Being Daniel Boone

By Julie Nelson Harris

There’s no question Scott New is serious about portraying Daniel Boone.

Just walk into the Kentucky County, Va., surveyor’s office at Fort Boonesborough and ask to buy a piece of land.

Especially if you’re a female.

Scott New portrays Daniel Boone for Kentucky Chautauqua. Photo by Alan Meadows

Scott New portrays Daniel Boone for Kentucky Chautauqua. Photo by Alan Meadows

In Daniel Boone’s most gentle, yet direct voice, New reminds the women who enter his cabin to make this transaction alone that in the 1700s, they could not purchase property. Not without their husbands.

“And not one of them has taken offense to it,” said Bill Farmer, living historian at Fort Boonesborough State Historic Site. After all, that’s the way it was in the 18th century — women were not afforded the right to own property. Farmer smiles as he talks about Scott New’s extraordinary effort to make Fort Boonesborough’s visitors feel like they’re living in the year 1775. When Scott began working as a character interpreter at Fort Boonesborough and the Kentucky State Parks system in April, he initiated the surveyor experience: Walk in, buy a piece of property, receive a signed deed from Daniel Boone, and all the while, feel like you’re in the presence of the man himself, learning about the man he really was.

Maps and 18th century surveying tools line the walls of this cabin at the park. New even records every “purchase” in a journal — name, number of acres and price — so there is a record of each visitor to the surveyor’s cabin.

“We have gotten, day after day after day, people who go on and on about how really great that is,” Farmer said.

New has portrayed Daniel Boone in multiple settings for about 10 years. He has dramatized the frontiersman for Kentucky Chautauqua® — the Kentucky Humanities Council’s one-person living history dramas — for six of those 10.

When he was growing up, it was almost impossible to avoid learning about Daniel Boone, said New, a native of the Cumberland Gap region in Kentucky — the area where Boone blazed the Wilderness Road trail. New immersed himself into Boone’s life story and history of the founding era of Kentucky.

Though he loves history and was interested in being a historian, he also loves theatre — and in the 1980s, when living history drama became a serious venue for educating people about history, he got involved.

He spent hours researching Boone’s life and legacy, attempting to understand the man who explored and settled in central Kentucky. It was then that he devoted his talents to telling Boone’s story.

New says Hollywood isn’t doing Daniel Boone justice. Most often, New said, people think they know who Daniel Boone was because they saw something about him on TV. Only, the man they think they know really wasn’t Boone at all.

“When you’re dealing with TV, movies, the Internet, how do you compete with that?” New said. “People need to get rid of all of the myths and all that folklore, and they need to find out who this man was, is, and what he means to us now.

“Of course, that’s what Chautauqua is all about,” New said. “It’s something I wish every state had, and did it as well and aggressively as the Kentucky Humanities Council does. It’s a very powerful teaching tool, it really is.”

It’s education that drives New in his role as a character interpreter and Kentucky Chautauqua performer. No matter whether a person is 8 or 80, he wants them to know who Daniel Boone was, what he believed and how he lived his life — not just the remarkable events of his life.

“He means a whole lot more the more you find out who he was,” New said. “He will mean something to you. It’s not just what this man did, it’s who this man was.”

So, who was he?

“By nature, he was a modest, polite, quiet, gentle, mannerly man,” New said.

He was an explorer who paved the way for thousands of people to migrate to Kentucky, establishing the first English-speaking settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains, Fort Boonesborough. He never sought fame, never wore a coonskin cap (as legend and folklore portray him), and thought that many people took great liberties about him and his life.

He was an educated man — tutored by his parents as a young lad, he later became a land surveyor and a member of the Virginia General Assembly. He was also a brave man, one who rescued his daughter from Indian captivity and who escaped his own captivity to warn and protect Fort Boonesborough from Shawnee attack.
To New, Boone is a hero.

“We are in a day and age when we need our old heroes,” he said. “He [Boone] is somebody we can look up to, who we can admire.”

Given that long list of accolades, the biggest issue when signing on to portray Boone for Kentucky Chautauqua was where to even start with the script, New said.

His performance has evolved from a discussion about how Boone first came to Kentucky and started the Boonesborough settlement, to the story of the Siege and the court martial that followed. He now offers both performances. New said there may come a time to write a third script, when Boone is older in the 1780s, living in Maysville during the most prosperous time of his life.

New has traveled as far away as the Boone Homestead in Pennsylvania, where the explorer was born, to perform Kentucky Chautauqua dramas. He will go there this fall to commemorate Boone’s 275th birthday in addition to performing at the many celebrations hosted in Kentucky.

New left his native state of Kentucky between 2005 and 2008 to work as an interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, Va. Though he didn’t portray Boone while working in Virginia, he made contacts that put him in touch with his most recent project — filming an electronic field trip biography of Daniel Boone. “Westward,” which teaches students about Kentucky westward expansion from Virginia, will air in schools across the country in January 2010. After students view the 30-minute film in which New portrays Boone, they will be able to interact with him through a live-feed question-and-answer session.
New said he is grateful to have received such a positive response from Kentucky Chautauqua audiences. He wants people who attend to read the books he recommends, and hopes they will ask many questions.

Most of all, he just wants them to learn more about the man, Daniel Boone.

“It would be my hope that modern audiences recognize that these people [figures in history] have a lot to offer,” he said. “They’re real people that mean something, not just mascots, not just names.”

To book a Daniel Boone performance featuring Scott New, contact the Kentucky Humanities Council at (859) 257-5932 or visit http://www.kyhumanities.org.


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