✪ Samuel Houston, (March 2, 1793 – July 26, 1863) was an American general and statesman who played an important role in the Texas Revolution. He served as the first and third president of the Republic of Texas and was one of the first two individuals to represent Texas in the United States Senate. He also served as the sixth governor of Tennessee and the seventh governor of Texas, the only individual to be elected governor of two different states in the United States.
Samuel Houston was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, on March 2, 1793, to Samuel Houston and Elizabeth Paxton. Both of Houston’s parents were descended from Scottish and Irish immigrants who settled in Colonial America in the 1730s. According to biographer John Hoyt Williams, Houston was not close with his siblings or his parents, and he rarely spoke of them later in his life.
Young Sam had a care-free disposition and enjoyed escaping to explore the frontier and was not particularly interested in schooling. He did however take an avid interest in his father’s library & read works by classical authors such as Virgil.
Not interested in farming or working in the family store, Sam left his family at the age of sixteen to live with a Cherokee tribe led by a Chief named John Jolly on Hiwassee Island. Houston formed a close relationship with Jolly and learned the Cherokee language, becoming known as Raven. According to James L. Haley, Houston appreciated the “free and unsophisticated spiritual expression of the Native Americans.” He left the tribe to return to Maryville in 1812 and he was hired at the age of 19 for a term as the schoolmaster of a one-room schoolhouse.
In 1812, Houston enlisted in the United States Army, which at the time was engaged in the War of 1812 against Britain and Britain’s Native American allies. He quickly impressed the commander of the 39th Infantry Regiment, Thomas Hart Benton, and by the end of 1813 had risen to the rank of third lieutenant. Houston was severely wounded at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the decisive battle of the Creek War. Although army doctors expected him to die of his wounds, Houston survived and returned to convalesce in Maryville. During that time he was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant.
In February 1818, Houston received a strong reprimand from the Secretary of War John C. Calhoun after he wore traditional Native American dress to a meeting between Calhoun and Cherokee leaders. This began an enmity between the two men which lasted until Calhoun’s death in 1850. Angry over the incident and with Calhoun for ordering an investigation into his activities, Houston resigned from the army in 1818.
After leaving government service, Houston began an apprenticeship with Judge James Trimble in Nashville. He quickly won admission to the Tennessee State Bar and opened a legal practice in Lebanon, Tennessee. With the backing of Andrew Jackson & his supporters, Houston was elected Governor of Tennessee in 1827.
In January 1829, Houston married Eliza Allen, the daughter of wealthy plantation owner John Allen of Gallatin, Tennessee. However, their marriage quickly fell apart possibly because Eliza was in love with another man. In April 1829, following the collapse of his marriage, Houston resigned as Governor of Tennessee. Shortly after leaving office, he traveled to the Arkansas Territory to rejoin the Cherokee.
In the summer of 1830, Houston married Tiana Rogers (sometimes called Diana), daughter of Chief John “Hellfire” Rogers (1740–1833), a Scots-Irish trader, and Jennie Due (1764–1806), a sister of Chief John Jolly, in a Cherokee ceremony. She and Houston first met when she was ten years old, and he was stunned to see how beautiful she was when he returned to her village years later. She died in 1838 of pneumonia. On May 9, 1840, Houston, aged 47, married for a third time. His bride was 21-year-old Margaret Moffette Lea of Marion, Alabama, the daughter of planters. They had eight children.
In 1833, Houston was baptized into the Catholic faith in order to qualify under the existing Mexican law for property ownership in Coahuila y Tejas. By 1854, Margaret had spent 14 years trying to convert Houston to the Baptist Church. With the assistance of George Washington Baines, she convinced Houston to convert, and he agreed to adult baptism. On November 19, 1854, Houston was baptized by Rev. Rufus C. Burleson, president of Baylor University, by immersion in Little Rocky Creek, two miles southeast of Independence.
Houston was reunited with John Jolly’s Cherokee tribe in mid-1829. Because of Houston’s experience in government and his connections with President Jackson, several local Native American tribes asked Houston to mediate disputes and communicate their needs directly to the Jackson Administration. In late 1829, the Cherokee accorded Houston formal tribal membership and dispatched him to Washington to negotiate several important issues. In anticipation of the removal of the remaining Cherokee tribes east of the Mississippi River, Houston made an unsuccessful bid to supply food rations to them during their journey.
In 1832, Houston’s friends William H. Wharton and John Austin Wharton wrote to convince him to travel to the Mexican possession of Texas, where there was a growing unrest among the American settlers. The Mexican government had invited Americans to settle the sparsely populated region of Texas; but many of the settlers, including the Whartons, disliked Mexican rule. In December 1832, Houston crossed into Texas and shortly thereafter, was granted land ownership.
Houston was elected to represent Nacogdoches, Texas at the Convention of 1833, which was called specifically to petition Mexico for Texas statehood. Houston strongly supported statehood for Texas and chaired a committee that drafted a proposed state constitution. After the convention, Texan leader Stephen F Austin. petitioned the Mexican government for statehood, but was unable to come to an agreement with President Valentín Gómez Farías. In October 1835, the Texas Revolution broke out with the Battle of Gonzales, a skirmish between Texan forces and the Mexican Army. Shortly after the battle, Houston was elected to a congregation of Texas leaders called the Consultation.Along with Austin and others, Houston helped organize the Consultation into the first provisional government of Texas. In November, Houston joined with most of his other fellow delegates in voting for a measure that demanded Texas statehood.
Houston also helped organize the Convention of 1836, in which the Republic of Texas declared independence from Mexico. Houston was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Texas Army. The convention soon received a plea for assistance from William B. Travis to aid Texan forces under siege by Santa Anna at the Alamo.
However, the Alamo fell before Houston could completely organize his forces at Gonzales, Texas. Seeking to intimidate Texan forces into surrender, the Mexican army killed every defender at the Alamo. News of the defeat at the Alamo outraged many Texans and caused desertions among Houston’s ranks. Commanding a force of only about 350 men that was greatly outnumbered by that of Santa Anna, Houston retreated east across the Colorado River. Although the provisional Texas government urged him to attack the Mexican army, Houston continued the retreat east, informing his soldiers that they constituted “the only army in Texas now present … There are but a few of us, and if we are beaten, the fate of Texas is sealed.”
On April 21, Houston ordered an attack on the Mexican army to begin the Battle of San Jacinto. The Texan Army quickly routed Santa Anna’s forces. Houston’s horse was shot out from under him and his ankle was shattered by a stray bullet. In the aftermath of the Battle of San Jacinto, a detachment of Texans captured Santa Anna & forced him to surrender and sign the Treaty of Velasco, granting Texas its independence.
Victory at the Battle of San Jacinto made Houston a hero to many Texans and he easily won the 1836 Texas presidential election, defeating Stephen F. Austin. During the presidential election, the voters of Texas overwhelmingly indicated their desire for Texas to be annexed by the United States. Concerned about upsetting the balance between slave and free states, U.S. President Andrew Jackson refused to push for the annexation of Texas; but in his last official act in office he granted the Republic of Texas full diplomatic recognition. Meanwhile, Houston faced the challenge of assembling a new government, putting the country’s finances in order, and handling relations with Mexico. The Texas constitution barred presidents from seeking a second term, so Houston did not stand for re-election in the 1838 election and left office in late 1838.
The Tyler Administration made the annexation of Texas its chief foreign policy priority, and in April 1844, Texas and the United States signed an annexation treaty. Initially, annexation did not have sufficient support in Congress, and the United States Senate rejected the treaty in June. However, in the waning days of his own presidency, Tyler finally convinced Congress to approve the annexation of Texas. Seeking immediate acceptance of annexation, Tyler made Texas a generous offer that allowed the state to retain control of its public lands. A Texas convention approved the annexation offer in July 1845 and Texas officially became the 28th U.S. state admitted to the Union on December 29, 1845.
In February 1846, the Texas legislature elected Houston and Thomas Jefferson Rusk as the new state’s two inaugural U.S. senators. Breaking with the Senate tradition that held that freshman senators were not allowed to address the Senate, Houston strongly advocated in early 1846 for the annexation of Oregon Country. Unlike most of his Southern colleagues, Houston voted for the Oregon Bill of 1848, which organized organized the Oregon Territory as a free territory. Defending his vote to create a territory that excluded slavery, Houston stated “I would be the last man to wish to do anything injurious to the South, but I do not think that on all occasions we are justified in agitating slavery.“
After Abraham Lincoln won the November 1860 presidential election, several Southern states seceded from the United States to form the Confederate States of America. A Texas political convention voted in favor of secession from the United States on February 1, 1861. Houston proclaimed Texas was once again an independent republic; however, he refused to recognize that same convention’s authority to join Texas to the Confederacy. After Houston refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, the legislature declared his governorship vacant. Houston did not recognize the validity of his removal, but he also did not attempt to use force to remain in office. His successor, Edward Clark, was sworn in on March 18. In an undelivered speech, Houston wrote:
Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas. … I protest. … against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.
On April 19, 1861, he told a crowd:
“Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.“
According to historian Randolph Campbell, Houston did everything possible to prevent secession and war, but his first loyalty was always to Texas—and the South. Houston refused offers of troops from the United States to keep Texas in the Union and instead announced on May 10, 1861 that he would stand with the Confederacy in its war effort against the Union.
After leaving office, Houston returned to his home in Galveston. In the midst of the Civil War, Houston was shunned by many Texas leaders. His son, Sam Houston, Jr., served in the Confederate Army but returned home after being wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. Houston’s health suffered a precipitous decline in April 1863, and on July 26, 1863, he died at 70 years of age.
Houston left a tremendously large thumbprint on American history and that thumbprint is now the State of Texas.✪