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The trusted slave of legendary Sam Houston, Joshua Houston, after Emancipation, succeeded in business and politics, founded numerous institutions, and became a symbol of racial autonomy and progress. Born a slave in 1822 and later willed to Margaret Lea of Marion, Alabama, Joshua moved to Texas in 1840 with Lea and her new spouse, President Sam Houston of the Republic of Texas. President Houston encouraged his slaves to read and write. Intelligent, industrious, and literate Joshua Houston thus became a well-known coachman of public dignitaries, a blacksmith, and wheelwright.
In 1862, an infirmed Sam Houston, who as governor opposed secession, freed Joshua and his entire slave staff. Months later, a grateful Joshua Houston offered penniless Sam Houston’s widow Margaret Lea Houston $2,000 in gold—his life savings. She refused the gesture, and encouraged him instead to use the money for his family. Houston married three women in his lifetime and had eight children, including Atlanta University graduate and celebrated educator Samuel Walker Houston.
Freedman Houston bought property, built a home, and opened a prosperous blacksmith shop. Houston and other freedmen then in 1867 founded the Union Church, Huntsville, Texas’s first black institution, and a small school for students in the same community. He also entered local politics, serving as an alderman and county commissioner. A lifelong advocate of education, he secured funding for the building in 1883 of another school, Bishop Ward Normal and Collegiate Institute. Joshua Houston died in 1902.
Patricia Smith Prather and Jane Clements Monday, From Slave to Statesman: The Legacy of Joshua Houston, Servant to Sam Houston (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1993); Thomas H. Kreneck, “Samuel Houston,” in The New Handbook of Texas, V. 3 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1996), 717-20.
Sam Houston State University