Daniel Boone at French Lick
FACT or FICTION? Daniel Boone once came to the place where Nashville would eventually stand. There has been a long standing curiosity about whether Daniel Boone ever visited French Lick, the future site of Nashville. Boone, who was perhaps America’s premier frontier figure, was a prolific hunter who roamed far and wide. It would seem odd if he had never come to kill the buffalo, elk, and deer which crowded into the flat open ground in what became north Nashville. He certainly visited the Watauga settlement, where he was said to have been well-acquainted with Nashville’s founder, James Robertson. But when Boone’s son, Nathan, was questioned by historian Lyman Draper, the younger Boone said that he did not recall hearing his father mention having ever come to French Lick (My Father, Daniel Boone, p. 45).
While that lack of mention suggests that Boone might not have come so far down the Cumberland, there is another source which gives a more definitive answer. John G. Stoner was the grandson of the noted frontiersman, Michael Stoner, and he provided key information to Draper about his grandfather, and about Daniel Boone. Michael Stoner was mentioned in numerous historical accounts, often in connection with Boone. He was with Boone in 1773 when an initial attempt to settle Kentucky was thwarted by a Shawnee attack in which Boone’s son, James, was killed. In an 1853 letter (Draper Manuscripts, 24C-53) John G. Stoner described a hunt in which Boone and Stoner ended up together. A number of their hunting party had been killed, “and they all turned back with the exceptian of Boon and my granfarther, Michael Stoner.
“They continued to dive deeper into the wilds of the Kentucky wilderness until they found a country that abounded with all kinds of game—the place where Crab Orchart [Crab Orchard, Ky.] now stands… my granfather had a single combat with an Indian there…they clinched, Stoner’s strength proved superior, and the combat ended tragically.” Later, after separating from Boone and setting off by himself down the Cumberland, after killing a bear and being attacked by Indians, and after being pursued for two days, Michael Stoner “finaly succeaded and on the third morning he again struck fire for the purpose of preparing food which he so mutch neaded. It was in a hollow near Nashville whare he made his breakfast… He discovered in the bottom a streak of blue smoke hardly perceivable, and with all the care of an experienced woodsman he approached close anuff to see who it was. To his joy he dicoverd Boon engaged in the same occupation he had just finished. To test Boon’s vigilance he sliped upon him and had his hand upon his [Boone’s] shoulder before he was aware of his presence. But as quick as thought Boon’s rifhl [rifle] was at his brest, and would have fiared if he had not have recognized his friend. My uncle says that they went back to [Virginia] and returned again together and then setteled Boonsbourogh.”
So Daniel Boone did, in fact, visit the place where Nashville would later stand, and although it remains unclear when that visit took place, it seems most likely to have been in the early to middle 1770s, prior to the founding of Boonesborough in 1775.
—This article originally appeared in The Nashville Retrospect.