Early Life and Family Heritage
Sam Houston was the son of Major Samuel Houston and Elizabeth Paxton. Houston's ancestry is often traced to his great-great grandfather Sir John Houston, who built a family estate in Scotland in the late seventeenth century. His second son John Houston emigrated to Ulster, Ireland, during the plantation period. Under the system of primogeniture, he did not inherit the estate. After several years in Ireland, John Houston emigrated in 1735 with his family to the North American colonies, where they first settled in Pennsylvania. As it filled with Lutheran German immigrants, Houston decided to move his family with other Scots-Irish who were migrating to lands in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A historic plaque in Townland tells the story of the Houston family. It is located in Ballyboley Forest Park near the site of the original John Houston estate. It is dedicated to "One whose roots lay in these hills whose ancestor John Houston emigrated from this area."
The Shenandoah Valley had many farms of Scots-Irish migrants. Newcomers included the Lyle family of the Raloo area, who helped found Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church. The Houston family settled nearby. Gradually John developed his land and purchased slaves. Their son Robert inherited his father's land. His youngest of five sons was Samuel Houston. Samuel Houston became a member of Morgan's Rifle Brigade and was commissioned a major during the American Revolutionary War. At the time militia officers were expected to pay their own expenses. He had married Elizabeth Paxton and inherited his father's land, but he was not a good manager and got into debt, in part because of his militia service. Their children were born on his family's plantation near Timber Ridge Church, including Sam Houston on March 2, 1793, the fifth of nine children and the fifth son born: Children - Paxton 1783, Robert 1787, James 1788, John Paxton 1790 (first clerk of Izard County, Arkansas 1819-1838), Samuel 1793, William 1794, Isabella 1796, Mary Blair 1797, and Elizabeth Ann 1800.
Planning to move on as people did on the frontier to leave debts behind, the elder Samuel Houston patented land in Maryville the county seat of Blount Co.in East Tennessee near relatives. He died in 1807 before he could move with his family, and they moved on without him: Elizabeth taking their five sons and three daughters to the new state. Having received only a basic education on the frontier, young Sam was 14 when his family moved to Maryville. In 1809, at age 16, Houston ran away from home, because he was dissatisfied to work as a shop clerk in his older brothers' store.
He went southwest, where he lived for a few years with the Cherokee tribe led by Ahuludegi (also spelled Oolooteka) on Hiwassee Island, on the Hiwassee River above its confluence with the Tennessee. Having become chief after his brother moved west in 1809, Ahuludegi was known to the European Americans as John Jolly. He became an adoptive father to Houston, giving him the Cherokee name of Colonneh, meaning "the Raven". Houston learned fluent Cherokee, while visiting his family in Maryville every several months. Finally he returned to Maryville in 1812, and at age 19, Houston founded a one-room schoolhouse in Knox county between Maryville and Knoxville. This was the first school built in Tennessee, which had become a state in 1796.
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