David Crockett writes his publisher just weeks after finishing his autobiographyDavid Crockett Autograph Letter Signed "David Crockett" as a U.S. Congressman from Tennessee. One page of one leaf, 7.25" x 9.75", Washington, April 12, 1834, to "Messrs. Cary & Hart," Philadelphia publishers of Crockett's 1834 autobiography A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett. In this letter, Crockett directs his publishers to pay Kentucky Congressman Thomas Chilton, who confidentially helped Crockett with the book, "the first eight hundred dollars from the sale of my Book." Though historians disagree on the extent of Chilton's participation, this letter suggests that he was involved beyond just editorial work. The letter exhibits smoothed folds and only one minor stain; otherwise, this leaf is very clean and all text is very clear and legible. The letter reads in full as written:
"You will receive at the same time with this a letter from Mr. Chilton, who is entitled to the first eight hundred dollars from the sale of my Book, out of the Sixty two and one half per cent, coming to me, as by your original agreement with me I enclose an order for that amount, which you will pleas accept and return to Mr. Chilton. I shall shortly visit your City, when we will make some further regulations about distributing the work. I am sincerely your friend [signed] David Crockett."
When David Crockett (1786-1836) was elected to a third term in Congress in 1833, he was suffering from mounting debts. Needing to improve his fortunes (financial and other), he decided to write his memoir. Though Crockett was not the coarse backwoodsman the public thought, he made the decision to caricature himself that way, even to the point of fabricating some details in the book. He also decided to use the dialect of the western frontier. By the time he arrived in Washington for the commencement of the first session of the 23rd U.S. Congress in December 1833, Crockett had already begun his new project. At his boardinghouse near the capital, Crockett met Kentucky Congressman Thomas Chilton (1798-1854), an experienced writer who, as a Kentuckian, was comfortable writing with the western dialect. (Crockett may have known Chilton for at least six years by this time; see James Atkins Shackford's biography, David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986], 271.) Crockett wrote quickly, finishing by late January 1834 (Crockett's preface to the book is dated February 1, 1834, from Washington two months prior to the date of this letter). In addition to helping with the composition, editing, and structure of the book, Chilton also wrote letters to various publishers until Crockett decided on February 3 to turn the manuscript over to E. L. Carey and Abraham Hart of Philadelphia. Chilton, experienced in working with publishers, handled most of the communications - the final draft of the manuscript sent to Cary and Hart was even written entirely in Chilton's hand. After the publishers read the manuscript, they generously offered Crockett 62.5% of the gross margin per copy. Because of his help with the book, which James Shackford insists in his biography was substantial (the book "was not 'looked over' [by Chilton], it was written by Chilton," [Crockett, 271]), Crockett informed Carey and Hart in a previous letter written on February 23 that Chilton was entitled to half of Crockett's 62.5% profits, as well as .5% of the entire profits and half of the copyright. In this letter written on April 12, Crockett directs the publishers to go further and give Chilton the first $800 out of the pair's expected 62.5% profit. This letter suggests that Chilton was very involved in Crockett's Autobiography. Whatever the extent of Chilton's help, Crockett wanted to keep the Kentuckian's role confidential. The publishers obliged, printing on the title page of the first edition that Crockett's book was "Written by Himself." The book was a success, but after losing reelection in 1835, Crockett migrated to Texas where he died at the Alamo in 1836. This letter has not been on the market since it was purchased by the current owner from Paul C. Richards Autographs on May 9, 1973.
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