Draper Manuscripts: Simon Kenton Papers, 1755-1836


A Virginian by birth, as a boy Kenton worked on his father's farm and received no formal education. At sixteen he fled west in the mistaken belief that he had killed a fellow combatant in a youthful fracas; he adopted the surname Butler until he learned in 1785 that his adversary was still alive. From 1771 until the close of the War of 1812, Kenton was actively involved in border events in the Ohio Valley from Virginia and Pennsylvania to Illinois. He hunted in the Maysville and Wheeling regions, served as a scout in Dunmore's War in 1774, moved to Boonesborough in the following year, and during the late 1770s and early 1780s scouted for Boone, Bowman, Clark, and other military leaders. Captured in 1778, Kenton spent nearly a year as prisoner of the Shawnee and the British. In 1793-1794 he served under Wayne, and four years later moved from Kentucky to Ohio, where in 1805 he was appointed brigadier general of the militia. In the War of 1812 he was again in active military service and participated in the battle of the Thames. His later years were spent near Zanesfield, Ohio, where he lived in poverty due to faulty land titles, other business misfortunes, and an inadequate government pension.

A book recounting Kenton's colorful and exciting adventures was sixth on Draper's 1851 list of projected titles, but the text was never drafted. Nevertheless for nearly half a century Draper gathered the materials about Kenton found in this series: biographical sketches by other writers, correspondence with surviving pioneers and Kenton descendants, narratives and notes about Kenton and his associates, and some original manuscripts mainly by Kenton's contemporaries. Kenton's own records were very sparse; although he could sign his name, he never learned to read or write, a situation which was not conducive to the creation of a large body of personal correspondence or other papers.