David "Davy" Crockett
Davy Crockett's ancestors immigrated to New York from Scotland in the early eighteenth century. In 1771, Davy's grandfather, David Crocker, established a 250 acre farm on the Catawba River near Lincolnton in North Carolina. As the American Revolution gathered momentum, David ignored the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and moved his family across the Appalachian Mountains to the Holston River Valley in what is today northeastern Tennessee. David was defacto part of the Watauga Association, an informal quasi-government established by the region's settlers. In response to British and Indian attacks they petitioned North Carolina and Virginia for annexation in July 1776. Early in 1777, David and his wife were killed by Cherokee Indians. About 1780, John Crockett, one of David's sons married Rebecca Hawkins. John served as constable of Greene County, North Carolina off and on during the 1780s. John and Rebecca had nine children, the fifth of which they named David Crockett. Davy was born on August 17, 1786, in the Crockett cabin located at the confluence of Limestone Creek and the Nolichucky River in the center of the State of Franklin, another quasi-government organized by settlers in the absence of other effective authority. John Sevier was elected governor and a constitution was written, but a few years later Franklin collapsed, and, in 1796, the region was incorporated into the new state of Tennessee. During the last few years of the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth century, John and Rebecca operated an inn on the road from Abington, Virginia, to Knoxsville, Tennessee. While growing up, David received no formal education, but as a teen did learn the bare rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic.
David ran away from home when he was thirteen and took a variety of odd jobs in Virginia and Tennessee before returning to his parents tavern where he spent a year working off several debts that his father had incurred. On August 16, 1806, David married Polly Finley and they established a small farm where they lived for five years. In 1811 they moved to southern Tennessee and homesteaded a five acre farm. In 1813 they moved again, this time to another small farm on Bean's Creek in Franklin County, near the Alabama border. They named their farm "Kentuck" and, emulating Daniel Boone, David spent much of his time hunting and trapping. On August 30, 1813, the Creek Indian leader Red Eagle led an attack on Fort Mims in Alabama. Five hundred settlers were massacred and on March 27, 1814, Andrew Jackson retaliated by killing eight hundred Creek Indians in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Following the Mims massacre, David joined the Second Regiment of Tennessee Volunteer Mounted Riflemen as a private, but missed the main battle. He did, however, participate in one encounter that resulted in the death of one hundred eighty-six Creek Indians, including a number of women and children. He later said that they had shot them down "like dogs." He was discharged on December 24, 1813, but reenlisted on September 28, 1814, as a third sergeant in a separate battalion of Tennessee Mounted Riflemen in order to get "a small taste of British fighting." Crockett served in Florida primarily as a scout and hunter and did not see any major action. Polly became ill and died in February 1815. Crockett went home and paid another man to serve out the remainder of his enlistment. On May 22, 1815, the Franklin County Militia elected him lieutenant.
In the summer of 1815 Crockett married a young widow named Margaret Patton. At that point in time David had three small children and Margaret had two of about the same age. In subsequent years David and Margaret had four more children. At the time of their marriage, Margaret owned a farm of her own and had some capital as well. In the fall of 1815, David joined three neighbors and explored south into Alabama looking for better land. During this foray he came close to dying of malaria, but recovered and made it home. In 1816 he sold the family's land in Franklin County and relocated to newly opened land on Shoal Creek in south central Tennessee near present day Lawrenceburg. In October 1817, the Shoal Creek region was incorporated into Lawrence County, Tennessee. David became a community leader, served as justice of the peace and county commissioner, and was elected lieutenant colonel in the local militia. By 1820 David and Margaret owned 614 acres of land, a gristmill, a gunpowder factory, a distillery, and an iron ore mine. (Daniel Boone, already a legend, died in 1820.) In 1821 Crockett was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives. During his electoral campaigns and while in the legislature he championed the poor and disadvantaged. In September a flash flood severely damaged his powder factory and destroyed his gristmill. In November he claimed land on the Rutherford Fork of the Obion River in northwestern Tennessee, and the following year moved his family there. Soon after establishing their new homestead in 1823, Crockett was once again elected to the state legislature.
During 1823 and 1824, Crockett campaigned for a seat in the United States House of Representatives and supported Andrew Jackson in his first presidential campaign. Both men lost. In 1827, again as a supporter of Jackson, Crockett was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In the fall he established himself in the national capital (then called Washington City), and quickly developed a reputation for eccentric behavior and lack of social grace. He was known as a formidable raconteur, the essence of a frontiersman, and a man who did not understand the legislative process. In 1828 Crockett moved his residence from Gibson County to Weakly County. Starting out as a staunch supporter of Jackson, a disagreement over legislation affecting land ownership in his constituency soon made them political enemies. Crockett remained popular in western Tennessee and in 1829 was reelected to Congress. Jackson supporters now controlled Congress and, during this session, Crockett was unable to deliver on his campaign promises. He was defeated in his bid for reelection in 1831, but announced that he would run again in 1833. In 1831, a comedy, The Lion of the West, opened in New York. The name of the main character was Nimrod Wildfire, a congressman from Kentucky. Wildfire claimed that he was half-horse, half alligator, a touch of airth-quake, with a sprinkling of steamboat." He could "jump higher, squat lower, dive deeper, stay longer under and come up drier." He "had the prettiest sister, fastest horse, and ugliest dog in the deestrict." The play, easily recognized as a parody of Crockett, was an instant success, toured in Europe, and returned to play for twenty years in the states.
Jackson's banking policies caused economic difficulties in western Tennessee and Crockett's opposition to them resulted in his being reelected to Congress in 1833. That same year a book entitled The Life and Adventures of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee was published. Where the Wildfire characterization of Crockett had been humorous, this one portrayed him in unfavorable terms. Crockett decided that he had to write his autobiography in order to set the record right. In 1834, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee (ghost written by Thomas Chilton) was published. The book was an immediate best seller and firmly established Davy as a national celebrity. Crockett traveled through the country publicizing his book and continuing his attacks on President Jackson in the spring of 1834. There is some indication that he may have developed presidential aspirations during this period, but in a Congress still dominated by Jackson supporters, he was once again incapable of delivering anything for his constituency. His 1835 electoral effort failed. On November 1, 1835, together with a few friends, David departed Weakly County for Texas. Along the way he was well received and explained to his hosts that he had told his constituents that if they did not reelect him they could go to hell and he would go to Texas. The line was well received by Texans. In 1835 President Santa Anna was attempting to tighten Mexican control of Texas in the face of increasing resistance on the part of Anglo-european settlers. In February 1836 Crockett joined the defenders of the Alamo. Later that month Santa Anna besieged the garrison. On March 6 Santa Anna's soldiers breached their defenses and killed most of the defenders, Crockett among them.