Houston, Margaret Lea (1819–1867)
Houston, Margaret Lea (1819–1867)
Wife of Sam Houston and first lady of Texas. Born Margaret Moffette Lea on April 11, 1819, near Marion, Alabama; died in 1867 in Independence, Texas; one of three children of Temple Lea and Nancy (Moffette) Lea; attended Judson Female Institute; became third wife of Sam Houston (1793–1863, soldier, statesman, and hero of San Jacinto who was instrumental in earning Texas its independence and statehood), on May 9, 1840; children: four sons and four daughters; granddaughter: Margaret Bell Houston (d. 1966, an American novelist and poet). Sam Houston's first wife was Eliza Allen ; they were married only one year before divorcing; he then married Tiana Rogers, a Cherokee, in 1830.
Described as intelligent, pious, and striking in appearance, Margaret Houston first met her famous husband in 1839 and fell deeply in love despite the disparity in their ages. Sam, at 46, cut a gallant figure indeed, but it may have been his adventurous spirit that appealed even more to Margaret, who at 20 still harbored a romantic nature.
Back in 1824, Sam Houston had served as congressman and governor of his home state of Tennessee and was headed for a distinguished political career when he resigned the office of governor and went to live in Arkansas among the Cherokee Indians. Marrying Tiana Rogers , the daughter of a Native American chief, Houston lived among the Cherokees for six years, during which time he represented the tribe in diplomatic and business affairs. In 1825, as trouble brewed on the Texas frontier, Houston left his wife (the marriage, according to tribal custom, was dissolved) to assist the colonists in their fight for independence from Mexico. After leading the Texans in the historic confrontation with Santa Anna's troops at San Jacinto (April 21,1836), Houston emerged a hero and became president of the newly formed republic of Texas. It was on a trip to Alabama three years later that he met Margaret and immediately proposed.
A year passed before the couple married, during which time they began a loving correspondence that continued during the long separations in their 23-year union. They were wed in May 1840, at Margaret's brother's home in Alabama, after which Margaret made the arduous trip across the Gulf of Mexico to Texas, bringing along her maid and lifetime friend Eliza. After the initial trip, Margaret, who was a poor traveler, made very few journeys away from home, although Sam, who served a second term as president of Texas and later as a U.S. senator and governor of the state, was away more often than not.
Margaret, a devoted wife, was the mother of eight. She oversaw the education and religious training of the children in a variety of Houston homes, varying from the rugged log houses of the early years to the two-story, yellow-brick governor's mansion in Austin. Margaret never concerned herself too much with either managing the household, which was left to Eliza, or the family finances, which were always on the meager side. Her most pressing duty, it would appear, was to convert her husband to the Baptist Church, a task that took some 14 years.
Due to Sam's unpopular political stand against secession, his years as governor were often unpleasant, and after Texas voted to separate from the union in January 1861 he retired from public life. The couple rented a house in Huntsville, where he died on July 26, 1863. Shattered by her loss, Margaret returned to Independence, where she worked with historian William Carey Crane on a compilation of her husband's papers, letter and documents. When the manuscript was complete, however, there was no publisher interested in the frontier hero. Discouraged and bitter, Margaret burned many of the historic documents, and others were later lost or destroyed. What remained were several hundred letters that the couple had exchanged throughout their years together. In 1998, these became the source of a biography, Star of Destiny: The Private Life of Sam and Margaret Houston, by Madge Thornall Roberts . In 1867, Margaret Houston succumbed to the yellow fever epidemic, dying at age 48.
Crawford, Ann Fears and Crystal Sasse Ragsdale. Women in Texas. Austin, TX: State House Press, 1992.
Publishers Weekly. January 25, 1998.