In “The Taking of Jemima Boone,” the historical mystery author Matthew Pearl makes his nonfiction debut with a factual thriller about the kidnapping of the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone’s daughter Jemima in 1776. Once a popular subject of 19th-century artists and authors, and the inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans,” the episode will be less familiar to most 21st-century American readers.
As Pearl’s narrative opens, 13-year-old Jemima Boone is canoeing on the Kentucky River on an idyllic summer day, along with the two teenage daughters of a fellow settler, Richard Callaway. The girls were taking a risk by straying from the wooden fortification of Boonesboro that their families — led by Daniel Boone — had carved out of the wilderness only the previous year. Native Americans had already issued a brutal warning against settler incursion into the Kentucky region in a 1773 attack that involved the torture and killing of Boone’s son James.