A Thanksgiving Visit to the Boone Homestead

It’s just my luck, when traveling, that places I really want to see are closed on the day I am scheduled to be there or they close an hour before I arrive. Such was the case on my trip to Philadelphia PA earlier this week. I’ve wanted to go to the Daniel Boone Homestead since 2001 when my mother and I did genealogy on our Boone family. I knew the place was closed on Monday, but did not realize it was also closed on Tuesday. Tuesday afternoon, I had a flight out to Nashville, but Tuesday morning, we’d planned to visit.

Leah, Corey, and I rented a car and drove an hour northwest of Philly anyhow, to Birdsboro, not quite to Reading. The place was deserted, but half the gate was open for recreational walkers. We drove in and parked at the visitors’ center. Also onsite was an old house, a barn, a smokehouse, and a few other outbuildings. The house, of course, was locked, and all was closed up tightly.

2015.Philly.DBfarm

“Let’s just walk down there anyway,” I said. It wasn’t what I came to see, but it was something, and something is better than nothing. At the barn in the distance, I could see a man herding some sheep. I figured he’d come run us off.

2015.Philly.sheep

We walked around the house and took pictures, and then the two others walked back to the car, but I lingered, and the man approached behind me.

“Do you have any questions?” he said.

“I’m family,” I said. “I am here one day, from Nashville, and the Boones are my ancestors. I didn’t know the homestead was closed today.” I showed him pictures of George Boone III’s house I wanted to see and told him about my genealogy research.

My ancestor George Boone III, weaver and tanner, came to America from Stoak, England, in 1717. He was a friend of William Penn who had perhaps persuaded him to come to America.

“In 1720 they [George III, grandfather of Daniel Boone, and Mary] went to Oley Township, Philadelphia County (now Exeter Township in Berks County), where their daughter Sarah and family had moved earlier. In Oley Township, George III took out a warrant for 400 acres of land on December 20, 1718 and established his permanent home.”

That home has been torn down. In 1730 the son of George III, Squire Boone, purchased 250 acres and erected a log house and spring cellar. Then in 1750 the current stone house behind the visitors’ center was constructed on the log cabin’s foundation. My seventh great grandfather was Joseph, brother of Squire. Joseph owned 400 acres near the road’s “jug handle” at the homestead’s entrance. Joseph bought Squire Boone’s land in 1750 when the latter moved to North Carolina. Maybe the land this stone house was on?

The man pointed to the house. “This was where Daniel Boone (son of Squire Boone) was born and raised. Do you want to go inside?”

2015.Philly.house

“I would love to.” I motioned for Corey and Leah to come, as well, as the man went to get his keys. The house was built over where Daniel had lived back in the 1700s.

Interestingly, there were five intermarriages between the Boones and Lincolns in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The Boones and Lincolns stayed together in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana. Mordecai Lincoln’s son, Abraham, married Anne, daughter of James Boone and Mary Foulke. Mordecai Lincoln’s grandson, Abraham, was a friend of Daniel Boone. Abraham Lincoln’s grandson, also Abraham, became the 16th president of the United States of America.

We had a full tour of the house, with explanations and historical details. They actually make period clothes from the sheep on the farm, and the man leading our tour makes period buttons for the clothes. I think he was wearing a jacket made on the farm. He was also a history teacher. He asked us if we wanted to go into the basement—the original part of the house, where Daniel Boone lived.

2015.Philly.basementdoor

Oh yes, we did. Dark, low, with a spring running the length of the old stone cabin—inside.

2015.Philly.DBoverviewcreek

I dipped my fingers in the cold water of my roots.

2015.Philly.spring

The man drew a map and told us where the Exeter Meeting House was, where probably three of my many-great grandfathers are buried. The Boones were Quakers. In accordance with the custom of the Friends Society, no stones were placed on their graves. By 1817, the burying ground was filled. As no additional land could be purchased, dirt was hauled in and filled to a depth of four feet, and a second tier of graves was begun.

2015.Philly.Exeter

Markers onsite read:

HERE ARE BURIED DISTINGUISHED PIONEERS AND FOUNDERS OF BERKS COUNTY
LEE…BOONE…ELLIS…WEBB
THIS TABLET IS PLACED BY THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS
NO. 36…THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF BERKS COUNTY 1944

2015.Philly.markermepoint

EXETER
FRIENDS MEETING HOUSE AND BURYING GROUND
ANCESTORS OF PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND DANIEL BOONE ARE BURIED HERE.
HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF BERKS COUNTY 1915

2015.Philly.marker

We had a picnic lunch at the Meeting House on a table beside the cemetery under ancient trees. We observed the slope of land where dirt had been hauled in and built up to support more graves on top of the old ones. A gentle breeze reminded me that this was holy ground, that family nine generations before me had walked on this very dirt. That means something to me.

2015.Philly.exetercemetery
It was from this location in Berks County that Daniel Boone asked my fourth great grandfather Jacob Boone, Revolutionary soldier, to go to Kentucky in 1799, where they founded and surveyed the town of Maysville. Jacob is buried there in the Pioneer Cemetery. My grandmother, Anna Bell Boone, was born in Maysville exactly one hundred years after its founding. I look down at those under me and their places in history, and I think about how wonderful it is to know these things and to be in the places they have walked and lived.

I picked up three chestnuts that had fallen from an old tree there [and got them through security] to remember the three greats who lived on Boone land and were buried at the Exeter Meeting House.


Granny’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Here’s an oldie but a goodie, a Rhodes family favorite. And here’s to you, Louise Rhodes — you are missed. And here’s to all the grands who were at the table, scattered now from North Carolina to Tennessee to Texas! Not a Thanksgiving goes by that I don’t remember Louise’s sweet potatoes and Louise slinking under the table because of her Jack Daniels whiskey.

Granny’s Sweet Potato Casserole (published in Pink Butterbeans and also on the Jack Daniels website)

The day was festive—a fresh-cut bouquet of mums and daisies, white tapers, white tablecloth, crisp linen napkins, fine china, and sparkling silver. The air was thick with scents of freshly baked bread, sage, cinnamon, hazelnut coffee, and onion and apple stuffing. People with busy hands scurried about, interacting boisterously, against a backdrop of an oven door creaking, ice cubes clinking against crystal, spoons clanking, and an electric knife purring.

At noon, we all circled the long dining room table, the whole family, gathered to do what all families do on Thanksgiving Day—stuff themselves with turkey and all the trimmin’s. We piled our plates high with slices of roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, green beans with canned French-fried onions on top, and sweet potato casserole. After grace, we dug in.

My younger son must have been building with Legos the day I tried to teach Tact & Manners, for he certainly didn’t exercise either that day. “Mama,” he blurted out, words shot from a cannon, booming through the air, bouncing off the high ceiling, echoing off the white walls, and hovering over the heads of aunts and uncles and siblings and cousins. “Did you put whiskey in the sweet potatoes?”

jack-daniels-black-label-old-no.7-gastroflasche-tennessee-whiskeyI knew full well that Granny brought the sweet potatoes. As I glanced across my glass of sweet tea, I glimpsed Granny shrinking, folding up, like a turtle drawing in its head. Her eyes fell, her head sank, her shoulders slumped, and she inched down until her chin was even with the tabletop, silver hair shining under the chandelier. Her face, barely visible, mirrored her holiday burgundy blouse. Very meekly, Granny defended herself, squeaking out a weak, “Well, the recipe called for it.” There you go. It was written up in a book, so it was okay.

With her admission of guilt, young bodies bolted forward, all the grandchildren at once, those over twenty-one and those under twenty-one, surged for a second helping of Granny’s whiskey sweet potatoes.

Seems that Granny had gone on a trip with the Methodist Church XYZ Club—or Xtra Years of Zest Club—to Lynchburg, Tennessee, home of the nation’s oldest registered distillery and Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. Even though there were a few Baptist and Church of Christ folks along, the XYZ-ers toured the distillery. And Granny bought a cookbook, whiskey being the common ingredient in all the fine Southern recipes from cakes to casseroles. Granny couldn’t buy whiskey at the distillery to put in her recipes, for Lynchburg is in a dry county. They only make it, bottle it, and ship it from there. But Granny slipped away from the other XYZ-ers in another county and bought herself a bottle of the Old Time, Old No. 7 Brand Sour Mash, made and mellowed, distilled and bottled in Lynchburg, population 361. “Whiskey made as our fathers made it for 7 generations.”

Granny sat low in her chair the rest of the meal, for she knew she put a generous helpin’ of whiskey in her sweet potato casserole. And although all good cooks know that the alcohol cooks off and only the flavorin’ is left, the grandchildren were not allowed to drive the rest of the day.

In the spirit of tradition, every Thanksgiving, the grandchildren still ask far in advance, “Are we having Granny’s sweet potato casserole?”