Boone as well as learning about larger-than-life new facts that were just as astonishing as the folklore. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially if you’re interested in American history or folk heroes. It really is a cool book.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a book about colonialism in America, so there is violence inflicted on all people involved, including Native people and settlers. No one’s hands are clean in this book.

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