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Thursday, August 18, 2011

George Houston

George W. Houston

     George Washington Houston was my great great grandfather, and the father of Lizzie Houston Row. He was born on June 22, 1820 at Level Loop, the house built by his father on Hays Creek near Brownsburg in Rockbridge County, Virginia. George's father, William Houston, was a cousin of  Samuel Houston, who was well known for the roles he played in the history of Tennessee and Texas. Elizabeth Finley was the first wife of William Houston and the mother of George. Elizabeth's brother John Finley moved to Indiana, where he was a successful politician and writer. He is often credited for the first published use of the term "Hoosier" to describe a citizen of Indiana. Elizabeth died in 1823 and William married Susan Weir in 1826 and had several more children by her.

William Houston

Level Loop, Rockbridge County

     William Houston was a devout Presbyterian and an elder at New Providence Church. George received his early education from Reverend James Morrison, who was pastor there from 1819-1857. This provided a solid foundation for George. He enrolled in Washington College in Lexington and graduated in 1840.

New Providence Presbyterian Church

From catalog of Washington College alumni

     George Houston married Annette Louise Willson in 1848. The Willsons owned Mount Pleasant farm near the village of Fairfield in Rockbridge. George moved to Mount Pleasant after marrying Annette and acquired title to it after the death of Annette's father Thomas Willson in 1857. Mount Pleasant would remain in the Houston family for almost one hundred years.

Mount Pleasant today

Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant

     George and Annette Houston had four children: Finley Willson (born in 1852), Mary Elizabeth, my great grandmother (1854), William George (1864) and Ann Eliza (1866). The 1860 census shows that in addition to the Houstons, there also were living at Mount Pleasant Annette's sister Mary Elizabeth, her brothers Thomas and Matthew and her uncle James.
     Like his father, George Houston was a farmer, slave owner (he owned ten black slaves in 1860) and elder at New Providence Church. At the outbreak of the Civil War George was forty one years old. He did not serve in the Confederate army, but provided supplies to the cause. He was also a justice of the peace during the last year of the war.
     In the years after the war George Houston struggled financially. As time passed he fell deeper into debt. I do not know if he made money in this venture, but in the 1870s he and his son Finley acted as agents for the Aultman-Taylor Company, introducing steam powered farm equipment to Rockbridge. This envelope was used by my great grandmother to keep the flowers she and George Washington Estes Row wore during their wedding.

Aultman-Taylor envelope

     George W.E. Row began courting Lizzie Houston in 1874 and pursued her with a single minded determination. He was competing for her affections with the young men of Rockbridge County and Washington College (he was eleven years older than her). After months of seeking a commitment from Lizzie she at last accepted his proposal of marriage. In September 1875 George Row mailed a letter to Mr. Houston, asking for his daughter's hand. George Houston's reply indicates only a minor misgiving but he was sufficiently impressed by my great grandfather to give his heartfelt approval.

George Row to George Houston

George Houston to George Row

George Houston to George Row

     George and Lizzie Row went home to Sunshine, George's farm in Spotsylvania, after their wedding on December 14, 1875. They had four children together: George Houston (born 1877), Nancy Mabel (1879), Robert Alexander (1881) and Horace (1882). Robert did not survive his first year, dying in October 1881 at eight months. George Houston was pained by this devastating loss of his grandson. On October 27, 1881 he sent to Lizzie this poem "A Child in Heaven" which he notes was "copied from Cousin Eliza's M.S. by her request."

"A Child in Heaven"

"A Child in Heaven"

     Four months later George Houston would pass from this life, dying of pneumonia on February 18, 1882. In spite of the advertised sale of his estate, nothing could obscure the fact that George died heavily in debt and his obligations far outweighed his assets. His widow and adult children would spend many years devising a successful plan to keep Mount Pleasant in the family. George Houston is buried at New Providence Church (the date of his birth on his headstone is not correct).

Lexington Gazette, February 1882

Broadside announcing estate sale

Headstone of George Washington Houston


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