Tuesday, December 27, 2016

William Houston

William Houston

     The Houstons of Rockbridge County had been part of the mass migration of the Scotch-Irish from Great Britain, primarily to Pennsylvania, beginning about 1718. Within 20 years, land values in western Pennsylvania had risen to the point that these immigrants began looking for cheaper land further south up the Shenandoah Valley. When Benjamin Borden received a land grant for 92,000 acres in 1739 in what would become Rockbridge County, the Houstons and many others came there in great numbers and settled permanently.
     The Houston family that gave rise to the future hero of Texas, Samuel Houston, found a home at Timber Ridge. A related family of Houstons bought land on Hays Creek. This place was named "Level Loop," for the loop-shaped portion of the property formed by the creek.
Level Loop (Rockbridge County Courthouse)

     In this plat of Level Loop attached to an 1898 deed, the loop in Hays Creek is clearly visible. "Dwelling" refers to the house built for William Houston about 1819-1822.

Houston home at Level Loop (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

     William, son of James and Elizabeth Weir Houston, was born in the original house on this property in 1786. After the death of his father in about 1810, William Houston became the owner of his family's estate, located on State Route 724 one mile west of the village of Brownsburg.

Modern plat of Level Loop (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

     William Houston's first wife was Elizabeth Finley (1794-1832), whom he married before 1814. One of Elizabeth's brothers, John Finley, moved to Richmond, Indiana. There he became mayor, publisher of the town newspaper and a writer still remembered for a phrase he coined that remains in common use. He will be the subject of a future article for Rockbridge Memory.
     Like most of the Scotch-Irish in Rockbridge County, the Houstons were devout Presbyterians. William and his family worshiped at New Providence Presbyterian Church, and his descendants remained devoted members well into the 20th century.
     William and Elizabeth had three children that I know of. Ann Eliza, born in 1814, married Lexington merchant, William George White, who will also be featured in a future post here. John Finley Houston, born in 1844, died the following year. George Washington Houston was born in 1820. He and his family will be a major focus of Rockbridge Memory.

Grave of Elizabeth Houston (Carl Weaver, Findagrave)

     Elizabeth Houston died on January 23, 1823. She is buried in the cemetery at New Providence. Three years later, William married his second wife, Susan Weir (1803-1889). William and Susan had four daughters--Elvira, Mary, Jane and Martha--none of whom ever married. William and Susan's younger son, John Franklin, did not survive infancy.
     Their older son, William Howard Houston, was born on March 28, 1836. I have yet to come across a photograph of him. His Civil War prison record described him as being 5'10" tall, of fair complexion and having gray eyes and brown hair. William married Elizabeth Ervine of Rockingham County on May 22, 1857. Elizabeth was the daughter of Francis Milton and Margaret Campbell Ervine (Francis Ervine had another daughter, Mary Frances, by his second wife, Hester Bear. We will be hearing much more about Mary Frances in future posts on this blog).

Elizabeth Ervine Houston

     On the eve of the Civil War, William H. and Elizabeth were living on a farm in Rockbridge County with their first two children, Charles F. (1858-1890) and Margaret Campbell (1859-1913), who was known to friends and family as "Cammie." Two more children were born during the war, William E. (1862-1885) and Susan "Sue" Weir (1865-1936). Like many of William Houston's descendants, none of these children ever married.

William E. Houston

Elizabeth Ervine Houston with daughters Sue and Cammie

     William Houston was a slave owner; the 1860 census shows that there were nine enslaved people living on his property. As for his son William H., I do not find his name listed as a slave owner on the same census.
     On May 14, 1861, William H. Houston joined Company H of the 14th Virginia Cavalry at Brownsburg. He was enlisted by a neighbor of his father, Captain John Rice McNutt (in 1898 McNutt's son, William Morton, married George Washington Houston's daughter, Ann Eliza). After his initial one year enlistment expired, Sergeant Houston re-enlisted in 1862. On November 26, 1862, he was captured in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. He was taken prisoner by Colonel John C. Paxton of the 2nd West Virginia Cavalry. Houston was taken to he Atheneum Prison at Wheeling on December 4. Two days later, Sergeant Houston was transferred to Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. Three weeks later, he was taken to the military prison in Alton, Illinois, where he remained until he was exchanged at City Point, Virginia on April 1, 1863.
     William Howard Houston was fortunate to have survived his winter confinement at Alton. In the Confederate cemetery at Alton are buried 1, 354 prisoners who died during the course of the war. Houston rejoined his regiment and served for another year and a half, when his luck finally ran out. On November 12, 1864, he "died near Front Royal from the effects of a gunshot wound." He is buried in New Providence Presbyterian Church.

Grave of William Howard Houston (Carl Weaver, Findagrave)

     During the course of the war, the elderly William Houston did what he could to support the Confederate cause by selling supplies to various quartermaster officers. Typical of the receipts for such transactions is the one shown below, for 300 pounds of hay purchased in December 1864.

Receipt for hay signed by William Houston (fold3.com)

     Three months earlier, a desperate Confederate Commissary found it necessary to impress provisions from southern farmers. The document below shows that Confederate authorities took 25 bushels of wheat from William Houston. Later, he would be subjected to the added indignity of having authorities quibble over how much he should be compensated.

Impressment of wheat from William Houston (fold3.com)

     William wrote his last will and testament in August 1867. Among other things, he stipulated that his grandchildren were to be given "a neat copy of the Holy Scripture" if they did not already have one. Those grandchildren named after him were to be each given $50. He named as his executors his surviving son, George Washington Houston, George's brother-in-law William George White, and John Weir.
     George Houston hired Lexington stone cutter John J. Hilesman to make a headstone for his father:

John J. Hilesman's receipt for headstone, 1874 (Library of Virginia)

     William Houston died on June 14, 1868. He is buried at New Providence Presbyterian Church.

Grave of William Houston (Carl Weaver, Findagrave)


Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers (fold3.com)

Confederate Citizens File (fold3.com)

Library of Virginia


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