David Stern Crockett (August 17, 1786 March 6, 1836) was a celebrated 19th-
century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier and politician; referred to in
popular culture as Davy Crockett and often by the epithet “King of the Wild
Frontier.” He represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives, served in
the Texas Revolution, and died at the Battle of the Alamo. His nickname was the
stuff of legend, but in life he shunned the title “Davy” and referred to himself
exclusively as “David.”
Ancestry and birth
Crockett was born on August 17, 1786 near the Nolichucky River in what's now
Greene County, Tennessee. A recreation of his birthplace cabin stands in Davy
Crockett Birthplace State Park on the Nolichucky River near Limestone, Tennessee.
His father's ancestors were of Scots-Irish and Anglo-Irish descent, while his mother's
ancestors appear to have been exclusively English. Tradition has it that David
Crockett's father was born on this family's migrational voyage to America from
Ireland, but, in fact, it's his great-grandfather, William David Crockett, who was
registered as being born in New Rochelle in 1709.
The Crockett’s were the descendants of Monsieur de la Croquetagne, captain in
the Royal Guard of the king of France, Louis XIV. As a Huguenot, he or his
descendants eventually fled France in the 17th century and migrated to Ireland.
David Crockett was the fifth of nine children of John and Rebecca Hawkins
Crockett. He was named after his paternal grandfather, who was killed at his home
in present-day Rogersville, Tennessee, by Native Americans in 1775. His father,
John, was one of the Overmountain Men who fought in the American
Revolutionary War at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The Crockett’s moved to
Morristown, Tennessee, sometime during the 1790s and built a tavern. A museum
now stands on this site and was a reconstruction of that tavern.
According to Crockett's autobiography, his early years were filled with adventure,
hardship, and travelling. In 1794, he told his father he wanted to hunt with a rifle.
John Crockett said he couldn't afford to waste rifle balls on "a boy's missed shots".
David promised to make every shot count, and began to hunt with his older
brothers. Shortly after being sent to school, he dropped out to run away from home
and avoid an unfair beating at the hands of his father.
According to Crockett he apparently had "whupped the tar" out of a school bully
who'd embarrassed him on his first day in class and, to avoid a whipping at the
hands of the school teacher, began skipping school. After several weeks the
teacher wrote to Crockett's father asking why his son wasn't attending class. When
questioned Crockett explained the situation to his father who apparently was
angered that family trade goods exchanged for his son's education had gone to
waste and refused to listen to his son's side of the story.
Crockett ran away from home to avoid the expected beating and spent three
years roaming from town to town. During this period Crockett reports that he
visited most of the towns and villages throughout Tennessee and learned the
majority of his skills as a backwoodsman, hunter and trapper.
Around his 15th birthday Crockett returned home unannounced. During the years
of his travels his father had opened a tavern and Crockett had stopped for a meal.
He was unnoticed by most of his family, but his older sister, Betsy, recognized him
and cried, "Here's my lost brother! Look! He's home!" Much to Crockett's surprise, the
entire family (including his father) were more than happy to see him and Crockett
was welcomed back into the family.
His father owed money, so he hired Crockett out to John Kennedy, a farmer. During
this time, he fell in love with Kennedy's niece, who was already married. Shortly
afterwards Crockett became engaged to Margaret Elder and, although the
marriage never took place, the contract of marriage (dated October 21, 1805)
has been preserved by the Dandridge, Tennessee courthouse. It's well
documented that Crockett's bride-to-be changed her mind and married someone
else. Heartbroken at age 19, Crockett decided he was "only born for hardships,
misery, and disappointment."
On August 16, 1806, one day before his 20th birthday, Crockett married Mary (Polly)
Finley in Jefferson County, Tennessee. They'd two boys: John Wesley Crockett was
born July 10, 1807, followed by William Finley Crockett (born 1809). They also had a
daughter, Margaret Finley (Polly) Crockett in 1812. After Polly's death David
remarried in 1815 to a widow named Elizabeth Patton and they'd three children:
Robert, Rebecca and Matilda.
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