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Saturday, September 28, 2013

"My dear daughter"

Lizzie Houston

     One of the advantages of being a daughter of George Washington Houston was that your father could afford to send you to board at the Ann Smith Academy in Lexington. This exclusive high school with an enrollment of sixty six young ladies offered classes in such subjects as History, Rhetoric, Moral Science, Evidences of Christianity and Italian. [Please note that all images in my post may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]

Front page from Ann Smith catalog

     Lizzie Houston was fourteen years old when in the autumn of 1868 she packed her things and  was driven from Mount Pleasant, her family's home in Rockbridge County, to the Academy. I suspect that her feelings were mixed about this new adventure as she contemplated being separated from her home for days at a time. On the back of the last page of the school's catalog she wrote, somewhat dramatically: 1868. Pleasant days are gone, never to return.

William Spottswood White

     During Lizzie's time at Ann Smith, the principal there was William Spottswood White, who for eighteen years had been the minister at Lexington Presbyterian Church. White had been a spiritual mentor to Stonewall Jackson, who was a deacon at the church. With Reverend White's blessing, Jackson organized a Sunday school for blacks which met on Sunday afternoons.
     Reverend White resigned as pastor of his church in 1866, citing as his reasons ill health and the fact that he was losing his voice. He gradually recovered and, at age sixty eight, he was now obliged to begin a second career in order to fend off encroaching poverty. He and his wife took over the management of Ann Smith, and the school prospered during their three year stewardship.

The Edge Hill Sunbeam

     Lizzie received a very good education at Ann Smith. She apparently felt comfortable to tackle extracurricular projects, such as being the "editoress" of the Edge Hill Sunbeam, whatever that was. But by the winter of 1869 she had sufficient time away from home to reflect on matters of sin and religion, which would have come naturally to a girl raised as a strict Presbyterian by a very devout father.

George Washington Houston

     George Washington Houston (1820-1882) was a graduate of Washington College, a farmer, an entrepreneur, a former slave owner and justice of the peace during the Civil War. He was also a deacon and elder at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Rockbridge, where he received his early education from Reverend James Morrison.
     The pastor at New Providence 1860-1880 was Ebenezer Dickey Junkin. His father had been president of Washington College prior to the Civil War and his sister had been the first wife of Stonewall Jackson. In 1875 he would officiate at the wedding of Lizzie Houston to George Washington Estes Row.

First page of George Houston's letter to Lizzie

     In February 1869 George Houston received a letter from his daughter. Lizzie's letter does not survive, but its subject is easily guessed in his reply: It filled my heart with joyous gratitude to learn as I did from your letter that you were concerned on the subject of Religion. It is the most important subject that can occupy your thoughts, and it interferes with none of the duties that are incumbent upon us.
     Reverend Junkin added his own letter to Lizzie, also dated February 8, in which he expresses his joy at her taking seriously the nature of sin and religion in one's life, and that it was never too early to take to heart those Christian precepts that would protect her soul.
     As for George Houston, it is clear that religion played a central role in his family's life and education. The piety conveyed in his letter was sincere. The Houstons were the genuine article when it came to their faith. Lizzie remained a devoted churchgoer and reader of Bible studies until her death in 1928.
    George Houston concluded his letter to her with this:
     I will try to get up to see you this week. I would however advise you to let your Uncle White [1] and Dr. White [2] know that this subject is interesting to you and especially Cousin Maggie [3]. She is a sweet loving Christian & will sympathize with you & pray for you. God bless you & deliver you and keep you my dear daughter.
                                                                              Affectionately yours etc
                                                                                                Geo. W. Houston

[1]  William George White (1811-1888), Lexington merchant who was married to George Houston's sister Ann Eliza. He was an active member of Lexington Presbyterian Church and served with Robert E. Lee on the board of the Rockbridge Bible Society. White was a pallbearer at Lee's funeral.

William George White

[2] Reverend William Spottswood White (no relation to William George White).

[3] Margaret White (1844-1929), oldest daughter of William George and Ann Eliza White. She was a faithful correspondent for decades and a number of her letters to Lizzie survive.

Maggie White

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