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She has Davy Crockett's marriage license and isn't giving it up

TAMPA — Margaret V. Smith inherited the 1805 marriage license decades ago, after her uncle claimed to have found it outside a Tennessee courthouse.

The prospective groom? Davy Crockett.

Now, Jefferson County, Tenn., officials say they want the valuable document back.

"Well, they are not going to get it," said Mrs. Smith, 90, of Tampa.

In November, a Tennessee judge ordered Mrs. Smith to "instantly" surrender the yellowed note. She did not. Tuesday, the battle spilled into Hills­borough Circuit Court, where Jefferson County filed papers seeking to have the judgment enforced.

"It's Jefferson County's document. The title is in Jefferson County, period. She's got to return it," Jefferson Senior Judge Allen W. Wallace said in his ruling.

Mrs. Smith politely disagrees.

She said her now-deceased uncle, Henry Vance, found Crockett's marriage license on the lawn of the courthouse when officials were cleaning house.

"They were just pitching it out into the yard, and my uncle happened to see this David Crockett thing, and he picked it up because he was interested in the adventures of David Crockett," she said.

Jefferson County officials, including the judge and county historian Robert Jarnagin, don't buy that explanation.

Wallace said "circumstantial evidence" suggests that one of Mrs. Smith's ancestors took the document from the county's depository.

Jarnagin notes that Mrs. Smith's uncle worked at the Jefferson County Courthouse during the 1930s and '40s.

There's no evidence documents were discarded, Jarnagin said. Other marriage licenses from the era — even stud horse licenses — remain on file.

Crockett, who died in the Battle of the Alamo, "is probably one of our most famous citizens of Jefferson County," Jarnagin said. "We would not have thrown something of his away."

Beyond historical value, the document has monetary value.

In 2005, Mrs. Smith had it appraised on the PBS program Antiques Roadshow in Tampa. Francis Wahlgren, a book and document expert for Christie's, called the license irreplaceable, appraising it at $20,000 to $30,000.

"It's well documented in the lore of Crockett that he had been about to be married and that there was a license issued, but it was never executed," Wahlgren said on the program.

Crockett was 19 when he filed for a license to wed Margaret Elder, but days before the wedding, she changed her mind, historical accounts say. Within a year, Crockett married another woman.

Mrs. Smith said the document is now part of her own history.

"It has been out of (Jefferson County's) possession since long, long, long ago," she said. "I consider it part of my family papers."

She said a family member currently has the license.

Her daughter, Mary Margaret Dolcimascolo, declined to speak with a Times reporter Wednesday and Thursday. She referred questions to her brother, lawyer Vance Smith, who did not return phone messages left at his office and home.

Jefferson County officials didn't discover the document missing until the 1990s, when Mrs. Smith offered to provide a copy for the history museum, Jarnagin said.

Since then, the county has been trying to get the original.

In November court proceedings, Wallace said Mrs. Smith could be held in contempt of court in Jefferson County or fined for each day she fails to return the document.

He signed the order Nov. 23.

A judge in Hillsborough County will have to decide if the judgment is valid and whether to enforce it, said Chris Jayson, a Tampa lawyer who often represents clients in civil matters but is not connected to Mrs. Smith's case.

Judgments from other states are often upheld, he said.

Jefferson County's historian hopes that happens.

"It is an official record, an official document of the county," Jarnagin said, "and it belongs to Jefferson County."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

On the Web

To view Margaret Smith's interview on Antiques Roadshow, go to: www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/archive/200502A20.html

She has Davy Crockett's marriage license and isn't giving it up 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 10:50pm]

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