David Crockett

A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett

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A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett Summary

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A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett is an autobiography written in 1834 by American frontiersman, soldier, statesman, and folk hero, David Crockett. With some editorial assistance from his friend, Kentucky congressman Thomas Chilton, Crockett details his eventful life, starting with his earliest childhood memories and ending with his career in the legislature. With colorful language, high-spirited narration, and a good dose of humor, Crockett paints a vivid and realistic picture of frontier life in early 19th century America.

In the Preface, Crockett explains “why and wherefore” he wrote his narrative. Crockett complains that a previous biography—purportedly the Life and Adventures of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee by James Strange French—caused him “much injustice.” The book was a “bundle of ridiculous stuff” filled with “catchpenny errors.” Crockett writes his own story to correct all the “false notions” about him and do justice for himself. Crockett denounces any potential critics of his book, avowing that spelling isn’t his trade, he never had time to learn good grammar, he never wrote a book before (and hadn’t read very many), but he does take full responsibility for its authorship: “The whole book is my own, and every sentiment and sentence in it.” Accordingly, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett offers the reader a “plain, honest, homespun account of my state in life, and some few of the difficulties which have attended me along its journey.” Throughout the Narrative, Crockett comments on the possibility of being elected president, and decisions he would make if he were “forced” to take the White House.

Crockett was born on August 17, 1786 the fifth son in a large family of six sons and three daughters. His father, John Crockett was of Irish descent and had served in the Revolutionary War. His mother, Rebecca Hawkins, came from Maryland. Crockett recalls two powerful memories from his childhood: In the first, four of his brothers are nearly swept over a waterfall in a canoe. Another time, Crockett remembers, his uncle accidentally shooting a man who was out picking grapes. Crockett describes seeing his father pull a silk handkerchief through the bullet hole and all the way through the man’s body. The man eventually gets well, “as little as any one would have thought it.”

After bad luck with a mill-building venture, Crockett’s father opens a tavern in east Tennessee. Crockett stays with his father until he is twelve, and then begins to “make up his acquaintance with hard times.” His father hires him out to work for a passing Dutchman. When Crockett returns, his father sends him to a country school, but Crockett runs away, finding “home and the school-house too hot for me.” Crockett works for various wagon drivers, eventually returning home at fifteen to a happy reunion with his family. During this time, Crockett courts various girls and gains a reputation as a hunter and rifleman. On an early wolf hunt, Crockett gets lost, and offers the reader this advice based on the experience: “Whenever a fellow gets bad lost, the way home is just the way he don’t think it is.”

Crockett marries and rents a small farm and has two sons. He comments dryly that he is “better at increasing my family than my fortune.” He relocates the family into Franklin County, Tennessee.

When Crockett learns of the “bloody butchery” at Fort Mims, Alabama, where Creek Indian warriors massacred over 500 people (in response to being ambushed by frontiersmen), he tells his wife he is going to join the militia. She implores him not to go; but Crockett is adamant, believing it is a duty he owes to his country. Thanks to his skills as a woodsman and his expertise with a rifle Crockett becomes a scout and spy. He returns home, but reenlists again in 1814, when he learns General Andrew Jackson is raising an army in Pensacola to fight the British. Crockett’s wife protests again, but Crockett remarks that “I always had a way of just going ahead, at whatever I had a mind to.” After serving a few months in the militia Crockett returns to his farm. The war ends soon after with the Battle of New Orleans, and treaties ending Indian hostilities are signed.

Crockett’s wife dies, leaving him with the two boys and an infant daughter. Deciding he needs a mother for his children and a new wife for himself, Crockett remarries a local widow who has children around the same ages. He continues to enjoy adventures on the Wwestern frontier of Tennessee, sharing numerous tales of bear-hunting expeditions and dangerous river trips. On one excursion, while exploring in Alabama, Crockett contracts malaria and nearly dies. Indians help him to a house where a family cares for him. He finally makes it home, to the “utter astonishment of my wife; for she supposed I was dead.”

Crockett relocates the family to the lawless Shoal Creek. There, Crockett becomes a magistrate, with the power to try and judge criminals. Crockett declares that he never read a law book before but based his judgments on the principles of common justice and honesty between man and man, and his own natural born sense. He is elected to the Tennessee legislature in 1823, beginning his career in politics. Over the next few years, Crockett campaigns for and is eventually elected to the United States Congress. He serves his first two sessions under President Adams but is angry when, in 1829, he realizes that it is “expected of me to bow to the name of Andrew Jackson.” Crockett opposes President Jackson’s Indian Bill, which he believes is “wicked” and unjust.

The end of Crockett’s Narrative finds him again a congressman in January of 1834. Crockett declares that he wears the handcuffs of no political party, but is the faithful representative of the people, “at liberty to vote as my conscience and judgment dictates to be right.”

Crockett died defending the Alamo in 1836, two years after A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett was published.