Sam Houston

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

It had always been legend that Sam Houston clerked and lived in Kingston at the beginning of the War of 1812. In 1878, Willoughby Williams (1798-1882) wrote an article about Sam Houston, which was published in the Nashville American. It includes a section about Houston’s time in Kingston. Willoughby Williams’ mother, who is referred to in the article, was Nancy (Glasgow) Williams, who later married Joseph McMinn, a Tennessee governor and for whom McMinn County is named. Here is part of his article:

“My earliest recollections of Gen. Houston date back to 1811 at Kingston, Roane County Tenn. He was a clerk at the time of Mr. Sheffy. My mother, in her widowhood, was living about three miles from Kingston. I was thirteen years of age, and Mr. Houston five years my senior. The line of the Cherokee country was about three miles south of Kingston, the Tennessee river being the boundary. The Indian trade being much valued, his services were highly appreciated from the fact that he spoke with fluency the Cherokee language. He was especially kind to me, and much of my time was spent in his company. He remained in the capacity of clerk until after the declaration of the war in 1812. At that time the United States were recruiting troops at Kingston for the war. Lieut. Wm. Arnold, of the Thirty-ninth regiment of Regulars, was sent to Kingston on recruiting service. The whole population had caught the war fever and intense interest prevailed. The manner of enlisting at that day was to parade the streets with drum and fife, with a sergeant in command. Silver dollars were placed on the head of the drum as a token of enlistment, the volunteer stepped up and took a silver dollar, which was his bounty; he was then forthwith marched to the barracks and uninformed. “

“The late Robert H. McEwen, of this city, cousin of Gen. Houston, and myself were standing together on the streets and saw Houston take his silver dollar in the year 1813. He was taken immediately to the barracks and dressed in uniform and appointed the same day as Sergeant. Soon after this Lieut. Arnold had received thirty-nine soldiers, and was ordered to send them forth to join the troops, marching to the Creek war, under the command of Col. John Williams, of Knoxville, who commanded this regiment of regulars in person at the battle of Horse Shoe, and afterward became a distinguished Senator in Congress from Tennessee. Soon after Houston left Kingston, his friends applied to President Madison for his promotion, who commissioned him as Ensign. The commission was promptly sent and reached him before the battle of Horse Shoe. At the battle, he mounted the Indian defense with colors in hand and was wounded by a barbed arrow in the thigh. A soldier, whom he ordered to extract it by main force, made several ineffectual attempts, and only succeeded under a threat by Houston to kill him unless he pulled it out. He was carried back, suffering intensely from the wound which had been lacerated. His indomitable will led him immediately back into the fight when he was soon wounded by two balls in the shoulder. His intrepid spirit displayed on this occasion won him the lasting regard of Gen. Jackson. Disabled from further service, he was sent back to Kingston with the sick and wounded. Robert H. McEwen and I met him some distance from Kingston, on a litter supported by horses. He was greatly emaciated, suffering at the same time from his wounds and the measles. We took him to the house of his relative, ‘Squire John McEwen, brother of R.H. McEwen, where he remained from some time, and from thence he went to the house of his mother, in Blount County.“

Recently, documents have been found in the Roane County Archives that show records witnessed and signed by Sam Houston on notes to Nichol and Shaifer, which were merchants in Kingston. It is probably that the “Mr. Sheffy” that Williams referred to is Mr. Shaifer.

Sam Houston

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, April 2016.