Monday, June 25, 2018

Davy Crockett in Massachusetts

Massachusetts may be just as proud of its folklore as it is about its history. Countless books have been written about legends and lore throughout the commonwealth and its regions, and Massachusetts’ official folk hero is none other than John Chapman, a missionary and gardener from Leominster who many know solely as Johnny Appleseed. But he isn’t the only folk hero to have traversed through New England: in 1834, Davy Crockett made a visit to Boston.

Portrait of David "Davy" Crockett from
An Account of Col. Crockett's Tour to the North and Down East (1835)

David “Davy” Crockett had made a name for himself in East Tennessee for his hunting and storytelling prowess before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827. During his lifetime, he was already the stuff of legend: a satirical play centered around a Crockett parody character named Nimrod Wildfire had opened in 1831, starring popular actor James Hackett in the title role.

This play, as well as an unauthorized biography of Crockett, appropriated his image and reputation and inspired him to create a biography “written by himself.” The memoir was politically driven and not as factual as he claimed, but it led him on a book tour that eventually brought him up to New England. After the book tour, he also wrote an account of the three-week tour itself.

The second publication, An Account of Col. Crockett’s Tour to the North and Down East, was published 1835. After visiting Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, he arrived in Boston.  “I must… tell you where I stopped in Boston – and that was just where anyone that has plenty of cash, and plenty of goodwill for pleasure, would like – in a clean street, with a tavern on one side, and the theatre on the other, and both called Tremont,” he wrote.

Like many tourists that visit Boston today, Crockett saw the sights: “Fanuell Hall,” as he spelled it, where he saw the “accourtrements of war for several companies of infantry and riflemen”; Quincy Market, described as simply, “the market… mayor Quincey’s hammers were keeping time on the big granite stones, and the beautiful pillars were rising up as if he had just ordered them”; the Bunker Hill monument, which was still being built during his visit; the Old State House, where he gave a speech; and the current State House, where there was a statue of George Washington of which he did not approve: “They have a Roman gown on him, and he was an American: this a’n’t right… he belonged to this country-heart, soul, and body: and I don’t want any other to have any part of him – not even his clothes.”

He included an amusing dig at his nemesis Andrew Jackson in his record about the trip: the USS Constitution had a new figure-head in the likeness of Jackson, and when Crockett was asked if it was a good likeness, he responded, “I had never seen him misrepresented; but that they had fixed him just where he had fixed himself, that was – before the Constitution.”

Crockett declined a visit to Harvard University in Cambridge during his trip, comically fearing that “they keep ready made titles or nicknames to give people [there]… I would not go, for I did not know but they might stick an L.L.D. on me before they let me go; and I had no idea of changing ‘Member of the House of Representatives of the United States,’ for what stands for ‘lazy lounging dunce.’” He also visited Roxbury, or “Roxborough,” before heading up to witness the planned industrial city of Lowell, Mass.

“Mill Girls” in the Making-up room, Lawrence Hosiery Co., Lowell, Mass., ca. 1865.
Image courtesy of Historic New England.

Lowell had only been incorporated less than ten years earlier in 1826 and Crockett was absolutely marveled by the brand new manufacturing center. The female workers, Crockett observed, were “all well dressed, lively, and genteel in their appearance; indeed, the girls looked as if they were coming from a quilting frolic.” He toured the factories, speaking to the young girls who worked there, noting that “not one expressed herself as tired of her employment, or oppressed with work: all talked well, and looked healthy.” His accounts of Lowell make the manufacturing center sound like heaven on earth and certainly contain propaganda in favor of the mill-owners that were leading his tour. Only months before his visit, the Lowell mill girls had organized an unsuccessful strike against wage reduction.

Despite these literary works, Crockett was not re-elected in 1835 and famously (or infamously) damned his Tennessee constituents that “they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.”  He arrived in Nacogdoches as the turmoil of the Texas Revolution began. Later he went to San Antonio, where he famously fought in the Battle of the Alamo and died on March 6, 1836, the last day of the 13-day siege. His death further catapulted him into the annals of American folklore, and today he is one of the most instantly recognized folk heroes in America.

The Fall of the Alamo (1903) by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk.

Further Reading:

An Account of Col. Crockett’s Tour to the North and Down East (1835) available online:

Thompson, Bob. “David Crockett, celebrity pioneer, went from wrestling bears to wrestling with his image.” Washington Post, February 8, 2013. <>

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff