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Houston, Sam

Born: 1793-03-02 Rockbridge County, Virginia

Died: 1863-07-26 Huntsville, Texas

Houston moved to Blount County, Tennessee, with his mother in 1807, following his father's death the previous year. He worked as a store clerk briefly in 1809 before leaving white society to live on the frontier, including a long residence with the Cherokee. He returned in 1812 and enlisted in the army the following year, fighting under Andrew Jackson. Houston suffered three wounds at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend but earned promotion to first lieutenant. He served as a subagent to the Cherokee in 1817 but resigned from that post and the army the following year. Houston moved to Tennessee in 1818, where he read law, was admitted to the bar, and opened a legal practice in Lebanon. He won election as Davidson County attorney general in 1819 but held the office for only a year. After serving in the Texas militia as a major general, Houston won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1823. He remained in Congress until 1827, when he won election as governor of Tennessee. He married Eliza Allen in 1829, but the marriage collapsed quickly, and the resulting scandal forced him to resign his governorship. Houston returned to life with the Cherokee and became an official member of the tribe. He married Tiana Rogers Gentry in 1830 and failed to win a seat in the Cherokee government the following year. He divorced Tiana in 1832 and moved to Texas to meet with the Comanche and start a new life.

Houston settled in Nacogdoches and served as a delegate to the 1833 Texas constitutional convention. Voters elected him to the same role in 1835, and he won commission as commander in chief of Texas' army. He commanded for about a year before attending the 1836 convention that officially declared independence from Mexico. Houston then resumed command of Texas' army, defeating Santa Anna at San Jacinto, where he was also injured. After briefly residing in New Orleans, Louisiana, while his wound healed, Houston won election as the first president of the Republic of Texas. He served until 1838, after which he occupied a seat in the Texas Congress. In 1840, he married Margaret Lea, with whom he had eight children. He ran for president again in 1841 and defeated David G. Burnet in an extremely vicious campaign. He tried to foster annexation by the United States but his term expired in 1844 before he could fully secure it. After Texas became a state, the new state legislature elected Houston to the U.S. Senate, and he occupied his seat from 1846 to 1859. During that time he supported slavery (he was a slaveholder himself) but also union. Support for his position broke when he refused to vote for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Texas legislature officially censored him. After that, Houston aligned himself with the Know-Nothings and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1857. He ran again in 1859, defeating his former opponent, Hardin R. Runnels. As governor during Abraham Lincoln's election, Houston opposed secession and joining the Confederacy. After refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, the legislature removed him as governor.

Randolph B. Campbell, "Houston, Sam," American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 11:279-81.