Margaret Lea Houston
First Lady of the Republic/State of Texas
Margaret Lea Houston
Margaret Lea Houston was married to Sam Houston in 1840; she was his third wife. She became the First Lady of Texas in 1841 during his second term as the President of the Republic of Texas, and again when he was elected Governor of the state of Texas after it was annexed by the United States. Managing a staff of twelve slaves, she was chiefly responsible for furnishing the Governor's Mansion and providing for its official hospitality.
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  • 1867
    Age 47
    Having survived her husband by four years, Margaret Houston died on December 3, 1867 of yellow fever at her house in Independence, Texas.
    More Details Hide Details It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Washington County, Texas as the Mrs. Sam Houston House.. As was the practice for yellow fever victims, she was buried that day, in the Houston-Lea Cemetery.
    Walter Reed would not make his discovery of the cause of yellow fever through mosquito bite until 1900; contamination through contact was the pervading fear in 1867, and prevented Margaret's remains from being interred in a public cemetery with Houston's.
    More Details Hide Details She was buried in the ground beside Nancy's tomb at 11 p.m. by her servant Bingley, family friend Major Eber Cave, and her two daughters Nettie and Mary Willie. No funeral service was performed. Two years after Houston's death, Baylor University president William Carey Crane was commissioned by Margaret to write her husband's biography, allowing complete access to all correspondence and records. Crane was a Lea family friend from Alabama who had little more than a passing acquaintance with "the hero of San Jacinto". His perception of Margaret, however, was that of an extraordinary woman, in many aspects equal to the man she married. He stated that Houston's "guardian angel", as he called her, had set out from the time she met Houston to refine his rough edges and provide a solid foundation for his personal life. That assessment of Margaret's relationship with her husband was echoed over a century later by author James L. Haley, " Houston trusted the care of his soul to Margaret, that he had no more war to fight within himself, left him with more energy to wage political battle." Ultimately, several of Houston's associates were cooperative with the Crane endeavor, but not everyone was inspired to join the effort. According to daughter Maggie, the author had told her that many valuable documents were destroyed by Margaret in a fit of anger when someone she considered a friend expressed disinterest.
  • 1863
    Age 43
    On July 26, 1863, with Margaret at his bedside reading the 23rd Psalm to him, Houston died.
    More Details Hide Details His will named her as his executrix, and named his cousin Thomas Caruthers, as well as family friends Thomas Gibbs, J. Carroll Smith and Anthony Martin Branch as executors. He had died land rich, but cash poor. The inventory compiled of his estate after his death listed several thousand acres in real estate, $250 cash, slaves, a handful of livestock and his personal possessions. Margaret was now a widow with seven of her eight children under the age of 18 and financially dependent on her. She returned to live near her mother in Independence, swapping land for a nearby property that became known as the Mrs. Sam Houston House. The Texas legislature eventually gave Margaret an amount equivalent to her husband's unpaid gubernatorial salary; nevertheless, in order to afford Sam Jr.'s enrollment at medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, she rented out the Ben Lomond plantation.
    When Sam Houston died in July 1863, his last word's were "Texas, Texas, Margaret!"
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  • 1860
    Age 40
    The first child born in the Texas governor's mansion was also the last of the Houston children; Temple Lea Houston was delivered on August 12, 1860.
    More Details Hide Details This last birth left the 41-year-old Margaret debilitated for almost 2 weeks, with a watchful Houston constantly by her side. The Texas Secession Convention passed the Texas Ordinance of Secession on February 1, 1861, effectively becoming part of the Confederate States of America on March 1. Houston, like all other office holders in the state, was expected to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. He refused and was removed from office by the Secession Convention on March 16, succeeded by Lt. Governor Edward Clark. Their home in Independence having been leased out to the Baptists, retreating there was not an option. Houston was in poor health, as well as spiritually and financially broken. After a brief sojourn in Nancy's home, and over her objections, the family returned to Ben Lomond in early April. Sometime during August 1861, Sam Jr. enlisted in the Confederate States Army 2nd Texas Infantry Regiment, Company C Bayland Guards, sending Margaret into melancholia. She dreaded that her first-born child would never be home again. "My heart seems almost broken... what shall I do? How shall I bear it? When I first heard the news, I thought I would lie down and die," she wrote to her mother. Houston tried to help out by assuming care of their other children in between his extended visits to Galveston. Her fears seemed well-founded when her son was critically wounded and left for dead at the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh.
  • 1859
    Age 39
    He subsequently defeated incumbent Runnels with a second bid for the office during a period when the populace was bitterly divided over the issue of secession from the United States, and was sworn in December 31, 1859.
    More Details Hide Details box God's people are offering up the same prayer throughout the whole land. Construction on the Texas Governor's Mansion in Austin had been completed three years earlier and first occupied by Governor Elisha M. Pease whose wife played hostess to anyone who stopped by for a visit. The Houston family and their retinue of slaves moved into the mansion during a political climate that grew increasingly hostile over the secession debate. The family furniture had been moved from Independence by Joshua, since the state government had no budget for staffing, furnishing or maintaining the governor's residence. That financial burden fell on the shoulders of the incumbent, and the state partially defaulted on Houston's salary. Margaret feared for the family's safety, as her husband worked towards defeating passage of the state's Ordinance of Secession. There had been a botched assassination attempt on Houston, and she saw throngs of angry malcontents gathering in the city. Margaret closed the mansion doors to all but those with an invitation from the Houstons.
  • 1858
    Age 38
    The state legislature decided during Houston's third senatorial term not to re-elect him, so he ran for the office of Governor of the state of Texas, losing to Hardin Richard Runnels. He was still in Washington, D.C. when William (Willie) Rogers Houston was born on May 25, 1858, their last child born in the Woodland home.
    More Details Hide Details In order to satisfy creditors of his gubernatorial campaign debts, Houston was forced to sell the house to his political supporter J. Carroll Smith.
  • 1854
    Age 34
    As required by Mexican federal law for property ownership in Coahuila y Tejas, Houston had been baptized into the Catholic faith in the Adolphus Sterne House in Nacogdoches prior to Texas independence. By 1854 when Houston told Rev. Samson he felt compelled to make a public profession of faith, perhaps on the floor of the United States Senate, Margaret and her family had spent 14 years influencing her husband's faith.
    More Details Hide Details Ultimately, he decided to make the profession among those who knew him best in Texas. Word quickly spread about Houston's upcoming public baptism, and spectators traveled from neighboring communities to witness the event. Reverend Rufus Columbus Burleson, Baylor University president and local church pastor, performed the rite in Little Rocky Creek, southeast of town. Houston afterwards still felt unworthy of taking the Eucharist and becoming a member of Margaret's church. At her request, Reverend George Washington Baines of Brenham counseled with him to eliminate his self-doubts. In gratitude and celebration, Nancy sold her silverware to purchase a bell for the Rocky Creek Baptist Church.
    While Houston was attending to business in Washington, D.C., their sixth child Andrew Jackson Houston was born on June 21, 1854.
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  • 1852
    Age 32
    Their fourth child Antoinette (Nettie) Power Houston arrived on January 20, 1852 while he was again away on a business.
    More Details Hide Details Many friends and acquaintances came to visit the Houstons at Woodland, including members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe who had allied with Houston during the Texas Revolution; and he in return had assisted them in their being granted a reservation in east Texas. Throughout the last years of his presidency, Houston had made numerous efforts for the Republic to find common ground with the various tribes, asserting their right to own land. Many tribes had come to respect him as their friend. Nancy moved southwest of Huntsville to Independence in 1852, and much of the remaining Lea family began to form its nucleus in the Washington County community. Antoinette and Charles Power were also living in Independence after their Galveston sugar plantation was decimated by a hurricane. Brothers Vernal and Henry both died that year. The following year, Varilla's husband Robertus Royston also died and she joined the rest of the family in Independence. That August, the Houstons bought a house near the original Baylor University campus in Independence.
  • 1850
    Age 30
    Daughter Mary William (Mary Willie) Houston was born on April 9, 1850 in the Woodland house during another Congressional session when Houston was in the nation's capital.
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  • 1848
    Age 28
    The first child to be born in the house was Margaret (Maggie) Lea Houston, arriving on April 13, 1848 while Congress was in session and Houston in Washington, D.C. The widowed Vernal remarried to Catherine Davis Goodall in 1849, but trusteeship of Virginia Thorne, by now a teenager, remained with Margaret.
    More Details Hide Details With most of his time spent in the nation's capital, Houston's perception of Thorne was primarily second-hand gleanings from Margaret's letters; yet, he disliked and distrusted the orphaned girl to the point where he feared for the health and safety of his children with her in the house. Exacerbating the situation was Margaret's disapproval of the relationship that the teenage girl developed with overseer Thomas Gott. Push literally came to shove during an incident when Margaret disciplined her for what she believed was rough handling of one of the children. Thorne alleged that during the ensuing dispute over the situation, Margaret had used threats and physical violence against her. After she eloped with Gott a month later, 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 that Margaret helped found, and she was acquitted of the charges. Houston came to believe that the filing of legal charges against his wife had been encouraged by his political enemies.
  • 1847
    Age 27
    During the early part of 1847, Houston's letters to Margaret were filled with his weariness of being away from home, and his concern that he had no letters from her for weeks.
    More Details Hide Details He promised that at the end of the current legislative session, he would " fly with all speed to meet and greet my Love and embrace our little ones." When she finally answered, she initially only told him of a serious illness that Sam Jr. had since recovered from, even though he was aware of previous problems she had with a breast lump. She had been advised to see a specialist in Memphis, Tennessee if there was a recurrence. When complications appeared, family friend Dr. Ashbel Smith recommended surgery in Texas; only then, did she inform her husband of the situation. In an era before the development of anesthesia, her only alternative to bear the pain was to bite on a coin. Upon receipt of her letter, Houston immediately departed Washington, D.C. After his return home, Houston negotiated a labor-swap arrangement with Raven Hill's overseer Captain Frank Hatch. In lieu of a cash payment for his services, the bulk of Houston's slave labor force was engaged to work on Hatch's property at Bermuda Spring. The remaining slaves were retained as house labor for Margaret. Eventually, Houston became the owner of Bermuda Spring when he and Hatch swapped properties, and he set about to build the Woodland home for his wife.
  • 1846
    Age 26
    Texas officially relinquished its sovereignty on February 19, 1846 to become the 28th state in the union, and Houston was elected by the Texas state legislature to serve in the United States Senate.
    More Details Hide Details Margaret's pregnancy prevented her from accompanying him, so when time and duty permitted he traveled back and forth between Texas and a temporary hotel residence in the nation's capital. When Reverend George W. Samson first met Houston at the E-Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., the senator told him that his attendance had been influenced by "one of the best Christians on earth," his wife Margaret. For the duration of his senatorial service, Houston regularly attended the E-Street church, sharing his wife's letters with Samson and delving into theological discussions pertaining to Margaret's interpretation of scriptures. Margaret's sister Antoinette eloped with wealthy Galveston businessman Charles Power in April and began a new life on his sugar plantation. Houston was home during a Congressional recess when their second child Nancy (Nannie) Elizabeth Houston was born at Raven Hill on September 6. About this time, in a letter to Houston that gave insight into Nancy's forceful constant presence in their lives, Margaret conceded, "She is high spirited and a little overbearing, I admit " but advised her husband to just give in to the insignificant issues. Houston replied, "I love the old Lady as a Mother, and have resolved to defer to her age and her disposition. Her blood is much like my own."
  • 1845
    Age 25
    Although she accompanied him to President Andrew Jackson's Tennessee funeral in the summer of 1845, she did not attend fetes held in her husband's honor by his old friends and supporters.
    More Details Hide Details During the latter part of the year, Antoinette's husband William died, followed a few months later by the death of Vernal's wife Mary. Prior to her death, she had elicited a promise from Margaret to assume the trusteeship of Virginia Thorne.
  • 1844
    Age 24
    When his presidential term ended on December 9, 1844, Houston turned his attention to the Raven Hill plantation he had acquired that year northwest of Grand Cane and east of Huntsville.
    More Details Hide Details Margaret's slave Joshua was put in charge of the carpentry to build her a new house. Nancy, Margaret and sister Antoinette devoted their time to activities in Grand Cane's Concord Baptist Church, of which they were founding members. She continued to be a wife who was happiest when she and her husband stayed close to home.
  • 1843
    Age 23
    The couple's first child Sam Houston, Jr. was born in the new house on May 25, 1843.
    More Details Hide Details Upon learning of her son Martin's death in a duel, Nancy moved in with the Houstons, helping Margaret with the new baby, and over Houston's objections, pitching in with some financial assistance for food and household necessities.
  • 1842
    Age 22
    Events leading up to the 1842 Battle of Salado Creek caused Houston to believe that Mexico was planning a full-scale invasion to re-take Texas.
    More Details Hide Details In response, he moved the Republic's capital farther east to Washington-on-the-Brazos, and sent Margaret back to her relatives in Alabama. Upon her later return, they temporarily lived with the Lockhart family at Washington-on-the-Brazos until they were able to acquire a small home there.
    Margaret's mother Nancy Lea moved to Texas in 1842, eventually buying a house in Independence, and the rest of her children and their families settled in the area.
    More Details Hide Details They lived near the sugar cane plantation of Antoinette and her husband William Bledsoe, north of Liberty. The Houstons lived in several houses during their years together, but also kept one on Trinity Bay for their entire marriage.
  • 1841
    Age 21
    During his second term as representative from San Augustine, Houston was elected in 1841 to once again serve as the Republic's president.
    More Details Hide Details Margaret disliked campaign events and giving up her privacy, frequently staying home while her husband traveled about the Republic canvassing for votes. Yet, when she rose to the occasion, such as the extended post-election tour of San Augustine County and victory celebrations in Washington County and Houston City, the public adored her, and she became an impressive political asset. She rode in a local presidential parade, but stayed home rather than travel to the inauguration in Austin. When the couple appeared at several events in Nacogdoches, his old friends took notice of his total avoidance of alcohol, and he continued to assure her that he was giving it up completely. He also began to clean up his language to please his new wife, and would eventually claim to have eliminated his profanity altogether. Approximately north of Ben Lomond, the Bledsoes operated a sugar cane plantation at Grand Cane in Liberty County. Financially supplemented by Nancy, the plantation became a family gathering place. About a year after Vernal and Mary Lea also moved to there, Mary suffered a pregnancy miscarriage. Not long after that, the couple accepted trusteeship of a 7-year-old Galveston orphan named Virginia Thorne, who was then placed in the care of Nancy. It was a problematic relationship from the beginning, and would grow to have legal ramifications for Margaret.
  • 1840
    Age 20
    As the May 9, 1840 wedding day grew close, some family members still looked upon him with uncertainty and were determined to stop what they believed would be a disastrous union for Margaret.
    More Details Hide Details She would not be deterred, however, and the Reverend Peter Crawford officiated over the wedding of Margaret and the man she had fallen in love with. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon week at the Lafayette Hotel before sailing to Galveston, where Nancy and the Bledsoes had already established residences. Houston retained a house he owned in Houston City, but Margaret had no taste for the hustle and bustle and preferred the lesser populated Galveston. She and her personal slaves who had accompanied the newlyweds from Alabama shared her mother's house while Houston traveled. The year before he met Margaret, Houston had purchased property at Cedar Point on Galveston Bay in Chambers County, which he named Raven Moor, and planned to expand with income from his law practice. The existing 2-room log dogtrot house with its detached slaves' quarters overlooked Galveston Bay and became the newlyweds' first home, filled with both Margaret's personal furnishings from Alabama, as well as newer pieces.
    On May 9, 1840 at age 21 Margaret married the 47-year-old Houston.
    More Details Hide Details She met him at a party near Mobile given by her brother, Martin Lea, a business acquaintance of Houston's. The marriage was her first and Houston's third (counting his marriage under Cherokee law to the part-Cherokee widow, Diana Rodgers Gentry). It was at first opposed by her family, who disapproved of his age, divorce, drinking, and reputation as 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. Margaret was said to act 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. He was baptized near Independence in 1854 at age 61. Their marriage lasted for the rest of their lives. Two of their sons were politicians; Sam, Jr. was a soldier, physician and author; and William a special agent with the Indian Service of the Department of Interior. Their children were the following:
    In 1840 she became the third wife of the politician Sam Houston, then representative to the Texas legislature and between terms as the President of the Republic of Texas. They were married until his death in 1863.
    More Details Hide Details They had eight children together: one son became a physician and author; two sons became politicians (one a U.S. senator); and one an Indian agent with the Indian Service of the Department of Interior. Margaret's influence was credited with Houston's personal reforms in middle age, especially his stopping heavy drinking, which helped him survive and take on increased political responsibilities. Margaret was born in Marion, Alabama, one of six children. Her father Temple Lea was an attorney and planter; he and his wife Nancy Moffette were influential, owning a large plantation and numerous slaves. Temple died when Margaret was 15 but had provided for his daughters' education; Margaret studied at the Judson Female Institute. She lived with her widowed mother until she married. She was described as a beauty, "accomplished, well-connected and deeply religious."
  • 1839
    Age 19
    Several weeks of love letters had been exchanged between Margaret and Houston by the time he proposed marriage that summer of 1839, presenting her with his image carved on a brooch.
    More Details Hide Details In an effort to assuage the family's opposition to the union, Houston spent several weeks in the Lea home in Alabama. In September during his absence from Texas, his supporters in San Augustine County elected him to serve in the Republic of Texas House of Representatives. When the couple's engagement was announced in newspapers, the Leas were not the only ones who were skeptical. Acquaintances in Texas were well versed with his personal history and aware that he had not divorced the first wife when he married again, only recently obtaining that divorce with hopes of marrying a Texas woman who, as it played out, rejected him for another suitor. Political crony Barnard E. Bee, Sr. tried to discourage him from making a third attempt at marriage, believing him to be "totally disqualified for domestic happiness."
    He arrived in Mobile, Alabama in the early months of 1839 as a partner of the Sabine City Company, seeking investors to develop a community that is today known as Sabine Pass.
    More Details Hide Details Through Martin Lea, he made the acquaintance of Antoinette's husband William Bledsoe, a wealthy businessman who in turn suggested Nancy Lea as a possible investor. Invited to a garden party at Martin's home, it was there Houston first became acquainted with Margaret. The mutual attraction was instantaneous. Nancy was favorably impressed with Houston's land sales pitch, but not so impressed with his interest in her daughter. She and others in the family were concerned about his reputation as a hard-drinking carouser with a proclivity for profanity, who was 26 years older than Margaret and twice married.
  • 1838
    Age 18
    After completing his first term as President of the Republic of Texas in early December 1838, he continued to practice law from his office in San Augustine.
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  • 1836
    Age 16
    He was an accomplished attorney who sat on the boards of educational institutions, and would be elected to the Alabama State Senate in 1836.
    More Details Hide Details Margaret was enrolled at Professor McLean's School, and also attended Judson Female Institute. The latter was founded by Baptists to instruct genteel young women in what were acceptable goals of their time and place, "proficiency in needlework, dancing, drawing, and penmanship". Heavy emphasis was put on Baptist theology and missionary work. She wrote poetry and read romantic novels, while also becoming accomplished in guitar, harp and piano. Reverend Peter Crawford baptized her in the Siloam Baptist Church of Marion when she was 19, by which time the eligible young lady was considered "accomplished, well-connected and deeply religious." Sam Houston was an attorney by profession and politically accomplished even before he moved to Texas. In Tennessee, he had been both a member of the United States House of Representatives and Governor of Tennessee. His military victory at the Battle of San Jacinto elevated him to hero status in Texas.
  • 1819
    Born in 1819.
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