Monday, January 2, 2017

George Washington Houston

George Washington Houston

     He was a quiet, pious man, a lifelong member of New Providence Presbyterian Church, where he was an elder. He was described as "a man of retired habits of life, unostentatious, but a useful citizen." He was a farmer, a man of business, a slave owner, a justice of the peace and a father deeply interested in the spiritual lives of his children.

Map detail of Rockbridge County, c. 1863 (

     George Washington Houston was born at "Level Loop", the home of his parents William and Elizabeth Finley Houston, on June 22, 1820. The 200-year-old house at Level Loop still stands near Hays Creek, about a mile west of Brownsburg, seen at left in the map detail above.

Reverend James Morrison (Washington & Lee Archives)
     George received his early education from Reverend James Morrison, pastor at New Providence Presbyterian Church 1819-1857. Born in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, Morrison was a graduate of the University of North Carolina.

New Providence Presbyterian Church (Washington & Lee Archives)

     Reverend Morrison prepared young George Houston well. George enrolled at Washington College in Lexington, where he graduated in 1840 at the age of 20.

George Houston. J. H. Burdette, Photographer, Staunton, Virginia

     George continued to live at Level Loop with his father and stepmother and stepsisters until he was 30 years old. On May 23, 1850, he married Annette Louise Willson of nearby "Mt. Pleasant." In the Civil War-era map above, Mt. Pleasant is located where "G. W. Houston" is indicated, just above the village of Fairfield. With the death of Annette's father, Thomas Willson, in 1857, George Houston became the owner of Mt. Pleasant; it would remain the home of the Houstons for 100 years.

Annette Willson Houston

     George and Annette Houston had seven children together, only four of whom survived childhood:
- Their first born, a son, died on April 13, 1851. He is buried at New Providence.
- Finley Willson, born September 10, 1852.
- Mary Elizabeth ("Lizzie"), born April 29, 1854.
- A son, born February 7, 1861, who did not survive.
- A fourth son, mentioned in a letter of genealogy kept by Lizzie Houston Row. This boy also died young.
- William George ("Will"), born October 31, 1864.
- Ann Eliza ("Annie"), born October 6, 1866.
     The 1860 census shows George and Annette Houston and their two oldest children, Finley and Lizzie, living together at Mt. Pleasant. Also part of the household were two of Annette's five brothers, Thomas and Matthew, her uncle James Willson and his daughter Elizabeth. George Houston's real estate was valued at $7,155, his personal estate at $5,472. Much of his personal wealth can be attributed to his ownership of 10 slaves.

James Willson (1791-1864)

     In 1864, the justice of the peace for District 6 of Rockbridge County was John Marion Templeton, who enlisted as captain of Company B, 4th Battalion Valley Reserves on April 16, 1864. Less than six weeks later, on June 5, Templeton was killed at the Battle of Piedmont in Augusta County. George Houston was elected to take his place.

The Aultman-Taylor Company

     During the 1870s, George and his son, Finley, worked as agents for the Aultman-Taylor Company, and introduced the steam thresher to Rockbridge County. Their names can be seen on the envelope shown above.
     After her marriage to George Washington Estes Row in 1875, George Houston's daughter, Lizzie, lived in Spotsylvania County. On October 7, 1881, her infant son, Robert Alexander Row, died. Her father, who had himself experienced the same loss three times, sent Lizzie the poem, "A Child in Heaven," copied in his own hand:

"A Child in Heaven"

     Just four months later, on February 18, 1882, George Washington Houston died of pneumonia at Mt. Pleasant. An appraisal of his estate was made, and an estate sale was advertised at the court house.

Estate sale of George W. Houston

     The estate sale of George Houston was not a success. In any event, even if all his belongings had been sold at top dollar, that money would have been woefully inadequate to satisfy the debts of his estate, which amounted to $2,440. It would be many years before his creditors--which included members of his family, friends, local merchants and others--would see any money. The tale of how Mt. Pleasant would be saved from financial ruin will be the subject of a future post.
     George is buried at New Providence. His headstone incorrectly displays "1829" as the year of his birth. The inscription reads:
George W. Houston
Born June 22, 1829
departed this life
Feb 18, 1882
in the assured hope of a blessed immortality


Brown, Katherine L. New Providence Church, 1746-1996: A History (Raphine, VA: New Providence Church, 1996)

Morton, Oren Frederick. A History of Rockbridge County, Virginia (Staunton, VA: The McClure Company, Inc., 1920)

Library of Virginia. Rockbridge County Chancery Causes, Index Number 1902-12, "Finley W. Houston Etc vs Heir(s) of George W. Houston Etc."

Ancestry. com

Washington & Lee University Special Collections and Archives

Catalogue of the Officers and Alumni of Washington and Lee University, 1749-1888

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