Sometimes folks make connections, but Joe Swann and Patricia Grames Pollack, both of Maryville have a common link stretching back more than 170 years to frontiersman Davy Crockett.
The Swann family in 1995 loaned a rifle Crockett owned to the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville. Grames Pollack earlier this year donated a portrait of Adam Huntsman to the East Tennessee Historical Society, which owns the Museum of East Tennessee History. Huntsman was the man who beat Crockett in the U.S. Congressional race of 1835. It was after this defeat that Crockett left Tennessee, went to fight for Texas independence and lost his life at the battle of the Alamo.
Swann said the Crockett rifle came into his family in 1806. “My ancestors lived on Long Creek in Jefferson County. It was a quite neighborhood community between Dandridge and Morristown. In 1806 Crockett wanted to get married and he sold it to an ancestor of mine,” Swann said. “He needed a horse to support his family and he wanted to get married quicker than time allotted, so he got the extra money to get the horse early and the rifle stayed in the family from 1806 until now.”
The former Maryville mayor said the rifle has been on display in the Smithsonian Institution and Tennessee State Museum and now it’s at the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville.
Swann said Crockett wrote about his first rifle that he sold to Swann’s ancestors. “Obviously, the rifle is a huge part of Crockett’s history in East Tennessee,” he said. “Very few items are known of his time in East Tennessee. It is an important artifact.”
Swann said Huntsman, a friend of President Andrew Jackson, beat Crockett in the U.S. Congressional election of 1835. “Crockett narrowly lost because Jackson put all his support and money behind Huntsman and Crockett lost by a little bit. Crockett didn’t support the Indian Removal Bill,” Swann said. “He and Jackson were at odds and that caused Crockett to go to Texas. This guy, Huntsman, played a pivotal role in Crockett’s life because he forced him from office.”
Swann said the painting is rare. “Huntsman’s portrait is the only likeness of him I know of at all, so it’s valuable also,” he said.
Grames said Huntsman was her great-great-grandfather and the portrait was done in Washington D.C. in 1835. “The legend is an African-American woman with no hands did it with her feet,” she said. “We never found out her name or anything about her but that was what the legend was.”
Huntsman was a Tennessee state senator five times in addition to serving in the U.S. Congress. “He defeated David Crockett for Congress and that’s how he was in Washington. He served one term,” she said.
Huntsman was born in 1786 and died in 1849 in Jackson, Tenn., in Madison County. “He was Andrew Jackson’s protégé and he was also friend with President James K. Polk and many other prominent Tennesseans,” he said. “He was such a big player both in the scenes and behind the scenes during that time.”
Huntsman was born in Charlotte County, Vir. and came to Tennessee about 1809, and read law in Knoxville under Judge John Williams. “He was an admirer of Hugh Lawson White, another important politician and Knoxvillian at that time. They were thinking about running White for president when Jackson’s term was up and a lot of people in Tennessee were in favor it. Adam Huntsman admired and liked him but Jackson wanted Martin Van Buren.” Jackson and Huntsman later reconciled over that issue, Grames said.
Huntsman supported education and saw it as a key to success in life. “He said he didn’t get a very good education but seemed learned and expressed himself very well,” she said. “He wrote in various newspapers in Tennessee.”
Huntsman was an amputee. He lost a leg in the early stages of the Creek War. “Davy Crockett called him “Old Timber Toe” and he was known as “Peg Leg.” Legend is he killed a man on the Natchez Trace who tried to rob him,” Grames said. “He told the robber he kept valuables in the leg and when he took the leg off, he bashed the man over the head and killed him. That’s the legend.”
Grames said Swann enjoyed seeing the Huntsman portrait. “Joe Swann saw the picture and liked it very much. I donated it to the East Tennessee Historical Society because, although the younger generation of our family is impressed with Adam, they don’t have the feelings for him we did,” she said. “My grandmother gave my father the picture, and my siblings and I agreed the best thing to do is donate it East Tennessee Historical Society. Knoxville is where Adam got his start as a lawyer and where he had most of his career. I donated it in memory of my father, Charles Grames.”
The East Tennessee Historical Society owns the Museum of East Tennessee History, Swann said.
Grames said her brother in Nevada, Charles Grames, and her sister, Carol Schafron, in Pittsburgh, Penn., agreed that donating the portrait was the best move. “We thought to share it with the entire state of Tennessee. We didn’t want it to end up at some point in time at a garage sale. We wanted to find it a permanent home.”
Cherel Henderson is director of the East Tennessee Historical Society and she said that while there are many stellar artifacts at the museum, Swann’s Crockett rifle is very popular. “The Davy Crockett gun gets the most wows when people visit the exhibit. It is probably the best known artifact we have in the exhibit. It’s the one that excites people the most. People have such an interest in Davy Crockett,” she said. “We’ve had people who came in, saw the exhibit and left. That’s all they wanted to see.”
Henderson said the legend of the African-American woman painting the portrait of Huntsman with her feet is interesting. “The story behind the Huntsman portrait is amazing,” she said.
Huntsman was the object of one of Crockett’s most famous quotes. “He said, ‘Since you have chosen to elect man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas,’” she said.
The Huntsman portrait together with the quote from Crockett paint a picture of what was going on in Crockett’s life. “He’s really associated with Davy Crockett’s famous statement,” she said of Huntsman. “I think together they give you a sense of the politics of the time.”