New details emerge of Houston’s failed marriage
Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 8:02 pm
HENDERSONVILLE (AP) — As the 2010 gubernatorial race heats up, local historians are shining new light on the mystery that prompted a governor to resign more than 180 years ago.
Former Tennessee Gov. Samuel Houston left office in 1829 after his bride of 11 weeks, Eliza Allen of Gallatin, left him.
Houston’s and Allen’s marriage was widely considered a political construction, and Allen was reported to have told a friend she wished him dead.
After their split, Houston resigned as governor, lived with the Cherokee and later became president of the now-defunct Republic of Texas. Allen was inadvertently its first lady, their divorce having never been signed.
“There has never been an authentic picture of her published anywhere,” said Kenneth Thomson, a former Sumner County historian, who grew up around many members of the prominent Allen family.
Thomson acquired the 1860 salt-print copy of a Daguerreotype, the first large-scale photographic process, from Allen’s great niece, Elizabeth Allen, who inherited it from her father Dr. William Trousdale Allen through his father, Benjamin Franklin Allen, who was Eliza’s brother.
“This is the strongest evidence that it’s her — because it came from her family,” Portland City Historian Pat Meguiar said.
The woman’s features in the 1860 image resemble those of Eliza’s daughter, Susie Miller Douglass, in a 1870s photograph, and of Eliza’s brother in another picture.
The woman doesn’t look like a previous image claimed to be the first likeness of Eliza. The historians say a small watercolor painting photographed in an April 1, 1993, issue of the Nashville Banner is not authentic, historians say.
“It turned out to be an April Fool’s (joke) but they didn’t intend it as such,” Meguiar said. “This is not her at all.”
No image of Eliza has been available because she destroyed most evidence of her Houston marriage, what she considered a political agreement between the governor and her father, John Allen, of a prominent and politically powerful Sumner family, Thomson said.
Before he became a Texas hero, Tennessee-raised Sam Houston had been a successful military officer, attorney general for Davidson County, state representative to the U.S. Congress and was running for a second gubernatorial term in 1829, according to The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.
“Andrew Jackson encouraged Sam Houston to marry because it’d help his political campaign,” Meguiar said.
Looking for an eligible bride, the 36-year-old Houston married 19-year-old Eliza Allen after a “scandalously brief courtship,” the encyclopedia reports.
Few details are known about the relationship as neither Eliza nor Houston ever publicly discussed the matter. The memories of Thomas Boyers, who personally knew both, and one of Eliza’s bridesmaids in a May 30, 1895, issue of The Youth’s Advocate loosen some knots in the brief romance’s tapestry.
For weeks before the wedding, melancholy overtook Eliza, who openly acknowledged she had agreed to marry the governor only at her parents’ solicitation. And it wasn’t until her wedding eve when she confessed she loved another, and though he had never admitted it, she knew he too loved her.
The name of the unknown beloved never passed her lips, but some believe he was Will Tyree of Sumner County, Meguiar said.
One instance suggests the union began badly. Two days after the marriage, referring to children having a snowball fight with Houston in the yard, Eliza told friend Martha Martin, “I wish with all of my heart that they would kill him,” according to a website about a documentary in the works by the Sam Houston Project.
This marks the only recorded in-marital statement Eliza made. Within 80 days of the seemingly happy honeymoon, she went home to visit, and when Houston followed her a few days later, they parted for unknown reasons.
Another factor that might have contributed to the separation involved severe wounds Houston received at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 that did not heal and required daily care for years.
“The seeping wound was in his groin area and Eliza was offended by it, and it smelled,” Thomson said. “It might’ve healed later.
Published in The Messenger 4.28.10