Houston, Joshua (1822–1902)

By: Jane Clements Monday

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: September 16, 2020

Joshua Houston, a servant of Sam Houston and an officeholder after the Civil War, was raised as a slave on Temple Lea's plantation in Marion, Perry County, Alabama. At his death in 1834 Lea left Joshua and his family to his daughter, Margaret Lea, who took them to Texas in 1840, when she married Sam Houston. During the Republic of Texas Joshua traveled with Houston and became a skilled blacksmith, wheelwright, and stage driver. He helped build the Houston home at Raven Hill. The Houstons taught him to read and write, though teaching slaves literacy skills was discouraged in Texas at the time. Joshua supervised the Houston household when the general was away and accompanied the family when the general went to Tennessee to see ailing former president Andrew Jackson. While living in the Governor's Mansion in Austin with the Houstons, Joshua met most of the prominent men in the state. Beginning in the 1850s Houston allowed Joshua to work for a stagecoach company and keep part of his earnings. In the fall of 1862 Houston freed his slaves, even though it was illegal to do so, and Joshua and most of the others asked to stay with the Houstons. After Houston's death in July 1863, Margaret Lea Houston moved to Independence, where she soon faced hard times, since her wealth was tied up in land and Confederate scrip. Joshua reportedly offered Mrs. Houston his life savings, $2,000 in gold, but she told him to use the money to educate his children.

After the Civil War, Joshua Houston became a successful businessman, church leader, supporter of education, and officeholder. On January 15, 1866, he purchased land in Huntsville, where he opened a blacksmith shop and built a two-story house. In 1867 he was a trustee of the Union Church, the first Black church in Huntsville, which also served as a school. He was a deacon in the First Baptist Church, established in 1869. He was appointed a city alderman in 1867 and 1870 and was elected a county commissioner in 1878 and 1882. He promoted Bishop Ward College, founded in Huntsville in 1883. In 1888 he was a member of the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention. Successively, Joshua Houston married women named Anneliza, Mary Green, and Sylvester Baker; he had eight children, many of whom had distinguished careers. He died on January 8, 1902, and was buried beside his wife, Sylvester, in Oakwood Cemetery, Huntsville, only a few yards from the grave of Sam Houston.

Patricia Smith Prather and Jane Clements Monday, From Slave to Statesman (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1993).

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jane Clements Monday, “Houston, Joshua,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 13, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/houston-joshua.

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February 1, 1995
September 16, 2020

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