At the age of 17 with her classmates from Pleasant Valley Academy on the docks in New Orleans, Louisiana, Margaret Moffette Lea watched as the schooner Flora made its way upriver carrying the famed General Sam Houston. At this young age still enthralled by the idea of heroes Margaret watched and listened as the wounded Houston thanked the crowd for their support of Texas and was then carried away unconscious as he had collapsed from the pain of a recently shattered ankle. It is said that Margaret knew then that she would one day meet the famed Texas hero. [1] Little did she know that four years later, at the age of 21 on May 9, 1840, she would become his wife and through the experiences of her upbringing and passion for the written word she would be the most influential woman in his life.

Early Life

Born on April 11, 1819, Margaret Moffette Lea was the fifth of six children in a distinguished family in Marion, Alabama. Her father, Temple Lea, was a passionate Baptist lay minister and her mother, Nancy Moffette, was descendant of Huguenots whom had fled from the persecution in France to South Carolina, where Temple and Nancy would be married in 1797. [2] Upon her birth her oldest brother, Martian, was 20; her older sister, Varilla, was 18, her brother Henry was 16 and Vernal was 2. Her younger sister, Antoinette, would complete the Lea family in 1822, 2 months before Margaret’s third birthday. [3] It was around this, her abundant family, which she would learn and have the experiences that would create the woman she would be when she met Sam Houston.

Settled in Perry County, Alabama, on their parent’s successful plantation, Margaret and her siblings were reared under strict religious training. Though her mother taught her the traditions and graces of being a lady, Margaret was closest to her father, which may account for her fervent attachment to all things religious. However, Temple Lea was often traveling and Nancy Lea was left to rear the children and to develop and manage a cotton plantation with fifty slaves. Upon her father’s death on January 28, 1834, Margaret was stricken with such grief that her family knew not how to console her. Throughout her life Margaret used poetry or versifying as it was sometimes called, to express her emotions. She could frequently be found buried in books such as those she received through mail-order: Ivanhoe, The Naval Foundling, Swallow Barn, and others. [4] In a poem she wrote on June 19, 1839, she creates a scene that depicts her relationship and love for her father, as well as their mutual love of God. The first verse states:
Beneath a tall and widely spreading tree,
Beside a cottage door at hush of even,
A Father sat. A young girl clasped his knee,
And talked with him of God and Heaven. [5]

In his will Margaret’s father left to her four of the family’s slaves, two of which, Joshua and Eliza, would hold great importance in the Houston household during her later years. [6] She then moved, along with her mother, younger sister, and brother Vernal, to the house of Henry Lea, the oldest of the Lea children, in the city of Marion Alabama. There she would attend Pleasant Valley Academy until the age of 19 when she would be baptized by Reverend Peter Crawford of Siloam Baptist Church. She then enrolled in Bible classes at Judson Female Institute. [7] When on February 12, 1839, her younger sister Antoinette married William Bledsoe, a merchant in Mobile, Margaret was the subject of much teasing. However, she was not bothered by family teasing as she felt her highest allegiance was to God. Indeed, she insisted that she would not marry until she was sure she had found the right man.

Meeting Sam

It would become Mr. and Mrs. William Bledsoe’s honor to introduce Margaret to the man whom would become her husband. [8] In 1839, having sold the family farm and stock for a good price Nancy Lea went with Margaret to Mobile Alabama to discuss real estate investments in the west with her wealthy son-in-law, William Bledsoe. Sam Houston was also in town on business to promote property in Texas and to purchase supplies. [9] While in town Houston made a call on Martian Lea, a business man and promoter in the city, to assist him in spreading the word of the property being offered. Martian Lea, knowing of his mother’s interest in investing in property in the west, first introduced Houston to his brother-in-law, William Bledsoe who invited Houston to meet with him and Nancy Lea at his home. [10] Upon Houston’s arrival it was discovered that Antoinette Bledsoe was hosting a strawberry festival on the lawn and in the gardens in honor of her mother and Margaret. [11] When they were introduced Margaret recognized him immediately as the tall romantic man from the docks in New Orleans, the wounded warrior, hero and first President of Texas. Her inclination had been true, she did meet that man and it would forever change the course of her life as well as his.

For the next week Houston remained as a guest in the Bledsoe house, taking long walks in the garden with Margaret and only leaving her side to attend to business and discuss land in Texas with Mrs. Lea. [12] Having convinced Mrs. Lea to visit Texas to view the land available for investment he was in need of continuing his business travels. However, before departing he instructed Margaret to gaze at the lone star that shown in the sky to remind her of him and left her with a pink [13] and the idea that they would one day be married. It had been an instance of love at first sight and Margaret expressed her feelings for the cherished flower in an eight stanza poem entitled “Lines to a Withered Pink” that she wrote following Sam’s departure.

He placed thee in my hand, that friend
Who now doth distant roam.
I took thee–little thinking then
How dear thou wouldst become.

That joyous eve, upon my brow
Thy fresh young leaves I wore.
Thou wert beauteous then tis true, but now
Poor flower–I love thee more…
Time onward flies and swift advance
The years when friends are few,
The years when I shall live perchance
Like thee to wither too.

Thou sweet memento! Gentle flower!
Say will he cherish me,
And love me in that dark hour
As now I cherish thee? [14]


Though Margaret was in love with Sam Houston, upon hearing of his proposal Nancy Lea was clearly opposed. She agreed with Houston as a good businessman and leader but as far as being a match for her daughter, he would not do, even as a hero. She had heard of his previous marriages and of his drinking problems and felt he was much too old for Margaret, due to their difference in age of twenty-six years. In her first letter to Houston, and her first addressed to a gentleman, Margaret wrote that her mother and others would leave for Texas in October and that she would accompany them. However, she also wrote that her family wished she not journey to Texas until Houston had visited in Marion. [15] Margaret had agreed to come with her mother and join Houston and marry in Texas but her mother still disapproved. She bowed to her mother’s insistence to be in control and remained at home working on her trousseau which included a purple silk dress, a blue muslin dress and a white satin dress. [16]

When Nancy and her son, Martian, arrived in Galveston to view the land prospects, Sam Houston was awaiting their arrival with a large party, but was disappointed when his fiancĂ© did not arrive, he had hope they would soon marry. Upon her arrival Mrs. Lea stated, “General Houston, my daughter is in Alabama. She goes forth in the world to marry no man. The one who receives her hand will receive it in my home and not elsewhere.” According to Mrs. Lea’s request, a month after her departure from Texas Houston left again bound for Alabama and his waiting bride. [17] Their marriage was first set to be in February but had to be postponed until April due to political engagements of Houston’s. As April passed Margaret had a vague hope for Houston’s arrival in May. To her surprise and utter joy he arrived on May 7, with Martian Lea, in Marion Alabama to meet her relatives. However her relatives perceived him Margaret did not care, he had fulfilled her promise to her family. [18]

On Saturday May 9, 1840, at Henry Lea’s residence in Marion Alabama, Margaret Lea was married to Sam Houston by Reverend Peter Crawford, despite her family’s continued reservations towards their union. Regardless of his scars, wounds, and current thinness that made him look older than he was, Margaret loved him. To Houston, she was the gentleness, wisdom, and affection he had not known since he was a boy in the care of his mother. [19] Margaret found his faults as a challenge she believed that she was destined to be the means of reforming him and would devote herself to doing so. [20]

Setting Goals

It was during their honeymoon trip that Margaret told Sam of her intentions to help him quit his drinking habit. Though he did not promise complete abstinence he did promise to not drink in excess [21] and began drinking bitters in an effort to abstain from liquor gradually. [22] Margaret was prepared to spend the rest of her life, if necessary, to reform her husband. Her plan was total abstinence and for him to except and embrace religion. To the astonishment of his friends and collogues Sam Houston held to his vow of almost complete abstinence with Margaret and only took bitters; except for one account [23] he never drank again. One George Hockley even commented once that,

“He (Houston) drank only cold water even though liquor was plentiful…. [and] did not drink even when Margaret was not with him. ‘All agree that if permanent reformation can be effected his estimable wife will succeed in doing so.”[24]

In June of 1840, the Houston’s landed in Galveston Bay greeted by Margaret’s sister, Antoinette and her husband William Bledsoe, and her mother, Nancy Lea, all of whom had relocated to Texas earlier that year. While visiting in Galveston with Margaret’s family Sam showed Margaret the land he had purchased in 1837, in Cedar Point, and the home he planned to build there. Due to financial strains, Raven Moor as he called it, only included a small one room cabin, but by spring of 1841, he hoped to have a completed cottage for his new bride to furnish. In the mean time though, they would stay with family and friends as Houston traveled and resumed his law practice and later his duties in the House of Representatives for San Augustine. [25]
During their twenty-three years of marriage the Houston’s would be apart for about half of that time. During the first eight months, only during about three and a half of them were they able to spend together due to Margaret’s asthma and other illnesses that kept her from being able to travel with her Husband on business. For much of that time Margaret stayed with her sister and William Bledsoe on their sugar plantation outside the town of Grand Cane near the Trinity River recovering from malaria. [26] During their times apart they kept in touch through letters in which they assured the other of their love for each other and spoke of news of their families and that of Texas. In many of his letter’s Houston reassured his wife that any rumors she may hear of him were untrue and that he was truly devoted to her and his commitments and promises he had made. He also states in one letter, “I cannot be happy but where you are!.” [27] In the months before Houston’s reelection as president of Texas, Margaret made her wishes known that she wanted her husband to return to her and settle down. Even with his reassurance that he had not consented to be a presidential candidate she knew all along that his beloved republic wanted the return of its leader whether he wished it or not. [28] After his nomination in April 1841, Margaret wrote him a letter wondering if he was as anxious as she was to be settled and enclosed to him a poem titled “My Husbands Picture”.
Dear gentle shade of him I love,
I’ve gazed upon thee till thine eye
In liquid light doth seem to move,
And look on me in sympathy!
And now I gaze upon that form ,
Against those clouds of threatening mien,
In bold relief, as if no storm,
Could ever scathe that brow again.

An image starts within my mind,
As if a shadow from the past,
On some sweet dream of olden time,
Has suddenly my heart o’ercast.

Yes–yes, it must be so! The same
Proud form of majesty, the one
That o’er my girlish vision came,
And that my heart hath loved alone. [29]

Achieving Goals

Although they were apart much of the time, including Houston’s absence during the births of almost all of their eight children, Margaret never gave up her effort to reform her husband and influence him to accept religion. The first account of Sam Houston going to church was in January of 1846. During 1845, in Grand Cane, Margaret, Nancy Lea, and Antoinette Bledsoe were three of the seven founders of the Concord Baptist Church and cemetery, which was built on a stretch of land across the Trinity river. Houston had missed his wife and young son Samuel Jr. and the Sunday after his arrival in Grand Cane he attended services at the Concord Baptist Church. [30] However, as early as November of 1845, Houston acknowledged in a letter to his cousin William Letcher that,

“You have, I doubt not, heard that my wife controls me, and has reformed me in many respects? This is pretty true, and I tell her, that I am willing that she should have the full benefit of my character, but it happens, that she gets all the credit for my good actions, and I have to endure, all the censure of my bad ones.” [31]

Margaret achieved her goals for her husband, in a short period and they developed into habit for Houston over time, as he began attending church regularly in Washington and reading the bible. In a letter to Margaret from Washington on March 1, 1857, he states,

“My dear: After two night sessions I did not go to church today… After dinner I intend to pass the night in reading the Testament and Harvey’s Meditations. [32]

In a previous letter to her in December of 1856, concerning his “dear friend Yoakum’s death” he closes with the statement, “May God prepare us all for his kingdom”. [33] He also began his will stating, “In the name of God, the father, Son and Holy Spirit”. [34]

Following her husband’s death on July 26, 1863 in Huntsville, Texas, Margaret moved to Independence to be closer to her mother. Remembering a letter Houston had written to her some years back, while he was in Washington, of the goals he had for himself she opened the family bible and wrote,

“General Sam Houston, the beloved and affectionate husband and father, the devoted patriot, the fearless soldier, the meek and lowly Christian died July 26, 1863.” [35]

He too had achieved his goals and desires. On December 3, 1867 Margaret Houston died of yellow fever in her home in Independence, Texas [36], yet she died happy. Over the years of their marriage with the foundation that was laid during their courtship and first years together their goals and emotions toward each other became synonyms. Margaret had been at most, if not the most, influential woman in Sam Houston’s life. Due to the fear of contagions Margaret had to be buried in independence beside her Mother, Nancy, instead of next to her husband in Huntsville as she had wished. [37] Today a pink granite marker stands at the graves of Margaret Lea Houston and Nancy Lea, which states, “Women of character, culture and staunch devotion to their families and church, each in her own way greatly influenced the career of Sam Houston and the course of Texas history.” [38]
[1] William Seale, Sam Houston’s Wife: A Biography of Margaret Lea Houston. (University of Oklahoma Press. 1970), vii-ix.

[2] Madge Thornall Roberts, Star of Destiny: The Private Life of Sam and Margaret Houston. (University of North Texas Press. 1993), 8.

[3] Roberts, “Appendix C: Genealogy of the Lea and Houston Families,” in Star of Destiny. (University of North Texas Press. 1993), 380-82.

[4] Seale, Sam Houston’s Wife, 6-7.

[5] Margaret Lea, as quoted in Star of Destiny, 11.

[6] Roberts, Star of Destiny, 9.

[7] Seale, Sam Houston’s Wife, 7.

[8] Roberts, Star of Destiny, 13-14.

[9] Seale, Sam Houston’s Wife, 10.

[10] Ibid, 10-11. The place in which Houston met with Nancy Lea is stated in various sources as being at the home of William Bledsoe, however in Madge Thornall Roberts account it is stated as being at Martian Lea’s residence, Spring Hill.

[11] Martha Anne Turner, Sam Houston and his Twelve Women. (Pemberton Press. 1966.), 61-62. Some sources state that the party was a church social and that Margaret was helping with hostess duties. The Roberts account states that Antoinette and Opphia Lea were hosting a church social in honor of Nancy and Margaret Lea, who were visiting from Marion. Another source says that Antoinette was merely entertaining a few friends in the garden.

[12] Ibid, 62.

[13] A pink was the name given to carnations in that time period according to Madge Thornall Roberts, Star of Destiny, 18.

[14] Roberts, Star of Destiny, 18-20.

[15] Margaret Moffette Lea to Sam Houston, Marion, Perry County, July 17, 1839, in Star of Destiny, 393-94.

[16] Roberts, Star of Destiny, 25-26.

[17] Marquis James, The Raven. (Bobbs-Merrill Company. 1929.), 312-13.

[18] Seale, Sam Houston’s Wife, 16-17.

[19] Ibid, 17-19, 29-31.

[20] William C. Crane, Life and Select Literary Remains of Sam Houston of Texas. (William G. Scraff & Co. 1884.), 253.

[21] Roberts, Star of Destiny, 37.

[22] Seale, Sam Houston’s Wife, 34.

[23] Turner, Sam Houston and his Twelve Women. 64-70. The account states that during his second term as president while living in the home of Judge and Mrs. John Lockhart, Margaret had gone away to visit relatives and a local saloon owner had received a shipment of Madeira from New Orleans and insisted on giving the president a gallon. With the intention of giving the jug to his landlords, the Lockharts, Houston took it with thanks. Curious as to if it was as fine as the saloon owner had boasted Sam took a taste and by 2am had completed the entire bottle and was preceding to have one of the slaves chop off a bed post that he said was interfering with his breathing, before any of the Lockharts noticed his condition and coaxed him into bed. It is assumed that this was Houston’s last binge.

[24] Roberts, Star of Destiny, 40.

[25] Ibid., 38-40.

[26] Ibid., 41-42.

[27] Sam Houston, The Autobiography of Sam Houston, ed. Donald Day and Harry Herbert Ullom (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954), 165-66.

[28] Seale, Sam Houston’s Wife, 50-51.

[29] Margaret Lea Houston quoted in Star of destiny, 55-56.

[30] Seale, Sam Houston’s Wife, 99-100, 104-106.

[31] Sam Houston to William Letcher, Galveston, November 25, 1845, in “The Raven Tamed: An 1845 Sam Houston Letter”, ed. F. N. Boney, Southwestern Historical Quarterly Online, no. 68-01, 90-92, (July 1964-April 1965), (November 10, 2009).

[32] Sam Houston, The Autobiography of Sam Houston, ed. Donald Day and Harry Herbert Ullom (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954), 248.

[33] Ibid, 246.

[34] Ibid, 277.

[35] Roberts, Star of Destiny, 331.

[36] Ibid, 349-350.

[37] Roberts, Star of Destiny, 350.

[38] Groundspeak, inc., “Margaret M. Lea Houston”, (November 8, 2009)


Crane, William C. Life and Select Literary Remains of Sam Houston of Texas. Philadelphia: William G. Scraff & Co, 1884.

Groundspeak, inc., “Margaret M. Lea Houston”, (November 8, 2009)

Houston, Sam. The Autobiography of Sam Houston. Edited by Donald Day and Harry Herbert Ullom. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954.

____. Sam Houston to William Letcher, Galveston, November 25, 1845, in “The Raven Tamed: An 1845 Sam Houston Letter”, Edited by F. N. Boney, Southwestern Historical Quarterly Online, no. 68-01, 90-92, (July 1964-April 1965), (November 10, 2009).

James, Marquis. The Raven. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1929.

Roberts, Madge Thornall. Star of Destiny: The Private Life of Sam and Margaret Houston. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1993.

Seale, William. Sam Houston’s Wife: A Biography of Margaret Lea Houston. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Turner, Martha Anne. Sam Houston and his Twelve Women. Austin: Pemberton Press, 1966.
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