A Brief History
On September 5, 1836, Sam Houston was elected as the first president of the Republic of Texas. Of course, we remember him largely through the city that is named after him, the 4th most populous in the United States and spreading a massive nearly 600 square miles, about double the area of New York City. In 2017, while the city of Houston is in the news as Hurricane Harvey and its resultant floods devastate the city and the area, we look into the man behind the city’s name.
Sam Houston was born to a Scots-Irish family in Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1793. Houston’s father, Samuel Houston, served as a Major during the American Revolutionary War. The Houston’s, minus Sam’s father who died that year, moved to Tennessee in 1807. At age 16 young Sam Houston ran away to avoid work as a store clerk. Sam lived in Cherokee territory, became an adopted son of a Cherokee Chief, and learned the Cherokee language. In 1812 Sam returned to Maryville, Tennessee and became a schoolmaster. During the War of 1812 Sam fought for the United States and was wounded by an arrow to the groin in an 1814 battle. Refusing to leave the fight, Same continued fighting and was wounded twice more by bullets.
Houston met and was befriended by Andrew Jackson during the War of 182, and after the war was appointed by Jackson as a sub-agent to oversee removal of Cherokee Indians from Tennessee to Arkansas. During his short tenure in this role Sam was accused of mishandling funds and supplies, causing him outrage and to resign in protest. In 1818 Sam became an attorney, was appointed prosecutor, and given command of the Tennessee Militia. He entered the political arena in 1823, becoming a US Representative from Tennessee until 1827 when he became Governor of Tennessee. Sam resigned as governor less than 2 years into his term, when his 19 year old wife left him only a few months after marriage. Mystery surrounds the circumstances of their separation, as neither spoke of the details.
Houston attempted to expose corruption in the government concerning the handling of Indian relocation, which drew the ire of Congressman William Stanbery of Ohio. Stanbery slandered Houston on the floor of congress in 1832, and when Houston later confronted him, a fight ensued in which Sam beat the congressman to a pulp with a hickory cane. Houston was represented by Francis Scott Key (writer of our National Anthem) and was exonerated, though reprimanded. Stanbery sued and was awarded a $500 settlement, which Houston refused to pay.
Houston left for Texas, which was part of Mexico at the time, fed up with politics and with a damaged reputation. Once again, Sam became highly political and joined the movement for Texas independence from Mexico, and was appointed a Major General in the Texas Army. Texas declared independence in 1836, and a war for independence ensued. At the battle of San Jacinto in 1836, Houston led 910 Texans against 1360 regular Mexican soldiers under the command of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the man who had taken the Alamo and later executed 400 Texans that surrendered in another battle. Houston won a lopsided victory in a brief battle, losing 11 men killed and 30 wounded to a loss of 650 Mexicans killed and over 200 Mexicans wounded. Santa Anna, the President of Mexico, was captured the next day. Three weeks later, Texas was an independent country.
Houston became the first President of the Republic of Texas in 1836, and later served as the third President of Texas. Texas remained an independent country until 1845 when it joined the United States as the 28th state in the Union. Houston was elected Senator from Texas, serving from 1846 until 1859 when he became Governor of the state.
Houston, a slave owner and anti-abolitionist, ran for President of the US in 1860, but failed to win a nomination or appreciable support, causing him to withdraw from the race. Sam opposed the secession of Texas from the Union, and when Texas seceded in 1861 the state legislature removed him from office. Houston refused to swear loyalty to the Confederacy, and for some years was reviled for that stance, later becoming somehow “rehabilitated” in the eyes of Texans and made a legendary hero.
In 1829, Houston finally had his brief marriage to Eliza dissolved in divorce, and he married a half-Cherokee woman, Tiana Rogers, a marriage technically bigamous on Houston’s part as his first marriage was still recognized. Tiana refused to go to Texas with him, and Houston later married for the third and final time in 1840 to 21 year old Margaret Lea (he was 47). Houston moved to Huntsville, Texas, in 1862, and died in 1863 at the age of 70 of pneumonia.
Aside from the city of Houston, numerous places and buildings are named in Sam Houston’s honor, as is a US Navy Submarine, other cities in other states, a National Forest, a US Army Fort, streets all over the US, and more. Statues, monuments, and portraits of the fighting man and statesman can be found. The first word spoken by a human from the Moon was “Houston,” as in, “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”
Today, there is considerable sentiment against honoring any American “hero” that had previously owned slaves or supported slavery, as did Sam Houston. Does Houston deserve the accolades and honors bestowed upon him, or should he be erased from any place of honor? Please share your thoughts on this controversial subject.
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