(Image credit: Texas State Historical Association)
Joshua Houston (1822-1902) was born near Marion, Alabama and was a slave in the household of the wife of Sam Houston, Margaret Lea. In the custom of the day, Joshua and his family were left to Margaret after the death in 1834 of her father, Temple Lea. Margaret moved to Texas in 1840 after marrying Sam Houston in May.
Joshua travelled with Sam Houston as his personal servant during the days of the Texas Republic. During this time, he was taught to read and write and learned the skills of blacksmithing and wheel building. When Houston learned of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln, he emancipated all of the slaves in the family, although Texas law did not change for several more years. Joshua and several others stayed on with the family of Sam Houston after Sam died in 1863. Margaret died of yellow fever in 1867. Late in life, Margaret Lea Houston fell on difficult financial times and Joshua is known to have offered his personal savings to help her.
After the end of the Civil War, Joshua married, had a family and became a blacksmith in Huntsville, Texas. Joshua built a two story home there on 10th Street and set up his shop across the street from it. He was a church leader and held several city and county offices in government.
He and two friends bought land near downtown and built the first church for freedmen, the Union Church, which operated at various times both as a Baptist and Methodist congregation. Union Church continued to blossom, grew large and eventually split into at least three separate entities. Joshua followed one of them and helped found the First Baptist Church on 10th Street in Rogersville, Texas.
His political life began when he was appointed as the first Black alderman in 1870. He was first elected to office when he became a county commissioner of Walker County, Texas serving for a number of years beginning in 1878. He is credited for helping to change former racially discriminatory Texas laws. He helped found a college, Bishop Ward College, in 1882 although it remained in business for only two years and suffered from a lack of financial resources. Joshua remained active in politics into his senior years, serving as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.
During his lifetime, Joshua was married to Annieliza (last name unknown), Sylvester Baker and Mary Green and had eight children including Thomas Houston (1866-1888), Lucy Houston Gardner (1841-1916), Joseph Houston (1836-1938) who was a farmer and land owner near Huntsville and a member of the Union Chapel Methodist Church and Samuel Walker Houston.
Samuel was born in 1864 and received his education at Hampton Institute in Virginia and Howard University in Washington, DC. His is known to have been a clerk at Ford’s Theater and also to have worked for the War, State and Navy departments of the U. S. Government in Washington, DC. Around 1900, he returned to Texas and taught school in Grimes County. Samuel was a gifted musician and could sing, read and write music. He died in 1945 and his headstone reads “In honor and memory of Samuel Walker Houston, founder of the Houston Industrial Training School and late principal of the Sam Houston High School… His life was devoted to welfare and happiness of others.”
Joshua Houston’s legacy included churches that he helped to found, being involved in politics and helping to change laws that promoted racial equality and a family of educated children and grandchildren. He died in January, 1902 and is buried with his wife, Sylvester not far from the grave of Sam Houston at Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville.
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