Excerpt From Recreating the American Longhunter:

America, particularly the frontier, required more self-sufficiency of its citizens than Europeans had ever before experienced. By the mid-18th century, the frontier had become the breeding ground of a new type of man one who considered himself the equal of any other regardless of social station or wealth. J.F.D. Smyth, who kept a journal of his travels in the early 1770s, commented on that sense of self-worth when he reported that the backwoodsman held himself to be "of equal consequence" to "the most brilliant peer at St. James'." To the Europeans for whom Smyth was writing, the statement that a ragged, penniless, ill-bred, uneducated backwoods lout would consider himself the equal of one of the peerage would be received with astonishment, not to mention amusement. So he went on to say that it was "neither so ridiculous nor surprising, when the circumstances are considered with due attention... that he feels his own consequence, for he finds all his resources in himself," meaning that he was totally self-sufficient.

We remember the longhunters for their exploits on the hunt, but the fact is few were so skilled that they could live off the profits of their hunting alone; and it was rare to find a man whose sole occupation was that of a hunter. Game was an essential part of the diet and skins a good supplement to one's income on the frontier. The Rev. Dr. Joseph Doddridge, in his memoirs of the years 1763 to 1783 in western Virginia and Pennsylvania, wrote, "Every family collected what peltry and fur they could obtain throughout the year for the purpose of sending them over the mountains for barter." Longhunters are also remembered for their dealings with the Indians; but although frontiersmen may have occasionally traded with friendly Indians if the opportunity presented itself, the Indian trade itself fairly well precluded being a longhunter. A man investing in trade goods doesn't risk the wrath of his customers by violating their territory to hunt for the very skins and furs he came to buy; if so, why bother with the investment in the first place? Such an investment, even on credit, was beyond the means of most frontiersmen. For those with the means, a loss of trade goods to hostile Indians or to those individuals, either red or white, who would prevent him from trading with friendly tribes often meant ruin. George Croghan was possibly the most well known Indian trader of the 18th century. By the time he was done with the trade, he estimated his losses at £16,000.

It should be obvious by now that I want to dispel the myth that the longhunters spent all their time hunting or among the Indians. Those whom we remember best as longhunters - i.e., Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, the Cresap family, and the Gist family were primarily farmers, and to a slightly lesser extent, cattlemen and herdsmen. Hunting and exploring were essentially sidelines, and dealings with Indians were more often than not of a hostile nature. The point is, if you want to portray a believable longhunter, you should know something about farming. What follows is a thumbnail sketch - again, particulars will vary with your time, location, and station in life.




Back to main page