He is known in as “King of the Wild Frontier” – a frontiersman, soldier and politician who, according to legend, could wade the Mississippi River, leap the Ohio River or ride a streak of lightning.
Yet early in his life, Davy Crockett was also a jilted lover. He obtained a marriage license to wed Margaret Elder, who broke his heart by marrying someone else instead. Although the marriage never happened, the marriage license remained on file at the Jefferson County Courthouse until it was lost decades ago.
Now, thanks to the hard work and persistence of officials in Jefferson County and the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, the document has been safely returned to the Jefferson County Clerk’s vault.
"This important historical document has now been returned to its rightful place in the public domain,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who oversees the State Library and Archives. “I am grateful for the role our dedicated staff played in securing this item.”
Margaret Smith, a Tampa resident, claimed that her family obtained the document long ago, when Jefferson County court officials were discarding old records. Smith maintained that her uncle had saved the license from certain destruction.
The license was featured on the Antiques Roadshow television program in 2005, where appraisers estimated its value between $25,000 and $50,000.
However valuable the document may be to collectors, Assistant State Archivist Wayne Moore said it remains public property under state law.
Moore said that according to Tennessee Codes Annotated 39-16-504 - the state’s “Replevin” law - public records cannot be bought or sold.
“Tennessee has a Replevin law that allows for the restoration of public documents to public control,” Moore said. “Lost or stolen public records should not and cannot be owned by private individuals.”
Lura Hinchey, Jefferson County’s archivist, was unsuccessful in her efforts to convince Smith to turn over the document when Smith visited the county archives in 1999.
Moore said the State Library and Archives staff tries to advise and assist Tennessee counties that encounter problems with lost or stolen records.
Moore has become a national authority on the subject of Replevin laws, acting as chairman of a national task force for the Council of State Archivists which is dedicated to stopping the trafficking of government records
After a lengthy legal battle, Davy Crockett’s marriage license was returned to Jefferson County after the Circuit Court there ruled the document legally belonged to the county.
“I didn’t think it would take thirteen years,” Hinchey said of the battle to return the document to its proper home.
Replevin cases in Tennessee do not always involve famous figures in Tennessee history. Moore said the case of Davy Crockett’s marriage license was unusual not only because it involved a famous person.
“It is rare for a county to go after its records – it takes a lot of effort and persistence,” Moore said. “Jefferson County officials and the county archivists, Mr. and Mrs. (James and Lura) Hinchey, deserve a lot of credit for bringing this piece of Tennessee history home to Dandridge.”
For more information about the Replevin law and public records in Tennessee, go to: http://tn.gov/tsla/aps/replevin/replevin.htm.