Five miles south of Lexington, Virginia, on Route 11 about one quarter mile past the I-81 interchange, is the Sam Houston Wayside. At this pull-off is a large monument with a plaque that commemorates the birthplace of Texas hero Sam Houston.
Houston was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia on 2 March 1793 in a house that no longer exists. He was one of nine children born to Major Samuel Houston and Elizabeth Paxton. His father was a member of Morgan’s Rifle Brigade during the US Revolutionary War. Receiving only a basic education, he migrated with his family to Maryville, Tennessee in 1807 following the death of his father. His mother then took the family to live on Baker Creek, Tenn. He ran away from home in 1809 and resided for a time with a Cherokee tribe on Hiwasee Island (located at the intersection of the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers). He was adopted into the Cherokee Nation and given the name Kalanu or “the Raven”.
In 1812 Houston became a school teacher for six months in Maryville, Tenn. In March 1813 he joined the U.S. Army 7th Regiment of Infantry to fight the British in the War of 1812. By December of that year he had risen from private to third lieutenant. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814 he was wounded by a Creek arrow. His wound was bandaged, and he rejoined the fight. When Jackson called on volunteers to dislodge a group of Red Sticks from their breastworks, Houston volunteered, but during the assault was struck by a bullet in the shoulder and arm. Following his recovery he was assigned as an Indian agent to the Cherokees. He left the army in March 1818.
Following six months of study he opened a legal practice in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was made attorney general of Nashville district in late 1818 and also given a command in the state militia. In 1822 he was elected to the House of Representatives for Tennessee, where he was a staunch supporter of fellow Tennessean and Democrat Andrew Jackson and was widely considered to be Jackson’s political protegé though their treatment of Indians differed greatly.
He was re-elected in 1824. In 1827 he declined to run for re-election to Congress and instead ran for, and won, the office of governor of Tennessee, defeating the former governor Willie Blount. He intended to stand for re-election in 1828 but following an eleven week marriage to eighteen year old Eliza Allen, he abruptly resigned as governor (the actual divorce was not until 1837) and the reasons for their divorce still remain a mystery.
He spent a time among the Cherokee, married a Cherokee widow named Tiana Rogers Gentry, and set up a trading post (Wigwam Neosho near Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation), apparently drinking heavily the entire time. His alleged drunkenness and abandonment of his office and wife caused a rift with his mentor Andrew Jackson, which would not be healed for several years.
Houston’s cousin, the Rev. Samuel Houston, served on the board of trustees for the struggling Liberty Hall Academy. Rev. Houston joined with the other members of the institution’s board to invite George Washington to endow the school. Washington did so, assuring the school’s future, which allowed it to blossom into the Washington and Lee University.
The Sam Houston birthplace monument, a 38,000 pound piece of Texas pink granite, was dedicated in 1986, replacing a previous market that had deteriorated.