The “redemption” of innocents from captivity by the “savages” of the woodlands forms a key thread in the mythology of the settlement of North America. Captivity narratives formed some of the earliest American literature. The rescue of white women from the clutches of the Indians became a trope. There’s certainly a basis for it, though the reality of captivity was considerably more complicated than the narrative wanted it to be. Many captives, male or female, chose not to be “redeemed,” or, if they were, became utterly miserable in white society and either returned to the Indians or sickened and died.
Benjamin Franklin once observed:
“When white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and have lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay . . . yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.”
This phenomenon appeared early and persisted for a couple of centuries. It was profoundly unsettling to representatives of a purportedly superior civilization, like Franklin. The Rescue of the Captives trope seems to have grown in part as a counter to the unsettling reality.
There was at least one famous incident that hit all the desirable narrative beats — indeed, it created many of them. Talkin’ about the capture and rescue of Daniel Boone’s daughter, Jemima. The 1776 incident on the Kentucky River is the subject of a new tome dropping later this month, which David Wrolson scouted up for us.
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.