BOOK REVIEW by Gregory Hilton: “The Raven’s Bride – The Marriage of Sam Houston and Eliza Allen” by Elizabeth Crook, 379 pages.

This book is about the ten week marriage of Sam Houston and Eliza Allen. He was a hero of the War of 1812, a Member of Congress, Governor of both Tennessee and Texas, as well as the first President of the Republic of Texas. He was in command when Texas forces won their independence by defeating the Mexican dictator Santa Anna.
Houston became the first U.S. Senator from Texas when it joined the Union in 1845. He was also one of eight U.S. Senators to be portrayed in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Profiles in Courage.” The city of Houston is named after him.
This novel would be an excellent movie, and any prominent actress could be cast in the role of Eliza Allen Houston because she burned all of her photos and paintings on her deathbed. We have no idea what she looked like. According to contemporary accounts she was a great beauty, but the accuracy of the one photo of her is disputed.
Houston was asked why his first marriage fell apart by one of his best friends 30 years after the couple had divorced. He startled his friend by not replying and just walked out of the room. He later said he did not want to discuss it, and his close associates always avoided the topic which was obviously still painful for him.
According to the book jacket, “Just eleven weeks after the wedding, Eliza suddenly and inexplicably left her new husband, creating a scandal that caused the Governor to resign his office in disgrace and embark on an exile that would ultimately deliver him to Texas, and a destiny even grander and more improbable than anyone could have imagined.
“In these pages, Sam Houston is presented as he must have been—a heroic figure (called the Raven by the Cherokee), vain, flamboyant, magnetic, his outsized personality fueled by a desperate need for love. And Eliza Allen is his match: a magnificent young woman, both drawn to and disturbed by her husband’s grand aspirations.”
There are numerous rumors about what happened in privacy between the couple, but most of the stories are speculation because neither Sam nor Eliza ever publicly talked about the marriage. They were wed on January 22, 1829 when Houston, 36, was the sitting Governor of Tennessee. Eliza was only nineteen, and she had met the Governor through her cousin, Robert Allen, who served with him in Congress. Houston was already prominent and the press mentioned him as a logical successor to President Andrew Jackson.
Eliza was part of a wealthy family which owned considerable property. She was known to be fond of a 20 year old boy from her county, but her parents believed Eliza was destined for a more suitable match. It seems clear she was pushed into the marriage by her ambitious father, Colonel John Allen.
Eliza did not appear to be happy at her wedding, and two days after the marriage she made a startling statement to her best friend, Martha Martin. Eliza said she wished the children who were having a snowball fight with Sam out in the yard “would kill him.” She was not smiling at the time.
“I was astonished to hear such a statement from a bride of not yet forty-eight hours,” Mrs. Martin said. Then Eliza repeated the comment, “I wish with all of my heart they would kill him.” This was her only recorded statement about the marriage during the time they were together.
Eliza had left a large plantation and in those days there was no Governor’s Mansion. Eliza had moved into Sam’s two rooms at the Nashville Inn. Upon returning from a campaign trip to Memphis, Houston discovered Eliza was gone. He never saw her again.
After Eliza left, the Governor wrote a letter to her father expressing his love for her, and his desire to save the relationship. He begged for Eliza to return, but also said he believed she was in love with someone else. Houston wrote “She was cold to me and I thought did not love me. . . I do love Eliza.” The letter was not answered, but Houston’s claim is supported by Mrs. Martin who says Eliza told Houston she never loved him, did not want to marry him and was in love with someone else.
The distraught Houston immediately went to see the Reverend Hume who had performed the marriage ceremony and asked for a baptism, but the request was refused because Houston’s reputation was tarnished. The Tennessee press was well represented at the Nashville Inn and the marital problems between the states first couple was the subject of considerable publicity. One paper claimed Houston abused Eliza.
Rep. Robert Allen (D-TN) told the Governor he was ruined politically, and Houston replied that he was also ruined personally and spiritually. Within a week Houston resigned the governorship and moved to Arkansas. For the next four years he had a significant problem with alcohol, but he was eventually able to turn his life around.
For many years Houston continued to wear Eliza’s engagement ring. He did not take it off until 1840 when at the age of 47 he married 21 year old Margaret Lea. They had 8 children including a future U.S. Senator from Texas. The couple was still together when he died at the age of 70. In his pants pocket a pouch was found containing Eliza’s ring.
“The Raven’s Bride” speculates that it was the condition of Sam’s body that repulsed Eliza. He was not overweight, but he has been seriously wounded in the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend. He was struck by an arrow in the upper thigh and he was shot in the shoulder. Dr. Ashbel Smith said the wounds never completely healed and Houston had to dress them “nearly every day.”
Eliza remarried four years later, but for the rest of her life she avoided media attention. In February 1861, despite Houston’s valiant attempts to stop it, the Texas legislature voted to secede from the Union.
His refusal to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy led to his ouster as Governor in March 1861. He is the only person in U.S. history to have been the Governor of two different states. The State of Texas has placed a statue of Sam Houston inside the rotunda of the United States Capitol, and he is also the subject of the world’s largest statue (67 feet) of an American hero.

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