John Crockett, a Poor Man and the Father of a Legend

We all know that David Crocket was born down on the Limestone Creek, and his birthplace is a popular location for locals and tourists.  Few people know anything about his father, John, and we would like to introduce you to him. John was a very interesting man, as well!   

It is believed that John was born circa 1753, probably in Pennsylvania and he was of Irish descent. By the time he married Rebecca Hawkins around 1776, he had moved into the northeast Tennessee area. Rebecca was a local girl—she and John Sevier’s first wife, Sarah Hawkins were sisters.  That meant that James Sevier, the long-time Washington County Court Clerk, and David Crockett were first cousins!    

David gives an insight into his father in his book, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett. David had not been told many details about his father’s early life, but he knew that John had fought in the Revolutionary War.  Military records prove this to be true, showing that John enlisted from Lincoln County, North Carolina and eventually served under Isaac Shelby.  John also fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain and his name is recorded as being in the North Carolina 1st Regiment. 

After the war, John and Rebecca settled in the modern-day Washington and Greene Counties in Tennessee where John received a land grant for his service during the Revolutionary War. Quoting the book, David Crockett, The Man and the Legend, by James Atkins Shackford, “John…settled in Washington County, North Carolina, within a large land plot sometimes known as Brown’s Purchase, bought from the Indians by Colonel Jacob Brown of South Carolina for as much merchandise as a single pack-horse could carry.”  Deed book A, page 122 reads, “In consideration of the sum of one thousand pounds in hand paid Virginia money in goods for the use of the Nation by the said Jacob Brown…”  This may very well be the same deed mentioned in Shackford’s book! 

Choosing northeast Tennessee as their home was “under dangerous circumstances, both to himself and his family, as the county was full of Indians, who were at that time very troublesome.”1  John’s parents were both murdered in their home in Rogersville (Hawkins County) by the Chickamauga Cherokee in a raid led by Dragging Canoe.  John’s brother, Joseph Crockett was wounded in the arm.  Another of John’s brothers, James was deaf and unable to speak.  He was captured by the Creeks and remained with them for over 17 years.  When he was discovered, he was purchased from the Creeks and returned to his relatives. John and his other brothers were away from home when the attack happened. 

John and his wife, Rebecca had nine children and at the time of David’s birth, they were living “at the mouth of Lime Stone, on the Nola-chucky river…” 

The Nolichucky River was a source of entertainment for the Crockett brothers, who once found themselves in danger.  Five of the Crockett boys, including David, and an older boy named Campbell were playing on the river’s edge.  The boys (excluding David, much to his chagrin) climbed into John’s canoe and took it out on the water.  Campbell was attempting to paddle the boat; he had likely never even seen a watercraft, or had any idea how to guide it.  Any of the other boys could have paddled the boat to safety, but Campbell wouldn’t give up the paddle.  Just a short distance below them was a waterfall and the boys were heading straight toward it.  A neighbor farmer saw them and started to run, throwing off clothing as he went.  When he reached the canoe, the draw from the falls was very strong, but he was able to bring the canoe and boys to the safety of the riverbank.  Not long after this incident, John moved his family from the Nolichucky River area to Greene County, “about ten miles above Greenville.” 

John next moved the family to the mouth of Cove Creek, where he and Thomas Galbreath undertook to build a mill together. “They went on very well with their work until it was nigh done when there came the second epistle to Noah’s fresh and away went their mill, shot lock and barrel.”  David recalled that the water rose into their house and John had to get them out to keep them from drowning.   

The family next moved to Jefferson County where John opened a tavern.  It was small and John was poor, so the accommodations were mostly for the waggoners who travelled the road.  This undertaking was unsuccessful, and the property was eventually sold on the courthouse steps.  John also attempted to be a land speculator, but he failed.    

The Washington County Archives has three court cases that mention John Crockett:

  • 1783: Robert Crocket vs. John Crocket    damages in the amount of five hundred thousand pounds, current money.  The document is very faded and difficult to read, but one section clearly states, “…John Crocket have refused to be taken by the Sheriff __?__ by force of arms did keep him off.”  We can only speculate as to who Robert Crocket might be.  John had a brother named Robert, but it is not known if he was the plaintiff in this lawsuit. 

“We therefore Command you to attach the estate of said John Crockett or so much thereof Repleviable or security given as will be of value sufficient to satisfy the said damages and costs.”  Apparently, John had a bit of fight in him! This document is signed by John Sevier, County Clerk. 

  • 1789: John Crockett vs. Alexander Campbell, debt of twenty-eight pounds
  • 1802: Superior Court: Hudson Johnson and Joel Shropshire vs. Richard Mitchell and Thomas Ingram. The third document bears only a mention of John Crockett, specifically, only the site of his “cabben.” 

John served Greene County in many capacities including serving as a juror, acting as a magistrate and a petty court official.  He had some education, as he could sign his name.  He lived and died a poor man, though.

There is some conflicting information concerning Rebecca, John’s wife’s death.  There is a memorial marker in Gibson County for Rebecca that states she died “around 1834.”  Many other sources place her death closer to 1832.  I believe this date to be more accurate.   She was buried at the site of their cabin in Gibson County, but the memorial marker is in the town of Rutherford. 

The last time there is documentation of John is the final document making David administrator of his father’s estate in Gibson County, Tennessee on September 15, 1834.  His burial place is unknown, but it is likely that he was also buried on their property in Gibson County. 

            By: Donna Cox Briggs
                  February 16, 2023


Armstrong, Zella. Notable Southern Families, Volume V, the Crockett Family and Connecting Lines. 1926. Reprint, Santa Maria, California: Janaway Publishing Inc., 2018.

Crockett, David, with introduction and annotation by James A. Shackford and Stanley J. Folmsbee.  A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, a Facsimile Edition. Knoxville, Tennessee: The University of Tennessee Press, 1973.

Shackford, James Atkins. David Crockett, the Man and the Legend.  Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1956. 2023 February 16. U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775 – 1783, John Crockett. john crocket –  Accessed 16 Feb 2023. 

Washington County.  Deed Book A, p. 197. 1775 – 1782.