In researching this story, I have so far found the basic incident mentioned in three secondary sources: biographies of Boone by John Bakeless and Robert Morgan, and Glen Lough’s Now and Long Ago. Only Lough mentions Pricketts Fort, and gives as his sources an account told by Joseph Hartley to Adam Heck, as well as other accounts by the Rev. Jesse Nixon, and John J. Prickett. John Bakeless gives no sources for his version of the ginseng story, and appears to have received it second-hand. Robert Morgan uses the oral account of Boone’s son, Nathan, as related to Lyman Draper.
According to Hartley, Nixon and Prickett (as Lough tells it), the Boones were transporting their load of ginseng overland from Kentucky to Philadelphia in the winter of 1787-88, and were crossing the Monongahla River “at the first riffle below Pricketts Creek” when a nearby panther screamed, causing the horses to rear and bolt, and dumping much of the ginseng into the river. The Boones, “… aided by Jonathon Nixon and Edward Parrish, who were passing by, and a few men from the Prickett settlement, finally recovered about half of the ginseng, and were able to ‘dry it into marketable condition by digging a firepit, and spreading rthe roots upon it.’ It took about a week to dry the ginseng, Hartley said, during which time ‘Boone ate and slept at his cousin’s, David Morgan’s, and at the fort’”.
The account by Bakeless in his biography of Boone is brief, describing Boone as taking ”15 tons” of ginseng by boat from Kentucky and at some point travelling overland to Philadelphia. According to Bakeless, Boone lost his load in the river along the way, and suggests that he never completed his journey. According to Glenn Lough, Bakeless described Boone as getting as far as Pittsburgh, but Bakeless in fact makes no mention of Pittsburgh.
The account by Robert Morgan in his recent biography of Boone is much more detailed, and is taken directly from Nathan Boone’s oral account as transcribed by Draper in 1851. At the time of the keelboat journey in 1788, Nathan Boone was a boy of seven years.
Regarding the amount of ginseng being shipped, Nathan Boone did indeed describe it as being “from 12 to 15 tons”, or so Draper recorded. Robert Morgan points out, however, that Nathan Boone must have said “tuns”, not “tons”. A “tun” is an eighteenth-century measure equivalent to a small barrel or keg. Nathan Boone said his father loaded the “tuns” onto a keelboat. Fifteen “tons” of dried ginseng root would have filled the hold of a large ship, but fifteen kegs – of a size suitable for packing by horse – would have fit easily onto a keelboat.
According to Nathan Boone, they loaded the ginseng onto their boat in the Spring of 1788 and set out from Kentucky on the Ohio River, poling north toward Pittsburgh. Somewhere near Pt. Pleasant they ran aground on an island and were hit by a drifting log which damaged the boat. They took on water and much of the ginseng was drenched and ruined. They managed to pole the damaged boat ashore, where they were taken in by the Van Bibber family who lived nearby. By coincidence, Daniel Boone had rescued this same family in a snowstorm years before. (Nor would this be the end of the two families’ intertwined fates: eleven years later, Nathan Boone, by then age 18, would marry a Van Bibber girl).
After repairing the keelboat and drying out as much of the ginseng as possible, they continued upriver to Pittsburgh, and from there turned southward, poling up the north-flowing Monongahela River as far as Redstone. (And this is as close as they ever came to Pricketts Fort, still a good many miles to the south). At Redstone they loaded the kegs of ginseng onto packhorses and set out along the Cumberland Road and over the Alleghenies to Hagerstown, Maryland.
As for the sources referred to by Glenn Lough — the papers of Adam Heck and J.J. Prickett — I have so far been unable to turn them up. But even if at some point they are located and bear out the version related by Lough, their testimony would be contradicted by Nathan Boone’s own version of the events.
~~~ Bakeless, John. Daniel Boone: Master of the Wilderness. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1939, p. 331.
~~~ Lough, Glenn D. Now and Long Ago: A History of the Marian County Area. Fairmont, West Virginia: 1969, p. 654.
~~~ Morgan, Robert. Boone: A Biography. Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books, 2007, pp. 366-68.