The Special Collections Library at the University of Tennessee recently purchased a copy of an invitation to the sudden January 1829 wedding of then-Tennessee governor Sam Houston and Eliza Allen. This rare item may be only one of its kind.
Aaron Purcell, university archivist, discovered the piece on eBay.com and purchased the invitation on February 14, 2007, just over 178 years after the wedding date. The invitation was kept by descendants of one of the wedding guests for five generations.
Sam Houston is an important figure in Tennessee’s history, serving as governor from 1827-1829 and representing the state in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1823-1827. Born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1793, his family moved to Maryville, Tennessee, in 1806. Houston joined the army in 1813 and fought at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. There he caught the attention of Andrew Jackson. Jackson became Houston’s mentor and helped guide his political career.
While governor, Houston briefly courted 18-year-old Eliza Allen, daughter of a wealthy Gallatin, Tennessee, businessman. On January 15, 1829, the couple mailed a handful of invitations to a small January 22nd wedding at the Allen family home. It is one of these few invitations that UT was able to purchase.
The invitation UT acquired is addressed to Miss Harriet Roulstone, the daughter of George Roulstone, who in 1791 founded the Knoxville Gazette, the state’s first newspaper.
Shortly after the ceremony, the newlyweds were at odds. After 11 weeks, Eliza Allen left her husband and returned to her family’s home in Gallatin. There are many theories as to why the marriage was so short-lived, but none are substantiated. Allen burned all of her letters regarding the relationship and Houston was reluctant to speak about his brief marriage.
The invitation gives few details about the wedding, but the piece remained in the Roulstone family for many years, tucked in a trunk with other important family papers.
Shortly after his marriage dissolved, Houston resigned his position as governor and fled to Indian Territory. He married a Cherokee woman and became a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Houston returned to public service in Texas, serving as president of the Republic of Texas, U.S. senator, and making several failed presidential runs. He died in 1863, leaving behind a complex legacy.
“Sam Houston materials are exceedingly rare and expensive,” Purcell said. UT holds only one other Houston item in its collections, a letter to Colonel Ramsey, dated February 1829. Both items are available for research use in the Special Collections Library at 1401 Cumberland Avenue.
About the Special Collections Library
The University of Tennessee Special Collections Library was founded in 1960 and resides in the historic James D. Hoskins Library building. Materials in special collections include manuscripts, books and other rare materials for research use. For more information, contact the library at (865) 974-4480 or visit www.lib.utk.edu/spcoll/.