Triumph and Tragedy: Presidents of the Republic of Texas

Introduction Houston in Love Mister President Later Years

Houston Timeline

May 1839 - Meets Margaret Lea in Mobile, Alabama

July 1839 - Cherokees defeated and expelled from Texas

Summer 1839 - Becomes engaged to Margaret Lea and returns to Texas, where he speaks out against Lamar's Indian policy

November 1839 - Texas Congress meets for the first time in Austin; Houston represents Nacogdoches

March 19, 1840 - Council House fight with Comanches in San Antonio

May 9, 1840 - Marries Margaret Lea

August 5, 1840 - Great Comanche Raid begins

August 11, 1840 - Battle of Plum Creek ends Great Comanche Raid

June 1841 - Texas Santa Fe Expedition sets out, soon runs into disaster

December 13, 1841 - Sworn in to second term as president

Sam Houston

Houston in Love

In May 1839, Houston visited Mobile, Alabama, to talk to some business associates about a land deal. While there, he stayed with friends and was introduced to a pretty, intelligent 20-year-old named Margaret Moffett Lea. Margaret was shy, romantic, and a devout Christian. After Sam left Mobile to continue his tour, Margaret wrote to him that her heart was "like a caged bird" without him.

Houston returned to Alabama after visiting in the east and asked Margaret to marry him. Margaret accepted, but her mother had serious doubts. Houston was 46 years old, divorced under scandalous circumstances, had lived with an Indian wife, and was a heavy drinker. It was only with caution and reluctance that she gave her permission. Many of Houston's friends also had doubts as to whether Sam could curb his rowdy behavior enough to make Margaret happy. But Margaret was determined. She confided to a friend of Houston's that "Not only had he won her heart, but she had conceived the idea that she could be the means of reforming him, and she meant to devote herself to the work."

Now an engaged man, Houston returned to Texas, where he was elected to represent Nacogdoches in the Texas House of Representatives. He spent most of his time criticizing Mirabeau B. Lamar, whom he despised for his harsh Indian policies and his botched attempts at empire. Houston also hated Austin, the rough new capital city that Lamar was building on the edge of the frontier.

In May 1840, Houston went back to Alabama, where he and Margaret were married. Houston built a small house for them at Cedar Point near present-day Baytown. To almost everyone's surprise, Houston worked hard to mend his ways and curb his excesses. His slip-ups with alcohol became rare events. The soft-spoken and gentle Margaret Houston turned out to have nerves of steel. Houston soon wrote a friend, "You have, I doubt not, heard that my wife controls me and has reformed me."

Later in the year, Houston defeated David G. Burnet to win election to his second term as Texas president.

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Cameo of Sam Houston

This cameo of Sam Houston was made in Italy in 1837 or 1838 when he was president of the Republic of Texas. Houston presented it to Margaret Lea during their courtship in 1839, Texas State Library and Archives, Prints and Photographs Collection, 1/102-256.

Margaret Lea Houston

Margaret Lea Houston in later life, Texas State Library and Archives, Prints and Photographs Collection, 1/102-246.

Margaret Houston to Sam Houston, December 1840

From a very faded original comes this excerpt of a letter from Margaret to Sam Houston, just seven months after their marriage. Enduring the first of many absences, "Maggy" writes of missing the husband she obviously adores.


Page last modified: March 19, 2015