Joseph Drake, the Long Hunter
by Michael E.Drake

My story of Joseph Drake, the long hunter, begins on July 8, 1755, at Draper’s Meadows, a new settlement along the New River in Virginia. On that morning Indians attacked, killed several white settlers and kidnapped some of the women. Among the killed was Colonel James Patton.

Patton’s daughter, Margaret, was the wife of Colonel John Buchanan, who was in charge of the Augusta County Militia. The children brought forth from that marriage were William, James, John, Mary, Ann, Margaret and Jane Buchanan. At the death of the elder John Buchanan, the three youngest daughters, Ann, Margaret, and Jane, were taken in by Colonel William Preston. About this time, William Preston became the head surveyor for the colony of Virginia.

Colonel Preston, concerned for the education of these girls, hired a young tutor by the name of John Floyd. Eventually, Floyd became the husband of Jane Buchanan. Perhaps because of his association with Colonel Preston, John Floyd was given the responsibility of surveying much of what is now Kentucky. At the time, of course, it was the westernmost county of Kentucky. Floyd is an honored pioneer in the state of Kentucky.

John Floyd was in Boonesborough when the two Calloway sisters and Jemima Boone, daughter of the famous Daniel Boone, were kidnapped by Shawnee Indians. The girls were enjoying a boat ride in the Kentucky River and within sight of the stockade when the Indians rushed the boat and took the girls hostage. They then made for the Ohio River and their strongholds north of the river. They were intent on getting their prizes back to their homes.

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when this happened, and the disappearance of the girls was not discovered for several hours. When it had become clear what had happened, Boone and the father of the Calloway girls, organized a rescue party. Included in the party was John Holden, who would eventually marry one of the missing girls as well as John Floyd. Boone knew the habits of the Indians and successfully led the rescue party the Indians and their captors. Meanwhile, the girls had slowed the Indians as much as possible by pretending that they could not ride the small horse the Shawnees wanted them to ride. They also left bits of cloth torn from their dresses and broke twigs to mark the trail. John Floyd was right next to Daniel Boone when a section of the rescue party rushed the Indians shooting their flint locks as they came. The Indians were cut down in the first volley which saved the girls being tomahawked. The Shawnee would rather kill their captives than relinquish them. The whole episode became the basis for the James Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.

Daniel Boone had come into Kentucky for the first time to hunt in the late spring of 1769. John Findley, Boone’s friend, and four other men including Joe Stuart, Boone’s brother-in-law, left their homes on May 1, 1769. By June they were hunting in Kentucky, and the hunting was good. They had their scrapes with the Indians who claimed the territory as their own hunting ground. The group played cat a mouse with the Indians for the most part. The Indians would take them hostage and confiscate their skins. Boone was warned by the leader of the Indians, set free, and told to go on home to North Carolina. Boone did not do as he was told, however. He trailed the Indian party where he stole his skins and weapons back. What was remarkable about Boone was the way the Indians saw him as a rival, but they also seemed to like him. Not all the long hunters enjoyed the same relationship with the Indians.

It is pretty clear that Joseph Drake was in the Kentucky territory at the same time or little before Daniel Boone was there. It is reported that Joseph Drake’s party of long hunters reached the present day location of Nashville, Tennessee on the Cumberland River in 1768. The original party of hunters left their cabins in river valleys of the westernmost section of modern Virginia traveling through the Cumberland Gap and into what is now Kentucky and Tennessee. The actual number of men who were in this early party of hunters may never be known. Leading the hunting party with Joseph Drake was Henry Skaggs. It is has been estimated that there about 30 hunters, each of whom took three horses, two of which were used to pack in equipment and supplies. On these horses the hunters took rifles, gun powder, lead for ammunition, molds for their bullets, blankets, traps and a good supply of salt which would be used for curing the hides of the deer and other game they took. It was not just for adventure that they traveled for far from home into the wilderness. The went for the money that could made from trading the hides they intended to bring back.

By February, 1771, there were only about fourteen of the hunters left in this party. All the others had gone home. The camp of the remaining hunters was raided by Indians, led by Will Emery, a half-breed Cherokee. The Indians made off will all the skins the party had collected. Before departing Kentucky, the hunters carved in a beech tree, "FIFTEEN HUNDRED SKINS GONE TO RUINATION."

It was about this time that the hunters were startled by a strange noise coming from deep within the woods. Always wary of Indians, one of the hunters, Casper Mansker, grabbed his rifle, told the others to keep quiet and went to investigate the strange sound. Soon, from behind a tree, he discovered the source of the strange sound. Lying flat on his back looking straight into the heavens was a man singing a hymn at the top of his lungs. The singer was Daniel Boone. Boone admitted a penchant for singing when alone in the wilderness.

Boone and his brother Squire joined this party of long hunters for a time as they explored the Green and Cumberland River Valleys.

The long hunters who were led by Joseph Drake and Henry Skaggs maintained a permanent camp for a time on the shores of the Barren River near where modern day Bowling Green, Kentucky is located. One tributary to the Barren River near still bears the name of Drake’s Creek. Not far from this creek is Skagg’s Creek. Inhabitants of Bowling Green reported seeing wood carvings in beech trees that lined the shore of the Barren River about four miles north of Bowling Green. From Collins’ History of Kentucky, I take the following:

Ancient marks on trees—On the north side of the Barren River, about three miles from Bowling Green, and about a quarter mile above Vanmeter’s ferry, there are some beech trees which indicate the camping ground of a party, perhaps the "Long Hunters," as they were called in June, 1775. The most conspicuous tree has the names of thirteen persons. The letters were handsomely cut with some instrument adapted to the purpose. The highest name is about nine feet from the ground, the lowest, four feet. They stand in the following order beginning with uppermost and descending to the lowest, to wit:















Joseph Drake was a big, rough man who often butted heads with those around him. His younger brother, Ephraim Drake, was also a long hunter. There is a report that Ephraim shot an Indian. One might wonder if Ephraim and his brother Joseph shot more than one Indian during their time in the great wilderness of Western Virginia. The relationship that existed between Boone and the Shawnee Indians was, apparently, in contrast to the relationship established between the Drakes and the Indians. In March of 1773, Joseph Drake married Margaret Buchanan in Chilhowie, which is located in Smyth County, Virginia. Perhaps the animosity that existed between Joseph Drake and the Indians had something to do with the fact that his wife’s maternal grandfather, Colonel James Patton, was killed in an Indian raid eighteen years before the couple was married. Ephraim Drake married Ann Buchanan in the home of Joseph Drake in 1778. Word is, Joseph often disagreed with his brother-in-law, John Floyd.

In 1774, when the Indian war known as Lord Dunmore’s War , broke out in Kentucky, John Floyd was in the territory surveying for Colonel William Preston. Remember, Preston was the adopted father of Ann, Margaret and Jane Buchanan. Floyd was married to Jane. Also in the territory was the party led by James Harrod. This party of men were working on the stockade that became Fort Harrod in the modern day city of Harrodsburg. Colonel Preston, fearing that the settlers and surveyors might be taken unawares by the Indians, sent for Joseph Drake. He wanted Drake to go into the territory to warn the whites there of the danger. Joseph Drake could not be found. Preston’s second choice was Daniel Boone. Boone undertook the task and traveled in the company of Michael Stoner.

In the spring of 1775, shortly after the arrival of Daniel Boone’s party of trail blazers arrived at the sight of Boonesborough, Joseph Drake and John Floyd visited the new fort from their camp on Dick’s River. In 1778, Joseph Drake moved his family to Boonesborough. With his young wife, Margaret, were two small children, John and Mary.

A man by the name of John Conover made a deposition in 1808, strictly for historical purposes. Conover stated, "In the year 1779, I traveled with about 25 men the road from Boonesborough to the Lower Blue Licks. At the time, I recollect we crossed Hingston Fork and went into a big buffalo road that led from Grant’s station to the Lower Blue Lick at a place known by the name of Ready Money Jack’s. I recollect at this time that Colonel Richard Calloway, Colonel Daniel Boone, Cyrus Boone, Joseph Drake, Ephraim Drake, William Hancock, Jeremiah Price, Thomas Foote, and James Mankins were with me on the trip to Lower Blue Licks." Conover went on to tell how he had been captured by Indians in 1780 and had been held in Detroit for four years before returning to Kentucky. Conover was certainly correct about having ridden with the men named in his deposition, but he was surely mistaken about the date.

That John Conover told the truth as he knew it is pretty clear. His memory, however, must have faded some in the thirty years between the events of the telling of them. He stated that the hunting trip to Lower Blue Licks took place in 1779 and that Joseph Drake was in the group.

Without question, historical documentation of Joseph Drake’s death states clearly that he died within sight of the Boonesborough stockade in early September, 1778, only months after arriving there with his young wife and two small children. He was the victim of Indian attackers. In contrast with the way the Indians treated Daniel Boone, Joseph Drake was killed. When the Indians cornered Boone, it was often in a light hearted mood. They would announce that they had him cornered, that they had the best of him, and he was their captive as when they cornered him in a log barn Boone was using to cure tobacco. Boone laughed as though the joke was on him and then promptly pulled the nearest tobacco rack on top of the two braves knocking them to the floor. Then he took off and simply outdistanced them. Apparently, there was no friendly rivalry between Joseph Drake and the Indians, many of whom he had to know. The details of how he was dispatched have not been preserved, but it must have been abrupt and final.

Court records tell the remarkable story of his young widow’s life after the death of her first husband. A petition for land was granted her in the cold winter of 1779 when the land disputes were being settled by a special envoy sent to the territory. The fact that her husband had been killed by Indians may have played a part in her being granted 400 hundred acres on Drowning Creek, near Boonesborough. Drowing Creek, according to legend, got its name when Daniel Boone drowned an Indian there. It is a tributary to the Kentucky River. She paid taxes on the land and was a slave owner, slaves being left her, no doubt, by her husband.

Most of what we know about Margaret (Buchanan) Drake comes from the records of a lawsuit that was filed many hears after the death of her first husband, Joseph Drake. Arthur M. Walson copied the court records of the case on April 5, 1983. The record, he says, is true and correct as copied from the circuit Court Record Book, June Term, 1827, Clark County, Kentucky. It was a civil suit involving disputed ownership of slaves. The two contestants were half sisters.

Court record show that Joseph Drake brought his wife and two small children to Boonesborough in the spring of 1778. He also brought a slave by the name of Aggy. They arrived on April 10, 1778, and settled in the fort. Five months later, the Indians had made Margaret a widow. She and Joseph had been married for barely five years. Their two children were very small, then, when their father was killed. He must have had guns, traps, clothes and perhaps tools. We know he had the Negro girl, Aggy. From the court record we get, "That the place he was killed near the said for, where his widow afterwards continued to reside, keeping in her possession the property said Drake died possessed of until the fall of the year 1781."

From this place, we are told, she moved across the Kentucky River to a place called Holder’s Station, where she stayed for several years. While there, she bore a third and fourth child. It is said Margaret Drake moved closer to her brother, William Buchanan, who resided at the time near Holder’s place. John Holder is remembered for a later escapade during the big Indian siege of Fort Boonesborough. The Indians were trying to undermine the fort walls by burrowing from the shore of the Kentucky River under the log walls of the fort. The defenders knew what they were doing. John Holder, a big, strong man, began heaving rocks at the Indians. Margaret South admonished him saying that he should not be throwing rocks at the Indians as it might make them angry. Holder apparently ignored this bit of nonsensical advice. Margaret South was Joseph Drake’s aunt, the sister to Joseph’s father, Samuel Drake.

So Margaret moved close to Holder’s station. Needing protection for herself and her children, she accepted the affections of Captain John Holder, for it was he who fathered Margaret’s third child, John Holder Jr., and a little girl named Rhoda. Holder was an honest and affectionate man, for his illegitimate daughter, Rhoda, lived with him until she married Eli Vaughn in 1797.

The relationship between John Holder and the widow of Joseph Drake must have been well known. Aggy, the slave owned by Margaret, had a daughter named Celia, and it was this Celia who had several children, all of whom became slaves of her owner. Margaret Drake about 200 yards from the from John Holder’s place. During that time, according to a witness, the slaves were observed in possession of John Holder who appeared to exercise acts of ownership over them.

When Rhoda married Eli Vaughn, John Holder gave Rhoda the slaves that had been born to Celia as a wedding gift. Holder exercised possession over the slaves because Margaret Drake had given them to him because he had settled some of Joseph Drake’s debts when he died. Margaret felt he owed him something.

Margaret Drake’s oldest daughter, Mary, married John D. Stoval. Mary believed she was rightfully entitled to the slaves that were in the possession of her half sister, Rhoda, and thus ensued the court battle from which record we take this account.

Margaret Drake’s pioneer struggle could well be the basis for a good historical novel. She was quite a lady.

According to Nell McNish Gambill, author of Leeper-Drake, Kith and Kin, Joseph Drake’s lineage went something like this:

The children of John Drake and wife Margaret (Weldon) Drake

    1. Jonathan Drake
    2. Enoch Drake
    3. John Drake
    4. Samuel Drake (Born 1719)
    1. Joseph Drake (Our Longhunter)
    2. Ephraim Drake
    3. Samuel Drake who married Pauline Cox
    4. Nathaniel Drake who married Mary Jackson
    5. Mary Drake who married James Crockett
    1. Mary Drake who married James Null
    2. Margaret Drake who married John B. South

    Helen Blankenship Roe has published a piece of speculation wherein she theorizes that Joseph Drake’s marriage to Margaret Buchanan was a second marriage. She show circumstantial evidence to support the theory that Joseph Drake married a woman who bore him children. She further speculates that one of these children was the "Drake boy" who was killed in the same massacre that claimed the life of James Boone and several others in the fall of 1773, when they were part of a larger group headed for the wilderness of Kentucky. The incident is well documented in the Draper Manuscripts. There is, however, no mention of who the father of this mysterious Drake boy was.

    The Drake family played a big part in the settlement of both Kentucky and Tennessee. Perhaps the most interesting of all the Drakes who first came into this virgin territory was the long hunter, Joseph Drake, a big gruff fellow dressed in buckskin pants and hunting shirt riding a horse, leading two others, and taking the game that the country offered, fending off the Indian defenders of the mountainous country as well. Three years ago, my family and I traveled into Eastern Kentucky. We walked the trails in the state park. And there on the steep side of a mountain surrounded by lush greenery we observed red deer browsing contentedly. Watching these deer in those surrounding made me feel like I knew Joseph Drake, the other long hunters and other Kentucky pioneers just a little better. Lord, I would love to have met the man.

    Michael Drake, 1998