Happy Birthday, Adam Huntsman!

Adam Huntsman, the subject of my latest book project, would be 223 years old today.

I grew up in Jackson, Tennessee, where he lived the last 26 years of his life. He will always be best known as the man who beat David Crockett for Congress in 1835, which led Crockett to Texas and his heroic death at the Alamo. But there’s a lot more that should be known about this colorful and eccentric frontier lawyer and politician.

His most distinguishing feature was a wooden peg leg. He used the artificial appendage to his advantage during his legal and political career. When he delivered a speech, he would pound it on the floor to emphasize a point he was making. It was also a visiable reminder of the sacrifice he made for his country, much to the chagrin of his political opponents. How he lost the limb has been the subject of speculation for many years: Crockett claimed it was lost “in an [I]ndian fight during the last war,” implying that it happened during the Creek War or the War of 1812. I have my own theory that I will share in my upcoming book.

Huntsman was born in Charlotte County, Virginia on 11 February 1786. I’ve tried in my research to identify his parents, but the best I’ve come up with is circumstantial evidence that points to Adam Huntsman (senior) and Jeane Francis of Charlotte County. (I can’t even prove–aside from the fact that she had married a Huntsman–that they were even married.) It’s certainly one of the more frustrating aspects of the project.

He left Virginia for Knox County, Tennessee, settling there about 1809. He studied law under John Williams and obtained his license, but he never hung his shingle there. It may have had something to do with his paternity of an illegitimate daughter in 1811. He moved to Overton County and practiced law in that area of Middle Tennessee until 1823. During this time, he served three terms in the Tennessee state senate representing Overton, White, and Jackson counties.

By 1823, Huntsman was married to Sarah Wesley Quarles and had moved to Madison County, where he settled four miles east of Jackson in the Cotton Grove community. He practiced law and was engaged in various civic and business activities. In 1827, he was elected as West Tennessee’s first senator to the General Assembly and served one term. He later represented Madison County at the state constitutional convention in 1834.

Huntsman was a staunch supporter of President Andrew Jackson and the fledgling Democratic Party in Tennessee. He enjoyed the game of politics and played an active role in various campaigns in West Tennessee throughout the 1830s and 1840s. In 1835, he opposed incumbent congressman David Crockett’s re-election bid in a lively campaign pitting masters of the stump speech and tall tale telling. (Huntsman was regarded as the better speaker of the two.) Huntsman won the election by 2,000 votes and served one term in the 24th Congress (1835-37). He stepped aside rather than seek re-election: his opponent would have been John Wesley Crockett, a fellow attorney and eldest son of his former opponent.

Huntsman corresponded for 13 years with fellow Tennessean James K. Polk, an exchange of letters that continued into Polk’s presidency (1845-49). He was nine years older than Polk and acted as an advisor to him while he served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, governor of Tennessee, and president of the United States. Huntsman first met Polk while serving as a state senator and Polk was its clerk. When Polk received the Democratic nomination for president in 1844, Huntsman congratulated him in his own humorous way:

“I suppose miracles will not cease in the land. To have supposed it possible that such a Possum looking fellow as you were twenty five years ago, would ever have [been] nominated for President of the United States would have been deemed Quixotism[.] But so it is, and we must make the best we can out of you.”

Huntsman noted that three former presidents–George Washington, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson–had no children. If Polk were to win (he too had no children), Huntsman noted “the World will believe that the qualifications of an American President lies all in his head, and none in his Breeches.”

Adam Huntsman died at his home on present-day Cotton Grove Road near Jackson, Tennessee on the evening of Thursday, 23 August 1849. He was 63 years old.

My book project on the life and political career of Adam Huntsman will be published later this year. If you would like to be notified when it is available, please send me an email here.

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