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.


Stand Up for the Archives!

Originally posted on March 29, 2011

One of Tennessee’s underappreciated treasures is the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville. I’ve enjoyed spending many Saturdays looking at microfilm or pouring through books for various projects over the years. When I was a college student living in Jackson, it was a big deal for me to make a trip to the Archives. One of the reasons I love living in Middle Tennessee is being only an hour’s drive from it. (My wife kids me about spending so much time there on Saturdays!) Over the past 20 years, this repository has held the secrets of my family history and subjects of books I’ve written. I couldn’t have written them without it.

I love having access to so much of our state’s history, but if proposed 2011-2012 state budget cuts are as deep as they appear to be, public access would be greatly limited. This past weekend, Mark Cheatham raised the alarm that TSLA’s public access could be reduced from 60 hours to 37.5, eliminating seven full-time positions. Gordon Belt at The Posterity Project confirmed the building would be closed on Mondays and hours would be reduced Tuesday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. effective July 1, 2011. (The Archives is normally open until 6 p.m.)

Times are tough and money is short in state government, and I applaud Gov. Haslam’s efforts to trim excess from the budget. But as a longtime patron of TSLA, I cannot condone limiting public access to state records in order to save money. I would argue that more would be lost if historians, genealogical researchers, and graduate students were denied the time needed to investigate their particular areas of historical research.

I would urge everyone impacted by this measure to contact their legislators, Gov. Haslam, and Secretary of State Tre Hargett, and politely express your disapproval. Mark Cheatham has provided ways to make contact and make your voices heard.

Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician Now Available

I am now accepting orders for my latest book, Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician! (This is a temporary ordering page until my official site redesign is complete.)

There are three ways to order:
(1) Order online through PayPal (to receive a signed copy)
**For a personalized signed book, please indicate during checkout**

(2) Order by mail–Please send a check or money order for $29.00 ($25.00 + $4.00 shipping) to:

McCann Publishing
204 Delaney Circle
Dickson, TN 37055
(**If you would like your signed book personalized, please indicate how you would like it to read**)
(3) Order online at Amazon.com (see left column of my blog)

Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician Available Soon

My latest book–Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician–will be released officially on February 11, 2011, on what would have been Huntsman’s 225th birthday. But copies will be available for purchase in early January if you can’t wait that long. Anyone who is interested in Tennessee history or David Crockett in particular will enjoy this 298-page biography. If you’re a Crockett fan, it offers a different perspective on his political career from the viewpoint of one of his most determined opponents.

To learn more about Adam Huntsman, here’s an earlier post about his life and political career and another on his trademark peg leg.

A Running Fight in Purdy, Tennessee (1859)

I’m taking advantage of a 30-day trial subscription to genealogybank.com and came across this newspaper article dated November 20, 1859 about a pre-Civil War fight between Fielding Hurst and M. Ledbetter on the streets of Purdy, Tennessee that involved pistols, horse shoes, and sticks! (Hurst is the subject of my book Hurst’s Wurst: Colonel Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry U.S.A.)

“A difficulty occurred between two of our citizens on last Wednesday night. M. Ledbetter snapped a pistol at F. Hurst, Esq., at the distance of about six feet, and Hurst afterwards fired twice at Ledbetter at the distance of about twenty paces, and one of the balls entered a chair in close proximity to Ledbetter.

Brickbats, horse shoes, sticks and bottles were thrown in wild confusion during a sort of running fight, which continued for several minutes. Much excitement prevalled, and some of our citizens done splendid dodging and running; in the latter list was found leading the way, one of the editors of this paper–we mean the one who lives in town. There was an old grudge between the parties, but we forbear comment.”

Adam Huntsman as a Cultural Icon

Everyone has seen the Obama icon image that was used throughout the late unpleasantness (i.e. the 2008 Presidential election). Now there’s a website that enables anyone to create their own icon. Using this technology, I thought I would pay homage to the focus of all my writing energies of late.

Adam Huntsman Descendants Make Presentation to East Tennessee Historical Society

A 175-year-old sketch of Adam Huntsman has been donated by his descendants as a gift to the East Tennessee Historical Society.

Patricia Grames Pollock, great-great granddaughter of the one-term congressman from Tennessee, presented it on behalf of her family to Michele MacDonald, Curator of Collections for the society, on February 25. It had been passed down to her father, Charles M. Grames, by his mother Edith (Huntsman) Grames, who was Huntsman’s granddaughter.

Adam Huntsman (1786-1849) was a Virginia native who came to Knox County, Tennessee in 1809, where he settled for about three years. It was here that he studied law under John Williams, one of Knoxville’s most prominent attorneys in the early nineteenth century and later a United States Senator. The legal skills he learned from Williams he carried with him westward to Overton County and later Madison County, Tennessee, where he became a highly regarded criminal lawyer.

But it was politics that was Huntsman’s passion: he was a leader of the Democratic Party in West Tennessee in the 1830s and 1840s and corresponded with notable politicians of his day such as Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, and John C. Calhoun. He served four terms in the Tennessee state senate and defeated David Crockett for the Twelfth Congressional seat in 1835, a loss that led to Crockett’s journey to Texas and his death at the Alamo.

The sketch is believed to have been done circa 1835 or 1836 while Huntsman served in Congress. Family tradition states that it was the work of an African-American woman who drew it with her foot!

Mrs. Pollock is pleased the East Tennessee Historical Society agreed to add it to their collection. “This fine old sketch deserves a permanent home where people can see it,” she said.

James K. Polk

If I had to pick my favorite American President on this Presidents’ Day, it would have to be James K. Polk, our 11th Chief Executive.

My fascination with Polk goes back to my childhood of memorizing the Presidents. He was a Tennessean (although a native of North Carolina) and a protege of our first Tennessee president, Andrew Jackson. He was the youngest man ever elected up to 1845 (49 years old when he was sworn in) and the first to sport long hair (a mullet, I suppose). He extended our country’s boundaries westward to the Pacific Ocean through negotiation with Great Britain and war with Mexico. He was probably the most dedicated and hardest working president, certainly in the first 60 years of the 19th Century.

(Polk also had ties to the subject of my latest book project, Tennessee lawyer and politician Adam Huntsman.)

I learned later that he had not been admired or adored as other men who held the office; in fact, he was somewhat devious and calculating. But he set his agenda, decided to accomplish it in one term, and he did it. Of course this work ethic prematurely aged him and likely contributed to his death at the age of 53, just three months after he left office.

In the last few decades, Polk has finally received his due in the pantheon of Presidential greatness. His most recent biographer believes him to be one of the greatest, certainly the greatest of the one-term chief executives.

Polk is also the subject of an upcoming documentary by Brian Rose, who explores his own fascination with the president. Here’s a few clips he has posted on YouTube:

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.

Adam Huntsman’s 222nd Birthday

Today marks the 222nd birthday of Adam Huntsman, the man responsible for the legend of David Crockett at the Alamo.

Had the peg-legged lawyer and politician from Jackson, Tennessee not defeated him for re-election to Congress in 1835, Crockett would have returned to Washington and missed the Battle of the Alamo and the legendary stature that he enjoys today.

Huntsman was born today in Charlotte County, Virginia in 1786, six months and six days before his famous opponent. He lost his leg at some point during the War of 1812 and wore a wooden prosthesis the rest of his life. It added to his colorful character and emphasis to his speeches; while serving in Congress, he stomped it on the floor to make a point! “He was a man of great ability, fully equal to Crockett in native intellect, and much his superior in education and mental training,” recalled Peter H. Burnett, a Hardeman County, Tennesse resident and later the first governor of California.

In honor of Adam Huntsman’s birthday, I’ve created a new website at www.adamhuntsman.com