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Davy Crockett

By October 26, 2023No Comments
A painted portrait of Davy Crockett
A portrait of David Crockett by Chester Harding

Frontiersman. Politician. Freemason. Patriot. Folk hero. Many labels can be applied to Brother Davy Crockett that only capture part of this multifaceted man. At his core, he was a man who preferred to act and fight for his beliefs and values. Crockett became known across the country as a rough, backwoods legislator during his life. But his final act, fighting in the Battle of the Alamo, where he gave his life, turned him into an American legend. 

The Boy from Green County

David Crockett’s ancestors were French Huguenots who migrated to America by way of Ireland during the early 1700s. His father, John, was born in 1753 in Frederick County, Virginia before his family ultimately settled in northeastern Tennessee. He became a frontiersman and served with the Overmountain Men during the American Revolutionary War. After his first wife and son were killed in 1777, John married Rebecca Hawkins in 1780. David Crockett was born on August 17, 1786, in modern Greene County, Tennessee (part of North Carolina at the time).

John struggled to provide for Rebecca and young Davy, moving the family first to a tract of land on Lick Creek in 1792 and then to Cove Creek, where he built a gristmill. A flood destroyed the Crockett homestead, so again, they relocated, this time to Mossy Creek, Tennessee. Finally, John settled in Morristown in the Southwest Territory and built a tavern on a stagecoach route.

In an effort to relieve some of the family’s debt, John indentured David to a man named Jacob Siler when David was 12 years old. The youngster tended Siler’s cattle as a cowboy on a 400-mile trip to Natural Bridge in Virginia. David received fair pay and treatment and returned home, where he was enrolled in school by his father. It didn’t last long, and after an altercation with a classmate, David joined a cattle drive to Front Royal, Virginia. He left Tennessee and spent nearly three years traveling and working as a teamster, farmhand, and hat maker’s apprentice.

Marriage and Militia Service

Time and space ultimately brought David back to his family in 1802 when he returned on foot to his father’s tavern in Tennessee. He again took jobs to help alleviate several of his father’s debts, including working off a $40 debt to John Canady. David continued working for Canady for four years, well after he had paid off the debt, possibly because he fell in love with his employer’s niece, Amy Summer.

David and his wife, Polly Finley, who he met at a local harvest festival, were married in 1806 and had three children: John Wesley Crockett (who later became a United States Congressman), William Finley Crockett, and Margaret Finley Crockett. Sadly, Polly died in March 1815, and Crockett turned to his brother John and his sister-in-law for help caring for his children. Later that year, he married the widow Elizabeth Patton, who had two children of her own. Together, they had three more children: Robert Patton, Rebecca Elvira, and Matilda.

In 1813, the Creek War was underway, and on September 20, Crockett left his family to enlist for 90 days as a scout for the Tennessee Militia. He served with Francis Jones’s Company of Mounted Rifleman, often hunting wild game for the soldiers. He felt hunting better suited his skills than fighting and killing Creek warriors. At the same time, the War of 1812 between the U.S. and British Forces was underway. Crockett re-enlisted and served with future president (and fellow Freemason) Andrew Jackson’s campaign in Spanish Florida. He saw little combat during his enlistment, which ended in 1815.

Crockett’s reputation as a professional hunter was second to none. He famously spent much of his life stalking black bears in the woods of Tennessee and selling their pelts, meat, and oil. Allegedly, he hunted 105 bears during the winter of 1825-26 alone. This ability to track big game and turn these encounters into exciting stories later helped turn him into an American folk hero.

Commemorative US postage stamp depicting Crockett. 
A commemorative US postage stamp depicting Crockett, 1967.

Political Career

Davy Crockett and the family settled in Lawrence County with his military service behind him. It was here that he first entered public office as a county commissioner. Shortly after that, the state legislature appointed him county justice of the peace, and he won an election to serve as lieutenant colonel of the Fifty-Seventh Regiment of Tennessee Militia. A few short years after moving to Lawrence County, Crockett was running multiple businesses while overseeing his new political responsibilities. He resigned from the local government as his work kept him away from his family. 

In 1821, he ran for a seat in the Tennessee General Assembly representing Lawrence and Hickman counties and won. This campaign helped him practice oration, in which he became an expert in. He became known for speeches filled with yarns, homespun metaphors, and incredible tales of his exploits on the frontier. After taking office, he was appointed to the Committee of Propositions and Grievances, where he earned a reputation for fighting on behalf of the least fortunate. Crockett sought to ease the tax burden on people experiencing poverty and help impoverished settlers. It was also the start of his public split with his party’s leader, Andrew Jackson. Crockett supported 1821 gubernatorial candidate William Carroll instead of Jackson’s endorsed candidate, Edward Ward.

Crockett won again two years later, and as his second term in the General Assembly ended, he made public his intention to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. While he lost that election to incumbent Adam Rankin Alexander, he was not dissuaded. He ran again in 1826 and won easily. Once a congressman, Crockett’s politics continued clashing with fellow Tennessean President Andrew Jackson. During his second term, Crockett introduced a resolution to abolish the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1830. He believed the institution used public money to benefit the wealthiest Americans. 

David also expressed his disgust of the Indian Removal Act, which forced Native Americans to move off their lands, writing in his autobiography A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett:

“I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure…. I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed on the day of judgment.” 

In response to his support, Cherokee Chief John Ross sent him a letter expressing his thanks. His vote against the act made him deeply unpopular in his home district, and he was defeated in the 1831 election. 

The Fall of the Alamo by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk depicts Davy Crockett swinging his rifle at opposing troops in battle.
The Fall of the Alamo by Robert J. Onderdonk depicts Crockett in battle.

Caption: The Fall of the Alamo by Robert J. Onderdonk depicts Crockett in battle.

Alt Text: The Fall of the Alamo by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk depicts Davy Crockett swinging his rifle at opposing troops in battle.

The Man, the Myth, the Freemason

As a member of the United States House of Representatives, Crockett became a Freemason. His Masonic Apron, made for him by Mrs. A.C. Massie of Washington, D.C., is the only proof that Crockett was a Mason. Before he moved west, Brother Crockett entrusted the apron to the sheriff of Weakley County, Tennessee. It was inherited and preserved by the sheriff’s nephew, E.M. Taylor of Paducah, Kentucky. The lodge in Weakley County, near the Crockett home, burned during the Civil War, destroying all the lodge records.

The Legacy of a Revolutionary

Davy Crockett served one final term from 1833 to 1835 before losing re-election. Now, out of Congress, he decided to leave politics for good and move west. Crockett and a 30-man armed brigade headed for Texas in the middle of the Texas War for Independence. In exchange for land, Crockett took up the cause of the Provisional Government of Texas. In February 1836, he arrived in San Antonio at the Alamo Mission, just in time for Mexican President General Santa Anna and his thousands of troops to lay siege to the Texas forces. 

The siege lasted nearly two weeks, from February 23 until March 6. While the Texans had limited powder stores and shot inside the Alamo, Crockett kept returning fire as their sharpshooting skills were highly effective. The Battle of the Alamo became one of the most famous in American history despite lasting just 90 minutes. A maximum of 200 Texas volunteer soldiers, including Crockett and his men, holed up in the Alamo and held out for 13 days until Mexican soldiers overran their defenses. There remains some debate about whether Crockett died defending the Alamo. Some accounts claim he survived only to be taken hostage and executed.

Crockett was famous in life for his military and political career, as well as his charismatic and unique oratory skills. While alive and in the many years since his death, his life was mythologized through stage plays, films, television shows, and countless books. Today, his political career has taken a back seat to the many legends surrounding him as an American folk hero. Although some details have almost certainly been exaggerated, there is no denying that the true story of Davy Crockett is still the stuff of legends.

Interested in learning more about American Masonic hero’s? Read our articles on Paul Revere, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thurgood Marshall!