Wanted: Fresh Biographies of Early Republic Tennesseans

Originally posted on March 16, 2011

Bloggers Mark Cheatham and Michael Lynch (whose history blogs I would definitely recommend) point out the lack of scholarly biographies for several essential figures of the Early Republic, many of whom happen to be Tennesseans. While men such as John Sevier, William Blount, and John Bell have had biographies written about them, none has recent a modern treatment in almost sixty years. Others such as Hugh Lawson White and William Carroll–both significant figures in Tennessee political history–have been neglected altogether. (The lack of a biography for Carroll, the state’s longest serving governor, really surprises me. Aside from Andrew Jackson, he was Tennessee’s most influential politician of the 1820s and 1830s. ) Hopefully these men’s lives will interest historians in the near future and help fill the biographical void.


Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

As part of my writing on the life and political career of Adam Huntsman, I’m researching the Presidential election of 1840 that saw Andrew Jackson’s Democratic party suffer its first Presidential defeat to the Whig party. William Henry Harrison of Ohio and running mate John Tyler of Virginia rode the crest of an unprecedented wave of campaign enthusiasm into the President’s House. Five years ago, a band called They Might Be Giants actually created their own version of a campaign song from that election. It’s kind of catchy after listening to it a few times! (The lyrics “Van is a used up man” refers to the incumbent President Martin Van Buren.)

Long Time, No See

It’s been quite a while since I last posted to this blog. I’ve been writing the last three months, but the topics have been political in nature.

Now that the late unpleasantness is over, I hope to return to a few book projects I have in the works. Two projects in particular–a history of the Kitty League (minor league baseball) and a new biography of Adam Huntsman–have my attention. The latter will build on a previous biography I published in 1996 entitled The Peg-Legged Politician. I’ve learned a lot more in the past twelve years about the life of this eccentric but fascinating character. I hope to share it with readers who are interested in David Crockett, frontier politics in the Age of Jackson, and Tennessee history in general next year.

My book project on Ken Boyer is still in the research phase. Other writing assignments include a project with SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) for a book on the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals. I will write short biography on outfielder Mike Shannon.

The Peg-Legged Politician

Continuing to go back and update my earlier books, I’ve decided to publish a second edition of The Peg-Legged Politician: The Life of Adam Huntsman. It was one of what I call my “Kinko’s books” that I had copied and bound at Kinko’s Copies in Nashville, TN in 1996. I really didn’t promote it and only make a few copies, primarily for the Tennessee Room at the Jackson-Madison County Public Library and the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Now twelve years later, I’d like to fix it up a bit, add some new information, and publish it as a perfect bound, paperback book.

Who was Adam Huntsman, you may ask? Most Tennesseans know that David Crockett (not Davy of the Walt Disney films) made his fateful journey to Texas, the Alamo, and glory after losing his Congressional seat in 1835. He lost to a clever and talented lawyer and politician named Adam Huntsman, who gave the Democratic Party a bit of revenge against their former ally. He wore a wooden prosthesis for the leg he lost, supposedly in the Creek War or the War of 1812, that only added to his colorful character. It also earned him such complimentary nicknames as “Peg-leg” and “Timber Toe.”

Adam Huntsman could be every bit the storyteller and prankster that Crockett was for the voters, but he was also a skillful composer of satirical articles for the newspapers that entertained and drew others to his point of view. His “Book of Chronicles, West of the Tennessee and East of the Mississippi” was perhaps his best work and was credited by David Crockett himself for his defeat in the 1831 Congressional election. It was written like prose from the Holy Bible and told the story of David, who belonged “to the tribe of Tennessee, which lay upon the border of the Mississippi and over against Kentucky” and “was chosen by the people in the river country, to go with the wise men of the tribe of Tennessee to the grand Sanhedrim held yearly…at the city of Washington.” But David was led astray by “wicked men sons of Beleal, to wit: the Claytonites, the Holmesites, the Burghesities, the Everettities, the Chiltonites, and the Baronites…who hated Andrew [who was “chief ruler over the children of Columbia”].”

(Of course Andrew was President Andrew Jackson, the Claytonites were Senator Henry Clay and his supporters, and the “grand Sanhedrim” was Congress.)

Politics was the chief form of entertainment for the people of the frontier and Adam Huntsman made it all the more fun and entertaining for the people of Madison County and West Tennessee. I’ll have some more to say about ol’ Adam as time goes by. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with him this year.