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Margaret Lea Houston
Photograph of Houston
Born Margaret Moffette Lea
(1819-04-11)April 11, 1819
Marion, Alabama
Died December 3, 1867(1867-12-03) (aged 48)
Independence, Texas
Cause of death Yellow fever
Resting place Houston-Lea Family Cemetery
Independence, Texas
Alma mater Judson Female Institute
Known for First Lady of Republic of Texas (1841–1844)
First Lady of State of Texas (1859–1861)
Spouse(s) Sam Houston
Children Sam Jr. (1843–1894)
Nancy Elizabeth (1846–1920)
Margaret (1848–1908)
Mary William (1850–1931)
Antoinette Power (1852–1932)
Andrew Jackson (1854–1941)
William Rogers (1858–1920)
Temple Lea (1860–1905)

Margaret Lea Houston (April 11, 1819 – December 3, 1867) was the third wife of politician Sam Houston of Texas. They married in 1840 when she was 21, during his term as a representative in the Congress of the Republic of Texas. When he was elected to a second term as the President of the Republic of Texas, in 1841 Margaret became the First Lady of the Republic of Texas.

Disliking politics, for thirteen years Margaret remained in Texas while Sam Houston was in Washington, D.C. serving in the United States Senate. After Texas was annexed by the United States, Houston was elected governor in 1858. Margaret became First Lady of the state of Texas. Margaret became a near recluse when Houston was governor. She was pregnant and was fearful due to the hostile political climate at the time. Sam and Margaret had a total of eight children and were together until his death in 1863.

Margaret came from a strong, close-knit family in Alabama. The Lea family, some of whom had preceded Margaret in moving to Texas, provided a family nucleus that had not been a part of Sam Houston's life since his years among the Cherokees. Her mother Nancy Lea was a constant in their lives, alternately providing the Houstons with temporary housing, or moving in with Margaret and Sam to manage their household. It was Nancy's foundation as much as Margaret's that converted Sam to the Baptist faith, twenty-one years after he had been baptized a Catholic in Nacogdoches. Margaret and Nancy are buried together.

Early life and marriage to Sam Houston[edit]

Margaret Moffette Lea was born on April 11, 1819 in Marion, Alabama, one of six children of Temple Lea and his wife Nancy Moffette Lea. Temple died when Margaret was 15. Nancy Lea moved into the home of her son and daughter-in-law Henry and Serena Lea, accompanied by her son Vernal and younger daughters Margaret and Antoinette.[1] Margaret was described as a beauty, "accomplished, well-connected and deeply religious."[2]

Margaret was a talented pianist who also played Spanish guitar.[3] She wrote poetry and loved romantic novels.[4] Margaret's father Temple Lea had been a Baptist circuit preacher. Nancy Moffette Lea was the only female delegate at the formation of the Alabama Baptist Convention in 1823.[5] Temple was the state treasurer of the convention .[6] The Moffettes were the source of wealth in the family. Nancy was the financial manager of the family, developing an Alabama cotton plantation.[7]

Margaret Lea was baptized by Reverend Peter Crawford at the Siloam Baptist Church at age 19. She received additional religious training at the Judson Female Institute.[8] Rev. Crawford later performed the marriage ceremony of Margaret Lea and Sam Houston in 1840.[9] Sam Houston was introduced to Nancy Lea through her daughter Antoinette's husband William Bledsoe when Houston was in Mobile, Alabama. He was working to promote Texas land sales through a company in which he had a financial interest. Bledsoe had become acquainted with Houston through Martin Lea, one of Nancy's sons. Houston had a business meeting with Nancy Lea, which was followed by a garden party at the Bledsoe's home where Houston met Margaret.[10] Houston's sales pitch on the land prospects was convincing enough that the Bledsoes and Nancy Lea left for Texas before Margaret and Houston married on May 9, 1840.[11] She was 21 and marrying for the first time. This was Houston's third marriage (counting his marriage under Cherokee law to the widow Diana Rodgers Gentry, who was part-Cherokee.) Margaret Lea's family had opposed the marriage as they disapproved of Houston's age, divorce, and reputation as a hard drinker and a rake.

Because of Margaret's youth and religious nature, many of Sam Houston's friends thought that the marriage would not last for six months, but it was quite successful. They observed that Margaret acted as a tempering influence on Houston, who reformed his behavior in middle age. She encouraged him to stop his heavy drinking, a problem in earlier years, and to attend the Baptist Church.

Margaret's dislike of politics[edit]

Her brother Senator Henry Lea served in the Alabama state legislature during the period Margaret and other Lea family members lived in his home. Margaret had seen first-hand the life of a public personality.[1] She married one of the most public politicians of her time. The former governor of Tennessee had already served his first term as President of the Republic of Texas, and was at the time of their marriage a member the Texas House of Representatives from San Augustine for the 1839–1841 session.[12] Margaret was not receptive to the public life of a politician's wife and preferred that Sam stay home with her. She disliked campaign traveling, and frequently stayed behind when he campaigned.[13] Yet, when she rose to the occasion, such as the extended East Texas Redlands tour of the late summer and fall of 1841, Margaret became an impressive political asset.[14] She rode in the 1841 presidential parade in the City of Houston for Sam's second term as president. But she stayed home rather than travel to Austin for Sam's inaugural.[15] In June 1845, Margaret accompanied Sam to Tennessee for the funeral of Andrew Jackson. In the days that followed the funeral, old friends and supporters of Sam's feted him at parties and dinners. Margaret chose not to attend the events held in her husband's honor.[16][17]

Galveston and city of Houston[edit]

After the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds spent their honeymoon week at the Lafayette Hotel in Marion, Alabama, while Margaret recovered from an illness that arose shortly after the nuptials.[18] They boarded the ship New York to Galveston, joined by Margaret's slave Eliza. Nancy Lea had established a residence in Galveston and joined the local Baptist church. Margaret and Eliza shared her mother Nancy Lea's house while Sam traveled on business.[19]

Sam owned a rental house in the city of Houston, but Margaret found she did not like living in a city with so much activity. She returned to her mother's home in Galveston.[20]

Ben Lomond and Grand Cane[edit]

The new bride spent the next several months shuttling between her mother's house and Sam Houston's 2-room dog trot cabin at Cedar Point in Chambers County.[21] Houston had purchased the property from Tabitha Ijams Harris in 1837 during his first term as the Republic's president.[22] It became the first home of the new couple in 1840. Margaret named the house Ben Lomond, after a Scottish locale she had read about in a Walter Scott work.[23] Margaret delegated management of the household to her mother Nancy.[24] Sam kept Ben Lomond for the rest of his life, retreating there with his family in 1861 after he was forced out of office when he refused to sign a loyalty oath to the Confederacy. He was short of cash.[25]

Grand Cane[26] in Liberty County was 23 miles (37 km) north[27] of Ben Lomond and a communal gathering place for the Lea family. Margaret's sister Antoinette and her husband William Bledsoe lived in a three-room pine log cabin there while developing a sugar cane plantation. Nancy Lea used her funds to pay any debts the Bledsoes were unable to meet.[28][29] Vernal and Mary Lea moved to Grand Cane in 1841.[30] The first Grand Cane post office was established in 1846, with Vernal Lea as postmaster.[31] Margaret and Sam visited her family members at Grand Cane, and she often retreated there when Sam was traveling.

Because the Bledsoes were so often in a financial bind, they transferred their property to her mother Nancy's name. One time they transferred the property to Houston, in name only, to help avoid creditors. In 1845, Margaret, Antoinette and their mother Nancy were co-founders of the Concord Baptist Church at Grand Cane.[32] William Bledsoe died that year, followed a few months later by Vernal's wife Mary. The in-laws were buried side-by-side at Grand Cane.[33] The next year, the widow Antoinette married Charles Powers, a wealthy merchant, and moved with him to Matagorda Bay.[34] In 1849, the widower Vernal married Catherine Davis, and the two moved into the Bledsoe cabin.[35] Vernal died in 1852, and Catherine remained in the house the rest of her life.[36][37]

Washington-on-the-Brazos[edit]

The events with Mexico leading up to the Battle of Salado Creek in 1842 caused Houston to send Margaret back to Alabama for her own safety. When she returned to him in Texas in September, they lived with the John W. Lockhart family on Washington-on-the-Brazos.[38] They eventually got a small home in Washington-on-the-Brazos, which Margaret decorated.[39] The Republic of Texas treasury was unable to pay Sam's presidential salary. Nancy Lea joined the couple shortly after learning of the death of Margaret's brother Martin and helped out by managing the household.[40] The couple's first child Sam Houston, Jr., was born in this house on May 25, 1843.[41]

Raven Hill and Woodland (Huntsville)[edit]

Woodland Home -the Houstons shared this house with Margaret's mother Nancy Moffette Lea. Daughters Maggie, Mary and Antoinette, and son William were born in this house.

In 1844, Sam acquired the Raven Hill plantation at Huntsville and built Margaret a new house.[42] After the 1845 annexation by the United States, Sam Houston was elected by the Texas state legislature to serve in in the United States Senate, for a term beginning February 21, 1846. He took up temporary residence at a hotel in the nation's capital and returned to Texas when his schedule allowed.[43] Margaret had initially planned to accompany him but changed her mind when she found she was pregnant with their second child. She stayed behind at Raven Hill, where Nancy "Nannie" Elizabeth Houston was born on September 6, 1846.[44] Margaret required surgery and follow-up medical attention in 1846 for removal of a breast lump, and recurring breast and abdominal swellings. Anesthesia had not been developed; she was given a silver coin to bite during the surgery.[45]

Houston swapped Raven Hill in 1847 to his overseer Captain Frank Hatch, in exchange for Hatch's property known as Bermuda Spring.[46] The Houstons renamed it Woodland Home.[47] Their third child Margaret "Maggie" was born there on April 13, 1848.[48] Margaret and her mother Nancy hosted many guests at the Woodland house, including members of various Indian tribes who came to visit and camp out on the land.[49] Two years later daughter Mary William was born on April 9, 1850.[50] Their daughter Antoinette Power was born here on January 20, 1852.[51] Son William Rogers was born in this house May 25, 1858. The family sold the house to J. Carroll Smith on November 19, 1858, to pay Sam's campaign debtsvacated the house after it had been .[52]

Margaret's best friend in Huntsville was Frances Creath, the wife of local minister J.W.D. Creath, who was the pastor of the Baptist church which the Houstons attended.[53] The couple instructed their overseer Thomas Gott to have an area of the creek enlarged to accommodate total immersion baptisms, and they made their home available for regularly scheduled services.[54]

Virginia Thorne[edit]

Margaret's brother Vernal Lea and his wife Mary adopted an orphan girl, Virginia Thorne, who was age seven in 1842. After Mary Lea died, Virginia was entrusted to Margaret's care.[55] The relationship between Virginia and Margaret was contentious; in 1850 one conflict allegedly included Virginia being beaten and threatened by Margaret.[56] Virginia eloped with overseer Thomas Gott, who had witnessed some of Margaret's behavior. The couple filed assault and battery charges against Margaret. When a grand jury investigation resulted in a deadlock, the matter was referred to the local Baptist church. The elders acquitted Mrs. Houston.[57]

Independence house[edit]

The old Baptist church in Independence, Texas, where Sam Houston professed his faith

In 1853 Houston was re-elected to the United States Senate. In August, he bought a house in Independence, Texas, near Baylor University.[58] His mother-in-law Nancy Lea had already moved to Independence the preceding year.[5] The Houstons joined her in Independence, where their son Andrew Jackson Houston was born on June 21, 1854 in the new home.[59] Margaret's sister Varilla and husband Robert Royston had also moved to the area.[60] When the Houstons moved to the Governor's mansion in Austin, their Independence house was converted to a parsonage and leased to the Independence Baptist Church.[37] Nancy Lea sold her own silver to purchase a bell for the local Baptist church.[61] The bell is located at the intersection of Farm to Market Road 50 and Farm to Market Road 390.[62]

Houston converts from Catholicism to the Baptist denomination[edit]

In 1833, in the living room of the Adolphus Sterne House in Nacogdoches, Houston had been baptized into the Catholic faith in order to qualify under the existing law for property ownership in Coahuila y Tejas.[63][64][65] By 1854, Margaret had spent 14 years trying to convert Sam to the Baptist denomination. With the assistance of George Washington Baines, she was able to convince Sam. Word had spread about the upcoming Baptism, bringing spectators from neighboring communities into Independence to witness the event. On November 19, 1854, Sam was baptized in Little Rocky Creek, two miles southeast of Independence.[66][67] The baptismal site is marked by the Texas Historical Commission as located on Farm to Market Road150 at Sam Houston Road.[68]

Life in the Governor's mansion[edit]

The Texas Governor's Mansion had been built during the administration of Elisha M. Pease, who moved into the mansion in June 1856.[69] The bachelor Governor Hardin Richard Runnels[70] was the only other resident of the mansion before the Houstons. Until 1931, the state government of Texas did not allocate monies to furnish or maintain the mansion, and governors and their families (and supporters) had to assume the financial costs.[71] The state legislature did not fund or organize a security force, military or private, to guard the mansion or the first family.

The Houston family with a retinue of household slaves moved into the mansion in December 1859, in a political climate that was openly hostile to the new administration. Margaret feared for the family's safety in the mansion. Sam personally ordered furniture for the mansion. Runnels had requested furniture from the state legislature, but the matter had not made it to the floor before the family arrived.[72] The family quarters were on the second floor. The 12 household slaves were assigned to quarters on the ground floor. The Houstons hired a governess to help look after their several children. Margaret withdrew from the public eye, receiving only family as visitors.[73] Among them was her mother's cousin Robert E. Lee,[74] who was stationed at Fort Mason.[75]

The Houstons' youngest child Temple Lea was born in the mansion on August 12, 1860, delivered by Dr. Beriah Graham. Margaret's personal slaves also assisted her.[76][77] After recovering from childbirth, Margaret left the mansion only to attend church activities.[78]

On March 5, 1861, the state Secession Convention reorganized the state government, requiring a loyalty oath to the Confederate States of America by all state office holders. Houston refused. On March 16, the convention removed Houston from the office of governor.[79] The Houstons vacated the mansion, and Lt. Governor Edward Clark succeeded to the position.[80]

Steamboat House[edit]

Steamboat House where Sam Houston died

The Houston family moved to Huntsville and into the Steamboat House, which was built in 1858 by Rufus W. Bailey. Sam Houston lived in this rental for his final years, dying here in July 1863.[81][82] More than 70 years later, the house was moved in 1936 to the grounds of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.[83]

Later years and death[edit]

After Sam died, Margaret returned to live with her mother in Independence.[84] The older woman had begun to prepare for her eventual death as early as 1850.[85] She built a tomb on her property and had a metal coffin made which she stored under her bed.[86] Nancy Lea died February 7, 1864.[87]

Margaret bought the Root house in 1864 from Major Eber Cave, a family friend from Nacogdoches who had married the daughter of Sam Houston's friend Adolphus Sterne.[88] The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Washington County, Texas as the Mrs. Sam Houston House.[89] Sam had always handled the finances, and Margaret found herself cash poor after his death. He had died in bad financial shape, and Margaret did not have money to erect a tombstone at his grave.[90] The Texas legislature gave her an amount equivalent to her husband's unpaid gubernatorial salary. In order to enroll Sam Jr. in medical school, Margaret also rented out the Ben Lomond plantation.[91]

Margaret opened Houston's correspondence and records to Rev. William Crane when she arranged for him to write her husband's biography. This work was eventually rejected by the publisher.[92]

Women of character, culture and staunch devotion to their families and church. Each in her own way greatly influenced the career of Sam Houston and the course of Texas History

Memorial slab at burial site of Margaret Lea Houston and Nancy Moffette Lea [93]

Margaret died on December 3, 1867, having contracted yellow fever during an epidemic. She was buried at 11 p.m. by her servant Bingley, family friend Major Eber Cave, and her two daughters Nettie (Antoinette) and Mary Willie. No funeral service was performed.[94] Margaret and her mother Nancy are buried together in the Houston-Lea Family Cemetery in Independence.[93]

Houston family tree[edit]

Legacy and honors[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Seale (1992) pp. 4, 5
  2. ^ Haley (2004) p. 211
  3. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 15,17,44,54,64,69.
  4. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 6–9,14–15,40,52,57,67.
  5. ^ a b Hesler, Samuel B. "Nancy Moffette Lea". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  6. ^ "Missionary Register". The Baptist missionary magazine (Massachusetts Baptist Convention, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society). 11–12: 190. 1831. 
  7. ^ Seale (1992) p. 7
  8. ^ "Margaret's Life", Sam Houston Memorial Museum, Sam Houston State University, accessed 28 Aug 2010
  9. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 7, 18
  10. ^ Seale (1992) p. 11
  11. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 15,16
  12. ^ "Houston papers State Congressman". Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  13. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 40,42, 45
  14. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 59–63
  15. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 64, 65
  16. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 101–104
  17. ^ Haley (2004) p. 264
  18. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 17,31,32
  19. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 35, 36, 38
  20. ^ Seale (1992) p. 45
  21. ^ "Cedar Point, Tx". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  22. ^ "THC-Cedars Point". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  23. ^ Seale (1992) p. 39
  24. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 40,44
  25. ^ Seale (1992) p. 213
  26. ^ "THC-Sam Houston in Liberty County". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  27. ^ "THC-Grand Cane". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  28. ^ Bonney, Lorraine G; Johnston, Maxine; Gunter, Pete A.Y. (2011). The Big Thicket Guidebook: Exploring the Backroads and History of Southeast Texas. University of North Texas Press. pp. 425, 426. ISBN 978-1-57441-318-2. 
  29. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 37,38,41
  30. ^ Seale (1992) p. 47
  31. ^ "Postmasters Liberty County". Jim Wheat. Retrieved 6 March 2012. 
  32. ^ Seale (1992) pp.93, 94,99,100
  33. ^ Seale (1992) pp.104,105
  34. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 111,123
  35. ^ Seale (1992) p. 147
  36. ^ Seale (1992) p. 160
  37. ^ a b Seale (1992) p. 235
  38. ^ Seale (1992) p. 70,71,72,75
  39. ^ Seale (1992) p. 83
  40. ^ Seale (1992) p. 85
  41. ^ Seale (1992) p. 86
  42. ^ Seale (1992) p. 97
  43. ^ Seale (1992) p. 113
  44. ^ Seale (1992) p. 120
  45. ^ Seale (1992) p. 125-126
  46. ^ Seale (1992) p. 122-127
  47. ^ Seale (1992) p. 140
  48. ^ Seale (1992) p. 131
  49. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 144,145,146
  50. ^ Seale (1992) p. 150
  51. ^ Seale (1992) p. 157
  52. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 187–188
  53. ^ Seale (1992) p. 174
  54. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 135,136
  55. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 80, 93,105,127
  56. ^ Seale (1992) 140,141,147–149
  57. ^ Seale (1992) 151–153
  58. ^ Seale (1992) p. 161
  59. ^ Seale (1992) p. 167
  60. ^ Seale (1992) p. 154
  61. ^ Seale (1992) p. 173
  62. ^ "THC-Nancy Lea bell". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  63. ^ Ramos, Mary G; Reavis, Dick; Vandivier, Kevin (2004). Compass American Guides: Texas. Compass America Guides. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-676-90502-1. 
  64. ^ By
  65. ^ Haley (2004) pp. 104,105
  66. ^ Augustin, Byron; Pitts, William L. "Independence, Texas". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  67. ^ Seale (1992) 167–171
  68. ^ "THC-Houston baptismal site". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  69. ^ Smyrl, Vivian Elizabeth. "Governor's Mansion". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  70. ^ Harper Jr., Chris. "Hardin Richard Runnels". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  71. ^ "Board of Mansion Supervisors". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  72. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 192,193
  73. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 194,195
  74. ^ Seale (1992) p. 198
  75. ^ Cooper, Edward S (2005). William Babcock Hazen: The Best Hated Man. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Pr. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-8386-4089-0. 
  76. ^ Seale (1992) p. 200
  77. ^ McQueary, Carl (2003). Dining at the Governor's Mansion. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 22–25. ISBN 978-1-58544-254-6. 
  78. ^ Seale (1992) p. 202
  79. ^ "1861 Secession Convention". Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved 4 March 2012. 
  80. ^ "Sam Houston". Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved 2 March 2012. 
  81. ^ Payne Jr., John W. "Steamboat House". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 6 March 2012. 
  82. ^ "THC-Steamboat House". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 5 March 2012. 
  83. ^ Curtis, Gregory (February 1990). "Behind the Lines". Texas Monthly: 5, 6. 
  84. ^ Seale (1992) p. 234
  85. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 150,153
  86. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 163,166,237,238
  87. ^ Seale (1992) p. 239
  88. ^ Seale (1992) p. 238,239
  89. ^ "THC-Mrs. Sam Houston House". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  90. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 235,239
  91. ^ Seale (1992) p. 252
  92. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 245,247
  93. ^ a b "M Houston memorial slab". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  94. ^ Seale (1992) pp. 256–258

References[edit]

  • Seale, William (1992) [1970]. Sam Houston's Wife: A Biography of Margaret Lea Houston. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-2436-0. 
  • Haley, James L (2004). Sam Houston. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3644-8. 
Honorary titles
Preceded by
vacant
First Lady Republic of Texas
1841–1844
Succeeded by
Mary Smith Jones
Preceded by
vacant
First Lady of Texas
1859–1861
Succeeded by
Martha Melissa Evans Clark

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