“Sam Houston had three wives,” started the schoolhouse guide after she rang a large bell.
The middle school girls sitting on the bench in front of her stopped fidgeting. Now that she had their attention, the guide continued, “As far as we know, the first, Eliza Allen, did not quite become his wife at all. On their wedding night, she confessed to him that her heart belonged to another man. Houston left the house that night. The young lady recanted after three weeks, but he did not want to take her back.”
A tour of the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse in Maryville will teach you these and many other fascinating details about Houston’s life. I will recap a few of these facts here.
Why did Eliza Allen go through with the wedding? She was 18, her parents arranged her marriage to 37-year-old Houston, and the girl did not know how to refuse her parents. Apparently, she knew how to refuse Houston.
Let’s backtrack: born in Virginia in 1793, Houston moved with his mom and siblings to Tennessee after his father’s death. At 12, he ran away from home and lived with Cherokee Indians, who nicknamed him the Raven. At 18, he went back to his family and got himself into debt. To pay off his debt, he taught school for one year, in 1812.
After joining the military in 1813, Sam Houston fought in wars alongside Andrew Jackson and was so deeply wounded, they left a bullet in him because they did not think he would make it. However, he recovered. Years later, he became a lawyer in six months, even though the course should have taken him two years.
Sam did not have a lot of formal education, but he was a quick study. He memorized Homer’s Iliad and that gave him a lot of confidence and oratorical prowess. There’s something to be said about memorization. It gives students facts, knowledge, wisdom, self-confidence, and discernment. Plus, if you sat around a fire and somebody recited a really long poem or 10 short ones, just like that, how entertaining would that be?
After his first “marriage,” Houston went to live with the Cherokee Indians again and married an Indian woman named Dianna Rogers for about three years. Then, he moved to Texas, minus the wife. Instead, he married his third wife, Margaret Lea, who ended up giving him eight children.
During our schoolhouse tour, they moved us in small groups between several stations. Museum staff, dressed in 19th century garb, taught us how they used to make butter, candles, cornmeal, and how they hunted.
One detail stood out for me: Sam Houston was a freemason. Like most of America’s Founding Fathers, Houston belonged to this organization. There is a memorial stone about it in the ground, to the left of the path that takes you to the schoolhouse.
Houston served as District Attorney in Davidson County, congressman of Tennessee, senator of Texas, governor in Tennessee and in Texas, and ambassador to Washington, D.C. for the Cherokee nation. He died at the end of the Civil War, in 1863, at 70.
For your information, at the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse, the grounds are lovely, and they have several buildings, one of which can be rented out as a dining hall for events such as birthdays, weddings, and family reunions.