Margaret Lea Houston
|Margaret Lea Houston|
|Born||Margaret Moffette Lea
April 11, 1819
|Died||December 3, 1867
|Cause of death||Yellow fever|
|Resting place||Houston-Lea Family Cemetery
|Alma mater||Judson Female Institute|
|Known for||First Lady of Republic of Texas (1841–1844)
First Lady of State of Texas (1859–1861)
|Children||Sam Jr. (1843–1894)
Nancy Elizabeth (1846–1920)
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 married to Sam Houston in 1840; she was his third wife, marrying him during his term as a representative in the Texas Legislature. She became the First Lady of the Republic of Texas in 1841 during his second term as the President of the Republic of Texas. For thirteen years, Margaret remained in Texas while Sam was in Washington, D.C. serving in the United States Senate. She was First Lady of the state of Texas in 1859 when he was elected Governor of Texas after it had been annexed by the United States. In spite of her brother Henry Lea serving as a state Senator in Alabama, Margaret was reluctant to play the part of a political wife. She did so only sporadically. As the Governor's wife, she became a recluse in the unguarded Texas Governor's Mansion, partly because of her pregnancy and partly out of fears generated by a hostile political climate. Sam and Margaret had eight children together and were married 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
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. Margaret was described as a beauty, "accomplished, well-connected and deeply religious."
Margaret was a talented pianist who also played Spanish guitar. She wrote poetry and loved romantic novels. Margaret's father Temple Lea had been a Baptist circuit preacher. Nancy was a delegate at the formation of the Alabama Baptist Convention in 1823, during which Nancy had the distinction of being the only female delegate. Temple was the state treasurer of the convention . The wealth in the family came from the Moffettes. Nancy was the financial manager of the family, developing an Alabama slave cotton plantation. 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. Rev. Crawford also performed the marriage ceremony of Margaret Lea and Sam Houston in 1840. Sam Houston was introduced to Nancy Lea through Antoinette's husband William Bledsoe when Houston was in Mobile, Alabama promoting Texas land sales through a company in which he had a financial interest. Bledsoe had become acquainted with Houston through Nancy's son Martin Lea. Houston's business meeting with Nancy Lea was followed by a garden party at Bledsoe's home where Houston met Margaret. Houston's sales pitch on the land prospects was convincing enough that the Bledsoe's and Nancy Lea left for Texas before Margaret's wedding to Sam on May 9, 1840. The marriage was her first and Houston's third (counting his marriage under Cherokee law to the widow Diana Rodgers Gentry, who was part-Cherokee.) Her 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
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. 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. 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, frequently requiring Sam to leave her behind. 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. 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. 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.
Galveston and city of Houston
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. They then 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 Lea's house while Sam traveled on business.
Sam owned a rental residence 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.
Ben Lomond and Grand Cane
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. Houston had purchased the property from Tabitha Ijams Harris in 1837 during his first term as the Republic's president. 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  Margaret delegated management of the household to her mother Nancy. Sam kept Ben Lomond for the rest of his life, retreating there with his family in 1861 after he was forced out of office and in financial straits.
Grand Cane in Liberty County was 23 miles (37 km) north of Ben Lomond and a communal gathering point for the Lea family. Margaret's sister Antoinette and her husband William Bledsoe lived in a three-room pine log cabin there while attempting to establish a sugar plantation. Nancy Lea used her funds to pay any debts the Bledsoes were unable to meet. Vernal and Mary Lea moved to Grand Cane in 1841. The first Grand Cane post office was established in 1846, with Vernal as postmaster. Margaret and Sam would visit her family members at Grand Cane, and Margaret often retreated there when Sam was traveling. Because the Bledsoes were so often in a financial bind, the property had been transferred to Nancy's name. One time the property had been transferred to Sam, although his ownership was in name only, on paper to help the Bledsoes avoid creditors. In 1845, Margaret, Antoinette and Nancy were co-founders of the Concord Baptist Church at Grand Cane. William Bledsoe died that year and was followed in death a few months later by Vernal's wife Mary. The in-laws were buried side-by-side at Grand Cane. The next year, Antoinette married wealthy merchant Charles Powers and moved to Matagorda Bay. In 1849, Vernal married Catherine Davis, and the two moved into the Bledsoe cabin. Vernal died in 1852, and Catherine remained in the house the rest of her life.
The events with Mexico leading up to the Battle of Salado Creek in 1842 caused Sam to send Margaret back to Alabama for her own safety. When she returned to Sam in September, they lived with the John W. Lockhart family on Washington-on-the-Brazos. They eventually got a small home in Washington-on-the-Brazos, which Margaret decorated. The state 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. The couple's first child Sam Houston Jr. was born in this house on May 25, 1843.
Raven Hill and Woodland (Huntsville)
In 1844, Sam acquired the Raven Hill plantation at Huntsville and built Margaret a new home. Sam Houston was appointed by the Texas legislature to represent the state in the United States Senate, and left for Washington, D.C. in March 1846. He took up temporary residence at a hotel in the nation's capital and returned to Texas when possible. Margaret had initially planned to go with him but had a change of plans when she found she was pregnant with their second child. Margaret stayed behind at Raven's Hill, and Nancy "Nannie" Elizabeth was born on September 6, 1846. Margaret required surgery and follow-up medical attention in 1846 for removal of a breast lump and recurring breast and abdominal swellings. Margaret's only anesthesia for the surgery was biting on a silver coin during the operation.
Sam swapped Raven Hill in 1847 to his overseer Captain Frank Hatch, in exchange for Hatch's property named Bermuda Spring. The Houstons renamed it Woodland Home. Their third child Margaret "Maggie" was born April 13, 1848 at the new residence. Margaret and her mother Nancy hosted many guests at the Woodland house, including various Indian tribes who came to visit and camp out on the land. On April 9, 1850, daughter Mary William was born. Their daughter Antoinette Power was born here on January 20, 1852. Son William Rogers was born in this house May 25, 1858. The family vacated the house after it had been sold to J. Carroll Smith on November 19, 1858, to pay Sam's campaign debts.
Margaret's best friend in Huntsville was Frances Creath, the wife of a local minister J.W.D. Creath who pastored the church Margaret and Sam attended. The Houston's overseer Thomas Gott was instructed to enlarge an area of the creek to accommodate baptisms, and the Houston home was made available for regular services.
Virginia Thorne was an orphan adopted at age seven in 1842 by Margaret's brother Vernal Lea and wife Mary. Her care had been entrusted to Margaret upon Mary's death. The relationship between Virginia and Margaret was a contentious one, culminating in 1850 at the Woodville home with Virginia's allegedly being beaten and threatened by Margaret. Virginia eloped with overseer Thomas Gott, who had witnessed some of Margaret's behavior, and the couple immediately filed assault and battery charges against Margaret. A grand jury investigation resulted in a deadlock. The matter was referred to the local Baptist church, whose elders acquitted Mrs. Houston.
Sam was re-elected to the United States Senate in 1853. In August, Sam bought a house in Independence near Baylor University. Nancy Lea had already moved to Independence the preceding year. Son Andrew Jackson Houston was born on June 21, 1854 in the new home. Margaret's sister Varilla and husband Robert Royston had moved to the area. When the Houstons moved to the Governor's mansion in Austin, their Independence house was converted to a parsonage leased to the Independence Baptist Church. Nancy Lea sold her own silver to purchase a bell for the local Baptist church. The bell is located at the intersection of Farm to Market Road 50 and Farm to Market Road 390.
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. 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. The baptismal site is marked by the Texas Historical Commission as located on Farm to Market Road150 at Sam Houston Road.
Life in the Governor's mansion
The Texas Governor's Mansion had been built during the administration of Elisha M. Pease, who moved into the mansion in June 1856. The bachelor Governor Hardin Richard Runnels was the only other resident of the mansion before the Houstons. Until 1931, the state government of Texas made no provisions for furnishing and maintaining the mansion, and governors and their families (and supporters) had to assume the financial costs. Neither had there been any provisions in the state budget for a security force, military or private, to guard the mansion itself or the first family.
The Houston family with its retinue of slaves moved into the mansion in December 1859, during a political climate that was openly hostile to the new administration. Margaret feared for the family's safety in the unguarded 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 arrival of the Houstons. The family quarters were on the second floor, and the twelve slaves remained on the ground floor. A governess was hired to look after the Houston children. Margaret withdrew from the public eye, permitting only family to visit her. This included Nancy Lea's cousin Robert E. Lee who was stationed at Fort Mason.
The Houston's youngest child Temple Lea was born in the mansion August 12, 1860, and delivered by Dr. Beriah Graham. Margaret was surrounded by her personal slaves. After recovering from childbirth, Margaret's only excursions outside the mansion were church activities.
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 of Texas. The Houstons vacated the mansion, and Houston was succeeded in office by Lt. Governor Edward Clark.
The Steamboat House was built in 1858 by Rufus W. Bailey. Sam Houston rented the house where he spent his final days, dying here in July 1863. The house was moved to the grounds of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum in 1936.
Later years and death
Margaret departed the Steamboat house to return to the home of her mother in Independence, who had begun to prepare for her eventual death as early as 1850. She built a tomb on her property and had a metal coffin built for herself, storing it under her bed. Nancy Lea died February 7, 1864.
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. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Washington County, Texas as the Mrs. Sam Houston House. 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. The Texas legislature gave her Sam's unpaid gubernatorial salary. In order to enroll Sam Jr. in medical school, Margaret rented out Ben Lomond.
Margaret opened Sam's correspondence and records to Rev. William Crane when she arranged for him to write General Sam's biography, which was eventually rejected by the publisher.
Margaret died during a yellow fever epidemic on December 3, 1867. She was buried 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. Margaret and her mother Nancy are buried together in the Houston-Lea Family Cemetery in Independence.
Andrew and Temple Houston became politicians, at the national and state level, respectively. Sam, Jr. was a soldier, physician and author; and William became a special agent with the Indian Service of the Department of Interior. Margaret and Sam Houston's children were the following, name for themselves and others in their families:
- Sam Houston, Jr. (1843–1894) Buried Old Independence Cemetery
- Nancy "Nannie" Elizabeth Houston Morrow (1846–1920)
- Nannie married Joseph Clay Stiles Morrow. Their daughter Margaret Houston Morrow was in attendance and introduced as "Mrs. Robert A. John" during Price Daniel's election as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Margaret and Robert's daughter Jean Houston John married Franklin T. Baldwin, and they were the parents of Texas First Lady Jean Houston Baldwin Daniel (1916-2002).
- Margaret Houston Williams (1848–1906)
- Mary William Houston Morrow (1850–1931)
- Antoinette Power Houston Bringhurst (1852–1932)
- Andrew Jackson Houston (1854-1941) (U.S. Senator from Texas)
- William Rogers Houston (1858–1920)
- Temple Lea Houston (1860–1905) (state senator of the Texas Legislature, 1885–1888)
Legacy and honors
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- Margaret Houston Williams at Find a Grave
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