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

December 25, 2021 at 3:31 pm (Book review, books, History)

  The title pretty much sums it up. It was summer, 1776. The kidnap victim was thirteen-year-old Jemima Boone. She was taken, along with two other girls, by a Cherokee-Shawnee raiding party. The girls had gone off for a canoe trip on the Kentucky River. Understandably given their age, they were tired of being hemmed in by the walls of Boonesboro, the settlement in which they lived. As often happens in these instances, they got more than they bargained for.

Boonesboro was founded by Jemima’s father Daniel. He was determined to create a settlement in Kentucky, despite advice to the contrary from just about everyone. In particular, the Native American tribes of the region depended on Kentucky to furnish them with game, crops, and other necessities. It was fertile, bountiful, and beautiful country.

Daniel Boone and other men of the settlement rescued Jemima and her fellow captives in fairly short order. But that was just the  beginning….

Concerning this book, the descriptor that keeps recurring to me is rip-roaring. Yes – nonstop, rip-roaring adventure! Colonials versus Natives, Colonials battling each other, Natives doing much the same. Never a dull moment. And no one has a monopoly on goodness – at least, not when slavery is involved. And in this mass of confused and shifting loyalties and almost relentless fighting – it is, after all, the year 1776 – slavery is most definitely involved.

The manner in which Boonesboro settlers pushed against external controls reflected the new nation’s larger search for freedom. Independence was a complex political process, but freedom was visceral, a state of mind. Moral costs included consistent reliance on slave labor and trampling the tribes’ longstanding access to Kentucky’s natural resources.

Still, the repeated displays of raw courage on all sides are astonishing. In this remote corner of the land, a nation was struggling to be born. It is an exciting and illuminating, if, at times, depressing story.

And Matthew Pearl is the right one to tell it. The narrative is propulsive and the writing is meticulous. I would expect no less from this gifted young man. He is the nephew of one of my oldest and dearest friends. I’ve known his mother since childhood.

Matthew Pearl

Congratulations on a job well done!

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