Connecting a signed book with an actor, the Alamo, the Shenandoah… and Lincoln

Posted on March 5, 2015 by


With what has become an unintentional series of “every other year” posts (see here from 2011, and here, from 2013) about the Alamo, since 2011… the timing seemed right for this post…

Just this past year, I was looking to add a book to my collection… one written by John Pendleton Kennedy (1795-1870) that might also bear his signature… and I found one.

The book... Kennedy's work, Quodlibet

The book… Kennedy’s work, Quodlibet

The book…

The bonus in the find was realizing to whom Kennedy inscribed the book… James H. Hackett.

Kennedy's inscription to Hackett

Kennedy’s inscription to Hackett

Now, I know this name might mean little to nothing to most folks, but… here’s a little background…

The actor…

Born in New York in 1800, James Henry Hackett eventually came to be known as an actor.

Hackett as Falstaff

Hackett as Falstaff

His initial performance was in a play in 1826, and his fame in various roles grew through the years (and across the ocean, in Britain). You can read a little more about him here.

The Alamo…

But there was one role in which Hackett played that might actually ring a bell among readers. You might not know his name, but you might remember a scene from The Alamo (2004), in which Billy Bob Thornton played Crockett. Early-on in the movie, there was the scene in which Crockett attended a play… “Lion of the West”. In fact, in the actual play, it was none other than James H. Hackett who was the actor (portraying “Nimrod Wildfire”).

The actor portraying Hackett, in The Alamo (2004), bids "good evening" to Billy Bob Thornton portraying Crockett.

The actor portraying Hackett, in The Alamo (2004), bids “good evening” to Crockett (portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton).

In 1954, James N. Tidwell (known for his works pertaining to American Folklore), in writing an introduction to a book about the play, noted:

The play was known also to be of importance to the student of American history and folklore, for Nimrod Wildfire was felt by the audiences of the 1830s to be a stage caricature of David Crockett, who at that time was cutting a great figure in American politics. Although James K. Paulding, the author, denied in a letter to Crockett that the Congressman from Tennessee was the original of Wildfire and Crockett graciously accepted the denial, the public apparently chose to believe otherwise and continued to identify Wildfire with Crockett. In his “Perley’s Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis”, Benjamin Perley Poore relates that at Crockett’s request Hackett gave the play in Washington. Crockett was given a front seat to the performance, and upon his entrance the audience, recognizing the famed Colonel, burst into unrestrained cheers and hurrahs. James H. Hackett then appeared on stage in the character of Wildfire and bowed first to the audience and then to Crockett. The redoubtable Davy returned the compliment, to the amusement and gratification of the spectators.

Crockett returns the complement by responding to Hackett, "Good evening, Mr. Crockett". The audience in the movie was much more civilized and subdued than the manner in which they replied in the actual event.

Crockett returns the complement by responding to Hackett, “Good evening, Mr. Crockett”. The audience in the movie was much more civilized and subdued than the manner in which they replied in the actual event.

The Shenandoah…

Of course, as you may already know from a post I made a while back, Paulding was a visitor to the Shenandoah Valley nearly two decades prior to writing the play. While nothing more than a coincidence in this particular situation with the Quodlibet book, there is also a little “Shenandoah peculiarity” regarding the path of the book after leaving Hackett’s library.Inside the front cover of the book there is an inscription that indicates it becoming (in 1912) the possession of Charles Gilbert Irish (1852-1930), of Utica, New York.


From what I could find, Irish was a graduate of Hobart College (1873) and a fairly prominent lawyer in Utica… and was born in Virginia. You see, Charles’ father, William Norman Irish, was an Episcopal minister who served as rector of St. Thomas Chapel in Middletown, Virginia, from at least from 1847 – 1852 (before taking a position in St. Paul’s, Columbus, Ohio).

St. Thomas Chapel

St. Thomas Chapel, Middletown, Virginia

And Lincoln…

And then too… there is an interesting story about correspondence between Hackett and Lincoln… which is described a bit in detail in this video from YouTube…

In all, just a set of coincidences, but sort of reminiscent of Paul Harvey’s “and now you know the rest of the story”. At the very least, I know it was entertaining unraveling the curious connections. More importantly, on this, the eve of the 179th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, I find it particularly cool knowing I have a book from the library of the actor who once paid a compliment to Crockett, in person.